By Janet Waterston
“Puh-leez,” my sister, Jude, and I made a two syllable word out of our request for a furry pet. The answer was always no, usually followed by our parents’ explanation that they were certain they would end up walking the dog or changing the cat’s litter. We had to wait until we had apartments of our own, at which point we found ourselves as practical as our parents. We couldn’t get dogs because our work schedules were too demanding. We each got a cat.
Jude and I share a weekend home together in the Catskills, and it cries out for fur. Or maybe that is us crying out for fur which, once again, is not going to happen. One cannot have a pet for just two days out of the week. In fact, I can’t even keep hummingbird feeders since the sugared water has to be changed every three or four days. I content myself with sunflower bird feeders and birdhouses and am richly entertained by downy and hairy woodpeckers; wrens; cardinals; finches; nuthatches; the occasional Baltimore oriole and indigo bunting; and a couple of bluebirds. Only the chickadees allow me to come close, and I never get to pet one, much less nuzzle into its feathers. Feathers are nice, but fur is better.
One year, our friend Marci discovered a handsome collar-less red tick coon hound wandering the roads of a nearby town. Marci knocked on every door to find the dog’s home, only to discover it wasn’t from that neighborhood. She took the dog with her to begin a wider search, and we volunteered to be the dog’s temporary residence since Marci’s home already had a menagerie of furry four-legged critters.
“Don’t let him on your bed,” I cautioned Jude, “We don’t know where he’s been and if he has fleas.” We called him Putter, and he settled in, sitting next to us during our games of Scrabble and, not unexpectedly, finding his way into our beds. Our weekend ended, and we had to leave him with Marci who, before the next weekend, found the farm on which he lived. “You can keep him or give him away,” the farmer told her, “He’s always running off after a scent.” Here was our chance: a beautiful, affectionate, furry dog that was being offered. But we were weekenders and had to say goodbye.
Another time, a black and white cat showed up on our property and behaved as if he was right at home. He loved to be held and came when we called him, which we did, every chance we could. He would jump onto the hammock and lie with us or make himself comfortable in the living room or on the guest bed. He showed up each weekend for three weeks straight. Eventually, he would need a full-time home, so we began to ask friends if they were interested in adopting. Before we could secure a new home, he was gone, perhaps on his own search for full-time residents.
Last year, Jude offered to give a rescued dog a few weekends in the country. Pedro Martinez had been taken off the streets of Puerto Rico and brought to the mainland to find him an adoptive family. Petey, as we nicknamed him, was a bit nervous during the drive. He planted his quivering body on my lap, and since he was no bigger than a dachshund, I held my arms out around him to reach the steering wheel. His curly fur brushed my arms, and I was in heaven. He liked our country home and, although I thought I explained that he was to stay on our two acres, he set off to explore the countryside. (Okay, I now know that it takes a bit more training to keep a dog on the property and will know better for when we can finally have our own furball.) Petey ran down our long driveway and headed left. I ran after him. He stopped after about 50 yards and looked to see that I was not too far away. As I neared, he took off again. He ran all the way from our house in the Beechwoods to the next town of Hortonville, stopping every 50 yards or so to make sure I was still nearby. Only when he got to the bottom of the winding, tree-lined road and a wide open field did he stop and allow me to put on his leash.
“We’ll take him again next weekend,” Jude told the rescuer, and she agreed. But Petey was so cute that a couple, seeing him being walked, adopted him on the spot. They immediately renamed him Arturo after the restaurant in which they sat when they saw him. Arturo? Our Petey was gone and we were, once again, furless.
Jude and I consoled ourselves by petting animals at the county fairs and stopping every time we saw a donkey in the neighborhood. These often seem to get away from their fenced-in fields and wander along the road. They welcome our vigorous petting and the occasional carrot or apple we proffer. “Someday, we’ll have a donkey,” I consoled myself, “Or a dog, or a cat, or goat, or all of them.”
This year, on the first day of our summer vacation, two cats showed up on our property. This is not uncommon; people who tire of their pets, especially their cats, think it’s okay to “drop” them off near a barn. Perhaps they think no one will notice an extra mouth or two to feed. The strays wend their way up and down the road, hoping to find something to eat and perhaps a new home.
On this day, the ginger-colored cat gave a good hiss and scared off the second one who did not return again during our vacation. The ginger-colored cat, on the other hand, thought our tree-ringed property was all the land he needed, and he stayed the week. Jude and I made a note to ask the neighbors on either side of our house whether he belonged to them.
