Saint Prances

My sister sent me a text the other day that said she had a “cat question” for me.

I have earned the unofficial title of  “the widow lady who lives alone with her cats” much to my dismay, although I do love my little charges as evinced in the Joey on the Lam debacle I posted about this summer.

My sister Mary had never been big on pets.  We had an outdoor cat named Tiger growing up, and a dog Sandy later on, but she never gravitated towards having any of her own –   until recently.

She and her husband live in rural Tennessee where people are not so Lady Gaga over domestic animals.  A lot of Southern ne’er do wells abandon pets in her neighborhood as a matter of fact, cats in particular.  So there is a group of feral cats living near her house – likely in a neighbor’s barn or shed.  They come over for the food and water she and her husband leave out for them.  Slowly, one in particular has become a favorite whom she now calls Prances.

“Because she prances when she walks, and so it kind of fit,” she explained a few months ago when we were catching up on the phone.  I knew at that point we had her.  The “we” being the vast pet lovers society who understand the comfort given and unconditional love brought by four-legged creatures.  Prances will now come up on their front porch and get petted.  I have been after her to trap these cats and get them neutered for sometime, which was the subject of the call.

Her question for me had to do with housing Prances while in recovery from an impending operation to get fixed.  Her plan was to lure Prances to her porch and carefully place her in a borrowed pet carrier (ha!) and drive her to the vet.  They would house Prances in a spare bathroom for a few days while her stitches healed. “Should I put a litter box in the bathroom for her even though she has never used one?”

“Yes” was my answer.  They seem to instinctively know what it’s for, I explained.

I had my doubts that trapping Prances was going to be an easy task, and given Mary’s state of nervousness and anxious tone on the phone, so was she.  We were both cautiously optimistic though, you might say.

A few days later I received a text: “Mission aborted.  Prances got me good. Cancelled vet appointment.”

I admire my sister for trying to do the right thing.  But Prances was having none of it and had clawed her way to the ground and ran back into the woods.  I suggested Mary get a Havahart trap once a bit of time had passed to accomplish her heartfelt mission.  It’s how I finally got Joey back (and he knew me, the little minx!).

A part of me thinks her recent attachment to these feral cats may have a deeper meaning.  Mary had lost her teenaged granddaughter this past summer in a tragic car accident.  She still can’t talk about it, no surprise there.

She could not control that situation and can’t make that pain go away.  But she can help those around her.  She and her husband have long been known for their generous spirit and help to less fortunate folks in their rural part of the state and to many family members.  Watching out for the local feral cat population is a small gesture in a string of larger kindnesses.

And so time will have to pass before Prances regains the trust of her two-legged neighbors so they can complete a compassionate act that she will never appreciate.  Much more time will have to pass before Mary can talk about her granddaughter without choking up and going silent on the phone.  But I remain cautiously optimistic on both counts.




The six pound gorilla in the room

What weighs six pounds, is covered with white fur and has horrible halitosis?

That would be my cat O’Connor, whom I believe may be 19 years old, but I am not totally sure.

I have always had a cat in my life. When I was six, my brother brought home a tiger-striped kitten he found while playing war down at the wooded stream near our house. Tiger (such an original name) was absolutely an outdoor cat. He had the war wounds to prove it, and would drag himself home from a rather nasty night of what I can only imagine was vying for the paw of some much sought after female. He lived a long life, but his ears were ragged and he sported a collection of battle scars. A no nonsense guy who did not like a lot of coddling. Just as well, since those decades ago we didn’t treat our pets like children. They lived outdoors, and trips to the vet were few and saved for dire medical emergencies only.

Today my cats are kept indoors. I had learned the hard way that letting them roam in suburban neighborhoods with a prevalence of cars and coyotes was a bad idea.

According to statistics, Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets in 2015. A lot of this was on food, but a significant chunk was toward vet bills, grooming and designer doggy purses. We are truly kookoo over our furry friends. Just look at the prevalence of pet spas, heated beds and silly outfits on Pinterest. We humanize our animals for sure, which perhaps the petless cannot truly understand. We do it so much it has earned a fancy clinical term:anthropomorphism.

Yes, I talk to my cats and believe they understand me.  (As much as a cat wants to. They’re so stuck up! Like the snotty, pretty-girl clique in high school.)

But let’s look beyond our regular pets at the four-legged heroes – cats that sit with dying nursing home patients; military and police dogs that risk their lives to protect humans. They are truly remarkable, and only ask that we keep them fed and loved.

My friends tease me because I am so soft-hearted about pets that it’s put me off Sarah McLaughlin forever. Meanwhile, give me a juicy episode of “The Walking Dead” and I’ll watch unflichingly as the heads roll. It does not make sense I know, except I just feel that animals are so much more defenseless than people. They provide such comfort that it makes putting up with a roommate with bad breath who doesn’t allow you to wear black outside the house well worth the small sacrifices.