It’s the strangest thing, and I don’t really expect people to believe me, but animals see me, and I see them.

It’s not something I can control, and other people have some variation of it. Actress Isabella Rosselini said recently in a television interview that there’s a type of man, if he likes women, who can be doing business in a room and a part of his brain will be aware of a beautiful woman walking into that room. That’s the way I am with animals, and they are all beautiful to me.

Family photos document this about me from as early as two. There’s this picture of me with guinea pigs. I’m told they couldn’t take my picture without them. There were always an assortment of pets around the house, some of them found strays that made their way back to the house. They either followed me, or maybe on occasion were lured. And things haven’t changed much.

When I was little, our cats were named after female literary figures — Zelda, Emily and Violet. And there was Chuck, our dog. We at first thought he was a Corgi, but he ended up being a German Shepherd, basset mix. He appeared one day around the Royal Wedding, the first one between Charles and Diana. I wanted to call him Brownie; Prince Charles, shortened to Chuck, was my dad’s idea. So when I moved out on my own, I began to gather my own menagerie, starting with a pair of cats, the first of a dynasty of felines named after Russian czars and czarinas.

And then there was Ivan. He didn’t relate well to the rest of the family and was shipped off to beleaguered parents. Most of this royal family has since moved on to that Faberge egg in the sky, but Ivan is seemingly eternal. He has remained true to his name and serves as some strange literary inspiration for my father.

The czars traveled well, for cats: Atlanta, New York, Florida, Dubai, then Atlanta again. In the second to last city they acquired a sister and Constantine just didn’t seem to fit. Maybe it was the influence of Irish expats that I worked with, or I was reading Finnegan’s Wake, but I named her Isabelle.

Isabelle appeared one day in my Dubai apartment building’s inner garden, probably abandoned, either there or in an apartment, by someone who moved away. The building manager brought her to my door and asked, in a sing-song Pakistani accent if madam would like another cat. Madam couldn’t refuse.

Perhaps it was just a strange twist of fate for this long haired Bedouin Persian to come and live with me. And funny enough she is a little twisted, literally. My dad, on a visit, called her “Twisted Sister” because of nerve damage that causes this curious tilt to her head. It has always seemed like she is considering what you were saying. But like I said, I’ve always had this connection with animals.

I’ve tried to see if there’s some type of pattern to animals showing up in my life. For a while it seemed to always happen in August. I’d disappear from the back of a big group ride, perhaps burned out from too many cycling days, and find myself at the animal shelter. And then there was Seamus, Sophie and…wait we missed Nicholas.

It wasn’t always a particular month. Sometimes, I just hear them, calling. It’s like I speak parseltongue, or some other magical unknown language that nobody else can understand. Nicholas found me through an open window with small mews that pierced through the city noise that surrounds a downtown apartment and floods through an open window. At first it was barely audible above the normal din, a mild distraction, and then more demanding, and finally those small mews could not be ignored. I went downstairs to the alley to investigate and found a litter of very tiny kittens. The gray one became Nicholas.

Nicholas had the shortest lifespan of any of the czars. He is still sorely missed. Isabelle has spanned the Russian-Irish dynasty and still rules the roost. She holds court with Seamus, Sophie and now Finn McCool (Finn for short). This is the indoor clan. There’s also the outdoor family. But that’s another part of the story.