As weekenders, we were loath to feed him, afraid to make him dependent on us when we wouldn’t be available to maintain the routine during the week. It broke my heart when I threw out bread for the birds, and this thin little cat gobbled it up. At Jude’s admonition not to get attached, we didn’t invite him indoors, but each morning, when I stepped onto our deck, he came running and meowing, asking for affection. When Jude wasn’t looking, I stroked his fur, and he rubbed against my leg or stretched out to enjoy the petting from head to paw.
A few days into the vacation, this routine was interrupted. Had he left us already? Returned to his proper home? I looked around the yard and saw him sitting in the wild garden next to our display of bird houses. This morning, he didn’t seem interested in my affection. I soon learned why. He was sitting on a chipmunk he’d captured and was protecting his meal which he proceeded to eat. Yuck, but natural; I get it.
At a street fair, a humane society representative encouraged us to feed the cat, explaining that even feral cats need their diets supplemented by humans. She also encouraged us to build a shelter to protect him from the elements. Too late. We had an awful storm with hail, and it’s hard to call a nameless cat. When the weather cleared, he showed up, wet and bedraggled, on our deck. MEOW! MEOW! He called and swiped at Jude with his paw. It was several days before we understood the swiping was a request for petting. With “permission” from the humane society, we began to feed him and started calling him Fuzzbee. He was starved and gobbled up the food.
Vacation ended, and we assumed Fuzzbee would seek the home of a non-weekender so he could have regular feedings and affection. The following Saturday evening, we arrived at the house around 9 as we usually do, and from out of nowhere, there was Fuzzbee. MEOW! MEOW! “He’s got the loudest, most insistent meow I have ever heard,” Jude noted. I sat on a deck chair, patted my lap, and up Fuzzbee jumped. This was not a feral cat; this was someone’s pet. Jude remained skeptical.
I had brought an extra litter box with me from home in case we invited the little guy indoors. I planted it in the kitchen, filled it with litter, and allowed Fuzzbee in. He sniffed at the litter and went right back to the door. Not my home, he indicated, and we let him back out. Next day, he seemed a bit jittery, but checked out the first floor before seeking the door. “Feed him outdoors,” Jude instructed me. She did not want him to think he had a new home since we’d be gone again by Monday.
When we drove up the following weekend, there was Fuzzbee, and oddly, there on the deck was the bowl we’d used to feed him. We knew we’d washed it and put it back in the house. Mystery was solved when we unlocked the front door. Our dear friends and neighbors water our plants during the week and father and son were doing some work on our bathroom. They left this note: “The cat was here whenever we arrived, so we fed him. We had the dogs with us one time, and he seemed afraid so we let him inside for a while.” And, sure enough, Fuzzbee had used the litter box. “He is not feral,” I was triumphant in my pronouncement to Jude.
Our friends continued to feed Fuzzbee when they stopped by our house during the week, and Fuzzbee always showed up with his loud meow when we arrived Saturday night. When our end-of-summer vacation started, Fuzzbee came right indoors, followed us up the stairs to the bedroom, and took turns sleeping with each of us, usually wrapped around our heads.
We have fallen in love with Fuzzbee, and he has answered our desire for weekend fur. But as the days grow shorter and cooler, we worry that he needs a real home. Our friends winter in Florida just as we close the house for the coldest months. The neighbors on either side of us are each contending with strays that have found their way to their properties. We’ve heard that 13 cats were dumped all at once at the nearby farm.
We took Fuzzbee to the vet; got him his shots; bought an insulated shelter; and learned that he has been neutered. Jude and I discussed taking Fuzzbee back to the city with us, wondering if we might now have the answer to our desire for weekend fur. If he could adjust to apartment life (and our city cats) for the winter, we could bring him back upstate every weekend when we reopen the house. Except cats don’t like traveling as Fuzzbee made perfectly clear on the short ride to the vet.
An answer arose: Jude’s high school chum and her son have been thinking about getting a cat. They have offered Fuzzbee a home for the winter and will use this opportunity to see if they want a cat full-time. If they do, and they fall in love with Fuzzbee (which we are sure they will), we are prepared to bless the adoption. If they decide that a cat isn’t right for them, we will bring Fuzzbee back upstate when the weather turns warm. Of course, the latter would be ideal: we’d once again have weekend fur.