Saturday, April 28, 2007

prodigal cat

Took a couple of the chicks (now gawky, half-feathered/half-fuzzy teenagers) to son's school for show and tell yesterday. We finally had some beautiful weather, and even had to keep the windows open until well after dark last night to stay comfortable.

After we got home I brought all the chicks outside in the bigger wire cage to start acclimating them to the outdoors. I also did it so they don't get too used to the lap of luxury they've been experiencing as bathtub/house chickens. I tell ya, it's champagne wishes and caviar dreams for animals around here. Our Aussie sits next to the cage when we bring the chicks out like this, because she takes her guarding duties very seriously (as the cats will tell you). My daughter wanted to tell stories while we sat out there, so I told the story of the beautiful princess who had a cat named Angel, and it was a big hit. Then it was daughter's turn. "What story do you want to hear, Mom?"

"Hmm," I said. "How about The Very Tired Mama?"

Daughter thought about this for a minute. Then she said, "How about a story that doesn't have any scary parts?"

Anyway, I went out at around 10 pm last night (as I always do) to check on the horses and let Mr. Fatso gelding out of the corral where he eats his Jenny Craig rations while the older boys get the 2 flakes each/Equine Sr./corn oil feast. Life's not fair, I know, but if we didn't separate them, I have no doubt that I'd walk outside one day to see that Bearkhat had exploded. (I affectionately refer to him as a "Snausage" because he's the easiest keeper I've ever known. I'm convinced he could get fat on air alone.)

So, I'm out there and I hear a high-pitched meow. This is not unusual in the least, since Angel and Milo are outdoor kitties, and Angel frequently accompanies me for horse chores. As always, I say, "Hi, Angel." I hear the meow again, and look around for her gray stripes in the dark. Nothing. "Where are you?" I call out. Meow.

Now lets backtrack a bit to Christmastime 2005. A move to California was imminent. Arrangements had been made for the horses, and we were taking SheDog the Aussie with us. The only animal that didn't yet have accommodations waiting for him was Pepper Kitten, a half-feral black cat that I'd managed to remove from his entirely feral mama when he was about six or seven weeks old. I then tamed him, neutered him (well, I didn't neuter him - the vet did. I'm a fairly self-sufficient, handy gal, but there are limits), and generally transformed him into a pretty great (albeit still a tad wild) outdoor kitty. Now, for those of you who believe keeping a cat outdoors is tantamount to animal cruelty, I will tell you that I've owned outdoor cats all my life, and they've always been well-cared for, well-loved and extremely happy, spoiled rotten little beasties. Plus, my husband and I are allergic: He makes a run for the Albuterol inhaler when cats are inside, and my contact lenses start feeling like someone squirted Elmer's glue into my eyes.

So, when it came time to move, I was very torn about what to do with Pepper. I knew bringing him to California was out of the question: He'd lived his entire life at the end of a long dirt road, with prairie all around and no traffic. I knew he'd be flattened on the street in front of the CA house right away. I also had doubts about trying to re-home him. He knew his territory, and he owned it, and I could also imagine him running away from the new home and getting equally squashed. I knew he could probably fend for himself fairly well as the rural kitty he was, and I knew he occasionally visited neighbors, but still... Then my mother-in-law, who lives next door to us for part of the year, said she'd look out for him, which made me feel a bit better. So, we essentially did nothing with Pepper, and I agonized over this literally the whole time we were in CA.

The few times we returned to visit our place, our horses and our friends here in 2006 I looked for Pepper, and went out late at night to call for him (since that was traditionally when he liked to visit). Nothing. I had to believe he was either being shy or that he'd found a new home (probably with the Cat Lady, who lived right across the dirt road from us, and who has a local reputation for taking in cats that actually have homes already, keeping them inside and basically adopting him whether they need it or not. She even has a big yellow "Cat Crossing" road sign in front of her house. Clear enough picture?) My MIL had been putting out food, and she assured me that she'd seen him around, but I still worried. I take animal care very seriously, and not knowing how Pepper was doing was one of those things that I'd fret about in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. I know the other animal people out there get this.

So, in the four-plus months that we've been back in AZ, I've actively searched for PK, but to no avail. I've been putting food out in the horse trailer, and have called for him at night. I've also had to find a way to come to peace with the fact that I had very possibly made the wrong decision to leave him here when we moved, and that has not been easy. But you know what's coming, don't you?

I couldn't see Angel's stripes in the dark, but I did see something black and hairy. I had to stand there for a minute and let my brain catch up to what I was seeing, but there he was.

I said, "Pepper, is that you?" and he answered in the affirmative, winding around my legs like he'd always done, and drooling uncontrollably as soon as I started petting him. I couldn't believe it. Since both kids were already asleep, I ran to get the camera so I'd have proof when I told them this morning that Pepper was just fine. Then I went to pick him up and discovered that the whole year-plus I have spent worrying about him has been for naught. Because Pepper has apparently done more than just eke out a life of bare-bones survival here on the prairie. He apparently has a sugar mama (or several sugar mamas). I have included another photo for illustration purposes. Everything outside of the California and Texas-shaped areas roughly represents Pepper's mass as it appeared when we left for California.

He used to be a sleek, trim, efficient barn-type kitty, and now he to put this delicately...

A lard ass.

Yes, our poor, deprived half-feral rescue has somehow managed to amass two entire states' worth of tonnage since being left behind.

And I feel like I've had at least that much weight lifted from my heart.


  1. Now see, I could have put your mind at ease months ago. PC has been living in our boat, with TeenTwirps cat, Miles. (I believe they may be We feed him/them regularly. He won't come near us, but he's been here the whole time. :)

  2. Yeah, yeah. You say I didn't describe him well enough when I told you to let me know if you saw our lost kitty. But I know you for what you are, HOARDER. lol The beastie sure doesn't seem to mind. I wonder how many other families he's roped into feeding his poor, wasting-away self.

  3. Well if he is anything like Miles (who weighs in at a quarter ton himself) he's got quite the neighborhood buffet going on :)

  4. Lorelei10:25 AM

    Hooray for Pepper Kitty, the smartest cat in the universe! I could see the ending coming, but I was still cheering when he was back and safe and gloriously fuzzy.

    Also, may I mention that I've heard the story, The Very Tired Mama, and parts of it scare the HELL out of me. Please tell GirlWonder that she was right to avoid that tome altogether.

    My little hamster girl has decided to change her name. Did I tell you that yet? She has settled on...

    Evangeline Fireworks G...

    It's a lot of bubbles to fill in on the SAT, but I'm likin' it.

  5. Awwww! A happy ending! Pepper and Bearkhat might have to diet together but at least you know they won't die of starvation!

    (Is Jackie The Cat Lady?????)

    hee hee

    I love this story!