Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Of the three cats I brought to my barn that early fall day, Polka Dot was the one you would notice. First of all even then she had such a lot of fur that I couldn't help thinking about Garfield the cat's, comment that he wasn't fat, he was fluffy. Well Polka Dot really isn't fat, she is very fluffy. But the second thing you will notice is that her markings are about as unusual as you have ever seen on what is called a Tuxedo cat, black and white, mostly black with a white tummy, sometimes feet and tip of tail but the chest and neck are what distinguishs them. On this white area Tuxedo's have lots of interesting spots. But Polka dot has 3 dots. One on either side of her nose and one on the tip of her nose. Polka Dot has well... polka dots.
She had a few more adventures than Lollipop, the shyist or Moonbeam who had one eye and was bold but still careful. One day Polka Dot found her way to the rafters in the storage room. It was just getting dark when I noticed she was nowhere to be found in the room. And at about the instant I spotted her high above me. But the worst thing is that I saw her back end. She had found a space large enough to wiggle out that opened into the barn.
This was after these cats that were discovered in a cat hoarder's house during a T/N/R event had been with me barely a week. I was afraid that if she got out and ran she would not have been able to find her way back. I yelled for my husband who was feeding the horses at the time to grab a ladder and get up there to prevent her from getting through. Luckily he got there in time and used another piece of wood to push her back in.
But that was not the end. I needed to get her down. The only possible way I could do that was to grab something to catch her with and push her off the ledge but I had to stand on a rickity table. Nearby on the wall was a fishnet that my son-in-law had hung there when he had moved his fishing stuff into storage. It was purrrfect! but it was like chasing a butterfly. Finally I wedged the frame against the wall with her within the netting. Then, plop she slide down into it while I held the handle with one hand and tried to grab the other side. to catch it. When she felt herself falling she became a whirling dirvish with tail and fur and claws everywhere. I dropped the net and when it landed on the table she sprang out safe at last. She took it all in stride.
Another time I arrived with their food one morning and she was nowhere to be found. I thought we had plugged all the rest of the holes. But then I noticed that the upside down patio umbrella that was propped into the corner was moving. When I tilted it over to check it out I saw a large furry ball wedged down between the ribs, stuck tight. All I could see were three white dots in the darkness. There was no way I was going to stick my hand down into it so I carefully picked up the whole thing and turned it right side up. Sure enough, she came sliding out and as soon as her little feet hit the ground off she flew under the old stuffed chair sitting in the corner.
After these two episodes she settled down. As time went by little Polka Dot became big sister to Moonbeam and she also became the friendliest reformed feral/hoarded barn cat I have ever seen.
After the first big snowfall of the year I didn't see her in the barn. Moonbeam and I were frantically looking for her. I got my flashlight and walked my regular path when Iwas looking for one or another of my cats when I heard a tiny tiny meow. As I shined the flashlight toward the gate between our neighbors property and ours I saw a little head poking up above the snow drift. She could see me but she wouldn't follow. I knew I would not be able to pick her up yet so I walked through the snow, leaving footprints. As soon as I reached her and she saw me she tentatively put her paw out but she would not venture out into the snow. However when she noticed that the snow was pushed down by my feet she jumped out into the path I had made. She jumped along following me like the proverbial bouncing ball all the way to the barn where her dinner was waiting for her.

Now, when I drive home and turn into the driveway I can see two white tummies in front of the dark doorway of the barn. They watch for me to come home.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On 'Homer's Odyssey'

It was way last November that I walked into the Barns and Noble bookstore and saw the display of new books on the first kiosk. Ten or fifteen copies of two new books were being prominantly displayed. One was a dog story, it was like the book Marley and Me:.....The Worlds Worst Dog, which I loved, by the way. The other book captured my attention immediately. It had the picture of a cat on the front cover, a very strange looking cat. The title was intriguing too, "Homer's Odyssy". I wondered about what Homer had to do with a cat story. And then the subtitle, "A Fearless Feline Tale Or How I learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat" just made my hand reach for a copy. I had to take a look at it. The Author was Gwen Cooper, someone I had not heard of. "Hummm", I thought, "An unknown author has really made it big with a book about, of all things, a cat". But even more amazing, I discovered this was a blind cat.

As an aspiring writer who has a lifetime of animal stories inside my head it was encouraging to see that the trend of animal stories was continuing. Maybe I had a chance . But as I soon learned after picking it up and looking at the back cover and then inside the front to see who the author (or agent) had chosen to write the endorsements that this book likely was not only the story of a cat, it was clear that it was about the willingness of the author to share her trials, failures and fears reflected in the mirror of a cat that had no eyes.

