Friday, February 15, 2013

A Man and His Cat: Dr. Frederick Feibel & Herbert J. Cat

He was walking through the wards at the Avon Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Feibel recalls, poking his fingers through the cage doors the way he always did. But this time, a white kitten with a Charlie Chaplinesque face “came charging up and grabbed a finger – no claws out – and hung on. Purred like mad.” The 87-year-old vet laughs. “After three or four times, I said, ‘I can’t leave this little guy here,’ so I hauled him home.” And that was the beginning of his fine, furry friendship with Herbert J. Cat, an Animal Friends of Connecticut rescue.

Feibel, who opened the clinic in Avon, Connecticut back in 1958, had always been partial to cats. Back when he was in vet school in Oklahoma, he and his wife Miller “had a cat – looked somewhat like Herb. She adopted us and presented us with a litter of kittens.” Puss Mama traveled from Oklahoma with the Feibels and proceeded to make herself very much at home, sleeping with them and scooting as far under the covers as she could go. But then Miller began to have “a real bad asthmatic reaction. The doctor tested her and decided that it was the cat.” So Puss Mama went to live with Feibel’s mother, and the household remained cat-less till well after Miller’s death in 2001.

Feibel was a little worried about introducing a kitten to his two older dogs at first. He needn’t have been. The moment he let Herbie out of the rec room, “the two of them accepted him. The big yellow Lab, he [Herbie] rubs his head on her head. Other times, he torments her: he chews on her tail, chews on her feet.” The vet’s voice trails off in laughter. “And the elkhound…he’s just totally in control. He goes by her and reaches up and whacks her.”

Yep, Herbie pretty much runs the show. His food dish is on the counter, away from the dogs, but that doesn’t stop him from joining his human for a more up-close-and-personal dinner: “I must admit, my wife would probably be upset, but while I’m eating at the table, he hops up there. And if there’s salmon or turkey, he helps me along….He doesn’t mind helping me out at all.”

Feibel’s laughing as he talks. In fact, he laughs throughout the entire interview. His joy in this cat is very real. “He’s so much fun, so much company, it’s just great for me to have him around.” If he’s relaxing in his recliner, Herbie doesn’t just walk over to him – he “runs across the room, leaps through the air, lands on my lap, and stretches across my leg. He has this perfect position he has to get in. He purrs away, and he’s happy to be there.” At night, when Feibel’s reading in bed, this scenario repeats itself with a few variations. Even though Herbie has “his own bedroom with a regular bed in it” (“It’s pretty classy,” the vet observes.), Herbie will suddenly appear, leaping over the bed and “stick[ing] his butt up into my face. So, at least five or ten minutes, I rub it down, and I’m patting him, and his motor’s going all the time.” And it’s not necessarily a one-shot deal: Herbie has been known to show up again in the middle of the night for another massage/work-out if he hears his buddy wake up.

He’s an indoor cat, naturally. “I worry about the coyotes,” Feibel admits. “I get shudders when I see out here [on the bulletin board] a note about a lost cat.” But Herbie seems to be OK with not going outdoors. He has a fairly busy life…stretching his claws and doing “his exercises” on the sofa…checking out noises around the old farmhouse…making the rounds of the upstairs bedrooms…and warming himself on the slate by the woodstove in the dining room.

They’ve been together three years now, and the camaraderie between them is titanium-steel-strong. “I’m so fortunate to get a hold of him,” Feibel reflects. It’s still “so funny” to him, the way Herbie “attached to me as a little kitten. There were four or five in that litter, and he ran over and grabbed that finger. Yeah, he chose me.”