Monday, May 15, 2006

Cat Woman.

For those people who have written in and asked, “Yes, Quinn, but when are you going to write about how you’ve taken responsibility for these drive-by rabbits?” let me assure you, it won’t be happening.

Please don’t snicker.

No, I really can’t take on rabbit rescue. I’m not saying I haven’t left out elderly, rubbery carrots for a particular phlegmatic black rabbit who has taken to dwelling under the roses. But neither that rabbit nor any other will be coming into my house. For one thing, I am wildly allergic to rabbits. A single finger tentatively petting soft rabbit fur touches my face at any point in the next six hours and, lo and behold, my head puffs up to seventy-five times its natural size. My head battling a histamine overdose was last seen bobbing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, right behind Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Another reason I will never be a rabbit owner: they chew electrical cords. We are the kind of desperate geeky people who start rocking and moaning if our online connection is severed. I don’t care how precious your l’il lop ears are; if you compromise my ability to get on www.gofugyourself.com, I’ll reconsider vegetarianism.

But the most important reason we will not be having any extra pets in this household any time soon is that, after six weeks, we still have eleven cats living in our garage. It’s hard to think about more houseguests when we have an entire feline Youth Hostel sharing towels and nipples in our garage. They are an opera of saucer eyes, darling fat tummies, fluffy pipe-clearer tails, and a degree of aggression towards their littermates that would make Cain wince. But the real hero in this is the mother who, had I been better organized, would have gotten her own blog on Mother’s day.

Did I ever tell you the cat’s name?

No?

Oh.

We called her Cat for the first week. Considering that any statement referencing her ran along the lines of “Put the food closer to Cat’s head; the babies won’t stop nursing long enough to let her stand up and get some food”, I doubted she was terribly insulted.

The following weekend, I was at the rescue place picking up more food when I was introduced to the volunteer who had brought her in. It seems the cat had been living behind a block of subsidized housing in an extremely chaotic part of LA when the rescue worker, an elementary-school teacher in her spare time, was alerted by one of her students that a highly pregnant cat was establishing a delivery room under a hedge near a bus stop. She swung by that afternoon, dropped Cat into a cardboard box, and brought her to the rescue group. I assured this sweet woman that “her” cat was doing well.

“Does she have a name?” I enquired while grabbing some cans of cat food. The woman’s pale skin sprouted a little blush.

“I didn’t pick her name. The neighbors who had been feeding her named her.”

I stopped choosing between Tuna Terrific and Turkey Treaties and looked at her.

“But she does have a name?”

The woman looked around, leaned in towards me and whispered, “La Juana”.

I stared off for a second and then composed myself.

“So, if you wanted to be completely accurate, you might say she’s La Juana, the struggling single mother of ten who lived in public housing?”

She nodded. We gazed at one another.

I asked tentatively, “You don’t suppose anyone would mind if we…?”

“Changed her name? I think that would be a…“

“…wonderful idea!” we chorused together.

Because I don’t need anyone thinking this is my achingly bad attempt at keeping it real.

Her name is Charlotte, after the spider, because she is a very good mother and a good soul. With ten children and eight nipples, you have to be a good mother, not to mention a world-class lactator. I got some sense of how deeply her maternal instincts ran after we had been keeping her for about two weeks. I was spending some time in the garage with her and the kittens, when our dog loped into the yard. The dog loves cats (and, no, not as an entrée). In fact, the sight of a cat makes her shimmy in pure joy but it’s the rare cat who feels likewise. Unbeknownst to me, the garage door to the yard wasn’t completely closed, and the dog used all four of her brain cells to lever open the door with her nose, so she might finally bask in the feline beauty she had been whiffing within for two weeks.

The dog stood in the doorway for a second. I stood to run over and shut the door, but Charlotte was faster than I was. The dog was a pathetic portrait of misguided hope, tail wagging, a warm pleased expression on her face. Charlotte leapt neatly onto that expression, sunk her claws into the dog’s head, and commenced to beating her with a neat brutality you might associate with a gang initiation. It took no more than a minute for the dog to run from the garage, and at least half of that time was the dog trying to disengage cat nails from her eyeballs. Her task accomplished, Charlotte sauntered back to the cage, checked on the kittens, and finished grooming her back leg.

As I learned more about Charlotte’s life as La Juana, my understanding and respect for her grew. According to the rescuer, who had talked to her students on scene, La Juana was about three years old. She had spent her entire life living under the hedge where she was found, having litter after litter. With each litter, she would lose at least half of them to neighborhood dogs. One night, the father of the student heard something outside the bedroom, and shone a flashlight outside; there was Charlotte/La Juana, standing between her kittens and two feral dogs, making the worst Godawful sound an eight-pound cat ever made. The dogs considered the delicious treat of kitten, weighed it against this maternal avenging angel, and decided it wasn’t worth it; they walked off. Another cat was found dead in the yard the next morning, but she saved her kittens for another day. I feel a certain sympathy for my dog, but Charlotte has earned to right to think any dog she meets deserves a good trepanning.

I won’t go into every story I heard; suffice to say, this is an exceptionally nice cat who has been the hero in her own life far too often. It is possible, however, her luck might finally have turned. On Friday, her kittens will be mature enough to go to their new homes. She has, I keep promising her, done her last heavy lifting; she purrs and kneads when I say that.

On this night after Mother’s Day, as her kittens are in a pile in their cage, snoring and chewing on one another as they sleep, she is recovering at a local pet hospital after a long-overdue spaying.

I have promised her we will find her a loving dog-free home and a long and uneventful life of sunny windowsills, choice fish bits, and a family to call her own.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Chris S. said...

You have a very good heart. Don't be surprised if Charlotte gives your address to some of her feline friends. I am convinced it only takes one to spread the word and before you know it more little creatures are showing up at your door. My kids keep asking me why every stray cat, dog, yes even rabbits show up in our yard. The kids think we are terribly lucky :)That is not exactly the word I would use. You are giving your daughter a wonderful example of how to be a good human. Chris

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most touching thing I have read in a long time. I have a soft spot for those who treat the animals as lovingly as you do.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

You are a Superhero.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

I have tears in my eyes. Thanks for a terrific reminder of how the world can be a good place.

I'm still trying to think of good homes fo the kittens. The first one didn't pan out the way I had hoped.

Oh, and yes, remind me to tell you the one about my rabbit and the refridgerator cord sometime. Let's just say it involved solder.

9:48 AM  

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