Archives for category: Cats

A PET LOVE STORY?

Herewith a stray cat tale, as related by a friend:

I arrive from work one evening and see an unfamiliar cat staring up at me from beneath the kitchen table.

“Hey, who’s the cat?” I ask.
My wife, Lisa, responds: “That’s Lexi,” she says. “She used to be a stray.”
“And now?” I ask.
“Now she lives here, temporarily” says Lisa.

I’m not shocked. We’ve had visitors before. Lisa volunteers at the local animal shelter and, at least once a year, an animal pulls her heartstrings strongly enough to cross our threshold. Typically, we pay to have the cat or dog neutered, if necessary, and to have minor medical problems addressed. A clean bill of health is usually enough to help an animal get permanently adopted by a family.

“Her teeth are good,” says Lisa.
“That’s great,” I say.
“And she’s only two or three years old,” says Lisa.
“Okay,” I say, suspicious. “So what’s her problem?”
“Who says there’s a problem?” says Lisa.

I exchange looks with Lisa for a moment, long enough to allow each of us to recall the past several guests: the beagle with dry skin; the tabby with food allergies; and, the spaniel with only one ear.

“Well, Lexi has a bad leg,” admits Lisa.
I look at the cat, still staring up at me with green eyes. She blinks once, slowly.
“How bad?” I ask.
“She got hit by a car, a Lexus,” says Lisa. “That’s how she got her name.”
“Oh,” I say, “sorry to hear that.”
“Anyway, someone left her at the shelter with a note about the injury,” says Lisa. “We just have to get her leg fixed up.”

Lexi continues to gaze at me. She seems to think I have some say in her fate. But I know better. To refuse my kind-hearted wife would be as effective as refusing beach entry to a tsunami.

“I’m taking her to the vet first thing tomorrow before I leave for the yoga retreat,” says Lisa. “Is it okay if I give your cellphone number in case they need to call?”
“Sure,” I say. “What will they be doing to her leg?”
“I don’t know,” says Lisa. “Maybe a splint or something. But it shouldn’t be too bad.”

We spend the rest of the evening having dinner and reading, me from a computer, Lisa from a magazine. Lexi emerges from beneath the table several times, to eat some dry cat food and to drink some water. Her front left leg is crooked and causes her to limp, but she appears functional. At one point, she sidles over and rubs her tail against my leg. She’s pretty, with medium length orange fur. I’m pleased to do a good deed for her; she seems appreciative in some intuitive way.

I don’t think much about Lexi the next morning when I hug Lisa good-bye and wish her an enjoyable retreat. My mind’s more focused on work. I have an important meeting scheduled for the morning with out-of-state investors. If it goes well, it could continue all day.
“I’ll see you tonight,” she says. “No phone contact up on the mountain.”
“Wow, that’s serious,” I say, with a smile. “I’ll handle the home front.”
“And you’ll probably hear about Lexi,” says Lisa. “It might be a couple hundred dollars.”
“No problem,” I say. “It’s a good cause.”

Several hours later, during the first recess from the meeting, I check my cell-phone. The caller i.d. indicates the veterinarian has left a message:
“We’re calling about Lexi,” says a kind female voice. “She’s stabilized now. We think we can save the leg.”
“Hunh?” I think. “This sounds expensive.” But I don’t have time to call back before returning to the conference room.
Two hours later, I have another message: “She’s rejecting the screws. We may have to amputate.”
Alarmed, I try to call back. The answering machine says: “We are closed for lunch. Please call again after 1 p.m. You may leave a message.”
“Um, this is Mr. Smith,” I say. “Lexi is a stray cat, I mean, she’s our cat, but she’s not REALLY ours, but she’s having her leg….”
A beep ends the message before I can ask for more details and a cost estimate. My assistant waves for me to return to the meeting. Two hours later, when we break again, I have another message from the animal hospital:
“The amputation went well; we’ll attempt a reconstruction this afternoon. If she lives through the night, there’s a chance she’ll survive. The amputation will be around $3,000 when all the medication is taken into account. The mold for the reconstruction is about $1,200, so long as there are no complications. Room and board during recovery will be additional.”

