Monday, December 26, 2011

Postscript to My Christmas Story

Well, it isn't quite over yet. Both Christmas Day and the day after--known as St. Stephen's Day by Catholics and Boxing Day by our British friends--were pretty exciting for Van Gogh and me.

When I left off yesterday morning, I'd removed Van Gogh's Elizabethan collar. For the past few days, he had been trying to rub the top of his head on furniture and anything with a protruding edge. I took that to mean that his nerve endings had revived and he was itching. I thought that if he could scratch the top of his head, he might leave the almost-closed wound alone.

Alas, it was not to be. After about an hour, fearful that he would scratch the healing hole in his head open again, I put the collar back on.

The day was nice and peaceful until about 9:30 last night. I was in bed reading with Bob when I heard a god-awful caterwauling coming from the hall bathroom. I jumped up and ran toward the noise. Van Gogh was screaming in what sounded like horrendous pain. For one incredible moment, I wondered if something had gotten into the bathroom and was attacking him.

When I tried to enter the bathroom, the door opened about half an inch and then stopped, blocked by something. I banged forward without success. I slammed my shoulder into the door, trying to move whatever was stopping me but bounced off.

The bathroom went silent. That scared me more than the screaming had. I ran toward the den where I keep a flashlight. Grabbing the portable lamp, I ran for the back door without bothering to stop for slippers or a robe.

I stood on tiptoe on the cold patio concrete, peering into the bathroom window.

No cat, but I could now see what was blocking the door. The bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity was pulled out about eight or nine inches. Since the door opens inward, the drawer served as a very effective barricade.

I returned to the hall outside the bathroom and examined the door. The hinges were on the inside.

For the next two hours, I tried everything I could to move that drawer. I twined metal clothes hangers together, I tried various knives, I inserted a potato masher under the door. If the object was thin enough to go under or around the side of the door, it wasn't strong enough to close the drawer.

By midnight, my patience was at an end. I decided to break in the double hung window outside the bathroom.

The upper half of the small window is safety glass (go here to read about my adventure which ended in replacing the glass). Therefore, the only way into the room was through the lower half, which was still ordinary window glass.

I was in better shape than during my previous adventure. I had tools and other conveniences that were not available when I had been locked out of the entire house in February. I changed into a set of warm sweats, put on shoes and retrieved some knives and a five-foot ladder from the garage.

My goal was to remove the glass without breaking it. I didn't want to be messing with a knife while standing on an unstable ladder so I worked from the ground reaching up. I started by removing the edging that framed the window.

Bob had followed me outside and stood nearby, chattering like an insane Greek chorus. He clearly remembered the last time I had tried to enter the house through the window and did not approve of a reprise effort.

I held my left hand above me to support the glass when it came free. What I did not expect was that the glass would pop out after I had slid my knife along only two edges of the window. The glass came crashing down, pausing only to hit my nose hard on the way down. Of course, it shattered to pieces on the concrete patio.

I swore in a most un-Christmas night-like way while Bob shouted, "I told you so!" in feline. But the window was now open. I pulled one of the wrought iron patio chairs over to the window and climbed up on it. I carefully threaded the five-foot ladder through the window. By leaning inside, I was able to set it up on the bathroom floor.

I had not as yet seen any sign of Van Gogh. Now I crooned to him, "Hey, guy, I'm here. Come on out."

As I had suspected, he was hiding in his cabinet. He came out immediately and, with my coaxing, climbed right up the ladder and into my arms. I jumped off the chair and carried him into the house, leaving Bob standing outside on the patio.

I brought him straight to the laundry room where I could put him on top of the washing machine and examine him. My suspicions were confirmed.

The drawer pulls on my bathroom vanity are the ornate metal kind used in houses built in the early '60s. There is a long twisted pull which extends out about an inch from the perpendicular pieces that hold it in place. My guess was that Van Gogh tried to scratch the top of his head on the pull, got his wound caught in it and then yanked the drawer open while trying to get free.

His wound was a mess. He'd torn it open about half an inch in both directions, and it was bleeding all over the place. I cleaned it up as best I could, using the first aid kit from my suitcase since I couldn't get to any of the stuff in my medicine cabinet.

By the time I was finished, it was after 1:00 AM, and I was drained both physically and emotionally. I set up another litter box (fortunately there was an extra in the garage) with a water dish and deposited Van Gogh in the guest bedroom.

