Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Never Buy a Cat on Sale

I’ve been shopping for over four decades now like every good Born-in-the-USA consumer and I should have learned by now that there are some things that are not a bargain at any price. Apparently, I have not. Since losing Duncan in July we have been half-heartedly scouring Craigslist and the like in search of a new faithful companion. Not a replacement. There aren’t any of those. And so it was that I found myself at the Safe Haven Humane Society one rainy night in November with Bella and Christiana, both of whom are overly sentimental shoppers who say things like “Awww” at every cute thing they see, living or not. Cute, or not.

The first “Awww” creature we encountered at Safe Haven was a fluffy white Malamute puppy with sad brown eyes and a heart condition. It was impossible not to love him, handicap and all. We were drawn into his enclosure like it was our destiny, digging our fingers into his irresistible down and dreaming of wrapping him around us and taking him home. Until one of the many shelter workers roused us from our reverie with a good dousing of cold water words like grooming and mud and every-time-we-take-a-walk. We considered all the dirt as well as the creek that surround our yurt, picturing all that snowy fur turned brown and tangled like March in New England, then gave him one final pat and backed away from all that adorable temptation.

Entering the long kennel room we passed easily by the chihuahuas and every kind of pit bull mix known to man, including the ones named Bella, until we came to rest in front of a cage full of black and white exuberance, three or four puppies tangled up and tumbling over each other, all SO happy to see us. We swayed. Vicki Vale (of Batman fame) quickly became our favorite and when we picked her up she snuggled into our embrace like she was home already while her siblings, Bruce Wayne and the like, chewed on our shoe laces and peed on the floor. We took turns holding Vicki, admiring her serenity and markings, took photos on our phones, and sent them to Andy. He said no. The comic book puppies were an unknown blend of husky and lab and whomever else Trixie, their Mom, had entertained. Trixie, yet another shelter worker informed, was also living at Safe Haven but was currently at the vet being fixed. So we couldn’t get any more information from her on the puppy paternity. We called Andy and his unsentimental voice of reason prevailed. Being any part husky meant they still had a strong hunting instinct and we live with resident herds of elk and deer who regularly sleep and eat in our pastures. Andy was right. We conceded that Vicki was not to be ours and we all parted ways with a whimper.

Next we braved the elements, venturing outside in the rain to check out the older dogs. Nothing we wanted to live with. That left the cat room. Now we are not cat lovers and people who call me Kitty are the bane of my existence, so why we ever even opened that door is questionable. But in we went, dutifully examining the lines of cages along the wall with no real intent and a few errant lower-case “awws.” And that’s when we spotted an attractive sign proclaiming in colorful double letters, “Great Barn Cat.”

Now, back in June when we’d returned from Costa Rica to the yurts, we discovered that we had what you would definitely call a “Great Barn Cat” living somewhere in the stacks of wood piled up in our lower barn. This cat was vaguely Siamese looking but we never got close enough while it lived to know it well. It demanded nothing of us except to be left alone. Our kind of kitty. And clearly “our” cat was, indeed, what this colorful shelter sign also boasted, “A Great Mouser,” as we never fed or watered it even once. We had no particular fondness for each other, that cat and us, our only encounters being a blur of cream-colored fur whizzing by whenever we ventured into our barn to retrieve a gardening tool or a bike. Still, we felt some degree of sadness when Andy discovered it lying near his saw mill one morning in August, dead. Having just lost Duncan, we felt a little bereft. And even though we never invited what we now knew was a he into our lives, his absence left a kind of blurry void.

So seeing that carefully lettered shelter sign posted on the cage of the last cat on the left got us to thinking. And it was on sale.

“We have a barn,” we said to each other.

“We have mice,” we reasoned.

“We’ll take it,” we announced.

