How a Hong Kong Alley Rat Changed a Young Couple's Life
Colin built Mr. T a five-story dwelling from wood and chicken wire, which we furnished with the cushions of the sofa he had destroyed. Mr. T compulsively redesigned his home, shredding the cushions and shoving bits of stuffing into the gaps in the chicken wire. Sometimes he would snuggle under my palm, pushing his nose into the V between my thumb and forefinger. If I tried to move away, he would grip my fingers with powder-pink, gummy-palmed paws.
I began to see Hong Kong as a place teeming with more than just human life: the giant hoary moth wrapped around the corner of an office building, the bird squatting on the pavement outside a watch shop, the feral dogs that patrolled the area behind our apartment building. One afternoon, after noticing one of Mr. T's grubbier cousins in the same alley where we had found him, I realized that the line we draw between animals that are socially acceptable and those we find repugnant can be awfully arbitrary.
As Mr. T steadily pawed his way into our hearts, Colin and I identified, for the first time in our lives, as parents. My husband was a rational and generous father, and I was a neurotic, fussy mom. Colin tried to see the world through Mr. T's eyes, adding a solid wooden door to Mr. T's home when he realized how much he liked his privacy, or adhesive sandpaper when he saw Mr. T slip on his ramps. Meanwhile, I obsessed over Mr. T's health, fearing that every nap or failed attempt to mount the coffee table signaled terminal illness.
I felt our world conforming to Mr. T's needs—and I loved it. Colin and I stopped going out to dinner as often and instead spent evenings in our living room, beaming proudly as Mr. T dragged apples and socks into his house with great seriousness. Some nights, we stayed up on the sofa until 2, 3, 4 in the morning, waiting for the nocturnal Mr. T to rouse himself and pad downstairs. We stopped traveling together so one of us could always be home to keep him company, and when that was impossible, we enlisted house sitters and left an instruction manual nearly an inch thick. At parties we matched our friends' tales of their children with news of Mr. T's latest tricks, his most recent fascinations: wooden knives and forks, starchy restaurant napkins, salmon sashimi. I posted photos on Facebook of Mr. T eating green beans, his tiny paws covered in tomato sauce, or Mr. T in repose, his whiskers a halo around his face.