By Jean Airey
He shifted his body on the thick blanket that covered the bottom of the metal cage. This wasn’t his bed. His bed was thick and soft and his bones didn’t hurt when he lay on it. SHE had brought it to him, giving him treats to encourage him to get on it. Scattering catnip on it and scratching him behind one ear as she persuaded him that this would make a good bed. As if he’d needed that. He knew a good bed when he saw one, but SHE had been trained well. He opened his eyes and looked out to the room where other cats were running and playing and, yes, even sleeping over by the window in the sun. He was shut in and couldn’t go out there. He shifted again, turning his back to the cage door and looking at the small litter box in the back of the cage.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do with him,” Rachel Woodman said. “He’s just not eating, and he’s lost three pounds in the last month.”
The small white-haired woman peered into the cage. There wasn’t a lot to see, just the back of a large black cat, studiously ignoring them. “How long have you had him?”
Rachel sighed, “Two months now.”
“How is he with other cats?” Henrietta asked.
He could feel a tickle of air movement around his whiskers and turned his head slightly to look out the front of the cage. Yes, there it was, that paw reaching from the cage above down into his definitely belonged to that ditsy white cat. She was the one who thought he would like having his tail bitten. He’d snarled at her and she’d danced away laughing, laughing at him. If SHE had been here SHE would have picked the scrawny thing up and given her a good scolding. He’d tried to do the same thing, but THEY’d stopped him. How would that cat ever learn good manners that way.
“See that darling little Angora kitten? She was just trying to play with him and he tried to bite her. Hello, sweetie,” Rachel reached into the cage and took the white cat out. “She’s going to get adopted without any trouble.”
“How old did you say he was?” Henrietta asked.
“We’re not sure.” Rachel put the kitten down on the floor where it ran off to play with the other cats. “His owner was a retired school teacher from up north. She moved down here about a year ago. Bought a place in one of the older trailer parks. She kept to herself, as far as we can tell; no one heard her talking about a cat. She was going to her car when she collapsed and died of a heart attack. It was only when the police went into her house that they found the cat.”
“A niece up north. She arranged for all her aunt’s things to be sold. Wasn’t interested in the cat and didn’t know anything about him. The woman must have owned him since he was a kitten, the police said there were pictures of him from a baby on all through the house.” She sighed. “The vet estimates he’s about thirteen years old.”
Where was SHE. SHE had never left him for this long. SHE always came for him. SHE always talked to him when she took him somewhere to stay. SHE took him to places where there were big beds and big litter boxes and toys for him to play with. Even if he didn’t want to play with the toys, SHE always had toys for him. SHE did not treat him this way. He was going to ignore her when SHE came back. Yes, indeed, ignore her for a long time.
“There aren’t very many people who want to adopt an old cat, and, face it Rachel, he is an old, ornery cat.” Henrietta frowned at the cage. Spoiled rotten cat too, she thought, but it was all the woman had had.
“I thought you might be able to find a foster home for him? I’m sure he’d be happier there. If he’d just start eating . . .”
Henrietta sighed again, “That’s a great idea, but our foster homes all have multiple animals of one kind or another. If he can’t get along with other cats, what would he do around dogs?”
He shifted again, exhaling a soft hiss of pain. There, moving on the other hip helped, but his back still ached. He almost missed Bailey. Yes, that old dog was good for keeping him warm. Knew his place too. When SHE had brought him to her home the huge shaggy mutt had come up to greet him, wagging his tail and wanting to lick him. He hadn’t allowed that, not until he was ready. It was all in the attitude, his mother had told him. She’d controlled three dogs that were much larger than Bailey, and he’d learned his lessons well. Bailey had been, well, helpful. Bailey had gone away too. Had SHE gone to get Bailey? He got up to look out of the cage. Maybe SHE would be coming in the door right now. He had to shake his head, the room looked fuzzy.
“Are you sure he doesn’t have an ear infection? He’s shaking his head.” Henrietta opened the cage door and took him out. He gave a startled yowl. She cuddled him to her chest and stroked his head, scratching and then looking into his ears. He started to purr.
That felt good. It wasn’t SHE, but this one knew how to treat a cat, even if she hadn’t asked before picking him up. And she was warm and soft. Now, if he just shifted a little. Much better.
“No infection. He seems to be friendly once you get your hands on him. I can feel his bones, though. He’s definitely underweight.”
“So can you take him?”
“Rachel, I’ve already agreed to take that one litter of kittens and those two Rottweilers.”
“We really need the cage space. If you don’t take him, I’m afraid, well, you know. You’re just so much bigger than we are and you’ve got more volunteers.”
Henrietta wanted to bop Rachel up side the head. Girl, she wanted to say, get yourself out in your community and raise some money, get some more volunteers, don’t keep counting on us to help you. The cat was nuzzling her neck now. Damn, he was a sweet boy. If she could do anything for him, it would be better than leaving him here. Did that mean Rachel’s threats were working again? She felt the rumbling of a deep purr against her chest.
“All right, I’ll take him.” Somehow she’d find someone who would want an old, ornery tomcat. And she would guarantee them that the quiet love of an older animal was just as wonderful as the antics of a kitten. “It’s OK, boy, you’re coming with me.”