Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hootie: A feral cat in midtown Manhattan, loved and cared for

This is Hootie, a feral cat who has staked a claim to a valuable piece of real estate in Midtown Manhattan.

This is the courtyard where Hootie lives. He tends to hang out under those trees and he can be hard to find.

This is the other side of Hootie's courtyard.

It took me some doing - I had to search for awhile - but then I found Hootie, curled up in this spot, fast asleep. I did not want to wake him.

Looks like I woke him up anyway. I did not really find this cat - Tryskuit did. She and Charlie had come to New York in September to listen to music. They had been walking and walking and walking and walking and they saw Hootie's courtyard and thought it would be a good place to sit down and take a break.

So they did.

And then they saw a small group of people gathered by the wall, reaching out to something with their hands. They looked closer and saw that they were petting a cat. So Tryskuit and Charlie went over to pet the cat, too. 

After I arrived in New York, Tryskuit emailed me a map to show me just where the cat lived.

About the same time that I spotted the cat, a woman came along, looking for it. She told me the cat had many friends, who fed and cared for it. I asked its name. She said it didn't really have a name, but she called it, "Pretty Kitty." She said some people thought it was a male, but she was pretty certain it was female.

See the little entrance through the lattice fence? The lady explained to me that, not long ago, the whole courtyard area had been rebuilt by the owners of the big, tall, building pictured above. Prior to the new construction, the cat had moved freely back and forth between this courtyard and another on the other side, by a Hooter's restaurant.

There was a small shed on the other side and in it the cat would take shelter from rain and cold. So the buildings managers had the door built into the lattice fence to enable Pretty Kitty to go freely back and forth.

I wandered off but the next day I wandered back. Now I found another lady putting some food out for "Pretty Kitty."

"Hootie," she corrected me. "His name is Hootie, because sometimes he likes to hang out at Hooters." Just imagine the pictures that I could have taken if I had found him hanging out there!

She also assured me that he was most definitely male. Someone had closely checked. Nothing female about him, she said.

He may be a male, but apparently Hootie can never be a daddy. See how his left ear is flattened at the top? The lady explained that the City of New York has a program to neuter feral street cats. Once a cat is neutered, they clip the tip of one ear to identify it as such.

The lady told me that she believed Hootie is the best fed and best cared for street cat in all of New York. There is a small group of people who watch out for his every need. One is a woman who works at Victoria's Secret, also on the other side of the fence.

Hmmm... Hooter's... Victoria's Secret...

Good thing he's neutered. This could all get him very frustrated, otherwise. Well, maybe not. He's a cat, not a man.

Still... oh hell! I'm frustrated just thinking about it!

Anyway, the Victoria's Secret lady has a traveling kennel all set to go, should any kind of emergency ever arise and Hooter be put in need of transport. They all hope it does not ever come to this. Once, a gentleman in the group of people who love Hootie thought that maybe he would bring him home, give him a house to live in.

But Hootie became completely unnerved when the man tried to put him in a kennel and take him away. The woman that I spoke with has been coming to this place for five years and Hootie has been then the entire time. Some believe that he has been there for eight years, she told me. 

He seems happy. He is well-cared for, so, after he got so upset, his friends decided just to let him keep living as he is living, but to always be prepared to evacuate him in an emergency.

The woman told me that she does not believe Hootie to be a danger to wildlife. She has observed him playing with birds and mice, but has never seen him kill or injure one. "We keep him well-fed," she explained. "He does not get hungry for birds and mice. Birds and mice are safe with Hootie."

Goodbye, Hootie. Take good care, Hootie. Say "hi" to all your friends for me, Hootie. If you are ever in Alaska, drop by and meet the Kracker Cats.

I can't wait to go back to New York City, so that I can hopefully see you again, Hootie.

This time, maybe we'll take our pictures on the other side of the lattice fence, call out some nearby workers to pose with you.

Hootie, all snuggled up in Hooter's.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back from New York City - where I looked with wonder upon a painting of a bygone cat and the bygone little girls who loved it

I had spent the afternoon slowly ambling through the Egyptian section of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, but as time ran out on me I finally stepped into the American section. There, I happened upon this painting.

It did fill me with wonder, for anyone who has followed this blog at all knows that it is my children, particularly my daughters, Tryskuit and Nabysko, who influenced me to allow cats into my life.

Now, I found myself looking upon a painting of someone else's daughters, and their cat, all of them long gone from the mortal population of this earth. Thinking about my relationship to my own children and our cats, I used the reflection to put myself into the picture.

I wondered about these girls and this cat, and what their stories were. There was absolutely no information in or near the display, but there were numbers and letters that identified the location of the painting among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others, in the same room and computers to search for the information on.