“What’s wrong?” asks my business partner, Alan.
“It’s unbelievable,” I say, the blood draining from my face. We’re standing outside the conference room where the negotiations are proceeding nicely.
“What is? Is your family okay?” says Alan.
“Yes,” I say, “except for our financial well-being. The bill will be around $5,000 for Lexi’s leg.”
“Who’s Lexi?” Alan asks.
“A cat,” I say.
“Wow,” says Alan. “You must really love your pet.”
“She’s not our pet,” I say, peevish.
Alan looks confused.
“She’s a stray,” I add.
“You’re spending $5,000 for a stray cat’s leg?” says Alan. “That’d be $20,000 for all four!” Alan laughs.
“That’s not helpful,” I say, miserable.

The vet leaves a message on our home phone regarding Lexi’s status. “We’re pulling out all the stops with painkillers and antibiotics. It’ll take a week or two to know if she’ll survive. I’d give it fifty-fifty. We didn’t realize she had a little pneumonia until we got inside. Once she’s strong enough her other leg may need replacement, too,” she concludes. When Lisa calls from her car that evening I relate what I know about Lexi.
“We’ll have to pray for her,” she says.
“Oh, I’m praying,” I say. “I’m definitely praying.”


FARAH DIBA
Farah Diba is a historical figure of dubious distinction, the widow of the man deposed in 1979 as the Shah of Iran. He is said to have married her for her potential to produce off-spring, particularly male off-spring, that would allow his royal line to continue, a task at which she succeeded. Her fame was, thus, both vicariously and somewhat crudely earned. As described in Wikipedia, however, their union became one of mutual love and admiration, and she used (and continues to use) her wealth to support humanitarian issues and the arts. Photographs of the younger empress show the stunning physical beauty that captivated the twice-divorced Shah when he first encountered her, in 1959. I’d like to think the story below, which opens in 1968, would please her.

