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With these new arrivals, the Tuttle household is the cat's meow

My husband attracts stray animals the way black clothing attracts lint. At one time or another over the course of our marriage, we've played host to dogs, cats, rodents, several varieties of birds and one raccoon. On one occasion, we had as many as eight cats and one dog sharing our household. So it didn't come as much of a surprise last spring when he announced that a stray cat had taken up residence behind his workplace. What we didn't know at the time was that the scrawny black cat was pregnant.

Within a few weeks, seven kittens were born, though two didn't make it. There was no way I was going to leave the fate of the remaining kittens to chance, so before they were even one month old, I had David bring newly named Mamma Cat and her offspring to our home.

Mamma's first night was spent outdoors, but after discovering the desert was even less friendly than the mean city streets, she settled in to her new digs and got down to the business at hand: nursing five thirsty kittens.

We provided a large cardboard box with a three-inch lip and padded the bottom with several towels. At first, the kittens couldn't make it over the edge, so we had no fear of stepping on any errant feline. When they were awake (not often at first), we'd pull them out of the box and watch them try to make their way across the floor. More often than not, they'd take a few staggering steps and collapse. At this point, they easily nestled in the palm of one hand.

All spiky tails, round bellies and blue eyes, they didn't have much in the way of distinctive personalities. Besides, what is there to say about four black kittens? But there was one exception. The largest and most adventuresome of the batch was the only gray one. We learned that mother cats can have one litter representing more than one father. How cool is that? Early on, the gray kitten's shenanigans earned her the moniker Fearless.

As soon as the kittens had been to the vet, and received a clean bill of health and their shots, we put the word out that we had five adorable kittens available for adoption. Darling photographs accompanied e-mail entreaties. It was all to no avail. Evidently, either everyone had all the cats they wanted, or we were not targeting the right people.

In desperation, we got the name of a woman who, for a fee, would find homes for pets. We almost called. But by this time (three or four months had elapsed), my daughter chimed in from the Bay Area with the admonition that it was too late to separate the cats; they had formed attachments; they needed to be together. We relented.

So began the process of naming the cats. A veterinarian's technician told us we had two male cats. So before Bob Woodward forever disgraced himself, we named them Woodward and Bernstein. Shortly afterward, we learned that one of those cats was a female. Thank God for Joanne.

We were left with the task of naming two more. As it turned out, by now, they were exhibiting distinctive traits, so the task was effortless. One cat, the smallest by far, always sat patiently at mealtimes while her siblings mewled and carried on in a frantic effort to get to the food. It was a no-brainer to name her Patience.

That left one cat that conveniently kept to herself much of the time and didn't trouble herself to bother with her littermates. We called her Sola.

Over time, we learned that the cats had a particular way of interacting with each other. Mamma Cat never hesitated to employ tough love when dealing with Patience. Clearly determined that her kitten shouldn't grow up to be a pushover, Mamma would hiss and snarl at Patience in an attempt to toughen her up. It worked. Within a couple of months, the smallest cat could mix it up with the big boy, Bernstein.

The benefits of teamwork became obvious as well. Whenever a toy became wedged behind a piece of furniture, two or three cats would marshal their resources to dislodge the item. Maybe because they were littermates, on those infrequent occasions when we could give them a treat from a meal we were preparing, the kittens wouldn't hesitate to take turns at breaking off a piece or licking the pan. The burned-on remains of David's famous chopped liver remains a favorite. Though we promised each other we would never have another pet after we lost our beloved dog, Samadhi, to a terrible illness, the cats have made themselves at home, and it looks like they'll be with us for the duration.

Once, when he was a mere wisp of a lad, my future husband announced to the world with all the authority a boy of 5 could muster, that when he was grown, he would not have a doghouse. Instead, he would have a cathouse.

Be careful what you wish for.

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