My path to veganism and animal rights activism began when a vocal black cat entered our lives in 1987. At the time, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It was late fall and I often arrived home after dark. As I prepared my dinner, the black cat would appear on the sill outside the kitchen window and meow relentlessly. Over the course of an evening, I would move from room to room, and she would follow along outside, moving from window to window, still meowing.
After two or three weeks of this, my boyfriend said he would take her to his house, and that’s what he did. We’d both anticipated a loud and chaotic car ride for both him and the cat, and loud and chaotic it was.
When Roy called me at work to say they had arrived at his house, and he described how she had carried on using a whole range of voices, I said, “I know her name! It’s Diva.” As time went on, Diva became an even more perfect name for her, as it took on a number of other appropriate meanings.
In the ensuing days, Roy would call me to say what a character the cat was, and how much he liked her. At first I attributed it to novelty and change, but I learned differently.
About five months later, Roy got a new job in Phoenix. We married, packed up Diva and our stuff and settled in Scottsdale. I spent those early weeks fixing up our apartment, which meant I now had steady interaction with Diva. She was fascinating. I had lived with cats for most of my life, but she emanated a power and mystique I’d never sensed in my other animals. I began to think about black cat lore and witches and familiars. I started reading books on mythology and history, starting with Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Roy and I had a great many conversations about Diva, conjecturing, searching, trying to understand her powerful presence.
I happened to pick up a Yoga Journal that featured an interview with John Robbins. Robbins had just published Diet for a New America. Moved by the article and his stories about dreaming of pigs, I bought a copy of Diet and shared it with Roy. Coincidentally we traveled to San Diego, where we ate at a Govinda’s restaurant. The signs making note of their karma-free food got plenty of our attention.
We were vegetarian from then on—summer or fall 1988—always intending to go vegan but somehow still not making the necessary connections. I became an activist even so.
I think it was in 1997 that when a colleague asked me if I ate eggs, I answered yes, and at that very moment a voice spoke to me which asked, “Why are you still eating eggs?” I went home and told Roy I thought it was time for us to go vegan.
So we did. In the early days I missed the taste of cheese less than its convenience as I realized it had become my most relied-upon fast food. Gradually we learned to substitute for the things we were used to, and that was that. Many new vegan foods and cookbooks were coming on the market, and Roy and I were both motivated from our hearts, so I think our transition was about as easy as it gets.
Diva died in 1995. I divide my life into long phases—Before Diva and After Diva. There’s little comparison between my sense of the world before she came along and after she came along. Three precious cats share my home today (they are named Pablo, Fergus, and Neruda). Each is unique and magical as Diva in his own way, and we owe an enormous debt to her, who opened us to the sacred and ineffable riches of interspecies relationship.
Cathleen in Oakland, CA