Ed Colby: Trying to herd cats
June 4, 2002
We have a marauding fox with sharp teeth. Naturally we were concerned last night when our big cat Wahnu escaped into the wide world.
Some cats roam at night. In the morning they return to drink warm milk in the kitchen and to sleep. If they disappear, no problem. Just get another cat!
Our cats stay indoors where it’s safe, and boring. That’s the way it is.
Sometimes we do haul Wahnu up to the “kitty korral,” a chicken wire covered outdoor enclosure that opens to the barn. Mice live in the barn. Occasionally an unfortunate bird finds itself trapped inside the chicken wire. Wahnu likes the kitty korral a lot, but Sneezy and Wahnee think it’s stupid.
We used to let the cats run free. Six cars an hour drive past our place, but cats would dart in front of them. We’d find little songbird carcasses under the bed. Wahnee had a fixation on lizards. She’d devour them on the hillside above the ditch. Lizards are the peyote of the cat world. Wahnee would get sick and so stoned she couldn’t find her way home. She’d wail, and we’d have to go up and get her. She also ate snakes.
Once Wahnu disappeared for three or four days. Linda gave him up for dead, but still she went down the road putting up “lost kitty” posters. While she was nailing one to a telephone pole, she heard a faint cry from Heaven. She looked up, then waited, quiet as a mouse. She heard it again. It was Wahnu. He was in the crook of a cottonwood tree.
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“How high up there was Wahnu?” you ask. I’ll tell you. He was so high that by climbing a fully extended extension ladder, and standing on the highest possible rung, and by holding on with one hand and reaching with the other, I was able to grab the little adventurer by the scruff of the neck. He did not protest.
You’ve noticed that the names “Wahnee” and “Wahnu” are very similar. We found Wahnee first. She was gnawing on a chicken carcass she dragged out of the dumpster behind our old place in Carbondale. She was about one drumstick from starvation. You never saw a cat so thin. We owned no cats at that time, because I hated them. Linda loves cats, however, and she had a secret cache of cat food, just in case. I said, “Well, OK, but she has to live outside!”
“Of course,” Linda said.
The legacy of Wahnee’s near-death experience is a scarf-and-barf complex. She will eat until she’s sick. She always cries, demanding more. First we called her “Whiner,” then Wahnee.
Sneezy followed us home in a rainstorm, and he and I were best buddies until I stepped on him in the dark. Now he likes my hands, and my lap, but if he sees my feet, he runs.
Wahnu came last. We found him in the parking lot at Factory Surplus, or I should say Linda did. He was clearly homeless. We inquired inside, and the nice girls said, “He’s so sweet! He’s been hanging around, but we can’t have pets.” Linda looked at me. She’d have packed if I’d said “no.”
Our new cat looked a little like Wahnee, so we named him “Wah-new.” Get it? I like him the best because he’s the most like a dog. He’s affectionate. He’s loyal. He doesn’t play mind games – except when he’s on the lam.
The night air intoxicates him. He revels in tasting forbidden fruit. He runs in the moonlight and hides in thickets. He squeezes through fences. He won’t come when you call.
You have to trap him.
I use a piece of coat hanger and duct tape to make the cat door swing one way but not the other. Then I wait. He always comes back for breakfast.
I was up at dawn when I heard the unmistakable “pop” of the cat door. Wahnu took one look at me and tried to retreat. There was panic in his eyes as he pounded his little head against the cat door.
When I picked him up, my heart went out to Wahnu. I’d taken from him his one great joy – freedom. There would be no more stalking, no more chases, no more wind blowing in tall grass.
It was a damned shame, but that’s the way it is.
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