Thursday, May 21, 2009
It's official: we have been visited. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last.
Animals find their way to us. Animals in need. I have not kept official count, but I could confidently estimate the number at twenty. Not domestic animals mind you - wild animals. Injured, lost, confused or starving wild animals have happened upon us with what seems to be some regularity over the past seven years. An aggregation of wayward critters stumble out of the forest, only to land on our stoop. I've not photographed all of them, but did manage to catch a few on camera over time.
Click on any image below to enlarge, I wanted to save page load time.
There was the bear of course:
And just prior to the bear, this young lady camped out with us for some time.
She returned the following year with the family.
There have been so many birds we have lost count, all injured in one fashion or another.
The owl was not injured, but was hungry enough to spend a few weeks with us stalking our bird feeder after months of heavy snow pack.
My request for him to answer the age old question fell on deaf ears. I guess we really never will know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
There have been so many deer over the years that we take them for granted. One of our apple trees fattened up some very thin deer one year. They were near starved, so I would run out at night and jump in the tree, shaking the branches. They would show up each morning and clean up.
The evening that I proposed to Mrs. Author we drove home together and saw dozens of deer, to the extent that we lost count after forty or so. We like deer.
I have always been fascinated by turtles - slow yet resilient as they are. I have removed at least thirty of them from roads over the years.
A couple have also found their way to our yard (a few years back, when we lived in a townhouse) far from any body of water that would support them, so we did road trips to local ponds.
Then there was the salamander that took a break on the Christmas cactus on our front deck.
I could not help but wonder if salamanders exchanged Christmas gifts.
These are just a few of the animals that have come to us to present some issue or need. They have done so often enough that we are always prepared to act on most any animal emergency that arises. What we were not prepared for was an animal in need that did not want our assistance. An animal content to fade in and out of the picture, leaving us worried for it; fretting over what to do. An animal that wanted no human interaction whatsoever.
The first signs of this animal's presence had us suspecting raccoon visits. I had a brain cramp and left a bag of trash lingering on the back deck overnight. By morning it was shredded, contents strewn about the lawn. Mrs. Author pointed out this stroke of genius to me as I gathered my lunch and laptop for work. I cleaned up on the way out, looking for any paw prints that might lead me to the culprit. There were none. By the time I reached work the matter was forgotten.
A friendly reminder arrived two days later when the other lobe of my brain took a vacation and I forgot to close the garage door overnight. Something had meandered in for a snack, removed the lid from a trash can and had a whirling dervish moment. It literally looked like a tornado had made a precise strike on the trashcan, a swirl of rotten stinky refuse plastered in corners, dripping from the ceiling. The windows were merely opaque. The cars smelled of old goat cheese and discarded central vac remnants. I made an important note to self, and did not repeat that mistake.
Mrs. Author decided to flush out our elusive visitor using the proven, age old method: bait. Mountains of food to be precise. A bait buffet of the highest magnitude was offered up to any creature who cared to make itself seen. Platters of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were left out to waft their aromas throughout the neighborhood and surrounding forest. Dog food, cat food, bread, seafood, veggies, and even one of Sola's special brownies adorned the railing around our back deck.
Consumption patterns gave us some clues. The dog food, vegetables and the brownie were untouched. All else was decimated nightly as we slept. Sola cleaned leftovers on her morning walks. We repeated this ritual for a few nights before I decided it best to put out the food in the morning, and bring it in at night, forcing our freeloader to make an actual appearance. The following morning granted us our answer. We were finishing breakfast when Cracker erupted in a fit of growls, spitting at the window, not at all happy with the current state of affairs.
I dropped my fork and ran for the sunroom, Nigel at my heels, curious to see the cause of commotion. I stopped in the doorway, careful not to spook our diner. I was so elated to finally have a look at the creature who'd been taunting me that I forgot about Nigel standing beside me. I made an incredibly unfortunate statement, one that haunts me to this day. "Well I'll be," I uttered, "if it isn't a strange pussy."
Three thoughts immediately struck me like lightning.
1. I knew for a moment what it must be like to have children, and to make a big verbal "oops" in front of the kids. I wanted to smack myself in the forehead with a shovel.
2. I was very much troubled to see Nigel immediately bolt for the office, the door slamming behind him with a thud. I thought he was fearful to find an unknown animal parked on the back porch. As is so often the case, I could not be more wrong.
3. No matter how offensive, I knew I had found the title for this post. As later events will demonstrate, I could not have chosen a more suitable moniker for our new friend. The shoe fit, and was quite comfortable.
