Saturday, December 27, 2014

Oh Cap'n, My Cap'n!


The tragic tale of the missing Cosmos took a cosmic turn. During the doomed search and rescue phase, we received several phone calls about a black cat nearby at this neighbor's or that's. Hearts ablaze with hope, we'd rush to the scene only to discover a black kitten, three years too young, eyes of gold not green, and a round face, not triangular.  The shoulders of our thoughtful would-be-hero neighbors would sag and we would shuffle back to our grief-stricken home, our laps still empty. We would marvel at the chutzpah of anyone to let their 3 month old roam these hills alone, but what could we do about that? Although the kitty was adorable and terrified, I found it annoying to have my heart jerked around.

Later, I spotted it in our field, larger now, and sized like Cosmos. Shocked, I leaped over acres of weed-hurdles yelling, "Cosmos!? Cosmos?! Really?! It's you?!" But no, it was only the startled interloper doppelganger. I gave him a few pets and shuffled on back home.

The cat, impressed with his reception on our property, came back a few days later. I again flipped out that a miracle had occurred, hallelujah! Cosmos had pried himself from the coyote's cache and returned home! Slaughter the fatted calf! Roast the lambs! The boy has returned! But no...

The cat began hanging out in our yard in earnest. Coyote's were close by throughout that week. I saw the kitty crouched in the ditch as coyote's howled. I spotted the kitty sleeping half way up the Russian Pine outside my kitchen window, while coyote's howled. So one night, we put him in the car and drove door to door looking for his owners.

They have the newest and fanciest house in the neighborhood, a gable-plex behemoth with an importantly enormous wood door and a workshop the size of Texas, all in tasteful gray. I know them. The woman is a wonderful teacher at one of the variety of schools we've tried (until settling contentedly where we are now). Based on the grandeur of her home, I assume her work as a teacher is hobby-based employment. I was primed to forgive her for her sloppy cat-stewardship. I wanted, as I always do, for my admiration of this person to remain in tact. That was my primary goal here. And so I was unexpectedly crushed beneath the icky flow of disappointing information that she puked up. Here's the sampler: They've lived there for two years already now, can it be? and they've gone through 6?7? maybe more? cats. So hard to keep track of them all! The longest one was a year. The neighbors can't seem to spay or neuter in a timely manner so a bushel of kitties are always available, a never ending supply, an utterly renewable resource here for our convenience. So handy. The kitties, dirty overflow kitties, are not allowed inside anywhere. Is that our cat? Probably. Yeah. Oh well, life in the country! Haha! Am I right?!

Noting my slack jaw, she rolled her eyes at me, "Oh, you're the," she paused here and I thought or imagined or actually heard the ghost of the word "idiot" seep off into the ether before she continued, "who put up the posters."

I came from this culture, but it is not mine.

"Yep, that's me. We care about our pets."

What about "domestic cat" escapes people? Inherent in the term is the human bred obligation to care for them, at least somewhat, with food and some kind of shelter, any kind of shelter. We aren't fanatics here - no rhinestone tags and inside-only owners are we. But they are here by human will and we owe them at least the basic necessities.

Also, I'm not going to out and out blame her for the disappearance of Cosmos, but she certainly made it clear to the coyotes where they could find a hot meal. She basically erected a neon "OPEN" sign over our neighborhood: dishing up morsels of kitty round the clock! Come and get it!

We left the cat in their "care," and went on our stunned way, asking ourselves, "Did she really say that?" "Did you hear her say that too?"

As the song goes, the cat came back the very next day. After another week of watching the terrified thing (that looked cruelly identical to the cat our laps were still mourning, except for the balls on his back side) skulk around our yard, we finally set him up in the garage. And a week later, when our night temperatures plunged to single digits, and upon the ethical and biological advice of our veterinarian, we brought him inside, to the basement, just for one night, because I had no intention of disposing of a little frozen kitty carcass.

And then the next night. And the next. And the next.

I asked around about the ethics of this and no one raised any red flags. Cats are known for choosing their homes. And Cap'n Jack's former owners didn't uphold even the most rudimentary of ownership duties. Also, the cat's original property is separated by ours, at the corners, by only 50 feet. He could have gone home any time. He still can.

Cap'n Jack destroying Coyote's Lego Black Pearl
He now refuses to leave the house. When I make him, he hoovers up the mice at a rate of 2 per every half hour. Cosmos never did that. His purr is more songbird chirp and I like to imagine it's due to a  Romulus-n-Remus-type-experience, but with birds instead of wolves and thus being socialized by the finches in the pines. King Louis (apparently our cats all come with ostentatious titles. No Private Jack. No Serf Louis. Not in this house) is adjusting perfectly. Cap'n Jack is much more likely to fulfill behavior expectations than Cosmos ever was. When we told him to not scratch the furniture, he listened. Don't get up on the counters. Okay, then, thanks for letting me know. The gratitude and humility and constant, deep level understanding that things could have gone very differently, are rich in rescued animals.

Cap'n Jack still indulges in a few insecurity-based activities like licking us, but the vet expects he'll get over it soon enough, once he realizes he's home for good.  And we've marked him as ours now, getting him neutered and vaccinated. Soon, he should get the idea that he's secure here, as secure as a cat can be.

I like to think that Cap'n Jack had a moment of recognition when he experienced my confused and effusive welcomings, when I thought I was recognizing Cosmos. He knew, as soon as he saw it, that that was what he was looking for, what he wanted, what he deserved. He deserved love. And that was the first thing he got here. Food and shelter too, but first came love, however mistaken it was.

Perhaps Cap'n Jack was destined for some kind of coyote, but he lucked out with the kid kind here.
Coyote: Christmas at the Reserve
Cap'n Jack also knew that if he stayed "where" he was, which was nowhere, which was just outside some place safe, he would die. And I think we all feel that way when it's time to grow: this situation, the one I was handed, it no longer works for me and if nothing changes, I will die. And so he went in search of safety and life and it was only 1/4 mile away and it was ready for him. Safety had an opening for a black-cat right when he needed it.

I like to imagine that he'd read the signs around the neighborhood. I can almost see him knocking on our door, cap in hand, face smudged with dirt like an Oliver orphan, "Ma'am, I heard you be lookin' for a black cat. I mayn't be the cat youz lookin' for, xactly, but I do fit the description. Might you give me a chance to try my hand at bein' your black cat?"

Blue: Christmas at the Reserve
Such an unusual wrinkle to our tale of losing Cosmos, it seems magical. Perhaps he's our very own familiar. Maybe he's a symbol of Huck and my anarcho-syndicalist past together. Or maybe, as is the Scottish superstition, he's a symbol of coming prosperity. Or perhaps he's the Cat Sith, as he arrived on our doorstep near Samhain. Ooh, or maybe one of Freya's lucky black cats, destined to pull her chariot. Or, more prosaically and likely, just an unloved stray-ish looking for a sucker or someone infected with the cat-love parasite Toxoplasma gondii. But even Blue, uber-atheist and uber-rationalist, can't resist the idea that there is some mystical element to this, musing,"It almost seems like Cosmos sent him to us. Almost." Whatever it is, despite not quite feeling ready to open my heart again to a cat, he feels like a blessing, like a gift from the cosmos.

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