I decided to leave the bathroom window as it was for the night. If a tall, skinny burglar got in, maybe he'd open the door for me. I did pull the ladder out of the room--no point in making things too easy for the burglar.

After collecting a very-ticked-off Bob, I tumbled into bed. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I'd worry about the rest in the morning.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The End of My Christmas Story

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Van Gogh's wound is all but closed. There is a tiny opening left on his head, which I expect to be sealed by tomorrow. He has a white scar about three inches long across the top of his head. I would never have believed that such an ugly wound could heal so beautifully.

The other amazing thing is how quickly an essentially feral cat could settle down into a loving companion. Whenever Bob is outside, I let Van Gogh roam the house. He's learned to come running when I call his name. He leaps into my arms and purrs up a storm. When he's back in the bathroom, all I have to do is open the door for him to begin purring and rubbing against me. I now shower and dress in that bathroom so he has company each morning. He hops up on the counter and watches while I get ready for the day.

To celebrate the holiday, I removed the Elizabethan collar that he' been wearing. After three weeks in that collar, he deserved to enjoy Christmas, too.

In honor of the day, I split a can of Bumble Bee tuna between the two cats. Bob licked the juice and left the tuna. Van Gogh inhaled the tuna.

Our next challenge is to see if I can integrate Van Gogh into our little household. The two males are testing my ingenuity and stamina. Van Gogh has an appointment with Tim to be neutered on January 5. I'm hoping that will help.

Bob is clearly more aggressive, but it's his home he's protecting.

Right now, they are two-for-two on outwitting me. Bob continues to try the bathroom door to see if he can get inside at Van Gogh. Fortunately, both times he's pulled it off, I was in the room and chased him out.

Van Gogh periodically tests the door from his side as well. He, too, has succeeded twice. Both times he's gone looking for Bob. He didn't attack either time; just stood and stared at Bob, who snarled and hissed. I heard the ruckus and intervened. While dragging Van Gogh away, I flicked my index finger against his forehead and scolded him.

I've had a few wins myself. I've put knots in knee socks and left them on the floor under the bathroom door with one knot on each side. The cats have shredded the sox while playing with them.

Whenever I let Bob back into the house, I'm holding Van Gogh. At first, Bob wouldn't enter the house. Now he just walks past us to check out his food dish.

I've tried holding Van Gogh on my chest on the bed while Bob is in the room. Since Van Gogh's the more unpredictable party, I've chosen to control him.

Bob always jumps up on the bed, too. The first time, he howled and growled at us. To my relief, Van Gogh didn't respond. Bob finally settled down and curled up in the opposite corner of the bed.

These days when Bob jumps up, he walks over to within a foot or so of us. I hold Van Gogh firmly, and the two cats just look at each other. Then Bob turns his back and curls up nearby.

I've been unsuccessful in finding a screen door to put in the bathroom doorway to allow them to see each other without disaster. My new plan is to purchase two baby gates and try putting them, one above the other, in the doorway so the cats can see each other without actually attacking. Not sure how that plan will work. I may have to secure a screen either above or between the two gates.

Bob weighs 17 pounds; Van Gogh has done from about 9 to about 13 pounds over the three weeks. If I can't get them to declare a truce, I'll find Van Gogh a good home.

At any rate, I've enjoyed telling the tale of Van Gogh. Today, on this holy day, I feel truly blessed. I'm grateful for my family and friends and also grateful that the Lord brought Van Gogh to my door when I could be of service.

God bless us, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Part IX of My Christmas Story

Eight days after I found Van Gogh on my windowsill, we returned to the vet. I was like a new mother, insecure and overly anxious about every little thing. The still frightful wound terrified me.

Tim came into the examining room and asked, "Okay, what are you doing here?"

I replied, "He doesn't seem to be improving very much."

He laughed and put the purring cat on the scales, "Well, he's gained almost three pounds in one week so you must be doing something right."

Tim manhandled Van Gogh, examining him thoroughly. "The second bit of good news is that we've saved his ear."

A burden I hadn't even realized I was carrying fell off my shoulders. "But the wound looks as bad as it did a week ago."

He shook his head. "You're looking, but not seeing." He angled Van Gogh so I was staring into that cavern of blood and mucus. "What do you see?"

"The wound just keeps weeping," I complained. "It's every bit as big as it was before."

"As wide, but not as deep. It's filling in from the bottom up."

I squinted. He was right. The walls of the pit on Van Gogh's head were not as deep or as steep as they had been. At the base, the perimeter of the wound was narrower than at the top. "What about all the goo?"

