Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spook Lets Cat And Few Fleas Out of the Bag

It takes a strong will to resist the Russians who know what is best for you, whether it concerns your diet or the question of hat-wearing in November. Often it is easier just to give in.

I told you in the summer about the loss of my improbably fat cat, Minky, and the neighborhood campaign to find him. It failed. He did not come home. Free at last, I secretly thought. But no.

"Look, this little kitten is just like your Minky," said Kirill, one of the neighborhood lads who knocked at my door. No it wasn't. It was nothing like the flamingo-colored Minky. But what could I do? So I got Scooter, a ginger tom whose hobbies are ripping toilet paper and falling into the bath. An aquatic cat.

OK, I thought. I could handle that. But there was more to come.

I am currently helping a dozen retired KGB agents write their memoirs. You could say that I am working as a ghost writer to spooks. It's a funny thing that every single one of them keeps a cat. Evidently the devious feline mentality appeals to them more than the stupid sincerity of dogs.

One of them, the owner of an astonishing 10 cats, was reminiscing in my apartment when he spotted an old photo of Minky on my shelf. "I've got a kitten at home just like that. I'll let you have him," he said. The little creature was nothing like Minky. He was mushroom-colored. So I called him Mushroom. What could I do?

For a person who was trying to become cat-less, I was doing well. I now had two kittens, both tearing my toilet paper to ribbons.

There was a positive aspect to this situation, however. I now had a good reason to renew my acquaintance with a woman I much admire. Raisa Yevgeniyevna is a vet who used to work in a state clinic but now has her own small business making home visits to pet owners. I asked her if she would come and give the kittens a health check.

She arrived wearing the kind of neat, knitted clothes favored by Miss Marple, the old lady of British detective fiction who is far more shrewd than she appears. She was carrying a plastic bag with a tiger on it, from which she took a microscope to examine the contents of the kittens' ears.

"How's business?" I asked while Raisa Yevgeniyevna whistled through her teeth at the horrifying number of fleas she had found on Mushroom.

Business was not good. Many Russians were now so poor that they could barely feed themselves, let alone their pets, and pedigree animals were being thrown out onto the streets. "Some pet owners ring me. They say they cannot afford to have me visit and ask for a free consultation over the phone instead. I can't refuse old customers but there's no profit in it for me," she said.

Raisa Yevgeniyevna, whose husband is not being paid although he still spends money on transport to go to work, has supplemented the family budget this year by selling her crochet work. She is better off than friends who are academics, however, because her scientific knowledge has a practical application. She charged me 250,000 rubles for the advice that the kittens should be separated.

I returned Mushroom to his owners and decided to keep Scooter. Ripping toilet paper is hungry work and he demands extra rations from the Armenian pet kiosk from around the corner. He's not as fat as Minky yet, but he's working on it.