Perhaps we were a bit hasty. Perhaps we should have asked more questions. Like when the shelter workers’ eyebrows raised uniformly upon learning that we’d chosen Molly, the Queen of the Cat Room, as they now informed us she was known while processing an inordinate amount of paperwork for one discounted cat. Or when they told us we had one week to return her if things didn’t work out and then let it slip that she’d been returned once already. Or when they hesitated over who would put her in a box and bring her out to us. Or when they warned us not to open the box until we arrived home. But we were committed. And anyway, why should we care? She was going to live in the barn and require nothing from us like her independent predecessor. We paid our $15 and left.

We drove the remaining hour home that dark and rainy night with our new barn cat in her box on Christiana’s lap, complaining loudly. And when we arrived home, Molly sprang from the box and immediately began making herself right at home. “She’s fat,” we said, finally getting our first good look at her. “Is that normal?” we wondered as her belly hung low in front of her hind legs, swaying to and fro as she walked. We knew very little about cats and wondered if it was a tumor. “Ah well, she’ll be getting plenty of exercise soon,” we said while visions of Molly mouse hunting danced in our heads. She was pretty, a tortoise-shell they informed us, with white feet and light green eyes. They’d told us to buy the purple bagged cat food at Costco and sent us home with a starter kit, warning us to feed her only ½ cup a day or she would eat and eat. “No wonder,” we now said, seeing her feline equivalent of a muffin top. And later when I dutifully purchased said Costco-sized bag of food it never even dawned on me just how long that was going to last at ½ cup per day without, say, a whole cat room or a bull mastiff eating it.

They also told us not to let her outside for a couple weeks until she knew her boundaries. But what we quickly discovered was that Molly, the Queen of the Cat Room, had quickly reinvented herself as Molly, Queen of the Yurts. She had no interest in the great outdoors. Or our very nice, mice-filled barn. Neither would she soon forget where she lived. First of all, she was too fat to catch anything except maybe her own tail. And second of all, we had to move quickly ourselves to catch her and toss her out the door if she was ever going to get some fresh air. Molly was perfectly content to stay inside the yurt. Forever. And when we did manage to capture and evict her with encouraging words about our barn, she sat underneath the yurt and meowed. All day. Loudly. Until we let her in again. Or until someone opened the door. Then she was suddenly motivated to move at lightning speed, flashing past us like her predecessor.

Now you might think that upon meowing herself hoarse, Molly would simply accept her fate and head for the barn. She does not. Instead she tries to find a way back into the yurt. Like jumping up on the front door and attempting to turn the door knob. Or leaping up at one of the two mudroom windows and hanging by her claws from the screen. I kid you not. None of her persistence is appreciated by people who live in a canvas house. In fact, people who live in fabric houses should probably not own pets with claws.

The questions we probably should have asked those nice Safe Haven folks are these. How would they know if Molly was a “Great Barn Cat” or a “Great Mouser” if they’d only known her as the Queen of the Cat Room where she’d spent her lazy days indoors eating the Purple-bagged Costco Cat Food? Did they ever hear her sighing and wishing aloud, "If only I had a barn and some nice fat mice to catch?” How did they determine that 1/2 cup of food was enough? Because the purple cat food bag has been shredded by Molly's attempts to increase her portion. And why exactly was Molly brought in the first time? Too noisy, perhaps? How about the second? Customer dissatisfaction? Did she scratch her owners? Refuse to go outside?

Hannah hates cats and threatened to boycott Christmas but relented, keeping a watchful distance. Micah became very good at catching and evicting Molly while he was home for the holidays. We tried to pass her off as Isaiah's birthday present but he was having none of that. And Andy keeps threatening to teach Molly to swim.

"Maybe she’ll go outside when it gets warmer," I reason. "And besides, Bella likes to play with her," I say, even though Molly often switches moods and scratches her.

"Bella can play with her Littlest Pet Shop cats," Andy counters.

"Well, at least wait until all that cat food is gone," I say. That ought to take us to 2013.

One thing is for certain. Molly was no bargain.


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