Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Follow the Dots

Of the three rescued cats I brought to my barn that early fall day, you would notice Polka Dot first. Her abundance of long luxurious fur made her look fat, which she wasn’t, and reminded me of Garfield the cat's famous comment,
“I’m not fat! I’m fluffy!”
(The picture shows her in her summer coat)
She also wore a tuxedo. In cat circles this means black covers most of her body with a white tummy, chest or chin, and usually four white paws. The white area on the face and neck is a variety of shapes and sizes. For Polka Dot these markings were startling. She had 3 white dots,
one on either side of her nose and one on the tip of her nose. Polka Dot had well... polka dots. Three of them.
For a large fluffy cat, Polka Dot had a small meow. But one night that tiny meow was enough. It was later in the winter, after we had moved them into a warm empty stall protected with stacks of hay.
Along the way she had a few more adventures than Lollipop. Lollipop was the shy one who spent most of her time curled up under the table and even Moonbeam, the one eyed wonder who was bold but still careful. Polka Dot seemed to be braver or maybe the more feral one. She was bound and determined to show me how adventurous she could be.
Somehow one day Polka Dot found her way to the rafters in the storage room. It was not too unusual because all the junk that was piled up from floor to ceiling allowed a curious, determined or frightened kitten to make it to the ledge without much trouble. When I got there to feed them I couldn’t figure out where she was. My heart sank. I had them for only a week and I was afraid if they got out they would not survive in a strange place, compromised as they were from their recent spay or neuter surgeries.
Frantically I pushed boxes and junk out of the way, looked under things, even behind the old stuffed chair, but it seemed hopeless. Then finally I spotted her high above me. My breath caught as her tail disappeared through a previously unnoticed hole in the wall. She had found a small space large enough to wiggle through.
I yelled to my husband, “Quick, bring a ladder! Polka Dot is getting out!” Luckily he got there in time and used another piece of wood to gently push her back in, backwards. There she sat eight feet up on a narrow ledge, tilting and unsteady, looking just as scared as I had been a few minutes before.
But that was not the end. I had to get her down. I carefully found a foothold on the table that sat against the wall and stood up on it but I was barely able to reach her. Have you ever tried to grab a scared feral cat! ? I spotted a fishnet hanging nearby on the wall. My son-in-law had hung it there when he moved his fishing stuff into storage. I grabbed it and began to move it slowly toward her. Finally I wedged the frame against the wall circled around her while she sat on the ledge surrounded by the net.
Then, suddenly, without warning, plop, she slipped down into it while I tried to hold on to the handle with one hand. When she felt herself falling she became a whirling dervish flinging her tail and legs and paws everywhere. At that point I began to lose my balance dropped the net to avoid being shredded by cat claws. When it landed on the table she sprang out. With a sideways glare she disappeared back under the table. She took it all in stride as cats do but I was still shaking an hour later.
Another time I arrived with their food and again no Polka Dot to be found. As I tossed things out of the way I mumbled to myself,
“I thought I had plugged all the rest of the holes.” Then I noticed a strange thing, the patio umbrella propped upside down in the corner moved. When I peeked in I saw a small black furry ball wedged down between the ribs, stuck tight with three white dots showing in the darkness. I decided it would not be wise to stick my hand down into it. I picked up the whole umbrella carefully and slowly turned it right side up. Sure enough, she came sliding out and as soon as her little feet hit the ground off she flew, this time under the old stuffed chair sitting in the corner, just a little bit ruffled.
“That was number two” I told her.
It was November and the first big snowfall of the year was in progress. I didn't see her in the barn…again. By now I had moved them out of the small storage room into an empty stall where we stored hay and where I had assembled a small cat shelter. I called it their ‘warm house’. The cats were out during the day but came home for their dinner in the evening.
I got my best-lost-cat-tool flashlight out and walked through deepening snow around the house, barn and arena and toward my neighbor’s property. And then I heard it, a small meow. I shined the flashlight toward the gate and saw a little black kitty face with three white dots poking up above the snow drift. The mouth moved, barely making a sound, but it had been enough.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick her up. She would not allow herself to be touched for six more months.
I had left my footprints in the snow behind me as I walked. When she saw me she tentatively put her paw out but she still fell through the drift. By now it was getting really cold and darker. So I called her by name. She could have known her name by then because I talked to her all the time using it. Names are important. When you have been named it is like you exist.
When she heard my encouraging voice and her name she jumped out into the first close by footprint, as I backed up she jumped to the next footprint, following the ‘dots’. She jumped along following me like the proverbial bouncing ball, footprint to footprint all the way to the barn where warmth and her dinner ware waiting. She looked like a little fuzzy black fur ball bouncing along behind me.
I called their names each night when I brought them dinner but I still wasn’t sure if they would come. And because she had learned to trust me she rescued herself that night.

Polka Dot

Rescued August 31, 2009 - Disappeared November 13, 2010

I miss your sweet spirit terribly.