He grabbed a piece of gauze and swabbed the wound. "Before you apply the antibiotic, wipe it out." Then he turned and gave me a stern look. "Do not use water, peroxide or alcohol on this wound. I don't want anything interfering with the antibiotic's bond."

I nodded, without telling him how often I'd been tempted to apply alcohol--just to dry out the bleeding wound.

"And use only a tiny, tiny bit of the topical antibiotic."

"What happens if I use too much?" I asked anxiously.

"You'll have to pay for more. As it is, I'm going to have the tech mix up another bottle of oral antibiotic. I want you to keep him on it for two weeks total."

He smiled. "You're doing a great job. Come back whenever you need a pep talk. By mid-January, Vincent here will be ready to be neutered." He gave me a rough hug. "Merry Christmas."

Tim charged me just $15 for the antibiotic, no office visit charge. Van Gogh's total medical expenses so far had come to just over $100.

Over the next week, the wound began to close up almost magically fast. It started as a tiny white line of scar tissue where the narrowest part of the wound had sealed together behind Van Gogh's ear. Each day that white line grew by another quarter inch. At ten days, the white line ran the entire width of Van Gogh's right ear.

As he began to feel better, the problems between Van Gogh and Bob multiplied. Bob had stopped throwing himself on the bathroom door, but now Van Gogh was battering the door from the inside. Bob was more subtle. He'd cautiously test the door to see if he could push it open.

More later ...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Part VIII of My Christmas Story

It was already noon on Monday by the time Van Gogh and I left the veterinary clinic. Van Gogh was wearing one of those hard plastic Elizabethan collars to prevent him from clawing at his already fragile ear.

I'd emailed my boss early that morning to say I had a cat emergency and would let her know as soon as I could whether I would be able to make it into the office at all that day. As an exempt employee, if I couldn't work at least four hours, I needed to use my vacation accruals. When we left the vet, I phoned her voicemail from the car to say I would take the day off.

Of course, when I'd hauled the hated cat carrier out of the garage at 7:oo that morning, Bob the Cat had made himself very scarce. When I returned home at 12:30, he magically appeared, wanting to know what was going on.

I put the carrier on the floor of the den. He cautiously approached. Almost in unison, the two male cats began howling at each other. I yanked the carrier off the floor and brought it into the hall bathroom, shutting Bob out. This room would be Van Gogh's home until his wound healed. Fortunately, as bathrooms go, it's pretty large. Along one wall is a full-length closet with folding doors, the commode area and the bathtub. Along the other wall, are two sinks, each with its own counter, and a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with shelves. Although as narrow as most bathrooms are, the room is twenty feet long.

To my surprise, when I lifted Van Gogh out of the carrier, he began to purr. I took advantage of the moment to put him on the bathroom counter and do a tick inspection. Over the next half hour, with him purring like a Jaguar motor, I removed 19 ticks of various sizes. The Revolution Tim had applied would take care of the fleas.

By the time I finished looking for ticks, Bob was throwing himself at the bathroom door, howling "Let me at him!" I ignored the drama, recognizing it as pure hyperbole. However, Van Gogh was clearly unhappy about the barbarian at the gate. He prowled around the bathroom, looking for a place to hide.

I opened the cabinet where I keep two laundry baskets (there's a chute above through which I can drop the soiled garments). I removed one basket and put it into the bathtub. Van Gogh immediately tried to get into the opened space, but caught his collar on the cabinet door. I opened the door wider, and he entered and lay down.

If I left the cabinet door wide open, it blocked the litter box in the space underneath the adjacent counter. Clearly not a workable solution.

There is another cabinet above the commode where I keep a few tools so I don't have to go out to the garage every time I need a wrench or hammer. I grabbed a screwdriver and removed the door to Van Gogh's cabinet. I furnished his new space with one of the blankets he'd slept on the night before. Now he had two places to lie down: inside the cabinet or on the blanket in front of the closet.

I left him to get accustomed to his new digs and went out to confront Bob, who had worked himself into a major tizzy. It took me nearly 30 minutes to convince him he was still my main squeeze.

The next week established our pattern. When Bob was outside, I let Van Gogh have the run of the house. When Bob was inside, Van Gogh stayed in his bathroom.