“She won’t come out,” I said.
“Not even for the cat-nip?” asked my mother.
“She just sits in the corner shaking,” I said, miserably, peering beneath the buffet in the kitchen.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t return her?” asked my mother.
“I am not taking her back,” I said, unusually resolute in the face of apparent failure.
We had resolved to buy a kitten shortly after our previous cat had frozen to death. (See maudlin account of Impy’s demise at stuartsandersblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/17) This was to be “my” pet to select since I planned to use my own money, gifted to me by my aunt, to purchase her. Though I understood she would be the “family” pet, every bit as much my mother’s as my own, my monetary investment made me feel rich with decision-making power. At eleven years of age, that was a rare sensation for me.
I was vaguely aware that a kitten could be obtained for little or no money. However, for reasons I can’t recall, I wanted a purebred Persian, the long-haired cats with the smushed-in faces. My mother, my aunt and I drove to a breeder they located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. In a small row home, we encountered a collection of impressive specimens. Most of the available kittens were large, orange fur-balls, imperious in their gazes, destined to become twenty-pound terrorizers of mice, birds and small dogs. They lounged on every horizontal surface of the home, on couches, on steps, and on tables. The sheer splendor of these cats stunned me and I didn’t know how to choose.
My mother and aunt whispered with the woman in charge, probably concerning the cost of these fabulous, seemingly full-size felines. In view of my possession of only $35, and my determination to make the chosen cat “mine,” the breeder reached into a shoe box and withdrew a tiny handful of brown and orange fur.
“This one’s a runt,” she said, indelicately. “You really shouldn’t consider her. She won’t amount to anything.”
A trembling creature thrashed in her hand seeking to return to the cardboard box. I caught a glimpse of her copper-hued eyes, huge in relation to her head. She appeared so vulnerable, so terrified. The idea of saving her captivated me.
I remember proudly holding the box as we departed, the breeder standing on her porch. She looked at me piteously out of a flat, round face eerily similar to most of her cats’.
“I don’t usually do this,” she said, “but I’ll let you bring that little thing back if you change your mind in a few days. Runts have a lot of problems.”
As soon as we arrived home and I placed her on the floor, the nameless kitten rushed under the buffet and cowered in a dark corner. Each morning, for nearly a week, I hurried downstairs to see if she had emerged. I kept vigil for several sessions each day. But the kitten remained too terrified to overcome what must have been near-starvation.
Finally, on the sixth morning, some of the food we’d left out showed signs of having been nibbled overnight. When I looked under the furniture, the little fur-ball stirred and her eyes gleamed in the darkness. She edged closer, half-an-inch at a time, never blinking.
“sppppppppssss,” I sounded, saying the only encouraging word of cat I knew. I daubed my finger with peanut butter, a passion of our previous cat.
The kitten approached, tentatively, and licked my out-stretched finger tentatively. Her tongue was shockingly rough, like sand-paper. She kept licking, with increasing enthusiasm, until the peanut butter was gone, and then moved over to a dish of water, all the while gazing at me. I was in love.
My mother came downstairs and was delighted to see her eating.
“She’s so pretty,” she said, “a little Persian princess, like Farah Diba.”
“That’s perfect,” I said.
It took only a few days for the now-named Farah to become devoted to us. Wherever we went, she went. If we were in two different rooms, she alternated between them. She was even devoted to my father, who never had a kind word to say to her or about her.
“Eccchhh,” he would say, each morning, at the smell of her litter box. “Feh,” or a syllable to that affect, he would sometimes add.
Regarding the litter box, Farah had one unfortunate habit from her time at the breeder’s. Apparently, in order to save money, the breeder didn’t buy kitty litter, but trained her cats to go on shredded newspaper. Farah stubbornly refused to be retrained and required us to comply. I told disbelieving friends and relatives this indicated her dignity and independence. Most just declared she was stinky, since newsprint is not odor-suppressing like kitty litter. I felt this was small price to pay for an “exceptional” pet.
“Where’s the dumb animal?” some visitors demanded upon entering our house. It truly irked them that Farah would not emerge from under furniture until they departed. I thought it was one of her greatest characteristics: Farah discriminated and only members of our immediate family passed the test.
Farah grew to only six pounds though she appeared much larger due to her fur. Her fur was reddish brown, with gorgeous black and cream highlights. Her face was so flat it appeared she had no nose. A cousin of mine, who was particularly bothered that Farah would not socialize, called her “pan face.”
Eventually, though it was not supposed to be possible for a cat so small, Farah snuck out one evening and became pregnant. She managed to give birth, with my mother as midwife, to four kittens. Three were stillborn, as the veterinarian had predicted, but one was alive. It was orange, a legacy of Farah’s family. Farah appeared to have no idea what to do with the kitten, and my mother used towels to clean it and start its breathing.
Her initial cluelessness reinforced the narrative that Farah was not intelligent. I maintained that she was just traumatized and, indeed, she figured out after several days how to be a mother to a male we named Cubbie. Over time, the two evolved into inseparable companions, sitting together in whatever room they chose, beating a path beneath the nearest furniture at the approach of a visitor, going crazy at the smell of bacon or the sound of the can opener.
Cubbie grew to be twenty-pounds, but betrayed no particular intelligence. Unlike his mother, he never figured out that leaves are not alive and dove for cover with every breeze. I felt that Farah, on the other hand, conducted herself, like her namesake, regally. It was frustrating to have no specific anecdotes to refute what skeptical people said about her. For years, I silently endured their barbs about my “dumb animal,” “stupid cat,” and “brainless blob.”
One day, we accidentally confined Farah to a bathroom when we went out for the day. When we returned, hours later, we were surprised she didn’t greet us, and were alarmed when we saw the closed door. Upon entering, I saw Farah sitting contentedly on the windowsill, looking as though she had accomplished something. On the floor, a pile of unfurled toilet paper supported what looked like a miniature log house; it stank.
“Look,” I shouted, amazed. “Farah figured out how to unroll the toilet paper and poop on it!”
Indeed, she had, though people were remarkably unwilling to accord her the same level of “genius” that I claimed. They refused to surrender their well-worn conception of her stupidity. But I knew. I was right to pick her, right to keep her, and right that she was intelligent. It may be an understatement to say eleven-year-old boys are not renowned for judgment and perception, but Farah represented a proud exception to that rule for me.


