The kitten craze

For months, it had been on my “to-do” list. Every time I walked through the back door, the screen door virtually squeaked “fix me.” See, last fall, in a fit of thunder-driven anxiety, the dog (bless his soul) clawed his way through an old boarded up kitty door and shredded the adjacent screen door like tissue paper in a superheroic effort to get out. OK, so he would have been safer inside, but I never said he was smart. Anyway, for several months, the lower portion of the screen has been missing. Although its removal created a convenient child and dog-sized entrance, with warmer weather I feared it was going to invite less desirable varmint. The indoor box elder invasion was bad enough.

Unfortunately, as many of us with household effects in disrepair know, the road to Kroeger’s is paved with good intentions. And little did I know, as my 4-year-old son called to me outside to “come see a surprise,” the road was about to come to an abrupt end. As I walked in and my eyes adjusted, I made out a small, black blob on the floor.

“It’s a kitty!” Baxter shouted with glee as he performed a little jig around the forlorn animal. Meanwhile, his younger sister was so besotted that all she could do was squeal and point.

Sure enough, my intuition was right. Seems that one evening while we were out in the yard, the stray came in through the unscreened door and set up housekeeping in the bathtub. Sean walked in to find it protesting loudly to the presence of a leaky faucet in its new accommodations. The cat, probably several months old, then jumped out and began a tour of its new surroundings. And apparently, the presence of two small shrieking humans did little to dissuade it from hanging around as it sat down on the living room floor and made itself comfortable.

Which made me very uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m a cat hater so much as a cat tolerator. I got over the whole “snakes with legs” thing years ago when a roommate of mine took in a Russian gray named “Suzy.” I came to find a new respect for Suzy when I discovered that, after days of puzzling over a mysteriously disappearing bowl of peanut butter M&Ms, that she had been slowly licking them down to manageable nubs before devouring them. OK, several unsuspecting, innocent people probably injested cat-slobbered candy. But there was something perversely funny about it, too – you know, like in that joke about the old lady who served peanuts to her guests because she could only suck off the chocolate. Anyway, due to that definite uncatlike behavior, Suzy was deemed OK in my eyes.

But it’s not like I wanted to go and seek out a pet cat for myself. Sure, they’re low-maintenance, but so are cacti – and they don’t bite when you try to put them in the car to go to the vet. Nevertheless, I’ll admit, I did toy with the idea a few weeks back when Baxter announced he wanted a kitty. But the thought was short-lived when it dawned on me that, although I would be done changing diapers in a year or so, I would still be left scooping someone else’s poop for decades to come. Suddenly, mommy developed an “allergy” (not entirely untrue) and the subject was dropped – until now.

“Look at his fuzzy ears,” Baxter exclaimed as he grabbed the cat’s ear and torqued it sideways.

“Be careful,” I cautioned as I observed the visitor, who nary flinched as its tiny ear was contorted to an impossible angle. It was a scrawny, scrappy little thing, and much to my chagrin, completely collarless.

“Oh, it’s soooo cute,” Baxter cooed amidst uncontrollable giggles from his sister, who was taking great pleasure in trying to poke out the kitty’s eyes. “Maybe if it stays it can be our kitty, and we can name it … ”

No! Not the name, I prayed silently as the words rose to his lips. For, as any parent knows, once a stray is named, it’s all over. The cold, cruel, catless heart melts and next thing you know, you’re buying tinkerbell collars and Fancy Feast.

“… Melissa,” he declared.

Double whammy. He may only be 4 years old, but the kid is a master manipulator. Suddenly, the small, vile furball on the floor didn’t seem so repulsive. The itchy eyes I could feel coming on miraculously dissipated and my Grinch heart grew a few sizes.

“He looks hungry, let’s get him some milk,” I said.

Unfortunately, a quick trip to the larder produced only organic half and half. I generously poured it into a bowl and set it at the cat’s feet. She gingerly bent over and lapped delicately.

However, as abruptly as the Hallmark moment started, it ended

“She kinda stinks,” Baxter observed with a fickled nose of disapproval before wandering off to his next distraction. His sister, bored with trying to grab the curling tail, soon followed suit.

This left Sean and I to contemplate the options for my newfound namesake.  It quickly became apparent that all was not well with the little critter. Despite the emaciated frame, she only took a few sips of milk before giving up in frustration. Likewise, her breathing seemed labored, her gait crooked, and Baxter was right: she had breath that could kick Bruce Lee’s butt. And as if that wasn’t enough, no sooner than it was injested, several dollars’ worth of organic half and half was rejected in a frothy pile on the bathroom rug.

“Maybe she got beat up or hit by a car,” Sean offered as she sidled up to him and did figure eights around his feet. “She could probably use our help.”

Whatever it was, it sounded expensive and exhausting. For god’s sake, the dog’s ashes were barely cold on the mantelpiece, and lord knows his vet bills were far from being paid. Sure, I had always said I would consider another dog if one availed itself to me. I just didn’t think it could come in feline form.

So, after a call to the local Humane Society which produced an answering machine and a few hours of a test drive as a cat owner, I decided to follow the golden rule. No, not “do unto others,” but “if you set something free and it comes back, it’s yours.” Before bedtime, I found a box, lined it with a blanket and set her outside with a bowl of water. If she was there in the morning, we’d keep her.

The next morning, we awoke to an empty kitty bed and an all-but-erased memory as far as the kids were concerned. The kitty had moved on, to yet another new bowl of milk and name – at least for now. And although I breathed a secret sigh of relief, I was also sad to see her gone and promised that if she did decide to make her way back, the screen door would still be open.

– Missy Votel



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High and dry

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