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©December 2005

Carol Jane Remsburg



A Dusky Orange Ball of Fur



Once upon a time, there came a cat.  He wasn't quite a kitten, but he wasn't quite an adult either—perhaps about eight months old.  It was a late Saturday afternoon in mid-October.  Dinner was nearly finished, I'd just hauled the ham out of the oven to cool before going back outside to pull in most of the laundry drying on the line to, sort, fold, and put away.  The dog, Sissy, had begun to bark, at first a warning, and then savagely, squawking over an intruder.  I rushed outside and there he was.


There he stoodm all sassy, lithe, and sleek.  He wasn't quite orange, he was darker, a dusky hue with eyes to match.  He was teasing my dog from across the fence, courting certain death if the dog could breach the fence.  The cat thought this was incredible fun, and then ran right up to me, tapped me on the leg as if I were "it" and ran up the tree before looking down as if in a taunt that I wouldn't follow him.


I couldn't help but laugh.  He was just another stray, that we'd have from time to time, I'd put out a bit of kibble, he'd eat and pass on.  I went back into the house and retrieved the laundry basket and went to bring in the laundry before checking on the rest of dinner.


I didn't see him again until I was coming back in with my hands filled with the laundry basket before he darted back out from his hiding place—and tagged me again, claws out this time, snagging the edge of my jeans.  It was obvious he wanted my attention and not just for kibble.  There isn't a cat or dog in a two mile radius that doesn't know there is a free meal when in need here.  All they have to do is show up, we cave and feed.


I went into the house, finished my chores and expected the tormentor of my dog to be long gone when I came back outside to get the dog's bowl to share some ham with her.  Yet, there he was, waiting.  It struck me that he wasn't just waiting for a hand out.  I was used to that, he was waiting for me.  He wanted more.


After I fed the dog and the family, there he still was, ignoring the dry cat food I'd put in a bowl.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  Back inside I went to finely chop up a small bowl of ham for him.  He accepted it as his due.  I sat on the back steps and watched him devour it.  Then he sauntered on over to me with a purr and a nuzzle, as if this were his payment for his dinner.  He was sweet and endearing, but my heart had been rent upon the passing of my girls, leaving only Spikey left.  No more cats, no more.  No matter how cute, or sassy, there would be NO MORE CATS in the house.  Even though Spike was aging and lonely, no more cats.  That was my motto, my mantra.  Still, that night, I put a bowl of dry cat food out at the back step for him, if he were hungry.


The next morning when I went out to hang the bed linens, there he was.  The dog glowered at him, snorting heavily after barking so much over the feline's attempts at comic relief.  The orange cat trotted in a practiced manner after me to the clothesline, purred when I petted him and ensured I watched my feet as I hung out the sheets and blankets so I wouldn't step on him.


Then there was a nuzzle, a deep purr, and a caress.  In that moment, he stole my heart.  It was a chilly wind blowing that afternoon, and dinner was cooking but the rest of the afternoon was free for me in my little computer room.  I'd become the focus of his attentions…and I absconded with him for a quick visit, hiding him from the biggest softie I know, my hubby. 


Once inside the little 9 x 6 room filled with a large L-shaped desk and filing cabinets there wasn't much room for the dusky orange cat to explore.  Yet, he contented himself in my lap, rejoicing in the rubs, nuzzles, and stolen kisses.  He purred his delight reveling in the attention he was receiving.  Me, I felt like a traitor, I just couldn't help myself.  He was a small ray of sunshine after a darkness.  This would definitely be a my cat situation could I bring him inside.  That was something I'd missed so much since my cat Muffin had passed more than a year ago, a little someone who would love me.


A few days passed, furtive feedings happened and the boy remained close by.  It wasn't long before hubby caught wind of what was happening, along with the child.  Psuedo-stern warnings about "no more cats" were announced by hubby, and I agreed…and then snuck my little boy, I'd secretly named Sunshine into my little office area feeding him tidbits while giving him cuddles and rubs.  He was very affectionate—sometimes overly so because he couldn't control his love-bites which were very hard indeed.


This little dance played out over more than a week before hubby relented knowing he was beat, worse, he'd been sneaking treats to the new visitor as well.  The child had been pleading her cause too. 


Spike was interested, curious.  Yet Sunshine was frightened of the large old tom and hissed horribly at it.  Still, you could tell, it was only fear on his part, not aggression.  Spike merely shook his head at the baby.


That was all it took.  With Spike's acceptance and curiosity, "Sunshine" ended up in the house.  Shortly afterwards a trip to the vet was necessary for his shots, fixing, and declawing---a requirement for living inside. 


The boy acclimated himself at high speed.  My daughter adopted him and from early on, he slept on her spare pillow every night for most of his life.  Sunshine became Stinky, for two reasons.  One, he was very musky, even after bathing, his head emitted a strong musk for a few months after he came inside.  Two, he was an onery little booger and his love bites were very hard and it took him nearly a year to realize that when it bit someone, it HURT.  But he learned about the biting, as we cried back to him it hurt, no yanking back, and no hitting, just the plea.  He became very gentle, finally knowing his teeth were sharp and they DID hurt.