Van Gogh's wound was still freaking me out. It wept constantly so there was always a thin layer of blood and mucus filling it. Each morning and each evening, I would blot the liquid with a Q-tip before applying the topical antibiotic. The good news was that Van Gogh had no feeling in the area of the wound at all. I could do whatever I wanted to it, and he would simply purr.

Unlike Bob, Van Gogh never fought me when I picked him up to doctor on him. Twice a day, I'd clean the wound and apply the antibiotic. Then I would fill an eyedropper with the oral antibiotic, tilt his head back and squirt the medicine into his mouth. By contrast, whenever I pick Bob up to dose him, he begins clawing and howling and fighting. I usually wrap him in a towel in order to give him meds. I never had to do anything with Van Gogh. He obviously hated the taste of the antibiotic, but never fought back.

After a week, I was getting panicky. I couldn't see any difference in the size of the wound at all. It still looked awful. The following Monday, I left work early to take Van Gogh back to the vet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Part VII of My Christmas Story

I opened the door to the bathroom and switched on the light, not at all sure of what I would find. I was more than a little afraid that Dinah might have died during the intervening five hours.

Two things struck me immediately: a rancid smell and the sight of Dinah's shoe-button eyes staring up at me. With most cats, you notice the colored irises first. With Dinah, her prominent feature was two huge black pupils.

I stepped inside and shut the door behind me. Thinking that the odor came from the litter box, I glanced in that direction, but the sand remained undisturbed. It took several moments before I realized the smell's origin was Dinah's head wound. Now that her wet fur had dried, the underlying odor had surfaced.

Dinah was alive and alert. The only other positive I could see was that she'd eaten half of the wet food I'd left her. Uncertain of my next move, I knelt down next to the blankets and spoke softly to her. "Hey, little girl, how are you feeling?"

She was purring softly, but that didn't encourage me. I've had cats who never purred much, but who suddenly started to purr 24 to 48 hours before they died. I think it's a self-soothing mechanism.

Her eyes never moved from my face, not even to blink. I reached out a tentative hand to stroke her right side. She flinched ever so slightly. I continued to caress her long fur, noting the presence of some good-sized ticks. Now that she was dry, I could see the long twisted strands of dead skin and fur sticking from the wound to her everywhere.

Operating on instinct, I decided not to disturb her any further. If I could keep her warm and calm on Sunday, I'd bring her to see my vet Tim on Monday morning. She ate and drank during the day, but did not use the litter box, which worried me a bit. I checked on her frequently, crooning to her and petting her for very brief moments. She continued that strange passive behavior, but didn't seem to be deteriorating.

When I went into the bathroom early Monday morning, I noted with relief that she had finally used the litter box. Expecting difficulty, I scooped her up and put her into the pet carrier. She didn't fight me.

At the veterinary clinic, Tim's technician gasped and grimaced when she removed Dinah from the carrier. "Ohhh," she hissed. "That's not good."

Tim walked in and asked, "Have I seen this cat before?" I shook my head and launched into her backstory. While I talked, he used a scissors to cut off all the dead fur and skin. When I was finished, he said, "Where do you want to begin?"

I said, "I guess we need to test her for leukemia."

He nodded. "If she has leukemia, we need to put her down." By now he was handling Dinah, running his hands across her body, feeling her organs. A funny look crossed his face. "I think you need to change this cat's name to Dino."

"It's a male?" I asked, stunned.

He nodded. "An intact male."

"Was I at least right that she ... he's about a year old?"

"Yup, you got that one right. Want to call him Dino?"

"Absolutely not. I'll come up with another name before I leave. Did he get his head caught in a car fan belt?"

"Nope. Cat fight. He ran into a tom bigger than he was. Took a bad scratch and it abscessed. That wound is at least two weeks old. He's a pretty sick kitty. I don't know that we can save that ear."

The former Dinah stayed quietly on the exam table while we waited for the test results. I stroked him, and he began purring. This time it felt like he was happy to have me petting him.

In about 15 minutes, Tim came back. No leukemia or feline AIDS. He put Revolution on the cat to address all the fleas and ticks. Cleaned the wound and gave me a liquid antibiotic and a topical antibiotic to give twice a day.

"Have you come up with a name yet?"

I nodded. "I think I'll call him Van Gogh."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Part VI of My Christmas Story

I'd pulled Dinah out of a thunderstorm and into my house. Given her previous reluctance to be touched, she was strangely passive in my arms. I ran my hands over her wet fur and screamed in horror.