So I sat down at one of the computers to find out, but guess what? Just as I did, the museum closed, and a stern fellow came along and told me that I had to vacate the building, "right now!"

So the story behind these girls and their kitty friend remain a complete mystery to me. That's okay, though. 

I did photograph some live, fresh and blood cats and kittens in New York, and will soon tell their stories, or as much of their stories as I happened to learn and can recall.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Muzzy, the strangest looking of the Kracker Cats, barks and interrupts Kaboodle's story!

I was just about to continue on with the story of Kaboodle when Muzzy started barking at me. He was furious. I had never seen him so angry. I knew what he was saying - he was saying that I have been discriminating against him, showing favortism in this blog to cats who actually look like cats.

So here's Muzzy. Two, maybe three days ago. My car has been broken down and in the shop all week, so I was out somewhere with Toast Ed in his car and Muzzy was with us. When we turned onto our street, he stopped the car and let Muzzy out, so that he could run alongside us the short distance to the house.

Muzzy and Toast Ed. I should note that I now find myself in a quandary. I have realized that, as I have been going, I will be telling the story of Kaboodle for three years, and so I decided to sum up that part of it from my last entry until the kitten, Thunder Paws, came to live with us.

Trouble is, I leave for New York City, where I will be showing a slide show about Wasilla, in just two nights and I have not even prepared that slide show yet. Plus, I have many more things that I must do before I leave.

So it might be hard for me to write that final story before I leave. I will see if I can, but it may have to wait until I get back. If I can't write it by then, I will try to drop something in, anyway, because I have noticed on "statcounter" that every time I leave this blog without any new posts for a couple of days, I lose readers, some of whom never come back.

So I will keep something popping up on here, between now and when I leave.

And once I get to New York, I will, of course, seek out cats to meet and photograph and I will put them in here. My goal is to do so every day. We will see if I succeed.

And above we see Muzzy, Toast Ed, Prickly Pear Blossom and Wry walking through the glow of a street light.

In Memoriam: two recent Cats Met Along the Way, one old, one a kitten:

Ted. This afternoon, as I walked toward the repair to pick up my car. Ted's human came driving by. She recognized me and stopped, because she wanted a picture of Ted. Readers from back then will recall that Ted was very old when he posed in Charlie's arms. Newcomers can find his story here. Old age and health caught up to Ted, as happens to us all, unless we die young.

I'm glad that I got to meet Ted when he still walked Planet Earth.

Remember Chimichanga? One of two kittens that I met in the Wasilla Wal-Mart parking lot last month? And remember the human, Rhonda, seen here reaching out to pet him? Rhonda, you will recall, is associated with a no-kill cat shelter and she took Chimchanga and his litter mate there.

Unfortunately, Chimichanga had feline distemper. Rhonda stayed with him as he died, doing what she could to make the experience easier for him. It was a terribly difficult experience for Rhonda.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 13: Having just found it, Kaboodle loses his tomhood

After my nerve-wracking flight through the deep freeze, I entered the house to find this strange scene taking place.

I hung up the phone and then went to bed. There in the Iñupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik, the only community located within the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), I dreamed about one of my children. I woke up, fell asleep, and dreamed about another child. I don't remember the order of the dreams, nor even the content, but each dream was about one child, and that child only. I had a dream for every single one.

Then I dreamed about Kaboodle.

A few days later, I chatted nervously with the Running Dog as we flew south. The temperature had been –29 F. at take-off, one degree shy of the floor beyond which I keep the Running Dog on the ground. The reported temperature at Fairbanks, where I planned to spend the night, was -16. As I flew over the Arctic Slope, my thermometer fell to -48 degrees. I knew that down on the ground, it would be even colder.

Fearing that my engine oil would chill and turn hard and cause my engine to burn up, I searched for a warmer layer of air. I contemplated the possibility of a forced landing out here on the tundra of the Arctic Slope, far from the things of people. I thought about my survival gear. I was not convinced it would be adequate for what I would face if I had to put the Running Dog on the ground.

But the engine did not burn. I found a layer of –26 degree air and I stayed in it until I reached Coldfoot, where I landed. The temperature was –36. I went into the café, ordered dinner, ate it and then, as darkness had set in, decided to spend the night.

When I woke up, the temperature was –44; fourteen degrees below my floor. But I knew that there would be warmer air a short distance above the ground, so I fired up my little Coleman stove, piped the hot air over the oil pan and up into the engine and when my oil grew warm enough to flow, I started the engine. I let the plane slowly warm up at a gradually increasing idle for two hours, then took off and headed home.

When I buzzed the house, I expected the kids to bounce out the door in the normal way, but only Toast Ed stepped out to wave at me. He climbed into the mini-van and drove off to pick me up at the airstrip, then brought me home.

I expected at least my girls to burst out the front door and run to greet me, but they did not.

