I Love My Family's Cat Even Though It Could Kill Me

What it's like to be violently allergic to something you can't avoid.
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Jill L. Ferguson
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What it's like to be violently allergic to something you can't avoid.

Max is a beautiful cat. He's white and black, fluffy and soft. But he's also a lethal weapon. 

If I were Superman, Max would be my kryptonite. Cats make me anaphylactic. If he touches me, I cannot breathe. My skin itches. My eyes water. I become beholden to Benadryl for survival, and I keep an EpiPen nearby just in case.

Too close, Max. Too close.

Too close, Max. Too close.

My mother has asked me why I live with such a dangerous creature. But Max has been living outdoors at our house way longer than I have lived here; I married into a family that includes my husband, three adult children, Nacho the red heeler cattle dog, Moe the corn snake, Bear Grylls the red-eared slider, and, last but not the least threatening to my life, Max the cat. He was brought home to be my stepdaughter Shannon's 4H show cat when she was a child. He and Shannon have grown up together, so Max is very much a family member.

But as much as I love animals, Max and I have a love-hate relationship. 

When I first moved in with my new family, I had visions of summer suppers on the back deck — but as soon as we moved a table and chairs outside, they became Max's favorite spot for lying in the sun. I had pictured morning coffee and evening wine with my husband on the glider that he had so lovingly restored and I had so enthusiastically decorated with brightly colored cushions. Again, the cat commandeered the cushions for his afternoon naps.

On one particularly lovely morning reminiscent of something out of a Disney film — birds singing, butterflies and dragonflies flitting, flowers all abloom — I attempted to work outside on the deck. No sooner had I typed five words than I was playfully pounced upon — a cat in my lap and his paws moving the keys of my laptop. 

Not OK, Max.

Not OK, Max.

In this case, imitation was not a form of flattery — it was a threat to my well-being. I rushed back inside as the wheezing started, stripping off my clothes as I ran up the stairs to the shower, pausing only to pop open the Benadryl.

Of course, because I try to avoid him, he thinks we should be (or are) best friends. He tries his best to rub against me and play with me while I scratch him using the dog's Chuckit ball-launching stick and try not to breathe in any of his dander. On windy days, when we're outside, I sometimes feel like I should be encased in a hazmat suit for safety.

And yet for all the angst Max causes me, I still love him. 

I am the one who feeds him twice a day, who makes sure he has fresh water, and that the heated floor in his "house" is working, especially in winter. I talk to him, and I get concerned about him when he isn't on the back deck and has gone hunting in the woods next to the house. He's in his teen years and needs people he can rely on in his older age to make sure his needs are met. I'm happy to do those things, even if it puts me at risk of a terrible allergic reaction.

Max on top of his house. No, the soda isn't his.

Max on top of his house. No, the soda isn't his.

But I'm also grateful for the moments when he heeds my "not too close, Max," when he stays out of my airspace, and that we have learned to usually safely coexist.