The slam of the door had sent Strange P flying for the cover of a hedgerow at the edge of the lawn. He was skittish as could be. Foolish as I was, I thought we had won half of the battle by identifying the animal in question. My assumption was that we would slowly move the bait toward the center of our fenced back yard, trapping Strange P. The only access to the back porch (and yard) was through the railing of the porch. The plan was to sneak around the side of the house while it ate, blocking the railing of the porch and sealing the deal. In theory it was a decent plan. Reality did not allow for it. Any attempt to move the bowls toward the lawn resulted in...absolutely nothing. As hungry as this cat was, it was not trusting enough to accommodate anything that hindered its ability to flee. I gave up after some time, placing the bowls back on the porch rail. Strange P returned, dining with us daily, and fleeing at the first sign of any human.
We called around the neighborhood to see if anyone knew anything. No luck there. None of the neighbors we asked were aware of the origins of Strange P. None was willing to help capture him either.
I decided to take a shot at a stealthy approach. I donned a giant scratching post costume, snuck quietly out the front door, and crept around the side of the house for a look. The minute I was within eyesight of Strange P the following occurred...
Not a chance. His ears were too good, his sense of smell keen. Every attempt to approach him resulted in escape. Without fail, I would come around the corner, and Strange P would be flying everywhere.
As much as I enjoyed our inverse game of cat and mouse, I was not willing to accept a relationship on these terms. Five weeks passed, and we knew we would have to capture this critter and have it vetted in order to ensure its safety. The scratching post costume was getting itchy. Leaving the cat to roam free and live wild was just not an option. It was underweight, and every time it ate, it scarfed down food as though it had never been fed. It also knocked the bowls off the porch rail after every meal, like a spoiled child sweeping a plate off the dinner table (take a second look at flying P above, and note the ground beneath). It had a number of bite marks on it: including a hole in its right ear that had scarred. It needed care, a safe haven.
I resigned myself to the last resort, the option I had hoped to avoid: a trap. It was abundantly clear that Strange P was a very frightened cat, and did not trust anyone or anything (other than free meals dispensed by Mrs. Author). I was aware that trapping the cat would scare it even more. I was left with no choice. One evening just a few days ago, I set a humane trap, loaded it with sardines, and returned to the house to wait for a telling snap to emanate from the trap door. I fired up my laptop and logged in to Facebook. I was stricken with panic.
I had been so distracted by Strange P that I had completely forgotten the idiotic two word utterance that I had made in Nigel's presence. In that distraction, I also did not pay heed to the fact that Nigel had stayed in the office for hours the day that Strange P made his debut appearance. I was mistaken in my belief that he was hiding from the cat. A rescue himself, and a big softy (despite his claims to the contrary) he had closed himself in the office to do research. Of course, his research was flawed thanks to my inappropriate choice of words when first describing our guest.
Mrs. Author and I called out for Nigel as I rushed to the office. It was empty, Nigel was gone. We searched the house frantically, to no avail. Sola and Truffles watched and waited, both of them elbowing each other and snickering at us. I went back to the office and turned on the desktop computer.
As I waited for it to boot up I grabbed the phonebook, ready to start calling local pounds, animal control, anyone who might have seen Nigel on the loose. Just as I was ready to pick up the phone a pronounced snap alerted us to the capture of Strange P. As worried as I was about Nigel, I needed to look squarely in the eye of the party responsible for this mess. I jumped off the back porch and landed next to the trap, Strange P hissing and spitting at me, ass chapped, tail fluffed in protest. I could not get within a foot of that trap without him doing somersaults and rocking it, the hinges threatening to let go as he hurled himself against the door.
I pulled our SUV up next to the trap; as close as I could get. I then made use of a shovel to hook the handle of the trap; raising it in to the back of the SUV while Strange P went through what looked something like an exorcism, fur flying from the cage in clouds as his head spun around in circles. His claws ached to meet my flesh. I closed the hatch of the truck and Mrs. Author jumped in with hastily scrawled notes on a piece of paper. She had found a vet in the phone book and made arrangements to have the cat assessed. She turned to me before pulling out of the driveway. "Find Nigel!" she urged, "I have this one covered."
I returned to the office and found the phonebook again. As fate would have it, the phonebook would not be necessary. The computer had booted up, so I opened a browser window to check the history. My jaw went slack. My fears confirmed, I printed out the results of Nigel's horribly flawed Google search, and made a mad dash for the car. I stopped dead in my tracks at the back porch as I encountered the first result of Nigel's internet exploration.
Apparently his keywords led him to something regarding stripper poles. He'd installed one on the back porch in hopes of attracting Strange P. It was nice as far as stripper poles go, but it was clear that Nigel had misconstrued my words, and had taken me literally. He'd even gone so far as to comparison shop before deciding on a model.
I grabbed my carkeys and sped out of the driveway at a breakneck pace, Sola and Truffles staring as I sped off; left to wonder what had become of their rapidly disappearing family members.
Sola: "Where do you think Nigel Buggers and the two-leggers disappeared to?"
