Domestic Disturbances: Life with three cats

Simon, Toby, and Jasper are a trio of Tonkinese cats who live and frolic in West Tisbury. Courtesy Dan Waters.

“We may have just made a huge mistake, getting three of them.” Those were the first words my husband Hal said when he called to tell me he’d arrived home with our long-awaited kittens. This was in October 2013 — before they became Internet celebrities.

Our household has seen generations of cats. In the early 1980s, there was Zelda, the feral cat who adopted us when we lived in Oak Bluffs. When she got old and passed away, we got Phoebe and Charlotte, a pair of Burmese sisters who shared our home for 16 years and were inseparable. Phoebe and Charlotte got their 15 minutes of fame in Lynn Christoffers’ book “Cats of Martha’s Vineyard.” When they eventually left us, after a suitable grieving period we decided that the next generation would be boys, having heard that males are less high-strung and more affectionate than females.

There is so much folk wisdom about cats, you never know what to believe. Hal remembers reading somewhere that cats can’t recognize words longer than two syllables. Accordingly, we named our new kittens Jasper, Simon, and Toby.

Dan’s husband Hal, adorned by a cat. Courtesy Dan Waters.

The day Hal brought them home, they sprang out of the cat carrier and immediately fanned out in different directions — including the kitchen countertop, the range hood, and the tops of doors — to explore their new surroundings. “There are more of them than there are of us,” Hal worried on the phone. “Are we going to be able to control them?” Short answer: No. But anyone who thinks they’ve got a cat under control is being fooled by an expert.

In this day and age of ubiquitous cameras, it was inevitable that our cat frat would find their way to social media. Tonkinese cats have irresistible faces: wide, surprised-looking eyes, perky ears, and mouths whose corners curl into a contented smile. They have a talent for snoozing in highly photogenic configurations. I made a Facebook album called “Life with Three Cats,” not realizing I would soon be receiving friend requests from perfect strangers whose sole real motive was to view updates on the cats.

People are surprised at how well the three get along. Our veterinarian had warned us: “Unless you’re very lucky,” she said, “one of them will turn out to be the pariah, and be picked on by the other two.” We were very lucky: There has never been competition, bullying, or rank. In fact, it is more like living with a single animal with 12 legs and three heads that share a single brain. The trio quickly became as “at home” as any living being possibly could. If you sit down anywhere for more than 60 seconds, cats begin to pile onto your lap, and it might be hours before you can stand up again.

People ask if we ever let them outdoors. We don’t. This is for the general welfare of all concerned. We live in the Christiantown woods, and love birds too much to let our darling furry predators slaughter them. In summer we let them prowl the screened porch, where all three will shift their heads simultaneously to fix their gaze on a grazing bunny. Any other time, getting them to do the same thing is literally herding cats: a fool’s errand.

People comment that our cat photos must be arranged or staged. They aren’t. The secret

Hal and Dan briefly worried about being outnumbered by mischievous cats, but they soon surrendered to the constant amusement. Courtesy Dan Waters.

to taking a good cat picture is simply to have a camera within reach at all times. You never know when a “cat moment” is about to occur.

Sometimes they chase one another through the house — all three, in no particular order, just dashing in circles as if their lives depended on it. They have more toys than any cat should reasonably have, but they’re good at sharing during playtime. And when they’re tuckered out, they fall asleep: one huge heap of cat brothers. There are many still lifes of the three brothers arranged in a big furry pyramid, as a yin-yang-yin symbol, or in a tumbled sprawl of sheer feline relaxation. The photos get shared, enjoyed, commented upon by an audience the cats are completely unaware of.

The Friskies company recently claimed that 15 percent of all Internet traffic is cat-related. If this is true, then we may have inadvertently made things worse by adding West Tisbury’s own three-cat pileup.


  1. Thanks for the nice cat article and pictures. We have two cats staying with us who came in from the wild. Not sure who owns whom.

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