No one did.

I was irritated and hurt.

I sneaked quietly into the house. The front room was dark, but I could see light coming from the hallway. Down that hall, I heard screaming and in it I recognized the horrified voices of my wife, my daughters, and two of my sons, plus a horrid, horrid, caterwauling and great commotion - thumping, bumping, thrashing sounds - coming from the bathroom.

I rushed in to see what was the matter. This is what I found:

Kaboodle was in the tub surrounded by the other members of my family. Rye had a bucket of almost hot water, which he was pouring over Kaboodle. Sunflower fought to hold him still. He was coated with lather from some kind of disinfectant soap. The vet had ordered a bath for the cat, for some reason I'm still unclear about. Other than the regular tongue lashings he gave himself, Kaboodle had never had a bath.

He looked tiny, skinny, like he was nothing but a wet bag of bones.

Now could Rye have ever thought he was pregnant?

Kaboodle was screaming, lashing out with his claws, striking nothing. Occasionally, he would break free and start lunging about, while everybody screamed and stumbled all over each other as they tried to grab him.

I tried to take some pictures, but, as Kaboodle sank a claw into Sunflower's hand, it quickly became obvious to me that he was overpowering everybody. I put my camera down, and grabbed Kaboodle by the nape of his neck and his lower back.

He hissed, meowed and screamed. He shot a claw slashing at thin air. I was amazed at the strength of the skinny, slippery, little thing. Even so, I felt like a dreadful bully, holding him down like that.

Holding tight to his neck, I let go of Kaboodle's back, grabbed the water, and rinsed him off, again and again.

Finally, the job done, I wrapped Kaboodle in a towel. I took him into the living room, and placed him by the woodstove, which roared against the chill of the night.

"Oh no!" Sunflower suddenly howled. "Look at his tail! The tip isn't white anymore! We washed the white right off his tail! I loved that white tip!"

"You can't wash the white tip off a cat's tail," I protested. "How could you do that?"

"I don't know, but look, it's gone!" she insisted. I looked. It was gone.

As Kaboodle dried out, the white tip gradually reappeared, fluffier and whiter than before.

I am still puzzled about that bath. We have since had several other cats neutered and no other vet ever ordered a bath.

Finally, Sunflower wrapped her arms around me. "Glad you're home, kid," she said as a shattered cat huddled between the wood stove and the stone firewall.

Less than 48 hours later, this cat went to the vet, and lost all hope of fathering any posterity - save any kittens he might have already snuck in, back when we worried he was out getting pregnant.

I will not describe his ordeal at the vet.

Suffice it to say that when the cat returned home, his confidence was shot. He wanted to do nothing but slink from hiding place to hiding place.

Finally, I got around to reading the informational paper the vet had sent home with us. It congratulated us for having had the wisdom to get our cat neutered. In just weeks, it noted, we would be thrilled to observe various aspects of "objectionable male behavior" disappear from our cat.

“Objectional male behavior?” Boy! Was I offended!

Poor Kaboodle! Afterward, he still loved us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 12: Looking pregnant, Kaboodle ventures into the snow - boy! Were we fooled!

Kaboodle in the snow, belly looking big. Was she pregnant?

Kaboodle had grown well, and had filled out nicely.

A little too nicely, Rye thought.

"I think Kaboodle is pregnant," he announced one day.

It did seem that she was carrying a little excess weight around her mid-section.

I picked her up, and prodded her belly with my finger tips.

"I don't feel anything moving in there."

"I think she's pregnant, Dad," Rye insisted "look at her."

We had planned to have her fixed. Now I tried to picture the kittens she might deliver. Well, if she did, it wouldn't be so bad. We could keep the prettiest one - maybe it would look just like her. We would have it from the moment of its birth and that would make our relationship special. We would give the rest away. Then we would get Kaboodle fixed.

Perhaps being pregnant could explain some of her strange behavior.

In early October, Kaboodle greeted the first real snow with disbelief, and wonder. She sat by the sliding glass door, staring up at the large, gently fluttering flakes. We let her onto the porch. At first, she swatted at the flakes, attempting to grab and bite them. Soon overwhelmed, she just sat and watched. The next morning, the snow was piled up one foot deep. Kaboodle plunged off the front porch into the driveway, then panicked as she became engulfed in powder. She struggled to the car, then hid beneath it. Ten minutes passed, and I could not coax her out. Finally, I reached under the car, grabbed Kaboodle by the nape of the neck, hauled her out and brought her into the house.

This is the spool in which I had once made a house for her. 

Later, the boys shoveled the driveway. Enough cars had passed by to leave some well-packed tire ruts. Kaboodle ventured outside and disappeared About 15 minutes later, I opened the door and looked outside. I could not see her. Fifteen minutes later, I spotted her running down the street through one of the ruts. She turned into the driveway, dashing for the porch. There, she lifted one paw at a time, shook it it, and bit it. Snow was caked on her fur. She was not happy.