On the back of her head, beginning at the base of the right ear was an enormous wound. It looked as though someone had taken an ice cream scoop and just scraped out everything--all the way down to the leather of her skull. The canyon left behind was red and oozing. The walls of the pit looked like layers of lasagna: multiple stratums of fur, dermis, and muscle.

I'd never seen anything so awful on a live animal, and I was having trouble making sense of what I was seeing. No wonder Dinah was so quiet; she was probably in shock.

Fortunately, my long experience as a manager kicked in. When faced with a huge snarly ball of string with no beginning or end, you need to take a scissors, cut a single strand and begin unwinding. I left the cat on the counter and went to find dry cloths with which to dry her.

I also brought an electric space heater into the bathroom with me and a couple of blankets. I wanted to get her warm as quickly as possible.

She remained apathetic under my ministrations; it was both sad and creepy. While I worked, I tried to decide on a next step.

I've lived with cats for many years and have come to respect their fierce stamina and unexpected vulnerability. Felines are finely tuned creatures. Loud noises and unscheduled interruptions are much harder on them than on other animals. If Dinah wasn't in shock already, she was teetering on the narrow edge. A lot of activity was probably a mistake.

By the time I had her mostly dry, I'd decided to leave her alone in the dark, quiet bathroom for a while and see what happened. She might die, but I didn't want to make things worse by overwhelming her fragile system.

I put her on the pile of blankets on the floor with the heater nearby. I filled a bowl with the smelliest wet catfood I could find: Fancy Feast cod, sole and shrimp. As I left the bathroom, I turned off the lights and closed the door.

Back in my bedroom, Bob was still under my four-poster. The lightning had stopped, but it was still pouring outdoors. He was so preoccupied with the weather, he'd missed our new arrival.

I climbed into the bed, but sleep wouldn't come. My mind couldn't stop whirling. I wasn't sure I'd done the right thing by leaving her on her own. I didn't want her to die afraid and alone.

I kept trying to come up with an explanation for what had happened to her. The wound was in the shape of a teardrop--wide at one end and narrow at the other. The wide end was about two and a half inches in diameter, the narrow end tapered to nothing.

Forty minutes later, the only answer that seemed to make sense was that she had climbed up under the hood of a car and was still there when the driver started the vehicle. Twenty years earlier, I'd had a cat who did exactly that. When I found him, he was paralyzed, blind, deaf, and unable to taste or smell.

If Dinah was still alive, what should I do next? I could take her to the emergency vet, but I knew that trip would cost a minimum of $750, more likely $1,000.

I finally fell asleep around 5:20 AM.

Bob woke me at 7:30. I leaped out of bed and rushed to let him out the back door. The rain had stopped, and he didn't balk at going out.

I stood outside the bathroom and listened, but couldn't hear a thing. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

More later ...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Part V of My Christmas Story

I had hatched this cock-eyed plan to first capture Dinah and drag her to my vet and then board her for the week I would be away.

This scheme was doomed to failure from the first. Tim, my long-suffering vet, would be fine ... nothing fazes him. However, it was unlikely that my boarding place would want to deal with an semi-feral cat ... even if they had room for her. My fall-back plan was to ask Tim to keep her at his clinic for a week. I knew he'd do it if I asked--even though he doesn't offer boarding services. He'd boarded animals for me twice before when I was in desperate straits.

Of course, I hadn't figured on Dinah herself. I don't know if she sussed out my plan or just picked up on my anxiety. Either way, for the five days before I left for Florida, she didn't show her little pink nose--despite the fact that she had never gone more than three or four days without stopping by before. By Day Three, I was reduced to leaving food outside and hoping to catch her when she came by to feed. Nothing. The possum didn't even show up.

I finally packed Bob up and delivered him to the boarding place on my way out of town. I left my car with a friend who drove me to Love Field.

The weather in Florida was spectacular. I spent part of every day with my mother, visited with both my brothers and their families and went out to dinner with my college roommate. I also spent part of every day cutting back the four oleander bushes at the back of my mother's property. The damn things were 19-feet tall. It took me an entire week to cut them down to three feet using a hand saw ... and without having one crash down on Mom's house, the neighbor's house or the power lines. Some of those oleander trunks had a diameter of four inches!

I stayed at Mom's house where my darling youngest brother had reconnected the cable. Since I don't have cable at home in Dallas, I was looking forward to watching "True Blood" and "Dexter." My brother had other ideas. He came down one evening under the pretext of dinner on the beach but with the ulterior motive of making certain I watched at least the first hour of "Game of Thrones." He was right. After one hour, I was hooked. Over the course of the week, I watched the entire first season. Great show!