Truffles:"Do you think Criss Angel got them?"
Sola: "I doubt that Fudgepants. He's too busy floating around and holding up the sky. Let's slide a chair over to the feezer and see if we can't pilfer some Frosty Paws!"
I motored down the highway, struggling to anticipate Nigel's next step. Considering that there was a stripper pole on my back porch, and that money tends to congregate around stripper poles, I deduced that I might be fortunate enough to return to a pile of money on the back porch.
I sped on, encouraged...
Mrs. Author returned to the house shortly, slid the chair away from the fridge in the nick of time, and secured Strange P in a dog crate: closing him in the garage to keep him safe. The vets had knocked him out and looked him over. He had been attacked by something large, but aside from the small hole in his ear, all other wounds had healed and nearly disappeared. He was neutered. His age was estimated at three to five years based on his teeth, which they scaled for us. He had been outside for months - this they surmised from the frostbite on the end of his ear. That was about all they could offer, and it was left to us to decide his fate from there. They offered euthanasia as an option if we did not feel we could find a home for the cat. That option was never considered.
Meanwhile, I was on the hunt for Nigel, making my first stop in order of his internet search results. It was no surprise to find myself parked in front of the Playboy mansion, considering the keyword combination Nigel had used. Much to my chagrin, Nigel had already departed - but not before a security camera caught him taking a dip in the grotto. He'd chosen a costume to blend in, but there was no mistaking him for a resident.
Nigel: "I just missed my chance. Someone told me some guy named Hugh Hefner had retired to the mansion with Strange P. I couldn't get past security."
I started the car back up, grabbed the offensive list of search results, and decided on my second stop, engine roaring as made my way to a local frat party. Sure enough, Nigel had whipped out his human frat boy costume and mingled. And had since departed.
Nigel: "I was told I would have to pledge. I'm not in to polishing furniture, thanks."
I feared the trail might run cold if I did not keep up, so it was time to try the next search result. Nigel had been reading about these morons from a Saturday Night Live skit who were constantly making idiotic attempts to meet this fellow Strange P, so he put on his tacky, shiny human suit and went out on the town for a night at the Roxbury.
Nigel: "Foiled again. I was so dizzy from the stupid, constant head-bobbing dance that I couldn't even see. I would have been better off to bring Sola and Truffles. These morons wouldn't know Strange P if it walked up and hit them-
Author: "Stop right there."
Another bad idea nixed, it was time to check in with a player, a celebrity that Nigel believed was in the possession of important information regarding Strange P.
Nigel: "That does it, I'm deleting every Snoop song from my iPod. Except Gin and Juice. It's my anthem."
In a stroke of good fortune, I happened upon Nigel passed out in the alley near my car. He'd imbibed a bit too much and, exhausted from his mission, had collapsed drooling in a dumpster. I collected him, placed him on the back seat, and pointed the car east, headed for home. I called Mrs. Author to share the good news.
Mrs. Author: "Hello?"
Author: "It's me. I have Buggers in the back seat and we're on our way!"
Mrs. Author: "Hurry up, the cat is flipping out in his crate. I'm afraid he'll hurt himself."
We made the drive home in record time, music blaring, speed limit completely disregarded. Nigel awoke from his stupor a couple of miles from the house. By the time I slammed the car in to park, he was out the door, and pressed up against the window of the garage. Angry and tired as I was, I let him linger for a moment.
Nigel: "You're going to want to get a look at this. I think you actually have an angry P on your hands."
I leaned against the window for a good look, and had to agree with Nigel's assessment.
The crate was trashed, litter kicked in to the food bowls, food in the litter box, water overturned, mixing the litter in to a perfect gluey clay. This was not going to work. I brought Nigel in to the house, let Sola and Truffles greet him; kissed Mrs. Author hello, and became one with the mattress, drifting off to a fitful sleep, my dreams sprinkled with visions of kitty litter and Flavor Flav.
The following morning, Mrs. Author and I worked out a new arrangement over coffee. It was decided that Strange P would be freed from the confines of his crate. Instead his new home would be the garage. The entire garage. Considering his flighty nature, this meant that our cars would be left homeless in the driveway, collecting leaves and pine needles in abundance. We could not risk having him make a run for it when the garage doors opened and closed.
Fudgepants: "I just don't have the heart to tell the cat he expired on March 11th."
Sola: "He didn't expire Einstein, his flavor just faded a little."
I decided it best to become acquainted with our garage dweller. Oddly enough, he proved to be fairly agreeable within a couple of days. Sure, he would spit at me every time I entered the garage, but would let me approach him within a few minutes. I spent quite a bit of time in that garage: admiring, feeding, and talking to Strange P. Mrs. Author fussed over him, setting him up with a new litter box and food bowl, making trips to the vet for worming meds, reminding me to feed him a bazillion times a day. I'd pop in after Saturday Night Live to tuck him in.