As the winter deepened, Kaboodle lost the freedom to roam the outdoors at will. She began to pace restlessly about the house. She attacked hands and feet. She climbed into sacks and boxes, and tore things apart.

One day, I climbed into the Running Dog, punched the starter, the propeller began to sping and the Dog and I took off once again to the Far North. "Be sure and take Kaboodle in and get her shots," I had advised Sunflower just before takeoff. "If she's not pregnant, see about getting her fixed."

"I'll do it tomorrow," she promised.

It took the Dog and I two days to work our way through the weather to our destination, 700 air miles away. I found a phone and called Sunflower.

Kaboodle - the snow cat.

"We took Kaboodle to the vet today
, to get a shot, and a checkup." Sunflower told me over the phone, "and guess what?"

"What?" I was tired, and in no mood for guessing games.

"Kaboodle is a.......... boy!"

"Oh. Did you find out if he's pregnant?"

A sudden scream tore out of the phone.

"That cat just attacked my legs!" Sunflower explained. She had already made arrangments to have him neutered.

Tryskuit came on the phone.

She spoke of how they had gone sledding at Hatcher Pass, and how she had ran into a car in the parking lot. I chewed her out for that. "It's okay, Dad," she said, "the car was parked, it wasn't moving."

"Yea, but it could have been," I told her. "Don't you slide into a parking lot or roadway, ever."

As she was telling me about the clothes she had purchased on a recent trip to Anchorage, and as I was wondering where the money had come from, Tryskuit suddenly screamed.

"The cat just attacked my leg," she exclaimed.

Fire got on the phone, to tell me about a school project he was excited about. Twice, he stopped to scream. Kaboodle had attacked his legs.

It happened this way with each of my children. They got on the phone, began to tell me something, then screamed when Kaboodle attacked their legs.

Somehow, Kaboodle knew that his attacks should be directed at whoever happened to be talking on the phone.

We didn't know - perhaps because we were all so polite.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 11: Bird dog is given fake duck, spots live cat

After I rescued her, Kaboodle did not acknowledge my heroism; she expressed no gratitude that I had saved her. She just hid, like she was frightened of me.

On a crisp, golden September afternoon, Nabysko and I sat on the back porch. Kaboodle frolicked in the yard, batting at the dried-out remnants of the once-glorious fireweed, occasionally knocking down one of the remnants of the insect population from its course of flight. The mosquitoes were gone. It was pleasant to just sit on the porch, and watch Kaboodle, the trees of the forest, and Gene working on his dog house.

Gene had never struck me as a dog person, but now he had a golden retriever which he had spent a substantial amount of money on.

Gene and I always got along well, though our views of the world were quite different. When we moved out into this subdivision, fresh-cut from the wilderness, I was pleased to have a one acre yard filled with the trees, plants and inhabitants of the forest which surrounded us. Gene and Myrene were also pleased with the beauty of the location, but were intent on making their piece of it look just as it would if they still lived down south, in domesiticated Minnesota. Although their driveway led to a dirt road, they paved it. They cut down all but the most stately of their trees, then hired a bull-dozer to come in and push their earth around. This was followed by a truck which spread several tons of top soil. In this, they planted grass.

Our conversations in those days were friendly and polite, but a little strained. "You know," Gene would offer, "as long as he's here, if you wanted to ask our landscaper how much he would charge to do your yard, it would be fine with us. We sure got a good deal!"

"See that squirrel?" I would point into my own, wild backyard. "See how it leaps from tree to tree, over that patch of flaming fireweed? Damn, it's wonderful!"

"I suppose. Well, we've got a little girl now, and she is going to need a safe place to play, a yard, with grass."

I thought about noting my own five kids, growing up frolicking in the trees, playing with yellowjackets and frogs, but that seemed kind of confrontive. I did not want to generate bad feelings, but, if I had wanted to fritter away my few, free, precious summer hours at home mowing some damned grassy lawn, I would have stayed in the Lower 48.

Gene never had a dog when he was a kid, but now he had one. He took the whole thing pretty seriously. He named the dog "JB."

Gene's had never been a hunter, either, but now he was.

A duck hunter.

His dog would be a duck hunter, too.

Kaboodle and Wry - during a less stressful moment.

In the evenings Kaboodle and I would listen as Gene blew his shrill whistle, again and again and again. With this whistle, he would teach his dog to hunt. He would throw a fake duck, blow his whistle, then make the dog go get the fake duck and bring it back to him.

It worried me a bit, having this hunting dog living next door to Kaboodle, with no fence between us, but Gene assured me that JB was gentle, and harmless and that, if she were to get a little “playful,” he would be right there and would immediately bring her under control.

