Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Transformation of Walter Mitty

A young couple whose baby was allergic to cats gave us Walter Mitty. They had never formally named him but he answered to “Kitty.” We wanted something a little less generic than that, so we settled on “Walter Mitty.” He quickly adjusted to being called “Mitty.”

In addition to the obvious advantage of rhyming with his earlier name, we found “Walter Mitty” an appropriate name because he was a very timid cat. During his first week at our house, we saw him only if we looked behind the washer and dryer or under the guest room bed. He ate his food and used his box, but not when we were awake and watching.

After a week, Mitty decided he was safe with us and he came out from behind-or-under and joined the family. He even became my lap cat in short order. If the doorbell rang, however, he was instantly out of sight. Visitors had to take our word for it that we had a cat.

Mitty was solely an indoor pet. When we moved to Westminster Village he adapted well to apartment living. Even the hall outside our apartment door seemed like another world to Mitty. He did not venture out and he did not show himself to people who entered the apartment. When we had lived here two or three months, I pulled him out from under the bed one morning and introduced him to our maid, who came on alternate Tuesdays. “Debra, this is Mitty, just in case you thought he was a phantom.”

Mitty was about three years old when he came to live with us, not much more than an adolescent as cats go, maybe a young adult. He’s now a middle aged nine-year-old, and has outgrown almost all of his earlier inhibitions. He is Debra’s good buddy, and is more likely to be on the bed than under it when she changes the sheets.

No visitor comes who isn’t properly greeted and sniffed out. And though he rarely ventures more than twenty feet from our door, Mitty insists on being allowed into the hall for a few minutes first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

All of which is to say, timidity is not always a lifelong affliction. Given a lot of love and a little encouragement, the Walter Mittys of this world sometimes morph into extroverts. Not quite? Well, at least into social beings.

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