Among the authors I was most familiar with named on the back cover were Temple Grandin, an extraordinarily gifted spokesperson for animals, Rita Mae Brown whose cat was detective Sneaky Pie Brown in stories that had delighted me often and most recently Susan Richards whose 'Chosen by a Horse' lifted my spirits and reminded me of my abiding reverance for those noble creatures.

So then I opened the book and read the introduction. It described how the blind kitten was rescued and then, standing in the middle of the isle I became totally absorbed, in ADD fashion. I was in hyper focus. I wasn't even aware people were stumbling over me. When I finally moved out of the way and apologized I felt guilty enough to consider buying the book (after all this was not a library) but burdoned by a small budget for gifts this year I decided to put it on my Christmas list instead.

Well, I didn't get it for Christmas but a couple of weeks ago I was telling one of the directors of the Fort Collins Cat Rescue about it. I volunteer as often as I can to help clean the center and socialize the rescued cats. She exclaimed that she had gotten it for Christmas and was reading it at that moment. Imagine that!

I read it straight through in just under a week, which is a record for me. It is the first time in ages I had even finished a book. My thoughts as I first explored its pages at the bookstore were confirmed. It is a tender, insightful, funny and charming story about life's common experiences, challenges, and even transformations that often occur in surprising ways. It is about growing up, leaving home, going back home, making decisions, learning patience and endurance, never giving up, facing your fears and more than anything understanding that there is something inside that you can't see but that propels you outward to take a leap into the unknown, like a blind cat (?), to risk, to live the one life you have been given to the fullest.

Gwen Cooper says it like this (sort of:):"Homer taught me that the love of one person who believes in you...and who you believe in, can inspire you to attempt even the most improbable things. (Even I could write a book and be published:-)(Even a blind cat can confront a burgler and survive alone (with 2 other cat friends) for a week in an apartment one block from the World Trade towers on Sept. 11)There is great joy in great risk and there is a lot of difference between unlikely and impossible and finally, nobody nobody can tell you what your potential is."

This will join my list of absolute favorite books. of all time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


It seemed at first that it was an unlikely name or even unkind but the cat with one good eye was the one I named "Moonbeam".

She was the smallest of the three I brought to my barn that day at the end of August. Black and white like her sister, but instead of wildly fuzzy she was sleek and shiny. The other memorable thing about her was that as small as she was from the beginning she was built like a linebacker.

As she began to get used to her new location I noticed she was the one who first ventured out from under the table in the packed storage room of the barn. Moonbeam seemed to function just fine with her one good eye.There was no indication that she was in pain or the eye was troubling her. Although it troubled me.

I started asking questions at the Cat Rescue. I would describe it and ask if it they thought it might be infected and could cause infection in her other eye or even migrate to her brain. (Oh my!) They understood my concern and gave educated guesses based on their experience with other feral cats but they did encourage me to do some research. The computer was still a inconsistent ally but after a few attempts I discovered it could be a corneal ulcer. It could be treated but in order to do that I would have needed to be able to catch her. I hadn't been able to even touch her and it would not be till January, 4 months later that I would just be able to pet her.

After the first few days turned into 4 or 5 weeks the one-eyed cat named Moonbeam began to live into her name. She was not so timid as she was careful. She began to play with the toys I dangled in front of her. She was as quick as her sister, jumped and twisted just as high. She displayed a calm confidence and like the moon her light was strong but not insistent. Still she was feral enough to hold back from my gloved fingers till the treats I tempted her with could not be ignored.

But I continued to worry about her eye even though it didn't seem to bother her. By January she had become comfortable enough with people, horses, and dogs traipsing through the barn so she didn't run and hide. I felt she could at least be observed. A vet from the cat rescue graciously offered to stop by to get a glimpse of her. At the same time I had been able to get pictures that showed her eye clearly. The news was good. She probably had had a herpes virus which is common in cats that had lived in unhealthy conditions and in close quarters with other cats. The eye looked like it had healed.

By now the spunky cat with the chunky little body that flew through the air chasing bird toys and that shuddered with apprehension at the first light touch of a human hand had accepted her home. She found the ecstacy of a rub behind the ears and a caress along her back, the food and warm place to sleep and all the hay in the world to play in with an occasional mouse or two to chase was good. She really didn't know one eye was all she had. It was all she needed. Life was good.