On a fine Sunday afternoon, Gene was once again making JB fetch a fake duck. Nabysko and Tryskuit had taken Kaboodle out into the back yard. I had been lazily curled up on the couch, relaxing happily as I read stories of war, murder, political sleaziness - all the usual fare of the Sunday paper.

As cat and girls romped happily in our back back yard, Gene was training JB in his. As usual, Gene tosse his fake duck, then blew a command on his whistle. JB looked at the fake duck that he was supposed to fetch. Then JB looked at Kaboodle.

The duck was a fake.

Kaboodle was real cat, made of genuine flesh, blood, and fur.

If you were a born hunting dog, which would you prefer to pursue?

Fake duck? Live cat?

Suddenly, the peace of Sunday disappeared in the screams of little girls, the barking of JB, the shouts of Gene, and the hissing and snarling of Kaboodle.

Dropping the newspaper, I shot out onto the back porch.

Kaboodle had just conducted an evasive maneuver, which had caused JB to stumble harmlessly past. Now, the cat turned to face the dog, to see what it would do. I was impressed with the classic cat arch, and the classic baring of teeth Kaboodle demonstrated. I had not seen her quite like this before. I felt bad I did not have my camera.

Kaboodle's theatrics failed to impress JB, however. Recovering, he turned, and charged.

Kaboodle dashed for the far end of the house. I knew where she was headed. I charged back into the house, through the living room, and out the front door. Kaboodle had already rounded the last corner and was dashing for the front porch. JB was hot on her paws. I expected Kaboodle to dash underneath the porch, but, in her panic, she overshot the mark.

Realizing what she had done, Kaboodle turned back for the porch.

It was too late. JB was closing in.

Making a flying leap, I snatched Kaboodle up just as JB's open jaws prepared to clamp down upon her. Leaving JB to the shouts of her master, I plunged through the door and into the house.

Kaboodle was safe.

I expected a little gratitude, some sign of appreciation that I snatched her out of the very jaws of death.

I put Kaboodle on the floor.

She fled, and hid under my desk, as if I was the one who had been chasing her. For the rest of the day, she fled in terror every time her eyes fell upon me. This irritated me greatly.

The next day, Kaboodle was fine. She followed me around as usual. Wherever I went, she went. It was nice.

Tryskuit comforts Kaboodle. Kaboodle sticks her tongue out at me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I return from Fairbanks to find Pistol-Yero with Triscuit crackers

Very lazy entry tonight. No story. Technically crummy photo. See, I just got back from a quick trip to Fairbanks. Left yesterday, drove through nerve-wracking snow-storm. Attended birthday party for a matriarch of the Gwich'in Nation, who had just turned 100.

Got almost no sleep. Visited a bit in Fairbanks. Saw no cat. Drove back home; weather good this time. Sat on couch. Saw Pistol and Triscuit crackers. Tryskuit Kracker is in New York City, where she found a well-cared for street cat and told me how I could find it when I go to NYC the week after next.

There was almost no light to take picture of Pistol and Triscuit, especially with this pocket camera. Took picture anyway. Here it is. Tomorrow, I will resume my story telling.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 10: So tell me, where did the stereotype of the sweet old lady and the gentle pussycat come from?

Kaboodle was so sweet - Kaboodle was so conniving. Sometimes, it seemed she was two cats, not one.

In truth, much began to change with our cat.

While she did not develop ringworm, she began to exhibit some of the characteristics which had made Sunflower and I think we did not want a cat in our house.

At first, it was all rather endearing.

Take her food, for example. Kaboodle would come in from the out of doors, hungry. Her food dish would be 3/4's full. She would sit down beside it, look at me. "Meow," she would say. This "meow" meant, "feed me."

"Kaboodle! You have plenty of food in your dish. Eat that."


So, I would get her food bottle and pour the tiniest bit into her bowl, atop the larger serving that was already there. Satisfied that she had been properly served, she would eat.

When she wanted to go outside, she would sit by the door, expecting someone to open it for her. It seldom took more than a few seconds before her wish was catered to. When she wanted to come back inside, she would leap onto the back porch, walk up to the sliding glass door, sit down, and wait expectantly for someone to jump to her command, and open the door for her.

Naturally, there would be a race to see who could be the first to serve this cat.

My family would have done well in ancient Egypt.

She would take a seat in the rocking chair. A human member of the family would stroll in to watch television, intent on sitting in the chair. "Damn," that person, even Fire, would mutter. "The cat beat me to the chair." Then he or she would sit on the floor.

This, as I say, served only to further endear her to the entire family.

More annoying were other traits.

How haughty she became!

Oh, I didn't mind the fact that dead shrews, killed strictly for pleasure and not food, repeatedly showed up on the porch. No. She was a hunter by instinct. Maybe, one day, she would need that hunting skill.

