I am a dog person. Just to get that out there, because I know many people who are not dog people, and that is okay. I also happen to live in a house with a lot of people who are either cat lovers or love both dogs and cats. We have two of each, so at I can at least think of myself as fair-minded. The truth is that I tolerate the cats only as much as they keep the rodent population at bay in our home. Winter is coming, and all those little forest mice are looking for a nice warm home in which to live and nest and make hundreds of babies. The cats are useful to me because they help discourage the mice or kill them if scare tactics aren’t enough.
We have had a variety of cats over the years. Some stayed quite a long time, others were here for a day. A cat has to have a special kind of temperament to live in a home with lots of small children. Our cats are not de-clawed; it would be cruel to leave them defenseless against a two-year old human. Gladys Mae and I were counting all the cats we’ve had over the past years, and I think the count is at eleven. Not all at one time, mind you. The most we’ve ever had at once was three. That was MORE than enough.
We seem to be the perfect people to ask when our friends have cats to get rid of. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps our remote location has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, the truth is that not all cats feel comfortable here. We’ve had about three over the years that spent no more than a few hours here before bolting for the forest unknown, never to be seen again. We’ve had others that stayed a long time.
This is Shadow.
We adopted Shadow in November of 2001. We had borrowed a camper from our dear friends, Jim and Yvette, so we could travel to Pennsylvania for a Thanksgiving family reunion. We had a great family reunion, and the children were enthralled with the working dairy farm our cousins own. Where there is a milking parlor, there are barn cats. And where there are barn cats, there are barn kittens. These were basically feral cats. The Handy Man and the children had a great time teasing the kittens with his little laser light, and as we watched the kittens play, we realized that we might have room in our home for a cat….or three. The day we were to leave, we lured two of the youngest kittens into a box with tasty pieces of summer sausage. The third cat was about a year old, and our cousin had spent some time petting him, so he was not quite as feral as the others. My great-aunt’s admonition as we were loading up was, “Don’t you dare open your doors before you leave this valley!” She was more than eager for us to take three kitties!
So we had three kittens in a box. As we drove out of the valley, I tentatively opened the box and began to gently pet the kittens. Of course the children all wanted their turns at petting the kittens. Let’s just say the kittens were probably more terrorized than anything. And they would not use the little litter box we had provided. Neither would they eat or drink. Here we were on a road trip that promised to last at least twelve hours, and the kittens were on a hunger strike. The girls and Joshua immediately set out to name the kittens. We had been studying early American history, and they all agreed unanimously that the little grey striped tabby was Mr. Penn. Shadow was obvious–she was all black with a white patch. And then there was Patch–he was the older one and was white with brown and orange patches.
The Handy Man had a great idea about the time we hit Virginia. We pulled into the parking lot of a K-Mart and fast food restaurant. The Handy Man went into K-Mart and bought little collars and leashes for the kitties while I went and hit the dollar menu of the fine fast food establishment. We hit the road again with burgers in hand and about an hour later, right on schedule, we all had to find a rest stop. The Handy Man lovingly fastened collars and leashes on the kittens and we proceeded to exit the vehicle with cats on leashes.
Have you ever seen Mexican jumping beans? These cats were like acrobats on the leashes, jumping, flipping, running in circles, yowling, and in general acting like anything but civilized kitties. We caused all the jaws of the people standing around to drop as they watched the incredible display of our cats on leashes. Needless to say, the cats did not “do their business” and we had to wrangle them back into the suburban. They were most unhappy.
We finally arrived home and, before we could get them inside, the cats escaped. For several weeks they lived under our front porch. We were feeding them, and occasionally we would see a head pop out, but other than that, you would never have known we had felines living at our home. The Handy Man found the remains of Mr. Penn out in the woods, and he realized we really needed to at least catch the two remaining kittens and loosen their collars. Patch was easily wooed…he had been somewhat domesticated by our cousins. Shadow, on the other hand, was not at all interested in becoming a domesticated feline.
One day we took two cars to church, and the Handy Man, arriving home first, saw his opportunity to catch Shadow. She let him approach, and he quickly grabbed her. As he was about to reach for her collar, Sassy, our wonderful watchdog, heard the rest of us returning in the suburban (she could hear us literally a mile away) and started barking her special welcome-home bark. Shadow was not so happy about us returning, or perhaps she was just not happy about Sassy barking. She immediately let loose with her claws on the Handy Man as he tried to maneuver her collar off. When we arrived home, the Handy Man was standing on the porch, his white dress shirt covered in blood from several deep scratches on his forearms and chest, holding the cat collar. Success!
Shadow eventually came around and grew used to living with people. We were eventually able to get her to the vet for her Rabies shot and to be neutered. (We are responsible pet owners, after all!) Nowadays, she likes to sleep on Little Princess’s bed. Patch lived with us for about five years and then he suddenly and unexpectedly succumbed to a urinary blockage and kidney failure. (24 hours from first symptoms to death–it was traumatic for poor Gladys Mae.) We are suckers for spending money we don’t usually have on vet bills for treatments that don’t have a chance at working.
Patch and Shadow in happier days:
A few years later, Gladys Mae, ever the cat lover, asked for her very own kitty for her birthday. We said we would think about it, and one day, while at the vet with the other animals, discovered that our country vet had three cats she was trying to adopt out. They all had been neutered, all were up to date on shots, and there was no fee to adopt. It was a perfect set-up for us, and Gladys Mae got her very own cat. He was an orange/tan tabby and had been covered with blue permanent marker when he had been rescued by the vet, so his name was Blue. Gladys Mae loved Blue. We had blue for almost two years. He was a great kitty–and Shadow seemed to tolerate him fairly well. Blue was a victim of a rogue dog Star Child had adopted. Blue lasted almost overnight at the animal hospital but eventually died of a punctured lung.
Our next kitty was a sweet little tiger striped thing Gladys Mae named Tiger. We adopted him from our oldest daughter’s friend who worked in an animal hospital and had rescued this sweet little kitten. We got him at Christmas. He was very playful and loved to explore. One day two summers ago, he found a large rattle snake and received a bite on his wee little paw in return for his playfulness. We rushed him to the animal hospital but there was little they could do, and he passed away within a few hours. Gladys Mae got to hold him as we put him down…all his body systems were failing and he was in tremendous pain. As the vet said, “He is just a little kitty, and that was a very large snake.” (The Handy Man later killed a five-foot long rattle snake that week. We could never prove it was the one that got little Tiger, but it made is all feel better.)
And now we have Snow. Snow was owned by some friends of ours who had to get rid of her. She was an indoor cat, and of course Gladys Mae fell instantly in love. Shadow and Snow are not so in love with each other, but they seem to tolerate each other as long as noone is looking. They even both sleep with Little Princess. Since Little Princess and Gladys Mae share a bunk bed, it seems like a nice arrangement for everyone involved.
It seems, however, that we have come full circle with Gladys Mae’s cats. The other day we discovered this artwork by Curious George:
Do you see it? Yes, you see it correctly. Blue. I guess it doesn’t matter what color her fur is, as long as she keeps the rodents out of my house. Winter is coming, and she will definitely earn her keep.
Cats. I don’t love them, but for the sake of my children and the eradication of the rodent population, I will live with them. And I may even try to be more diligent in protecting the cats from the mad little artist in our midst.