IMPY’S LAST ADVENTURE

When I was nine we had a cat named Impy.  He was a formidable Maine Coon cat with a bushy tail trailing a sturdy, striped body.  Impy lived up to his name, lording over the neighborhood like a lion and terrorizing birds and mice.  Often, he stayed out all night.  He must have had some tender moments at home; why else did we keep him?  But all I recall of life with Impy was that my arms were crisscrossed with scratches.

One particularly cold evening, Impy ignored our calls and evaded our flashlight search.  The temperatures dropped to the teens and still, he did not surrender his nocturnal patrol.  The next morning, we were concerned but not quite worried.  Impy, we were confident, was a sturdy and resourceful fellow.

“He’s probably curled up next to someone’s furnace vent,” said my mother.

“I bet he crawled into a squirrel’s nest,” I said.

“Yes, after he evicted the squirrels,” said my older brother, Barry.

We all laughed.  The three of us agreed to walk around the house for a few minutes before breakfast to see if we could locate our mischievous pet.  I went around the front of our own house while my mother and brother searched around the neighbors’.  Almost immediately, I saw Impy sprawled in the front garden.

“He’s sleeping!” I yelled, delighted to have been the one to find him, like the winner of a scavenger hunt.  I realized almost immediately, however, that Impy’s evident stiffness indicated a condition more permanent than sleep.

My mother and brother arrived to find me staring at the frozen corpse.  I recall more horror than grief.  Impy presented a problem that did not have an apparent solution.

“Should we try mouth-to-mouth?” asked Barry.

We looked at each other.  No one moved forward.   Eventually, we resolved to bury Impy where several previous pets were interred, behind the garage.  It became immediately apparent, however, that the frozen ground was impossible to dig.

“I have an idea,” said Barry.  “Burial at sea would be dignified.”

“Which sea did you have in mind?” asked my mother.  “We’re hours from the ocean.”

“We could drop him off a bridge into a river,” said Barry.  “That’d be almost the same thing.”

“Yes.  We can wrap him in his blanket,” I suggested, thinking of a pad on which Impy sometimes slept.

“Good idea,” said my mother.

We gathered Impy’s body up into his blanket-cum-shroud and piled into the car.  As the youngest and smallest member of this expedition, I sat in the backseat beside my pet’s stiff body.  I recall feeling sad for Impy but also a sense of excitement about our mission.  Life with Impy, after all, had been a mixed blessing.  And there was something almost spiritual about his restless, impetuous body being at peace.  Already, we were thinking about how our next pet might be better.

“It should be female,” said my mother.

Barry added:  “Perhaps a dog or cat that will curl up in your lap or in front of the fire.”

I looked down at the back of my hands and sighed:  “I won’t miss getting scratched.”

We were silent as we arrived at the Fairmount Park Bridge over the Schuylkill River.  Barry carried the bundle to the middle of the span as my mother and I followed a step behind.  We were a self-conscious triumvirate, summoning what felt like proper solemnity to the situation.

“This feels sort of Mayan,” I observed, thinking of rituals we had just talked about in school.

“I guess,” said Barry.

“Do you want to say something?” asked my mother, looking at me.

“I can’t really think of anything,” I said.

“Well,” said Barry, taking on a grave tone.  “Impy, we hope that you are in a peaceful place, um, with lots of good food, um, and plenty of mice to catch.”

I looked up to make sure he was finished.

“Amen,” I said.

“Amen,” said my mother.

With that, after looking both ways to be sure no one was watching, Barry flung the deceased into the air.  We all raced to the railing to watch the anticipated splash.  To our horror, we realized that the river was completely frozen.  Our search for dignity ended with a thud.

We were speechless for most of the ride home.

“It will melt, eventually,” Barry finally offered.