The night is outside the window, rectangles of light in the darkness from nearby houses. I can hear the dryer cycling in the garage, the hum of the refrigerator, distant traffic, but otherwise the house is quiet. When I walk into the kitchen, the orange cat meows and rubs against my ankles, hoping for early dinner. I’m a little afraid of this cat. He’s lashed out at me before when he was hungry.
When I was about twelve years old, we had an orange cat named Mac who loved me. One day, my mother was standing in front of the open refrigerator contemplating what to put out for lunch when Mac walked up and bit her hard in the back of the leg. She yelled and Mac fled. Blood streamed down her calf and puddled on the floor. She’d never been very fond of Mac, and this convinced her he was insane. She called our doctor, a family friend who lived across the street, and, because it was unusual behavior even for Mac, he recommended the cat be observed at the animal shelter for ten days to rule out rabies.
This was a problem, as we lived in an unincorporated area which had no animal shelter. My father called the one in the nearby town, and for a hefty fee, they reluctantly agreed to watch him. Four or five days later on a dark winter afternoon, I was home alone when the phone rang. It was an employee at the animal shelter. The cat, he said, had been put to death by mistake. He was very sorry, but it really wasn’t their responsibility in the first place and the county should take care of its own damn cats. Then he hung up. I dissolved in tears just as my father walked in the door. Gulping back sobs, I managed to tell him what the man had said. My ordinarily mild mannered father was so outraged at the guy’s callous disregard for a child’s feelings that he called him back and reamed him out, but of course there was nothing to be done, the cat was dead and I was desolate.
A week later, Mac walked in the back door.
I was beside myself with joy. My mother not so much.
The animal shelter never admitted it, but it was clear they’d allowed a potentially rabid cat to escape and tried to cover their tracks. Fortunately, Mac wasn’t rabid and lived a long and ornery life. Also fortunately, he never bit my mother again. I don’t think he would’ve survived a second incident.
Old Mister Johnson had troubles of his own.
He had a yellow cat that wouldn’t leave his home.
He tried and he tried to give the cat away.
He gave it to a man goin’ far, far away.
But the cat came back the very next day.
Yes, the cat came back, we thought she was a goner,
But the cat came back, she just couldn’t stay away, away, away.
–from “The Cat Came Back,” a song by Harry S. Miller