We would keep him if we could. But our dogs and dog-like cat would overwhelm the little guy. We explained this to the dogs, and they agreed that they would all do everything possible to help us find a new home for him. My greatest concern was finding the right home for him. I knew I needed to tell his story, to make a potential adopter understand what he had been through. I spent countless hours hunched over my computer in the office, keyboard clacking as I tried to remember every last detail. Mrs. Author started to question my whereabouts when I failed to appear for dinner one evening.
Mrs. Author: "Hey Sir Typesalot, what are you up to in there?"
And in the final dash to the finish line of my brain cramp marathon, I answered before an important filter kicked on. "What do you think I'm doing?" I shouted. " I'm trying to bang out strange pussy."
A family meeting was called the next morning to discuss a very necessary name change for our friend. I held an icepack to the egg Mrs. Author had left on my head.
Mrs. Author: "OK immature boys, you have had your fun, let's give him a proper name. How are we going to find a taker for the cat with a name like Strange P?""
Author: "I know! He's been around for a bit, and he seems to have settled in nicely. Why don't we call him Familiar P?"
I stared at Nigel intently. He answered my silent urging and dashed through that opening.
Nigel: "But that sounds so...boring."
We both found ourselves on the back porch, locked out of the house. I asked Nigel to stay while I made a trip to the garage to visit the source of my angst, the single biggest thorn in my side. I slammed the door behind me, ready to wring the neck of this little furry displacer of automobiles. I wanted the garage back, and an apology. I would have neither. Instead, a funny thing happened in the garage that day.
No longer strange, our little pal had started to really trust me, and he loved his new surroundings. Before I could yell at him he was curled up on my lap, purring, pressing against me for attention. He wasn't so strange after all. He had just been through more than I could ever comprehend, and he was frightened senseless. I kind of liked him.
I returned to the back porch, knocking loudly and calling for Mrs. Author. She cracked the door and glared at me.
Mrs. Author: "Are you done with this yet?"
Author: " I am, I swear! He's not at all strange. He's just worn out and irritated."
The door started to close again, but I snuck my arm in to block it. "Listen" I begged, "I have a name!"
Mrs. Author: "Go ahead."
Author: "Scared E."
She giggled at this, and admitted that Scared E. Cat was innocent enough. We shared a brief laugh before I noticed her staring over my shoulder, a look of alarm on her face. I turned to see no less than thirty cars parked out front, lining both sides of the road. It looked like a giant yard sale was taking place. Both of us noted that all of the drivers were men. They started to get out of their cars and run up the driveway.
I realized that Nigel was missing again as I ran down the driveway to meet and deflect this uninvited caravan of strangers. I told them all to stop trespassing and get the hell off my lawn. They looked incredibly dejected as they returned to their cars and drove away. A police officer approached me.
Officer: "You're causing a bit of a disturbance son."
Author: "Oh thank heavens, 'cause there's been one in my head for years and it's lonely!"
Officer: "Can it boy, and take down that sign in the driveway before you cause an accident. Like your momma did when she birthed you. You'll want to clean up all of the telephone poles too."
When I reached the bottom of the driveway and saw the sign, I fell to my knees, my head in my hands.
Nigel had again tried to help, and had slightly missed the mark.
Or so I thought. I was brought back to my senses when I heard Nigel laughing hysterically. I caught him hiding in the bushes. When questioned about all of the trouble he had caused, he was nonchalant in his response.
Nigel: "I knew what you really meant the whole time." He inspected his toenails, looking at me sideways.
Nigel: "You know I do it all for the..."
Nigel is grounded indefinitely. Scared E. breaks my heart on a daily basis. When I let the dogs out at night, he stares at me from the lawn chair that he has adopted as his perch, the lights from the back of the house illuminating his eyes; two lonely glowing orbs illuminating the otherwise dark garage. In the morning he cries when I enter, already accustomed to our feeding routine. He must find a new caretaker - one who appreciates his history, and who will understand that he should be an indoor cat for life.
To that end, we have now spoken to numerous rescues, shelters, foster organizations. Most are over capacity, low on funds, and unable to help. One terrific local organization, Save Our Strays has given him his own page (and a more agreeable name) to try and help get the word out. With our low population density, and given the state of the economy, we are concerned that we may not find a local taker.
With this in mind, we ask you to spread the word. Share his story. Ask your friends to do the same. With a little luck, we just might find the right forever home for a lonely, loving animal with an interesting story. If the new owner wants to call him Strange, that's just fine by us. In return, our routine may resume as usual, our cars no longer orphaned to the driveway. And if we are very, very fortunate, Nigel will stop trying to help - and I"ll stop roaming the neighborhood with a staple remover.