As the first week of March had come and gone, a feeling of spring was in the air. My wife Katrina had come down with a severe case of her annual illness, the fur fever. I haven’t noticed the fever causing any physical impairment, but it does seem like an emotional event that tickles her brain. It drives her to act differently, particularly in her desire to add another pet to our brood. Her eyes light up with excitement and she begins to talk about bunnies and how much the kids need to have another one. When the talk of this furry frenzy reaches my eardrums it sounds like utter nonsense to me.
Just yesterday she told me what a keen idea it would be to have a couple of goats tied out around our one acre city lot. “They could just eat the weeds and briars we have,” she said. I listened intently as I visualized myself making frequent stops at the feed store to trade my hard-earned cash for corn. She also pondered the idea of having sheep, and wondered if they really had to be sheered regularly or if they could just grow wooly. I think that trip to the zoo we have planned may not get here soon enough before we have our own animal safari right here at home.
Is it a coincidence that just last year at this time a white rabbit suddenly appeared, delivered by a near and dear relative, the Easter Bunny? Why, just two years ago, right after the arrival of our daughter Olivia, our very own roof-roaming Sammy the wonder dog came onto the scene. When things happen repetitively like this we call it a trend in the marketing industry. Other pets that have arrived at our dwelling when the trees start budding include ducks, baby chicks, and our old friend Buddy the beagle. Need I say more? Yes, I believe I will.
Several months ago we became the proud “parents” of a new kitten named Oliver who came to be a resident at our home. Now as kittens and puppies go, they are sweet, cute and cuddly when they are fresh and new, but when the new wears thin and freshness turns to feces, the children move on with their lives and away from their role as pet caretakers. It becomes a slave camp around here, and the children become driven by the taskmasters (aka parents), forced into the daily drudgery of feeding and watering.
Oliver quickly grew from a kitten into a cat, and as winter set in and it became cold outside, Oliver the cat and Sammy the wonder dog became nighttime refugees in the garage. It became our routine to let the animals in for the night and put them outside during the day as weather permitted. On one particular winter day, an unseasonably warm blast of air brought a pretty decent opportunity for Katrina, the kids, and the pets to take a nice stroll through the woods, which they did.
Katrina led the five-kid, two-pet parade up the mountain with Sammy in tow on a leash and Oliver following along. The farther they walked, the more Oliver wandered, and as Katrina busied herself keeping an eye on Sammy and the kids, Oliver got farther and farther behind. By the time they got back to the house, there was no sign of Oliver. Katrina and the kids looked and called for him, but he did not come. Figuring on him returning on his own soon, they came on home and got on with their day. But Oliver never returned.
Oliver has been gone for a couple of months now, and the idea of having a cat around again has not surfaced. As I sit here in the quiet of the morning, the birds are singing outside, the clock is tick, tick, ticking on the wall, the heat pump is churning air through the ductwork, and mice are scurrying through the subfloor above me. Someday the house may fall in around me as the mice gnaw us into homelessness. I’m not so sure that another four-footed beast around here would be the best solution, but maybe a properly placed feline could, after all, reduce the rodent population.
I got the announcement on Monday. With the exuberance of someone who had just won the lottery, Katrina contacted me with a message via email, informing me that someone had placed an ad regarding a “free” fourteen month old cat needing a good home. First of all, there is no such thing as a “free” cat, or any pet for that matter. The hidden costs can be enormous. Secondly, I’m not sure that our house would be the “good home” they were looking for. These kind-hearted folks had gotten this wonderful fluffball-of-a-cat about a year ago, and try as they might, they could not get their older cat to get along with the newer one, so their newest resident had to go.
At my desk at work, I sighed heavily as I read the email. Here we go again. I shook my head as I typed a quick response. What was I to do? As I hit the send button on my email back to her, giving her the go-ahead, implicit instructions were given that this would be an outside cat.
Katrina soon called me, overjoyed with my quick and affirmative answer. She had already contacted the cat lady to work out the details of the adoption, and had called me to make sure I was ok with the details. The benevolent cat-owner lived in Van Buren, which is closer to Fort Smith where I work than our home in Greenwood. Katrina said, “It’s too bad that you didn’t just grab the pet carrier on your way to work this morning.”
Laughter ensued on my part, long bursts of it, then a slight breath of air, and even more laughter. As Katrina joined in with my laughter I said, “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m always wondering what pet I’m going to pick up as I head off to work.” As our laughter died down, Katrina said, “Well, maybe you should just keep it in your car from now on.” I believe she was half-way serious as we laughed some more, imagining myself gathering strays on the side of the road.
I was relieved when Katrina excused me from performing the cat retrieval. I had been picturing myself standing in a parking lot meeting the cat lady, waiting for her to look the other way so I could chuck the cat in my trunk after she drove off. Thank goodness that wasn’t going to happen.
Fortunately, for my sanity and the cat’s future state of mind, Katrina and the cat owner worked out a meeting time and place, and the adoption took place later that day. When Katrina picked up the cat in the Petco parking lot (imagine that), the nice lady went on and on about how she had cared for him since he was a kitten, how much she had coddled him, and how much she really hated to part with him. She brought along a small bag of cat food and assured Katrina that if the cat did not work out to be sure and let her know and she would take him back. Nothing like a little bit of pressure from a true cat-lover.
When I arrived home from work, I was welcomed into the pet kingdom by all of the kids screaming about our big hairy cat they had brought home. I soon discovered that Katrina and the cat were getting acquainted in the downstairs bathroom where she had the door shut. As I walked in on the cat counseling session, I had to strain to see him as he was hunkered down hiding behind the toilet, terrified. I couldn’t say as I blamed him. I have to run for cover myself occasionally, especially when the kids are causing seismic activity that tips the Richter scale. Katrina pulled him out to show him to me, and I was shocked to see one of the largest, hairiest cats I’d ever laid eyes on.
