Thursday, December 7, 2006

Our Tabby Girls

38 degrees, occasional rain
3 inches of wet snow/slush on the ground.

I surely enjoy Molly, a brown tabby of indeterminate age. She is such a pleasure to hold--round and soft and full of pleasant noises. She is a "hummer," who comments on most any occurrence with a short "Prrt" sound and reacts to physical contact with her persistent purr.

Her life has improved quite a bit since the winter she spent sleeping in the woodpile of a summer cabin and scrounging for food where she could find it. She found it mostly at our house, but being skittish, she never let me approach too closely. All we could do for her was make sure that food was left out for her and watch and worry over her.

A deep snowfall forced me into action. When I went out to leave her food that night, I saw her tracks, weaving from side to side in our driveway and realized that she was looking for a path through the two-foot deep snow cover--and that she was wearing herself out trudging through the snow.

I followed her tracks to the carport next to the house, where she was huddled underneath a boat. I set the food down and while she was eating, I edged close enough to grab her--that desperate hold that knew there would be no second chance. I had her inside before either of us could draw two breaths.

I don't know much about Molly's life before she was abandoned. Someone had cared enough about her to raise her and feed her and have her spayed. But she was been living on her own for months, and some time before she came to live with us, someone had made her fear people and flinch from contact. At some point, two of her canine teeth had been broken--had she been hit by a car or by a human being?

It literally took us years--a decade--to overcome her fearfulness. That she comes to us when we call her and greets us with joy may mean that she has finally forgotten the hard life and the times before...


I guess Maggie is about seven or eight years old.

She started her life in a neighborhood of Anchorage known as Muldoon and enters on the scene as an abandoned cat, a young mother who was raising her kittens under a trailer in a mobile home park where my brother and his family was living. My sister-in-law and nieces took pity on the poor cat and rescued her and her kittens. The kittens had no trouble finding new homes but, as is so often the case, an adult cat without the benefit of kitten-cuteness is not as sought-after as a pet.

So my brother's family kept "Momma Cat" as their own.

A year or two passed and the family was moving out-of-state. So--you guessed it--we took in "Momma Cat." I met her for the first time when Denny pulled into the driveway with the fluffy tabby cat sitting on the front seat of his pick-up truck. She looked very composed for a cat who had just had a 220-miles road trip. That quiet self-composure is a hallmark of the cat we re-named "Maggie."

Maggie is a great cat. She doesn't pick fights or force her attentions on people. She is smart and pays attention and tries so hard to understand what we ask of her that she reminds me of Newt in that respect. Her fierce little Persian-type face makes her look forbidding but it masks a sweet and compliant personality that any cat-owner would cherish. I am glad the long road from Muldoon ended at our house.

She lives in the shop right now and I can't recall quite how that happened except that there were strong personalities involved and she was being terrorized by one or more of the established house cats. Moving her into the shop seemed the best solution for all concerned at the time. The dynamic in the house seems to have mellowed lately, and we are slowly trying to reintroduce her into the household social group. As she is a very low-profile kitty, I am optimistic that she can find a place in time.

She has a happy life in the shop--sitting in the window or outside in the cat run, sunning herself or looking for errant shrews in the straw carpet of the cat run. Like many of the more self-effacing cats, she doesn't demand attention but I suspect she would enjoy having more.


It is a mystery to me why Snickers was left to languish at the Animal Shelter while her two siblings found a home.

I knew from the first time I met her that Snickers was an exceptional cat. She had life and personality and a way of looking you directly in the eye when she spoke to you. I marked her as special, taking an interest in her and hoping every week when I went in to volunteer at the Shelter that she would have found a good home.

I guess eventually she *did* find a good home. Ours.

I was really trying to hold the line against gaining more cats but every now and then one comes along that you can't close out of your heart. I cared about the shaggy earth-toned tabby and worried about her fate. As I dithered about whether I could possibly squeeze her into the House of Many Cats, she contracted a bad case of cat flu.

It was difficult, in the ramshackle conditions at the old Animal Shelter, to keep the animals all healthy. One sick cat coming into the small cat shed could spread an air-borne virus overnight and there weren't any decent facilities for quarantine. Serious illness usually meant euthanasia.

When I showed up for my volunteer day, Snickers' cage was empty.

I was afraid to ask what had become of her, though I peered into the crowded supply room and the office area to see if she was in isolation there. I couldn't find her and went through the day with a sad heart, wishing I had been able to save her. I knew too well the realities that made it so hard to save sick cats, especially when there weren't enough homes for the healthy ones, but I knew I would hold the memory of the out-going tabby close to my heart for a long time.

That evening, as I passed the Shelter on my way home from work, I remembered that I hadn't checked in the bathroom. The small but warm room frequently had to stand-in as an isolation area. Maybe, just maybe, Snickers had been put in there...

I heard her miserable meow as I unlocked the bathroom door. She was there--nestled next to the space heater but too sick to do more than raise her head when I came in. With her eyes gummed up and her nose clogged, she looked pretty sad. But she was alive and I felt as if I had been given a second chance to save her. Without really thinking, I bundled her up, put her in the truck, and took her home for personalized nursing.

Despite being young and strong, Snickers almost didn't make it. It took several vet visits, days of force-feeding and subcutaneous fluid therapy before she started to make signs that she was interested in living. And when you fight so hard for the life of a cat, it is very hard to put them up for adoption. I guess it is true that when you save a life, you become responsible for it.

Snickers was ours because I couldn't bear to lose her again.

She is a wonderful cat. At least all the people who know her agree with that. For some reason, most of the cats that know her well find her insufferable. Maybe they think she is an incorrigible suck-up. She isn't confrontational but she doesn't back down from defending herself and she is good at it. Anyone who tries to violate her personal space can end up with scratches while she is unmarked. She may not be well-liked by her peers, but she is respected.

She radiates self-confidence and a joy of life that give me a warm feeling when I look at her. It is obvious that whoever gave her up for adoption was not a connoisseur of cats, because she is a treasure among felines.

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