The aging old Spike who was declining found new life with Stinky.  Perhaps Stinky played too hard, but Spike found he COULD play again, and the sly old fella set up the youngster for a few foiled attempts.  You could nearly hear him laugh…just before he ran off to tell his daddy, his buddy, his best friend.


It was a quick transition.  Stinky never became my cat, even though I would always be his "Mommy" forever.  He was affectionate with me, but he was Erin's body and soul…they grew up together under our watchful eyes.  Erin read to him, carried him around, loved him, and slept with him. 


Hubby had old Spike, Erin Stink, me, I was bereft.  Muffin was long gone, the only animal I'd ever had who'd loved me best, even stayed when I'd shooed and suffered my miscarriage, that cat couldn't be budged from my side, so like a sister with strong love.  I wouldn't ever be that lucky again, until later.


Yet, over the years, Stinky grew and grew and grew.  Our old tom, Spike passed.  All said our goodbyes, not only hubby, daughter, but the new alpha female rescued—Pyewacket who had Stinky as a shadow.  Everywhere she went, he went.  Consider the female power…even after they have no reproductive powers.  It's still there.


Pye cried and mourned.  Stinky was hurt and confused.  Both were subdued for days afterwards.  We humans didn't fare much better.


Stinky settled easily into the position of the alpha male feline.  He was still young, but big and filled with a sense of prankish play.  Over time, we rescued a pair of sibling females amid the snows of January that their mother had abandoned.  And while Pye didn't exactly 'mother' she accepted the twins.  Stinky, on the other hand, opted that he had new playmates.  The boy loved to play, always did, from the earliest right up until the last. 


There would be the 2 AM chases throughout the house that sounded like an entire herd of elephants running up the stairs and back down, when there would be 3-4 of them, but only Stinky was really loud.  He was pushing 20+ pounds, and to be realistic, he wasn't quite 25 pounds, but he was close. 


One of his favorite morning games was helping me make our bed in the morning, ensuring that I'd cover him with the bedspread and he'd always help me fit and make the bed on Sundays with fresh linens, even laughing at me when I shifted him to make the sheets right.  He reveled in the freshly scented sheets, even more than we did.


When it snowed, Stinky was on the back porch.  What snow filtered in, he danced in it, so like any other little kid with a free day from school home to build a snow man. 


When the litter box got changed, he was first in line to make his mark and tell all others, it was his.  Further, any delivers to the house, whether in a cardboard box or furniture, Stinky was the first one to stake his claim, he pounced on it and sat there.  He had 'ownership' issues.  You couldn't do anything else but laugh as he tried to squeeze himself into small boxes.


Stink was also a talker.  While not as vocal as some of the girls, he did talk, and when he did, not just the girls listened, but we humans too.  During the summer months he lived to recline on the back porch rope swing.  Hubby put down an over-sized towel so he could rest in comfort—and swing himself—which he did. 


When it came to food, he always got his, commercially prepared cans—on special occasions, home cooked meats, or cream.  He wasn't too picky, but he'd let you know when his time was due and what he felt he deserved.


Every day with Stinky was a joy, even bath time.  At worst, he cried, but he didn't fight hard, he just endured it—and held no grudges.  Stinky accepted every cat we brought in, not just Pyewacket, but the twins, Missy and Gabby, and later, the other orphan sisters, Salem and Stripes.  Stinky NEVER minded, he knew we loved him.  Erin never let him forget—ever, how much he was loved.


Over the last year, on occasion he would come back to that little office area with my computer and hop up in my lap.  By then he was too big to just sit there, you had to hold him, with both hands—and then nuzzle him.


Stinky never lost his sense of fun, devotion, or devout loving attention for his adopted family.  He knew how to laugh and make humans do the same, with the last quirky look as if saying, "Made ya LOOK!"


From the mellow loving times to the onery ones, Stinky was a most loving cat, very intuitive, and happy.  The years slipped by quickly. 


Then came a night he cried, and then the next night.  By the weekend I took him to the vet's—even though by the previous night I knew he was in more trouble than a shot by the vet could fix.  He was in pain, bad pain.


As with many males, I didn't catch it in time, not even the two errant 'pee' events in inappropriate places prompted the vet visit simply because we had rescued yet another cat.  Recriminations over knowing better over…what I could have done, should have done. 


I'm human, I missed it.  I can offer up excuses for being gone from home more than twelve hours MOST days, but I could have caught it, should have known it…but with male cats, it is so hard to know sometimes.


I was too late.  Stinky's kidneys failed, and after a five day vigil, we had to let him go.


Hubby and daughter were crushed right along with me.  I went to the vet's and brought him home.  Hubby had prepared a simple wooden coffin, the daughter a loving goodbye letter, and me, I wrapped him up in his favorite bath towel before arranging him within the little coffin.  Then we buried him.


Stinky didn't just find a home, he helped make our home, as much as the sturdy frame that surrounds us at night in shelter.  People who don't have pets can't understand that, but Stinky was a huge part of our lives.


I can only wish for you the joys that Stinky gave us, and all the love as well.


Love is never wasted; rejoice in it.



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