Our unnamed visitor spent the balance of the evening in the bathroom, and as bedtime neared, Katrina began making arrangements to put him in the pet taxi for the night. She put some paper in the bottom in case he made a mess, and left the cat hotel room in the dining room floor for the night. No problem, right?
At about 4 am I was awakened by the most intense racket. It sounded like a pack of coons at a campout, or maybe even someone beating down the front door. I lay there motionless, disgusted, and pleased all at the same time when Katrina got up to see what was the matter with her cat. The cat was somehow trying desperately to get out of its cage. Katrina got up and attempted to console him, but to no avail. Finally, she took the cat to the garage in the pet taxi and left it there. Peace settled over me again as I went back to sleep.
After I completed my last lap of sleep, I woke up, went through my daily routine, and headed out the door for work as usual. I walked out into the garage, saw the pet carrier sitting there, thought nothing of the kitty that was inside, and got in my car and left.
I hadn’t been too far down the road when I noticed that the passenger side windshield was covered with paw prints. Had Katrina let the cat roam free when she came down in the early morning hours ? Who knows? I went on to work and thought nothing else of it until Katrina called me later to tell me that the cat was a goner. He had escaped from his plastic prison, and was on the loose. Our assumption was that he had broken out after Katrina put him in the garage, had run out the door when I left for work, and was gone, nowhere to be seen.
Katrina was devastated. We had been cat owners again for a mere fifteen hours, and now he was on the lam, escaped, gone.
Katrina and the kids searched everywhere around the house and in the woods, looked all through the garage, and even made some door to door inquiries with some neighbors. Nothing turned up. How could a cat this large just run away, unnoticed by anyone? Later in the day, they gave up with the hopes that he must just be hiding somewhere nearby and that he would return soon.
Then the dreaded phone call came. Katrina had anticipated it. The cat lady had said that she would be calling back to check on her baby, and she certainly did. The call came that afternoon, and the lady was pretty upset, not only for the sake of the cat, but knowing that our kids were without their new pet. The day moved on, and Katrina and the kids got busy with other things to take their mind off of our missing fur ball.
I came home from work that evening expecting to find everyone down in the dumps about the disappearance of Hairy the cat, but when I came in the door, everyone greeted me with the same excitement as they had the night before. They all rushed me from the door over to the aquarium that was sitting on the table, and said “Daddy, look at the pet mouse that Mommy caught!”
It took me a moment to figure out why anyone would put the words “pet” and “mouse” in the same sentence as I moved in for a closer look. The kids were ecstatic, happily poking at the little fellow, and Hannah was even sticking her hand in to try to touch him. They all screamed when the mouse jumped on Hannah’s arm as she jerked it back quickly. I pictured all of us coming down with some plague caused by contact with rodents, and ordered the aquarium closed immediately.
As I think back on all of the discussions that Katrina and I have had over the years regarding the ownership of a cat, I distinctly remember something about the advantages of them ridding us of mice. I was feeling pretty certain that this little gray pest was probably crawling over my head in the subfloor earlier this morning. There was certainly something wrong with this logic as I posed the question to Katrina as to why we were allowing the survival of this vermin. “He’s a replacement for the missing cat,” she said. I muttered something about not letting him escape in the house as I walked away.
Wednesday came around, and still no sign of Hairy the cat. As Katrina and the kids enjoyed the excitement of a disease carrying rodent on full display, they remembered that Joshua had gotten one of those toy hamsters for Christmas, the one that would crawl around the floor in a plastic ball. When I came home from work that night, Katrina was more than happy to show me this discovery. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie as I sat in our dining room eating dinner while a mouse rolled by under my feet. I was again concerned about the mouse getting loose, and Katrina assured me that she had taped up the ball so it would not come apart.
Another day passed, and time made everyone almost forget about the fact that we had recently been cat owners. I’m not sure if you’re considered the owner if you can’t hold on to a pet for more than twenty four hours. When I came in on Thursday evening, we were still mouse owners, but not of a live one. Much to my delight, the mouse had passed away in the aquarium since the last time I had darkened the door. The mouse who would be king of our castle had passed from the scene almost as quickly as he had arrived. I suspected that it must have been caused by an aerobically induced heart attack while ball jogging.
Friday morning came and things seemed quite normal again. We were back to our previous pet population, and I was headed to work to breathe a sigh of relief after a busy and successful week. I got in my car, backed out of the garage, shut the garage door, and headed down the driveway. I hadn’t gotten very far down the road when I noticed something. There were paw prints on my windshield.
Now if memory serves me correctly, and it usually does, I distinctly remembered that I had driven in the rain since the first night Hairy the cat arrived, when he left paw prints on the windshield. Those were gone, so these must be fresh ones.
As I settled in at work, I called Katrina at home and shared the news with her. Could it be that our cat was still on the premises? How in the world could Hairy have survived for so many days and nights without us noticing him there? Katrina soon got to work looking for him, and I soon got the excited phone call from her letting me know that my suspicions had been correct. He had been quite content holed up behind an old mattress that we had in the garage. We were still cat owners after all!
We’ve now enjoyed our weekend knowing that Hairy is safe and sound, and the worst of it is that I think he likes me the most, which is pretty hard for me to say since I don’t have a history of being the biggest fan of our pets. When I came home last in my car it was raining out, and I had forgotten to shut off the windshield wipers after pulling into the garage. As I started the car this morning to leave, I just had to laugh as the windshield wipers passed before my eyes, gathering a ball of white fur as the blades moved across the paw prints.
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, March 8-14, 2010