By Laura Latzko, August 2020 issue.
Author Best Tardy has had cats throughout his life, but he has a special place in his heart for Van Gogh. He rescued the one-eared cat about three years ago and now shares him with his fiancé, body painter Brandon McGill.
Tardy, who now resides in Phoenix, was living in Dallas when he rescued Van Gogh as a six-month-old kitten. A friend in Flagstaff had found Van Gogh at a pet rescue, and Tardy immediately knew he wanted to make the cat part of his family.
“I fell in love with Van Gogh. He was the runt of the litter. Nobody wanted to adopt him because he didn’t have an ear, and he was smaller than his siblings,” Tardy said. “He just turned out to be such a big blessing. I’ve had many cats, but Van Gogh is absolutely my favorite.”
Van Gogh had been abused by the owners who have first had him, who used power tools to cut off his ear when he was just a few weeks old.
This experience left Van Gogh frightened of everything, including Tardy at first. The writer had experience with PTSD therapy from working with other animals and was willing to put in the time with Van Gogh.
He allowed his cat the time he needed to acclimate to him and his new environment.
During the first week he had him, Van Gogh didn’t even acknowledge Tardy. He just hid most of the time, often in his favorite spots under the couch and bed.
It was one day when Tardy was watching the TV show South Park that Van Gogh came out from his hiding place and sat on the bed with him. He started to get closer and closer until one day he laid his head on his owner’s leg and fell asleep.
“That was the turning point of our relationship. After that, he started really trusting me,” Tardy said.
Tardy would let the cat come to him, give him treats, show him where sounds came from, take him out to other spaces and encourage him to jump into his arms as part of trust exercises.
Over time, Van Gogh’s favorite position has become to sit around his owner’s neck like a scarf.
“He’s come so far and is such an inspiration for others who have experienced trauma in their childhood,” Tardy said.
Due to his missing ear, the cat experiences sound differently than other cats. Tardy said that sounds are often louder to him, but he can also hear things that other cats cannot.
He also has trouble with keeping his balance and jumping up onto high places.
Van Gogh still has moments where he gets frightened by new sounds, but he is able to overcome his fears.
“He still reverts sometimes to back when he was a little kitten, if he faces a new challenge that is unfamiliar or foreign to him. When he was a kitten, he wouldn’t go back and check on it. But now if he gets scared, he will take his own time, explore it, learn and sort it out for himself,” Tardy said.
Van Gogh, who is a certified emotional support animal, has helped Tardy just as his owner has been there for him. Tardy suffers from anxiety from past trauma, and his cat helps to calm him.
“He’s soft and cuddly, and I can just hold him for a while. He really helps me when I’m in a down space,” Tardy said. “He just has this instinct of knowing when someone is sad or hurting, to try to comfort them. I didn’t even teach him that.”
There have been a few scary moments with Van Gogh, as he has gotten out a few times.
During one of those occasions, he sustained eye and leg injuries.
“For him to get injured, and I wasn’t there to help, I just felt so useless. I felt like I’d failed him. He’s completely recovered. He’s totally fine, but at the time, I was scared that he had gone through something irreversible. But cats are resilient,” Tardy said.
This was an especially difficult time for Tardy, who had been robbed at gunpoint, hit by a car and assaulted during the same week.
Tardy grew up with a dad and stepmom who loved animals. He learned the importance of caring for and making a commitment to animals from his dad.
“His whole philosophy is animals are our family. If you adopt them, it’s a promise you are going to take care of them until they die,” Tardy said.
Van Gogh has been unlike any of the other 12 cats he’s had in his life.
Tardy said Van Gogh is the most respectful cat he’s ever had, as he will step over cords; refrain from beginning for food when someone is eating; ration his cat food and avoid jumping on most surfaces, except for the kitchen table.
One of his quirks is he is skilled at catching bugs, something that doesn’t bother Tardy too much.
“He is a little shy, but if there’s a bug, that’s all he can focus on. He just goes nuts. There was a cricket that was flying around the house, and he jumped up, caught it and pulled its head off. It was crazy. I was like, ‘You’ve earned your table privileges because you are daddy’s protector,’” Tardy said.
It took Van Gogh awhile, but he eventually began to become comfortable around other people, first Tardy’s stepmom and then McGill. He is also comfortable being around other animals, such as his stepmom’s cat and their roommate’s dog.
Van Gogh started out as Tardy’s cat and gained another parent when McGill and Tardy got together nearly two years ago.
The cat is featured in McGill’s recent body painting series Tarot. He appears with Tardy in an image of The Fool.
In his books, Tardy often includes cats with quirk personalities. A science fiction story he is currently writing features a cat that is based on Van Gogh.
“I think he’s a lot of inspiration for a lot of the animals that I write. I like to write animals that act like animals, but they have a little something special to them,” Tardy said.
At first McGill was reluctant to have a cat because he hadn’t had good experiences with previous cats, but he and Van Gogh are now very close.
“I swear he loves Brandon more than me,” Tardy said. “I feel like Brandon is fun dad, and I’m safe, comforting, ‘tell me your problems’ dad.”
Even though Van Gogh is a “people cat,” he still draws strength from his first owner.
“I think I represent a big comfort for him. He likes to be in the same room as me, even if he doesn’t want anything to do with me at the time. If I go into another room, he’ll go into that room as well and just lay down somewhere,” Tardy said.
The cat has over time developed his own unique personality and knows his name. He will come when called, if he is in the mood to be around humans.
Tardy said he has distinctive facial expressions, especially when he is displeased with something.
“If he doesn’t like something that you’ve done, he will give you this look, and everyone in the room will start laughing because he seems so specific. It’s not like he accidentally made that look,” Tardy said.