In Loving Memory of Misha: April 1989–March 2005
Sometimes people assume Misha's a girl, but 'Misha' is a boy's name in Russian, short for 'Mikhail.' I've had him since he was two months old; he's now (as of April 2003) fourteen. He's a mutt cat — domestic shorthair of indeterminate parentage. He's solid grey, although when he was a small kitten he had faint charcoal tabby markings, and you can still see a few dark rings on the tip of his tail. His eyes are a vivid gold. He's probably got some Siamese in his ancestry; he's got that long slinky Oriental body type, and he has a whole lot of voice and doesn't hesitate to use it.
So why "Wonder Cat"? Well, he's still the cleverest animal I've ever personally met. He amazes all my friends, who frequently suggest I should try to get him in movies or on television. Besides being toilet-trained (code word potty) he also does sit, stay, come here, go up (onto whatever piece of furniture I'm pointing at), get down, move (out of my way), jump (into my arms), scratch (on his post), and give me a kiss. Most of these commands evolved out of necessity — for example, I make him 'go up' on a couch or a chair, 'sit' and 'stay' there while I get the food and put it in his bowl — because otherwise he'll trip me up in his eagerness to get there first. Jumping into my arms is something he taught himself; one day he wanted my attention and I was busy, and then suddenly I had a double armful of cat. Later I taught him to ask first when he wants up, and to jump when I ask him to.
As a kitten Misha would clamber into the litter box and begin digging a hole in which to defecate, as many cats do. He would dig a perfectly serviceable depression in the litter ... and then keep right on digging. Tiny little wisp of a kitten, ears laid back in concentration, paws flinging clay bits out to skitter across the tile. He would dig through all of the litter and then keep trying to dig right through the plastic bottom of the litter box as if it were the most urgent task in the world. At some apparently random point he would then turn 180 degrees and begin digging another hole at the other end of the box, filling up the first hole in the process and scattering litter liberally throughout the bathroom. Turn, dig, turn, dig — for fifteen or twenty minutes, skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch. Heaven help you if you happened to be trying to sleep elsewhere in the apartment.
Meanwhile, his body would be blithely getting on with the business at hand. While Misha was still fervently trying to dig a little bit deeper into that plastic, the bowel movement would happen more or less without him. More often than not half of it would end up smeared on the wall behind the litter box, or dropped off the side onto the floor. Ugh.
So I did what any sensible person would do — I trained Misha to use the toilet. Fortunately, as I said above, he is an exceptionally clever cat, so this went over with relative ease. The compulsion to dig is still very much with him, though; every use of the toilet is preceded by the obligatory attempt to dig a hole ... in the water. He will utterly soak his front paws in the process, despite possessing the typical feline aversion to getting any part of his body wet. And then at some point he appears to become satisfied, at which point he gets up in the proper squat, does his thing, shakes off his wet paws and jumps down. I feel fortunate that he doesn't feel compelled to try and cover the evidence, splashing around in the dirty water afterward.
A lot of people have wanted to know if Misha minded being photographed on the toilet. In fact, he didn't really seem to notice the camera. He not only doesn't mind me watching him on the toilet, he actually prefers it, and will sometimes come and get me so that I can watch. Sort of like, "See what a good boy I'm being?" But in 1996, when a photographer from the New York Daily News came to my apartment to photograph me, Misha, and my computer, it was a different story. She used a very bright flash and got it right up in his face a lot, and he didn't like that at all. He wanted to leave but I kept making him stay near the computer, with the result that he looked pretty darn annoyed in the final picture.