Okay, I guess I should have put that question in context. There are many things scarier than losing your pet. Losing your child or your spouse. Losing your own life. Colonoscopies. Spiders. But for me, for a period of about two months last year, I had to face one of my own particular fears. What’s worse, I had to make that fear come to life for my heroine, Theda Krakow, her pampered and beloved housecat, Musetta, and for any reader out there.
You see, I was working on what became my third Theda Krakow mystery, “Cries and Whiskers,” and I wanted to ratchet up the tension and suspense. But it had to be on my terms – for my readers. And my readers love their pets. So although I have long promised my readers that I would never hurt or kill any animals in my books (humans don’t count), I needed to put Musetta at risk. I needed to have her disappear into a blinding winter storm. And I needed on suspicious phone call to hint that maybe that disappearance wasn’t entirely voluntary.
So what’s the problem? Well, Musetta is based on my own pet. And so I had to put myself in the mind of my heroine. I had to imagine the panic I’d feel if I came home on a freezing sleet-spitting winter night and found my pampered house pet missing. I had to imagine searching in a frenzy. Checking and re-checking all her hiding places, and then, finally, dashing out in the storm to start the hunt in earnest. I had to re-learn everything I know about searching for a lost pet, everything I know about trapping and signs and microchipping. And I had to imagine how I’d cope with all of this in the middle of a wild winter storm, in my panic, with loss creeping up on me like the icy wind.
To be honest, it was harrowing. My real Musetta sleeps on the chair behind my desk most days, but maybe she picked up my tension because several times while I was working on this part of “Cries and Whiskers,” she “went missing.” Not far in her case – I could usually find her in one of her regular spots, her “cave” at the back of the closet or her shelf by the window. But for many long minutes I’d find myself holding my breath, holding back my panic – all until I was holding my own cat, once again.
I’ve been lucky. Readers have responded to the real emotion I put into “Cries and Whiskers,” much as they have to my first two mysteries, the series opener “Mew is for Murder” and last year’s “Cattery Row.” And a recent skim through some new numbers has shown me why.
As silly as I sometimes feel – after all, not only do I write mysteries with cats in them, I’ve got kitty paraphernalia all over my office – it seems I am not at all alone. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (yes, there is such an organization), nearly half of those of us who cohabit with cats – 49.2 percent – consider our cats to be members of our families. (Dogs are even luckier: 53.5 percent of dog owners consider their pooches to be family.)
The more I think about it, the more I suspect the real numbers are even higher. After all, it’s only recently that we’ve been finally ready to admit that we do love these little creatures. But now that we’ve brought them into our homes, we’ve also welcomed them into our hearts – and according to that same APPMA survey, we’re willing to spend on their health, comfort, and safety, too, to the tune of more than $40 billion that we spent this year on our 88.3 million cats, 74.8 million dogs, 13.4 million reptiles, or that odd 24.3. million category simply called “other small animal.” We want them to have as long and as healthy a life as possible, a life that they’ll share we us, and we’re finally ’fessing up to that fact – and trying to make it happen. Which is why housecats are now living into their 20s and even the larger dogs are now enjoying longer play-filled lives.
And why not? I mean, with all the uncertainties in life, especially in the middle of winter when the weather outside is truly frightful, isn’t it wonderful to come home to that one sweet face, with its purrs or wagging tail? Cause no matter how much we spend on our pets, we’re really taking care of ourselves.What more could we want, on a long, cold winter night, than the warm, soft bulk of our best animal friend, curling up beside us?
Cries and Whiskers
my blog: cleasimon.blogspot.com
Clea Simon is the author of several nonfiction books, including “The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats” (St. Martin’s) and the Theda Krakow cat mystery series, “Mew is for Murder,” “Cattery Row,” and the brand new “Cries and Whiskers,” all published by Poisoned Pen Press.