Kaboodle would stroll into the house, someone would pick her up, set her on their lap, and begin to pet her. Naturally, what we all expected when we did this was that she would sit there and purr, as she had done when she first came to us.


She would tolerate this for about two seconds, leap to her feet, and, radiating disdain, shake off the person so showering her with affection, and prance over to someone else.

When the snubbed person was me, I felt shunned, insulted.

"Wait till winter," I would threaten. "I'm going to tie your tail to a branch, and throw snowballs at you!"

This wasn't all.

I would be walking trough the house, the cat would spot me, crouch down like I was some kind of enemy, then dash off and hide under something, or crawl into a box.

I, who had saved her from starvation; I, who had opened my door to her, brought her in from the cold, and catered to her every whim, being treated like this, as someone to shun, to hide from!

Sometimes, I would grab her, force her to remain on my lap, and stroke her fur while her tail swished, and an unpleasant, impatient growl emanated from her throat. Stupid. I did not know. One can force affection upon a dog and the dog will like it, but not a cat. One can force nothing upon a cat.

See her walking across the floor, reach down to pet her, and she would roll suddenly onto her back, wrap her front claws around your hand, grab a hold of your finger with her teeth, and then do a rabbit kick with her hind paws on your hand and lower arm.

Though she showed some restraint, considering her capabilities, having your hand clutched, even gently by those claws, was like having your hand clutched gently by a dozen razor blades.

It wasn't always gently. Sometimes she would get so carried away, clutching, kicking and biting so exuberantly that her claws would pierce skin. One would want to tear one’s hand away this cat, but one somehow knew that to do so would only leave the hand slashed and torn.

The boys thought this was great, and encouraged it.

They would put a heavy glove on one hand, and offer it to the cat. Kaboodle saw the glove as an invititation to attack with full ferocity. She did so - biting, clawing, and growling.

I tried the glove a few times myself.

Kaboodle would see the glove go on. Her ears would perk up, her eyes would glow with fierce intensity. She would leap to the attack. Truly, Kaboodle went after the glove far more fiercely than she did an unprotected hand – much more fiercely. This confirmed to me that she was playing, not really trying to inflict true damage, but, those claws! If they accidently slipped above the glove to unprotected skin, that skin became torn and ripped. Blood flowed.

I wondered about the stereotypical image of the sweet old lady and the gentle pussycat. Where had such an image come from? Kaboodle would have taken that sweet old lady and left her in shreds.

"I think I'm going to get this cat de-clawed," I began to threaten. "I'm going to get it neutered, so it can't have kittens, and I'm going to get it de-clawed."

"Dad," Rye would protest. "That's cruel. Kaboodle won't be any fun without her claws. Besides, a dog might get her."

"Dad," Fire added, "one day, Dallas and I spotted Scout running down the road with a cat in his mouth."

"A cat in his mouth?"


"Dead or alive?"

"Dead. Fresh dead. It was torn up. Blood was dripping all over the road. That could be Kaboodle if you get her de-clawed."

It pained me to think of Scout as a cat-murderer. Fire had won the argument. Kaboodle would not get declawed. As to being spayed, that was, as they say, a different story.

And look what she did to her litter!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How the Kracker Cats Came to be, Part 9: I had so much to learn about cats! What a dummy I was! Oh, Kaboodle! I am so sorry - to this day I am sorry

Does Kaboodle look frightened? I am so sorry, Kaboodle!

It was good to have a cat in house; a member of a different species commingling with us humans in a state of pure love and total trust.



The leg-hold trap of bad times was just waiting for the right moment to spring; to clamp its steel jaw upon the frail joint that held us divergent species together.

The first hint of hard times came after I returned from a shoot in the northeast corner of Alaska. I had developed about 40 rolls of film and had then hung it up to dry, in the bathroom, on the telephone cord I long ago strung above the bathtub, just for this purpose.

Later, as I sat on the couch, reading, I suddenly heard something crash into the bathtub.

I jumped up, and dashed toward the noise. As I charged into the hallway, the cat pranced out of the bathroom. She spotted me coming, and, ears alert, dropped into a spring-loaded, guilty-looking position.

"Cat!" I accused. "What did you do?"

She sprang to flee, but I lashed out with my right hand and caught her by the nape of the neck. With my left hand, I grabbed the lower part of her spinal column. I tore her from the floor and marched into the bathroom. The telephone cord and all my hard-shot film was splayed all about the bathtub - a month's work. What priceless images had she ruined? Without modifying my grasp, I pointed her eyes and out-stretched legs at the film.

