Among my three most intense recurring anxiety nightmares there’s the classic where I’m back in college, it’s the end of the semester, there’s a class I haven’t attended in months, and I’m going to fail if I don’t grovel before the pissed-off professor.
Then there’s the recurring dream where I’m walking an endless parking lot — in a mall, in an underground garage, on my old college campus — looking for my car, which refuses to be found. Sometimes I’m looking for the Civic I drive now, sometimes it’s the boxy old Chevy Celebrity that was my first-ever vehicle, and sometimes it’s my beloved black Celica that tragically died on I-95 in the Bronx en route to Long Island.
But the worst, the one that triggers the most anxiety and despair, is a dream in which I realize that Buddy isn’t Buddy. The gray tabby in my apartment looks like him and for the most part acts like him, but in my nightmare someone has swapped him out with a different cat for reasons unknown, and by the time I realize it’s not him, I don’t even know how long I’ve been duped.
My despair turns into overwhelming guilt when I realize my Buddy is still out there somewhere, wondering what happened, probably thinking I abandoned him.
Thankfully when I wake I’m reassured by the snoozing form of Actual Buddy where he always sleeps, right on top of me. And yes, I realize he probably gate crashes my dreams because he’s vocal, he refuses to sleep anywhere else, and he’s got a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to rub his head against my face while he purrs and makes biscuits.
But for one woman in the UK, the nightmare may be a reality and she just doesn’t know it yet.
The UK’s Mirror has a story about a Redditor who confessed he surrendered his girlfriend’s aggressive cat to a shelter and adopted an identical furball.
In the subreddit “True Off My Chest,” the man says the cat “scratched everyone, hissed at everyone, and didn’t use its litter box half the time,” but his girlfriend “insisted she could get it to behave better.”
She left the cat in her boyfriend’s care when she went out of town for a week to visit relatives, and a nefarious plot began to germinate in his mind.
“The first night I went over, it scratched the shit out of my arm,” he wrote. “I joked to the cat that it’s not special and I’ll replace it if it scratches again. The joke stuck with me until I had thought about it enough that it wasn’t a joke.”
After looking around, the man says he found an identical-looking cat at a nearby shelter. That cat had been surrendered when its owner died of a heart attack. Kitty was bewildered and skittish when it found itself without a home and in a shelter.
“The cat [was] a lot friendlier and better behaved, and the [skittishness] would help it resemble the original cat,” the man wrote.
The man claims his girlfriend never figured it out, and says she was even pleased that “her cat” had calmed down and was better behaved. The couple eventually got married, and now the Redditor shares a home with the cat too.
After six years, however, he says he can’t forget what he did.
“Every time I see [the cat], I feel like a total piece of shit,” he wrote.
Among dozens of condemnatory comments, there was this amusing one from another Redditor: “Best of luck if y’all have kids. Finding a lookalike child is way harder.”
And that brings me to my next point. I’m not sure I buy this story. I certainly hope it’s not true.
Perhaps it’s easier to find a lookalike among black cats, but what about behavior? What about the cat’s quirks, its unique vocalizations, its favorite sleeping spots? Every cat has preferences when it comes to where it likes to be scratched, whether it’ll tolerate being held, how long or how often it’ll snuggle with its humans.
Cats are individuals just as humans are, with their own preferences, rituals and habits.
Even after seeing many thousands of images of gray tabby cats, I have never seen one who looks just like Bud. It’s not just his unique bib, that tuft of white hair on his upper chest, nor is it his pronounced muzzle. It’s also the derpy look on his face, the way he tilts his head quizzically, his Buddesian gait, his uniquely lazy method of dribbling down from the couch like a liquid.
Behavior-wise, there’s just no way. You’d have to find a gray tabby who never shuts up, sounds like an over-caffeinated Elmo singing in falsetto, and has a language that consists of 90 percent trills and meows that tilt an octave up so they sound like questions.
And you’d have to find a jerk. A stone-cold Fluff of Doom who Must Swipe Everything off flat surfaces. A feline who has no qualms about destroying things, enjoys walking on your face when you’re sleeping, and will occasionally launch himself at your ankles with a battle cry of “BRRRRRUUUPPPP!” because you didn’t give him his treats quickly enough. Hell, even the way he shrieks at me for snacks and tries to block my path like a goalie is unusual.
Imagine the phone call someone would have to make: “Yes, I’m looking for a gray tabby cat with bright green eyes and a tuft of white on his chest. He has to sound like Elmo on espresso, and he absolutely must be a huge jerk. You don’t have any jerks? Well what about in the back? You must have something!”
Of course Bud has a whole bunch of great qualities too, and I wouldn’t change a hair on his head. No “replacement cat” could ever fool me. There can only be one Buddy.
Do you think the Redditor’s story is real? Could anyone ever fool you by swapping one of your cats for a doppelganger?