If you've been reading this column for a while, you know that I'm an animal lover, especially cats.
But what you probably don't know is that I used to hate cats.
No kidding. They're aloof and unfriendly, right?
Wrong, of course. That's the telltale sign of somebody who's never met a cat.
But that all changed 35 years ago when I fell in love with a woman who had a cat. It was a pretty little black and white female named K.C. (short for kitty cat).
For the first six months we lived together, I refused to let the cat into our bedroom.
But one day K.C. decided enough was enough, and she proceeded to seduce me.
Wham! It didn't take her 24 hours to have me wrapped around her little paw. By the time my girlfriend and I broke up a few months later, K.C. and I were so tight, she offered to give her to me.
But by then I had learned enough about cats to know that K.C. would be happier with her, so I declined. But the damage was done: I was hooked.
Moral: There's no zealot like a converted sinner.
Two weeks after I moved into a new place, there was a knock on my door. Standing on the front step were four little urchins from the elementary school across the street, holding a tiny gray female tabby kitten they had found abandoned on their schoolyard.
"Mister, did you lose this kitty?" they asked.
"No," I said, "but I'll take her."
That happened on this day in 1979. I named her Eliza Doolittle because the first thing she said to me was "Aaoowwww!" We were together for almost 17 years, and she made every day a joy. She was the love of my life (four-footed-version).
After Eliza died I adopted a gray female kitten, whom I named Nelly.
She was as sweet as can be, but it became quickly obvious that she needed a playmate. So I adopted another kitten and named her Phoebe.
The two of them got along well enough, but about five months later Nelly got outside and was killed.
Phoebe mourned bitterly for about 20 seconds, and then suddenly I could see the light bulb go "click!" above her head.
"Hey, this is great!" I could see her thinking. "All this to myself!"
Phoebe and I were together for 15 years until I finally had to put her to sleep last spring, and I cried many bitter tears.
Then last August I adopted my Pizza Girls, Sally and Pepe (named after the two iconic pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut, where I went to college). I love them a lot, and they love me, too, and we couldn't be happier.
But it all started with Eliza. As much as I love my Pizza Girls, I still think of her every day, and I still miss her.
The only reason I hope Heaven is real is because I'd like to see Eliza and my other cats again.
But I'm not holding my breath. As Mark Twain said, "If you go to Heaven, leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, the dog would go in and you would stay out."
And that goes for cats, too.