Despite the fact that most New Yorkers have cramped living quarters, little in the way of outdoor space, and around-the-clock work schedules, many of us still have pets—and don't know what we'd do without them. In our column NYC Pet Tales, we speak to pet owners about how they make life in New York work with their animal companions.
James and Jackie Call are the proud parents of a baby girl, and, over the years, have come to care for quite a few cats. Currently, they share their two-bedroom, two-bath rental in Astoria with cats Sadie (14 years old), Igor (2), and Ira (1), as well as their daughter Camille. Previously cats Cindy and Marcel were also in residence, but both passed away at an impressive 17 years old.
The Calls came to their relationship with feline baggage.
"Jackie got Sadie when she was in college and realized she could get a cat," James says. "And I got both Marcel and Cindy on the same day at the Brooklyn Animal Rescue in Williamsburg when my roommates decided on a whim to get these cats. I said, 'It's not a good idea, this is a household of drunks,' but we got them anyway."
The younger cats arrived years later, after James and Jackie had moved in together and gotten married.
"Igor was an impulse purchase at a time before we had the baby. So in a way, he was a pre-baby baby," James says. "Marcel and Cindy were still alive, so that brought our household to four cats. Ira was a year later and that was an emotional decision, because Marcel had just died."
Of owning multiple pets in small apartments, Call says, "It's no different from owning a pet anywhere else. You love them and they're your little friend. They just don't speak English."
That said, he's learned some lessons over years of cat ownership, and weathered his share of cat crises.
Mishaps and chance meetings
Cats are by nature explorers and hunters, and James learned the hard way that keeping them safely indoors in New York requires some precautions.
"Cindy famously fell out my four-story window and almost died when I was in Europe," he says. "People paid to keep her alive. Having a cat fall out a window in a New York City apartment is a real deal."
And after Cindy testing the nine lives theory, Marcel caused some water damage—albeit indirectly. Before Call moved in with Jackie, he was living in another Astoria apartment, where he would indulge Marcel's love of drinking water out of the bathroom sink.
"I would get drunk at night because I was in my 20s, and I would run water for Marcel and go to bed," he says. "Invariably it flooded the bathroom and my downstairs neighbor's bathroom. I apologized and made up some BS, and then it just kept happening."
That downstairs neighbor turned out to be remarkably tolerant, and ultimately became a close friend.
"Each time the water damage was worse to his ceiling, and we became best friends that way," Call says. "He'd come upstairs and be like, 'Oh, you did the sink for Marcel again, huh?'"
Keeping cats entertained in small spaces
Fortunately, the Calls have found it relatively easy to keep their cats occupied.
"We keep doors closed so they can swat at each other under them," he says. "A toy everyone should buy is just a rod with a metallic string and a mouse at the end of it. They also like this cat tunnel that folds up like an accordion."
A little bit of cat-friendly furniture goes a long way, too.
"Igor would knock all the plants off our shelves, so now he has a shelf all to himself," Call says.
After Cindy's accident, Call is cautious when it comes to dealing with would-be explorers.
"Igor wants to go outside all the time, so sometimes we let him out on the porch, but we're worried he'll run under a car or something," he says.
The only other issue he can think of is the matter of kitty litter.
"We have to keep it in one of the bathrooms," he says. "In a suburban home you could put it out of the way, near the washing machine or something,. We have two bathrooms in our apartment so that helps, but when we had four cats it could get disgusting quickly."
And as with any other type of pet, Call has found that there are resulting restrictions in his ability to take off somewhere on a whim.
"When my friends moved and I was left with Cindy and Marcel, that meant I never left New York City for long periods," he says. "I couldn't go just live in San Francisco for a month, because I would never give my cats to someone else."
Introducing the cats to a newborn
Before Camille was born, Igor and Ira were best friends who constantly played together, but something changed between the cats when James and Jackie were at the hospital for a few days for the birth.
"I left the hospital to feed them, and when I came home, Igor had a cut near his eye," Call says. "I didn't have time to worry about it, but when we both got home, Igor was hissing at Ira. I was worried the baby had messed up their cat brotherhood, but after two weeks, they went back to normal."
Now, Igor dotes on Camille, even though he's ordinarily the most aggressive of all three cats, and Ira, too has warmed up to the baby.
"He wants to cuddle while she's nursing—he's about the same size as her," Call says. "Sadie doesn't realize that Camille is a human being, and will just step on her like she's a rock."
Overall, he says, the cats have proven to be immensely helpful in de-stressing from life in a hectic city.
He explains, "A cat in the city is kind of a luxury. It's so nice to have them as companions."
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