The day after Thanksgiving, I returned to Dallas. My friend picked me up at the airport, and we went to dinner. She said, while it had gotten cold, there had not been a major freeze while I was away. I breathed a sigh of relief.

For the next few days, I was hyper-vigilant, looking for some sign of Dinah. The first thing every morning, I ran to the French door to see if the box on the patio had been slept in. Nothing. Every evening, I rushed home from work to see if she had showed up. Nothing.

In the middle of the next week, the overnight temperatures took a nose dive. We had a hard freeze of 26 degrees for about 48 hours. While this temperature was nothing to someone living in the north, it was a dramatic change for north Texas. I had trouble sleeping both nights, waking at every sound and checking the patio for some sign of Dinah.

Gradually, I began to write a mental script with which I could live. Dinah had found a forever home that was feeding her and providing a warm corner in a garage. I stopped expecting to see her.

On my 8th night home--December 3--we had another tremendous rainstorm. The thunder and lightning drove Bob under my bed (he obviously doesn't trust me to protect him).

I woke at 2:00 AM with the sense that something was wrong. I had a similar feeling the night my water heater died and flooded the house and again the night thieves went through the alley behind my home burglarizing sheds and garages. The storm was still going strong, but I KNEW something was wrong. I grabbed the flashlight from my nightstand and started walking through the house.

I checked every room without finding anything. Then I began to look outside. I went from the front door to the kitchen to the den, switching on each outside light to peer out. When I got to the French door, I saw what I'd been looking for: hunched in a little ball on the same bathroom windowsill where she'd been months before was Dinah.

I didn't stop to think of what had happened the last time I plucked her off that sill. I opened the door, reached out and grabbed her.

She didn't fight me. She just slumped into my arms, a soaked bundle of wet fur. I carried her to the hall bathroom where Bob had a litterbox and bowl of water. Turning on the overhead light, I laid her on the white tiled counter. She didn't move.

Dinah was scaring me. She was too passive. I needed to get some rags to dry her off, but I was afraid to leave her. I ran my hands along her drenched and matted fur ... and screamed.

More later ...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Part IV of My Christmas Story

A couple of days went by with no sign of the young cat or the possum. Hopeful, I prayed they'd both found homes. For several nights, Bob and I enjoyed blissful sleep uninterrupted by midnight visitors.

After many months of drought, it had begun to rain in Texas. And it was raining with a vengeance. The water came down so hard, it ran off rather than soaking into the hard, parched ground. Rather than fight the traffic snarls created by the weather, one evening I stayed late at work to finish a project. It was nearly 9:00 PM when I pulled into my driveway. I got out of the car, opened the gate and followed the flagstone path to my patio where the mercury vapor light switched on as I approached.

There, huddled on my guest bathroom windowsill was the black-and-white kitten.

"Oh, baby, you really are homeless," I sighed, coming closer. She didn't budge. I reached out and plucked her off the sill.

She turned into a whirling dervish of fear and claws, spitting and slicing. I dropped her and backed up. She ran to the end of the patio, stopped, and turned to look at me.

I unlocked the back door, pushed Bob--who was screaming vitriol at her--out of the way with my foot and went into the house. In the kitchen, I filled two bowls with wet and dry food and carried them back outside. Since I'd already scared her, I just put the dishes down in a dry place and returned to my den where I could watch through the French door without further disturbing her.

By the time she'd cleaned the bowls, I'd found the right-sized box in the garage and filled it with an old pillow, a sheet and a couple of fluffy towels. I put the box outside the door in a corner where two walls met. I manually turned off the mercury vapor light to give her privacy and turned to deal with a very pissed-off Bob.

The next morning, it was clear the box had been slept in. I made the decision that the kitten would only get fed if she came and asked for food. There were two reasons for this strategy: (1) I didn't want to start the possum coming back for food, and (2) I needed to tame her before winter set in.

For about eight weeks, the young cat--whom I was now calling Dinah--and I did a dance. She would come to the French door and look in. Bob would alert me by spitting and hissing at her. I would fill a bowl with food and go outside to meet her. Progress was VERY slow. She did not come every day. Sometimes I wouldn't see her for three or four days. It was weeks before I could stand within three feet of her while she ate and two months before I could reach down and lightly rub her forehead. She would tolerate my touch for about five seconds and then run out of the yard.