"Look what you did!" I shouted. "Bad kitty! No! No! No! Never do that again. No! No! No! You have ruined me! Bad kitty!" Then I marched to the front door, let go of her with my left hand, opened the door, and hurled her out into the yard. Kaboodle landed on her feet, then slinking low to the ground, scurried away and disappeared into the trees.

Come bedtime, she had not returned. I was wracked with guilt. My film had survived with irreprable damage. "She's just doing what any cat would do," I lamented to Sunflower, "just grabbing at anything that hangs and dangles (as I had rudely discovered one day while stepping out of the shower). She's never been treated like this before. No one here has ever been anything but nice to her. I'm worried we might not ever see her again."

"She'll be back," Sunflower comforted, "just wait until she gets hungry."

I wasn't convinced.

I let Sunflower go to bed by herself and I stayed up and worked late, until 2:30 AM. I frequently arose from my desk to go to the door and look out in the night, which had become dark again. No Kaboodle.

When finally I gave, I left the sliding glass back door open wide enough for her to slip in. I lay there, miserable. I did not sleep. At 5:00 AM, I got up and searched the house to see if she might have come in. No Kaboodle.

I stepped outside, looked under the porch and in all her favorite spots.

No Kaboodle.

"Here-kitty-kitty-kitty; here kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty!" I trilled in my most reassuring voice. No Kaboodle. She was not coming back. My children would hate me. Twenty years from now, our relationship would still be soiled by the irrational, uncontrolled fury of this never-to-be-forgotten moment. I hated myself.

I loved that cat, and I had driven her away.

I crawled back under the cover alongside Sunflower, who groaned with disgust. I arose about 9:00 in the morning, having slept no more than ten or fifteen minutes at a tiome. Weighed down by sorrow, I staggered into the living room.

"What's that I hear?"


There, on the couch, cuddled in and kneading the prostrate Tryskuit's hair, was Kaboodle!

She had returned!

Life was good.

For a little while.

Kaboodle at the sliding door.

I call it a snow day

Martigny notices that the world outside our window has inexplicably changed.

You know what it means to take a snow day: school's out! Well, not here, they would not cancel school here for so paltry a snow as this, even though it is the first one this year that has amounted to more than a dusting.

But I'm using it as an excuse to take a break. I will continue with the story of Kaboodle tomorrow.

Muzzy, Baby Wry and Sunflower.

Muzzy, the strangest looking of all the Kracker Cats, does enjoy the snow. Muzzy would be happy if it snowed 12 months of the year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How the Kracker Kats came to be, Part 8*: Just how does one teach a cat to use the litter box?

The Whole Kitten Kaboodle atop her litter box.

Of course, having a cat living in the house with us presented some problems to be solved. The most important, as far as I was concerned, was how to house break her. I knew how to house-break a dog. As a child, this is how I had been taught to do it: gagging, you shove the dog's nose almost into what he has done, and then give him a couple of sharp but not brutal swats on the nose. Then you put him outside.

Soon, the dog gets the idea. He holds it in until he can escape outdoors.

With Kaboodle, I sensed early that striking her, even gently, would only be counterproductive. She would just resent it.

So, how did you house-break a cat?

Especially one set in her ways. I figured Kaboodle was about six months old when I first met her. Now she was a month older than that.

I went to the store and read the litter sacks, hoping they would have instructions.

They did not.

One night we were discussing it.

"Too bad we can't teach her to use the toilet," I lamented. "Like that one guy I read about in the newspaper did to his cat awhile back."

Toast Ed had not heard of this. I assured him it was true. "He even taught the cat how to flush the toilet afterward," I noted. "They had no need for kitty litter."

"How weird," Toast mused, "to open the bathroom door and find the cat sitting there. 'Oh, excuse me, Cat! I didn't know you were in here.'" Toast laughed at his own mental image. "The cat would probably be sitting there, reading the paper."

For some time, we did nothing.

Kaboodle seemed to enjoy having the place where she lived kept clean and so we found no "accidents" anywhere in the house. She spent a good deal of time outside. That was where she took care of her private business. Yet, snow had already dusted the mountains. Soon it would move down into the valley.

One evening, Toast thundered out of his room, throwing about accusations that someone had used his football jersey for a most unseemly task. The jersey was soiled with poop.

"Toast," I stammered, stunned, "nobody in this house would do that! Maybe it was the cat."

"No," Toast jumped to Kaboodle's defense. "It is not the cat. The cat wouldn't do something like that."

Sunflower and I went to investigate.

The jersey was soiled with cat poop, all right. There was more cat poop on the other dirty clothing piled in the closet corner where the jersey had been.

I went to the store, bought some litter, and a box to put it in.

I filled the box.

"I don't have the slightest idea how to communicate to that cat that this is where she goes," I lamented to Sunflower.

"I've never dealt with cats," she answered.

Later, I was working at my computer when I was interrupted by a cry from Sunflower.

