Mock horror coursed through me the first morning I saw my gray-and-white tabby cat, Lucy, licking a stuffed animal with wild abandon as if it was an actual kitten. I was still fairly new at being owned by a cat, and had never witnessed this cat cleaning ritual.
Lucy’s object of affection was a stuffed hamster lovingly named Frederick by my family. A gag gift from a friend, Frederick was dressed in a karate gi and armed with nunchucks. He once sang and danced to a poor rendition of Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit, “Kung Fu Fighting” when pressed. I say once because Frederick’s battery had long since died and could not be replaced. His gi, formerly a crisp white, had become more of a muted gray, and his formerly proud, plastic whiskers were now drooping, a result of daily interactions with Lucy.
Over time, I became concerned that Frederick’s increased griminess posed a potential health threat to Lucy, prompting me to set out to replace him with an identical twin. I reasoned that such a substitution should result in a seamless transition. Lucy is after all a cat, and in this case, she would be much like the unsuspecting children whose parents swap the family’s deceased, pet-goldfish for an identical one in the hopes of avoiding the nagging question, “Mommy, Daddy, why is Nemo floating on his belly?” The end result would be the same: like the naïve children, Lucy would never know the difference.
Pulling this replacement scheme off, however, proved to be an adventure in its own right. Never could I have imagined that a new, karate gi-clad, singing stuffed hamster would be so hard to come by. Days of online scouring revealed singing hamsters outfitted in all kinds of uniforms. There was the hamster in a prisoner’s garb; a happy birthday hamster; Uncle Sam as a hamster; a hamster dressed in a chicken suit; and even a Santa hamster, but still no sign of a karate gi-clad, singing stuffed hamster. It was sold out everywhere. Half-a-dozen eBay bids later, I finally procured an identical Frederick for an astounding fifty dollars! Frederick’s twin arrived five days later. Triumphant, I dubbed him “Frederick the Second,” and presented him in all his pristine glory to Lucy.
But she would have none of it. Lucy was not impressed by Frederick the Second’s bright outer appearance, nor did she seem to care that his tinny voice had emerged once more after so many years of silence. Instead, Lucy became mopey and quiet. Forlorn, she sniffed the windowsill where Original Frederick used to sit, occasionally darting accusing looks in my direction when she wasn’t plotting my death.
As days turned to weeks, I had to admit defeat. I could not in fact outsmart my cat. Lucy would not accept an imitation, and attempts to convince her to clean or even show an interest in this new Fredrick proved futile. Lucy knew her true best friend and chances are, she also knew he was pretty grubby-looking. But Lucy loved and cherished him just the same. He was hers.
In a moment of profundity, I realized I was the one who was really bothered about Frederick’s unsightly appearance, even at the expense of my cat’s well-being. I reflected then on the tremendous value we, as a society, ascribe to outer appearances and superficialities. We live in an age of upgrades, where people readily trade in and trade up everything from electronic devices to spouses. Or in this case, stuffed hamsters.
In Lucy’s own, unassuming way, she forced me to refocus my priorities and confront my prejudices. And in so doing, she taught me about the truly essential things in life: friendship and loyalty.
Frederick the First has since been reinstated to his post, sitting on the bedroom windowsill where Lucy continues to groom him with tremendous precision and enthusiasm each morning. Sadly, Frederick the Second was re-gifted, but now lives with his own loving family. He was last seen being carried around in the mouth of that family’s dog.
About the Author:
Allison C. Witty is a lifelong animal lover and freelance writer living in New York City. She is proud to say she has met and pet nearly all the dogs in her neighborhood, but regrettably, has yet to win over any of the cats.