As we entered November, I began having serious anxiety. Generally, freezing weather arrives in North Texas during the third week of November. And, this year, I would be going to Florida for a week during the holiday. I was concerned about what would happen to Dinah while I was away. I talked with a neighbor about putting food out for her while I was gone, but that didn't address the possibility of freezing weather.

I'd booked reservations for Bob at his feline boarding place months earlier. I toyed with the idea of boarding Dinah, too. That plan was fraught with problems: (1) She'd need shots before I could board her; (2) I'd have to catch her to put her in a carrier both for the trip to the vet and to the boarding place; and (3) I'd have to pay for a separate cage from Bob's which would double the cost.

I finally decided that worrying about her while I was away wasn't worth it. I would try to get her to the vet and to the boarding place. I'd either succeed or I wouldn't. At least I would know I tried.

My plan was that the next time Dinah showed up, I would put on heavy gloves and long sleeves and throw a blanket over her. I would carry her into my hall bathroom where, over a couple of days, I would try to calm her enough so I could get her in the carrier to go to the vet.

Of course, my plan went awry from the very first.

More later ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Part III of Christmas Story

When I heard Bob the Cat screaming in the backyard, I crawled out from under the Burford holly where I'd been plugging the hole under my house's foundation. Burford holly has very sharp leaves, which is why I planted it outside my windows. In my rush to get out from under the bush, I got some ugly scratches on my cheeks and arms.

I ran to the backyard where the mercury vapor lamp cast a spotlight on Bob and the black-and-white kitten I'd caught in my humane trap the previous night. They were about twenty feet apart with Bob on my patio spitting threats, and the stranger standing motionless on the grass.

I probably need to 'fess up about Bob the Cat. He's a lover, not a fighter. If you want to read his backstory, go here. While he is a fearless hunter, he is socially inept when it comes to other cats. His companion cat, Tribble, was already old and frail when I brought Bob home from the SPCA, and he was only three when Tribble died at age 23.

Bob's just never had much experience with other cats beyond repeatedly getting beat up by the neighborhood's stray toms.

I say all this to justify why a 17-pound cat would be reduced to howling for help at the sight of a cat much smaller and younger than he.

The kitten wasn't growling or making any threatening moves. It was small--probably only ten pounds--and I guessed between eight and ten months old. Its lack of aggression and failure to run from Bob's over-the-top display of hostility suggested it needed something--either safety or food.

I scooped Bob up and carried him into the house. In the kitchen, I opened a cat of Fancy Feast food and dumped it into a bowl. I carried it outside and tried to approach the young cat. She--although I couldn't see the sex with the long hair, I'd decided it was female--backed up, poised to run.

I stopped, put the bowl on the ground and slowly backed away. "Go ahead," I crooned. "I won't hurt you."

She was clearly torn--wanting to come forward, but fearful of me. I sat in one of the patio chairs. "I won't bother you. Go ahead."

Hunger finally overcame anxiety, and she darted forward to eat. I continued to murmur soft nothings to her while she ate.

She inhaled the wet food. I realized she was famished and slowly got up to return to the house. I filled two more bowls--one with kibble and the other with water--and brought them out to her. This time, she let me approach to within six feet before she retreated. I put the new dish down and backed off.

While she ate the kibble, I studied her. She looked clean, no snarls or knots in her long fur. Her white chest and legs were pristine--no dirt or mud. "Are you lost, baby, or just waiting for your family to come home to feed you?"

She didn't answer. When the kibble was gone, she turned and left, without so much as a "thank you." I shrugged, picked up the dishes and went back inside to bed.

We didn't hear the possum in the walls that night. John Boy was shopping for a new residence. The free food handouts were over, too. It was time the little guy learned to fend for himself. It was early September; he had time to find new shelter before the cold weather set in.

The next day I lugged the humane trap into the garage. For the next few days, I waited for the mercury vapor light to be triggered by motion, expecting to see the young cat return, but nothing happened. I decided she was a local pet that had drifted in and out of my backyard.

Finally, after many months without rain, North Texas began to experience rainfall.

More later ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Part II of My Christmas Story

Knowing I needed to transplant my little possum boarder, I'd asked the Animal Control officer to put me on the waiting list for a loaner humane trap. After a month of waiting without working my way to the top of the list, one Saturday in September, I went to Home Depot and purchased my own trap.