"Grahmmy! come here! Quick!"

I dashed towards her voice, fearing what damage I would find.

Kaboodle was squatting in the litter box, using it for the very purpose for which it had been designed. Soon, I noticed that every member of the family had gathered around.

"C'mon," I said, "Do you think this is some kind of spectator sport? Let's give the damned cat some privacy."

*Please note: I accidently juxtaposed this and story #7. This one, #8, actually happened first. It's possible that #9 also happened before #7.

Tryskuit and Kaboodle.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Another intermission: Yesterday, I met Callie, the calico; Kracker Cat history will return soon

After joining Sunflower for a breakfast-lunch yesterday, I was driving home when I saw a calico cat sitting in a yard alongside a woman who raked her autumn leaves. Not-withstanding the fact that I if I stopped it would interrupt my history of the Kracker Cats, what choice did I have?

I had to stop!

Dressed in a house robe, the lady looked at me curiously as I parked the car, got out, and walked toward her. The kitten looked at me, too. I wondered if it would be a scaredy cat, or a bold cat.

"Is your cat friendly?" I asked.

In answer it came bounding right up to me. It is hard to photograph a cat when it comes right up to you and wants to stay right there.

All you get is a blurry eye.

"Yes," the woman said. "She's friendly."

I learned that the calico's name is "Callie." I wonder where that name came from?

Wherever it came from, it's a good name. Callie. Yes, I like that name!

The woman got the cat from her daughter's mother-in-law. Her daughter's mother-in-law got the mother of Callie from the woman's own daughter who gave it to her as a special gift - kind of a family circle thing.

I asked the woman to tell me a special story about Callie, but maybe she felt odd, standing there in her house robe, going through a surprise interview about her calico on a fall day in Wasilla, Alaska, home of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, because on this account her mind went blank.

"I can't think of any stories," she answered. "She's very friendly, and playful. She has a lot of energy."

Do you doubt it? Then take note of the leaf in front of her.

Callie sent that leaf flying!

Callie comes from a line of cats who are born with broken tails, as were some of her siblings. If I understood this correctly, Callie herself has birthed a litter and kittens in it came out with broken tails. If I understand wrong, and it was not Callie who birthed this litter, then it was one of her close relatives.

Broken tails or not, you can betcha that these gosh-darn Wasilla cats sure do come out pretty. There's a wink for ya!

Friday, October 3, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 7: Pitted against the family lawyer, Nabysko proves Kaboodle to be a person

Nabysko and Kaboodle in the backyard.

Soon, Tryskuit and her brothers returned to school. Nabysko entered for the first time. One day when the leaves had turned bright orange and red, she, Sunflower, Fire and I were driving somewhere. Nabysko decided to put on a demonstration of how smart she had become since enrolling in kindergarten

"I know how many people are in this family," she proclaimed.

"How many?" Fire asked.

"Eight!" Nabysko responded, proudly.

"No, seven," Fire retorted.




"Seven. Nabysko! Count them. There's Mom, one; Dad, two; Toast, three; Rye, four; me, five; Tryskuit, six, and you, seven. Seven. There are seven people in this family."

"Kitten Kaboodle."

"You said 'people.' Kaboodle is not people. Kaboodle is a cat."

"Kaboodle is a member of this family." Nabysko grew testy.

"Yes," Fire was getting annoyed, "but she's not a person. She is not people."

"Kitten Kaboodle Kracker."

"She is a cat!"

"Kitten Kaboodle Kracker!"

"A cat."

"Kitten Kaboodle Kracker!"


"Kitten Kaboodle Kracker!"

When he was two, we began to call Fire our lawyer. From that time forth, it had become all but impossible for anyone to gain the upper hand on him in an argument. Still, he fell silent. He had been out-lawyered by a little girl, and he knew it.

Fire felt so badly after being out-lawyered by Nabysko that he took a nap with The Whole Kitten Kaboodle.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Intermission: I gotta have a break to take a walk, watch a little TV debate, get some work done...

There are times that I think that I was crazy to ever start this blogging stuff. Especially on a day like today, when one can count the total number of visitors to this site on his fingers and toes, plus his lips, his ears and his nose.

So it seems a little futile, - and yet, having started it, I feel this drive to continue, to see what I can yet make of it. I will just keep it up. But last night was another one of those nights that I simply could not sleep, even though I am vastly improved and so I lack the energy to put down a story on the origins, as I have been doing.

Plus, I have a huge project that I am working on and I really have no time for anything else. Just the same, I thought I would drop two pictures in from today.

Above we see Martigne and Wry, watching the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Readers can judge for themselves who won or lost, or if it was a draw.

And here is Toast Ed, baby Wry and Muzzy, the strangest looking of all the Kracker Cats, on a walk.