A Tail of Two Cats ~ By John Bolton
Our sons have long since grown up and moved away. Our two black cats are like children to us now. I think their stories are worth telling.
Elvis came to us first. Linda and I were biking the Raccoon River Trail on a late summer morning. About ten miles out we crossed a gravel road. The trail on the far side had a shady line of trees. Just off the trail were two tiny kittens. One was black and the other was black and white. They looked to be only six weeks old. Being animal lovers, we stopped to hold and pet the babies. They were starved for attention and maybe just plain starving.
There was no house or farmstead in sight and we were about four miles from the nearest town. We had a cat at home and did not need another. Three would definitely be too many. I persuaded Linda to complete our ride. If the kittens were there when we came back, we would find a way to help.
We pedaled off toward the town of Redfield. The kittens raced after us. The tiny black one ran like he was running for his life. I feel hard hearted about it now, but we completed our ride. And of course those little cats stayed on our minds.
We came back and lo and behold, there was a mother cat and now three babies. Momma cat was sweet, petite, solid black and affectionate. Linda thought there might be more kittens and she started calling for them. We soon had five babies of assorted colors. The little black one was the runt of the litter and the most outgoing.
I raced back to the town where we’d parked our truck. By gravel roads, I found my way to Linda and the brood of cats. In the weeds off the bike trail, Linda had found a Bud Light beer box with an old towel inside. Someone had abandoned that momma cat and her litter, literally in the middle of nowhere.
Did you ever make a sixty mile trip in the cab of a small pickup with two humans, a momma cat and five kittens? It was entertaining. We bought a sack of kitten chow along the way home. Those cats were going crazy for it before the bag was open.
We already had a cat, Katie, an older gray female, set in her ways, vocal and crabby. We couldn’t have more cats. We kept the cat family in the garage for a couple of days. It was fun to let them out to play and a circus to re-capture them. We there was undigested corn in momma cat’s poop. What a good mother cat she was to eat field corn to stay alive and feed her babies.
Our vet, Michelle, and vet tech, Susie, are good, people. They found a farm home for the whole litter. It was a relief to find them a home. On the other hand, we knew that farm cats tend to have short lives
And I kept regretting giving up that lively black runt of the litter. I had named him Elvis. He had a lot of personality. Linda relented to my whining and we asked if we could have him back. He was soon ours. Or we were soon his.
Our Katie cat was greatly affronted and offended by the new ball of black fur in her domain. How could we bring such a creature into her house? She bullied him while he was small, but soon they were friends. That runt grew into a fifteen pound (neutered) tom. That is a pretty big cat. He in turn bullied Katie. And she would scream when he did. In spite of her angry ‘I’m being murdered’ screams ~ Katie liked it fine.
A few years later Katie cat was dying of old age and kidney failure. She’d had violent seizures. We called Michelle, the vet, to euthanize her. She came to our house to do the merciful deed. Linda held Katie as the life slipped out of her.
Elvis ruled the roost by himself for a few years until Rockie came along.
The winter of 2009 and 2010 was the harshest in my memory. We had the double whammy of severe cold and deep snow. Linda and I worked at our small town hospital. Early on a dark January morning, with the temperature at eighteen below zero, an outpatient came in and told Linda there was a little cat outside and that she was just about frozen. Not much later, a second outpatient repeated the story. Linda went outside and picked up a filthy, starving and nearly frozen little cat. Her tail was broken and covered with frost. Linda cuddled her in blankets. Weak as she was, the little cat purred.
It was off to the veterinary clinic for that little cat. She was so frozen, ill and malnourished that she stayed there for nearly a month. IVs and nutrition helped her regain her strength. She arrived at the vet weighing three pounds. A month later, she was six pounds. And that was after her tail was removed. There was no saving that broken, frozen tail.
It was an unexpected surprise to learn the little cat’s story. Keith was a college student working part time in maintenance at the hospital. I sat with him one morning at coffee break and mentioned the little cat we found. Keith asked, “Is she solid black and about so big?”
We pieced the story together. Keith lived on a farm about fifteen miles away. The farm cats would climb up under the hoods of the cars and trucks to get warm. One recent day Keith had been driving away from the farm and something caught his eye in the rear view mirror. It was the little black cat tumbling in the snow after falling from her perch near the truck motor. When Keith came home, there was the little cat in the farm yard and apparently unharmed.
I asked Kieth if she had a name. I am hard of hearing and I thought Kieth said, ‘Rockie’. That seemed like a fine name for her. She’d
had a rocky start in life. Days later, I would learn that I had misheard. Keith had called her Lucky. But Rockie fit and Rockie it would stay.
Rockie did not learn her lesson after falling out of the truck engine compartment the first time. We think she got under that truck hood again and rode fifteen miles to Harlan and the hospital parking lot - probably getting her tail broken by the fan or fan belts in the process. Like Elvis had run for his life, Rockie stowed away and rode to town for hers. We think she was out in sub zero temps for three days without food or water.
Keith was content to let us keep Rockie. And though it went unspoken, he was content to let us keep her vet bills. By the time she was strong enough to come home, Rockie had bewitched the vet clinic staff. They offered to keep her.
Linda and I – especially Linda, had visited her numerous times. We wanted that cat. We took her home.
If this was fiction, Rockie would be the best cat ever. She isn’t even close. Elvis is the best cat ever. He is our gentle and loving and talkative giant. Rockie is naughty, quirky, independent - and fun.
When we took Rockie back to the vet for her first checkup, we showed Michelle what we thought was a bone chip beneath the skin on her rump and above her thumb sized stub of tail. Michele felt it and rolled in her fingers. She said, “That’s a BB.”
That BB is still there and oddly fascinating to feel. We used to joke about getting Rockie a prosthetic tail. But that stiff little stub does not bother her a bit. It seems to constantly stand up and twitch.
We are Rockie’s staff and she is stand-offish. Elvis is now an old man cat at about fifteen years old. He moves like an old man cat. Rockie will be four this autumn of 2013. She is fast and a champion jumper. She loves and mothers poor Elvis, who mostly tolerates her. Rockie has a high weak and squeaky voice. She does not meow. She does not
yowl. She says, “Eee, eee, eee.”
When company comes, Rockie hides and is not seen until she is certain they have they are gone.
Linda sits in the couch recliner in the evening and Rockie lies on her lap. Rockie regards me as the big bad wolf. She does not hide from me, but she stays two human steps away and will bolt if I intrude closer. She is arrogantly aware that she is smart and fast and I am slow and stupid.
Rockie occasionally allows me to pet her in her designated petting area. This requires me to lie on the floor and pet her beneath a wooden bench. She chooses the petting times and they are not frequent. As I pet her, she watches me warily with her green owl eyes. She is a scaredy cat.
Rockie’s full name is ever changing. It is currently Rockie, BB-butt, monkey-paws, coyote-brain. She earns those names. She is playful cat and has many cat toys. When she has not placed her toys on our bed or scattered them around the house, they are kept under the same wood bench that serves as the designated petting area.
We will lose our beloved Elvis at some not too distant point. It’s going to be terrible. He is the best cat ever. Rockie is a healthy little beast. Her bowed hind legs may be a sign that she was malnourished as a kitten. I hope that she will mellow with time and be a more loving cat with me.
Linda says there will be no more cats after these two. I’ve heard that