Since John Boy so clearly liked cat kibble, that was the bait I used when setting up the trap. I put the contraption near where I'd previously put the possum's bowls and removed the dishes I'd been using to feed him in order to provider further encourage-ment for him to enter the trap.

Sunday morning, I jumped out of bed and ran to the French doors, expecting to see John Boy in the trap.


Stifling my irritation, I opened the door to let Bob out. I was on my way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea when I heard a tremendous caterwauling (no pun intended). I ran to the back door to find Bob a prisoner in my trap.

Torn between laughter and exasperation, I went out and released him. He called me names in at least three different feline dialects as he tried to retreat with dignity.

I left the trap sitting there open all day. Sunday night, I set it again--after Bob was safely inside the house.

About midnight, I awoke to a commotion outside. I ran outside to find I'd made another catch ... yet another cat.

This one was a young long-haired black-and-white cat; an absolutely frantic black-and-white cat. It was thrashing around, trying to find a way out of the cage. I opened the door and got out of the way. The cat ran across the backyard and disappeared. Disheartened, I climbed back into bed with Bob only to be awakened about 45 minutes later when John Boy returned home. We listened as he scrambled up the inside of my bathroom wall to what seemed to be a perch about five feet off the floor.

Monday was Labor Day, and I labored. I went around the entire outside perimeter of my house, looking for places where the possum might be getting under my foundation. I found four holes of varying sizes. I spent a good part of my holiday lugging limestone rock from the rockpile in the northwest corner of my yard. Over the years that I've lived in my house, I've planted lots of bushes ... which meant digging up lots of rocks, some of them pretty sizable. I've made a habit of piling the rocks up in one place. You'd be surprised how often a good-sized rock comes in handy.

Anyway, I crawled behind my foundation bushes to plug up three of the four holes. I left the largest one open so John Boy would have a way to get out from under my house later that night. I marked the location of that fourth hole and set my alarm clock for 11 PM.

That night, using a flashlight and a bucket of rocks, I closed up the last of the holes under my house. While I was on my hands and knees behind the Burford holly bushes, I heard Bob issue a warning scream. I scrambled out and ran to the backyard, fearful that he was about to get into a confrontation with John Boy.

More later ...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Christmas Story

Ten days to Christmas.

Twice in my life, I've seen Christmas miracles. I'm going to lead up to the 25th by telling the story of one of a small miracle.

Like most tales, this one begins long before the actual event. It started about five months ago in the middle of the worst drought Texas had ever known. I've lived here for more than half my life and, in all those years, have never seen such a hot, miserable summer. Grass died, foundations cracked, and does abandoned their fawns.

One Saturday afternoon in mid-August I was in my backyard when I saw an unusual sight: a young possum staggering across the grass. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've seen a possum outside during daylight hours. This one was very small.

I'd heard on NPR that bats and other nocturnal creatures were being forced to hunt during the day because they could not find sufficient food to live on.

Being what my friends call a pushover, I went inside and filled a bowl with water and another one with cat kibble. I put the two dishes next to the house's foundation and went inside.

It didn't take the young possum very long to find the bowls. Bob the Cat and I watched from the French doors while our guest availed himself of both food and drink.

Thereafter, every night, once Bob was safely inside, I would leave food and water for the possum. I have a mercury vapor light on my patio. The possum would trigger the light whenever he came to feed. One night, after leaving my trash at the curb for the next morning's pickup, I almost stepped on the little guy. I nearly had a heart attack, and he turned and hissed at me, showing a very nasty set of teeth. Ungrateful little bastard.

As summer gave way to early fall, I watched with satisfaction as the little critter filled out. That feeling of well-being evaporated when I realized he had tunneled under my house's pier-and-beam foundation. I could hear his claws inside my walls between midnight and two every night as he returned home from dinner. It got to where I would turn out my bedside light and say, "Good night, Bob," to the cat and "Good night, John Boy," to the possum.

I realized this was not tenable solution and called my city's Animal Control to see if they would help. The officer who answered explained he would be happy to come out and trap the animal. When I asked what he would do with the little guy once he'd caught him, the officer became somewhat evasive. I hadn't spent all summer feeding John Boy for nothing, so I hung up.

The next day, I asked my brother what he thought a professional exterminator would do with John Boy. He laughed and said, "Oh, he'll take him to the same farm where Daddy took the dog."
I decided the only humane solution was for me to trap the possum and then re-locate him to a park or nature preserve where he would be safe.

More tomorrow ...