Some animals come and go in your life and leave little trace in their passing. Some, by dent of their personality and spirit, leave an indelible mark, one that never goes away. Such a creature was Whiskers.
Like most of the many dogs and cats who’ve shared my life, she came not sought after by me but by circumstance and happenstance. A diminutive female, she was fully grown, but still young. Being responsible pet owners, we took her to the veterinarian to be spayed. Unfortunately, she was already pregnant and without consulting us, the vet terminated the pregnancy and went ahead with the procedure. That fact is the only logical explanation I can think of for Whisker’s future behaviors.
Her kleptomania started with the appearance on the front porch of good quality insulated gloves and nice stocking caps. That seemed like a good deal, until we discovered the source. Our next-door neighbors fished in the fall and winter for the steelhead trout that swim up the Snake and Clearwater Rivers to spawn. The gloves and caps were ones they kept in their boat.
Sometime after that source dried up, other gloves started to show up; worn, very well worn, cloth work gloves. Not knowing where these “gifts” came from, I just stuffed them in a plastic bag. Later, after her marauding turned to other “game,” I thought of the gloves and inventoried them. There were 14 matched pairs and 10 singles.
Either the glove source dried up, or her roaming discovered more fertile ground, because then the stuffed animal phase started. Small stuffed animals, the “beanie baby” type, if you remember that craze. And the cartoon and movie characters given with kid’s meals at the fast food restaurants.
Now, these stuffed animals weren’t dirty, untidy toys that appeared to have been left outdoors. They were clean, well kept ones. And they came in droves. No exact count was kept but it was well over 30. One statistic does stand out; she scored 17 of them in a 24-hour period. If nothing else, Whiskers was one hardworking, focused individual.
Where were they coming from? We couldn’t figure it out. Was she going into someone(s) home? Was she going to the fast food drive-through lane – “I’ll trade you a real mouse for a Mickey Mouse”? It got alarming; we feared for her safety and the penalty she might receive if caught in her thievery. And, we tried not to think of the possible distress of children as their favorite toys disappeared.
So, a strategy was tried, and seemed to work. The stuffed animals got recycled. A box of them was put on the front porch. She would pluck one out of the box, go around the house to the window “cat door”, come in and deposit her “baby”, all the while making little “mewling” vocalizations. She’d get praised for the gift, then it would be redeposited in the box for another roundtrip. This seemed to curb, though not stop, her forays into the neighborhood.
One of the stranger things she brought through the cat door was the dress of about a three year old girl. But, the absolute strangest thing came late one night when I heard her on the front porch and went to let her in. She was crouched over a knotted thin plastic bag, the kind the newspaper comes in on a rainy day, making her mewling sounds. When I attempted to pick up the bag, it moved! Carefully tearing the bag open, I found…a bat. It was in some distress, breathing hard, but alive. I released it in the big lilac bush and it seemed okay.
How did the bat get in the bag and how did Whiskers come by it? That remains one of her many secrets. With no opposable thumbs, I don’t think she knotted the bag; though with her diligence and determination, I can’t rule it out.
In her later years, Whiskers largely lost her zeal for the hunt and retrieval of “found” objects. She had a sweet and accepting nature. She accepted, with equanimity, the other cats and dogs that came and went. She never begrudged another cat dining at her food dish, be it an official resident or a neighborhood moocher. She mothered kittens of strays that took up residence until we could collect them and find homes or take them to the humane society. She didn’t stand much truck from stray dogs; I saw her chase away some big ones.
All in all, she was a force of nature. Tiny, but powerful, she was the alpha animal. But I never saw her be mean spirited. I could pick her up, roll her on her back and scratch her belly and she’d put up with it briefly with a glare that seemed to say, “Okay, Dummy, you’ve had your fun, now put me down so I can get on with my important duties.”
So, when she got sick, shrank to skin and bones and those fierce fires became banked, it was hard to watch and to accept. She stopped eating and drinking. She moved little and slept most of the time. Antibiotics, nutrient gels and home-administered IV fluids didn’t turn the corner. Finally, when she began to show signs of being in pain, we admitted defeat and took her to the vet for the shot to end her suffering. Holding her and looking into her eyes as they dimmed in death was hard, but also a privilege and a debt I owed her.
If there’s a kitty heaven, I hope she finds the kittens of her own that she never had. Or, at the very least, there are lots of objects lying around that Saint Peter isn’t keeping an eye on.
Whiskers, you are sorely missed.