It smells like fall here in El Paso. The nights are cooler, the birds quieter. The clouds are hanging heavy and low and the air is carrying an early trace of change, of sleep and new colors. It's a welcome break from the brutally hot summer we weathered and my cats are in their element... curled up across the house like they're posing for Christmas cards, dreaming cat dreams, luxurious in their heavy fur. They are so beautiful these four friends of mine, so warm and still. I love animals. I always have. I grew up in a home that was often grounded by four legged members...joyful dogs, yes, but also a startling array of cats...some disdainful, some angelic, some loners, some lovers. Some who curled up in our kitchen cabinets, others who would crawl under the covers with you only after the lights were out. Cats who followed us on long walks through the woods, and cats who waited by the door for us to come back. It was a home colored by cats, a happy, loving place made better by the purring of the feisty, little creatures who stood by us (or hid behind us). I knew I wanted the same thing for my children...I wanted them to learn the lessons of animals, of cats...to learn what a soft touch and easy voice can cultivate. I wanted them to learn to see beyond themselves, to know what it means to respect another life; to love something blindly and in that quiet way that grows inside you until it is a part of you. And then of course to learn to say goodbye, let go and continue living. Cats can shape you, if you let them, and in the best way. And so for the past five years I have been shaped by these four, fat, little beasts. I've raised them, named them, fed them, and loved them. They have driven across the country with me three times, the five of us jammed into a two-door Saturn with all my belongings; them curled up on crumpled maps, the dashboard, my shoulder, navigating us across the lonely plains and through the dark mountains. They have moved with me seven times in five years; from cramped apartments, to townhouses, to our first real home, always handling their "displacement" with far more grace than a cat is supposed to. They sit with me when I'm sick, they make me laugh when I'm depressed, they are there when I'm alone, they meow when they need me. They have nursed me through broken hearts, tolerated my tempers and are always happy to see me. Not that they are angels, in fact frequently far from it...they are lazy and spoiled and difficult. They have a nasty sense of entitlement; often terrorize the people who care for them while we're away; pee on the floor far more than is dignified; and shed like Golden Retrievers. And the older they get, the less they seem to accept change. We got a new puppy 7 months ago. The cats hate her. And they hate her just as much, if not more, than they did 7 months ago. They're not budging. They live upstairs, the dog lives downstairs, and God help us all if those boundaries are not respected. It's an unbelievably difficult situation and I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. And that worries me. We're bringing a new baby into this home soon. And I don't know what I will do if they hate her, if they decide to despise the new person who will join our family and will sleep in their favorite room...the yellow room, their sun room. How will I forgive them for that? How will they forgive me? Is there a way I can prepare them for this change? My daughter will be the center of my world and the four who used to occupy that space - before husband and job and responsibility - will be displaced, again. As I've been writing this, they've all gravitated here, to me who they trust. They are sprawled out on the ground around me, a circle of cats who carry five years of my life with them. They are sleeping, tails fluttering, dreaming, perhaps, of quiet times when the apartments were small, the beds had empty lakes of space, the woman time to listen. Perhaps they are remembering how bright the stars were through the windshield, when they were the navigators...leading the way through the mountains and plains, their tiny car hurtling through space, full of cat and woman, safe in the center of the road.