The English poet Christopher Smart, confined to an English madhouse in the 18th century, wrote about his cat Jeoffry in his “Jubilate Agnoâ€, an ode to the Divine found in the natural world.
A busy music studio in Montara is far away in time and space from Bedlam in the 1700s, but a Montara cat named Mimi seems to consider keeping peace and order her primary job. It was not always so.
The San Francisco SPCA Maddie Center, where we first met Mimi, is a testament to the generosity of animal lovers. Individual air-conditioned light-flooded pet apartments have climbing trees, carpeted towers, videos of birds and fish, running water and fresh plants. The animals have social workers.
In fact, most of the cats at the Maddie Center are so comfortable that they seem to have little interest going anywhere else. Mimi, then called Millie, had only recently come to the shelter and did not yet consider it home.
She had been moved to San Francisco from a Sonoma facility at the age of seven months. She was born September 3, 1998, and was adopted by us on April 2, 1999 after we filled out questionnaires, submitted to an interview, signed papers, proved that we had a home, and paid $35.38 in fees. The Maddie Center employees informed us that they followed up on adoptions and would reclaim the animal if terms of the adoption were not met.
The name Millie didn’t suit this grey tortoiseshell at all. There was something French about her, something about the way she sashayed about and looked at us over her shoulder. We wanted to give her the French name, Solange, but the music students couldn’t pronounce it. Since French cat owners call “Mi-mi-miâ€ instead of “Here, Kitty-kittyâ€, she became Mimi.
At first, she was a daredevil, climbing up to the roof, refusing to come down, scaling one of our 80-foot-tall cypress trees. She would not drink water from a bowl, she often bit the hand that fed her; she would not sit in a lap or come when called. The sound of the cello drove her insane, and she would jump from table to chair to piano to stereo until the music stopped or she was evicted. The sound of a violin would send her straight to the door. In a twelve-by-eighteen-foot studio with a grand piano, a
bounding cat was impossible to ignore.
However, Mimi had two redeeming qualities. She was beautiful, and she loved children. Like Christopher Smart’s Jeoffry, Mimi became “an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.â€ When music students showed up for their lessons, Mimi would greet them at the door and escort them to the piano, rubbing their legs as they walked.
Over time, she acquired other virtues. Jeoffry, Christopher Smart said, was docile and could learn certain things. â€For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.â€ Over time, Mimi learned to tolerate and even like the music in her new home. She would take her place atop the piano and listen attentively, sometimes commenting on the performances with an appreciative Meow. She learned to purr.
She began to like even the violin and once made a fool of herself over the Bach double violin concerto, weaving between the legs of the teenaged players, climbing on the piano bench, rubbing her face on the music score. The anxious performers discovered that it is difficult to be nervous when you are laughing.
Singers, rehearsing, have sung to Mimi as she gazes into their faces from her perch. Although she isn’t allowed to nap in the cello case, she now sleeps through most cello music. She allows small children to use her as a pillow.
Smart’s Jeoffry would “not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.â€ Although she is fed exclusively on weight-control kibble, Mimi has clearly outgrown her tree-climbing days. Now that she weighs 20 pounds, confrontations with other cats are out of the question: They stay well away from the giant kitty, even though she seems wistful as she watches them.
Since her only companions are humans, Mimi has taken on some human characteristics. She answers when spoken to. She almost always comes when called. She will sit politely at the dinner table without begging. She kisses. But like Jeoffrey, her best trait is that she can “tread to all the measures upon the music.”