About a month before my second book came out, I received a form email from my publisher’s Manager of Marketing and Publicity. At the ripe old age of 29, I was informed, worn down by the workaday grind and determined to follow her heart, she was quitting her job so she could devote herself to doing volunteer work with Animal Rescue. So I emailed her back: “How bout me? Ain’t I an animal?”
Although I never received a response, I like to think she got a chuckle of out my wisecrack, at least until she realized I had a point. I mean, imagine if we people loved each other the way we love our little house doggies and pussy cats. Since we’re taking leaps of imagination here— for this we’d need Divine Intervention—what if we loved each other as much as we love the money in our pockets? Since about 90% of human misery is caused by greedy humans, imagine how sweet and easy our lives would be if ever we got out from under their thumbs.
I’ve been an outdoors person, both as vocation and avocation, my whole life, and I’ve spent more time around house pets, wildlife and livestock than most any busload of the kind of animal rights activists you see on TV. Yet, while my attitude toward animals ain’t nearly as romantic as theirs, we’re on the same page ethically. If “soul” is what makes humans more than the sum total of their parts, then so it goes throughout nature. Humans rightly see the human in animals, and animals rightly see the animal in humans. As for the earth’s global community of wildlife, they do just fine with or without us humans so long as we allow them a half-chance. But I’m a human through and through, my favorite sort of animal is the human kind and, in terms of my loyalties, no other species comes close. I’m for Life and Liberty for all living species not just because it’s right by God, but because, after I’m dead, I want to leave behind the chance for a bright future for my own particular sort of critter.
Anyway, after I quit my horse ranching job of 15 years, my two boys had flown the coop and my dog, and then my cat, had died of old age, I swore on the Altar of God that never again would I allow so much as a pet parakeet—or even a gold fish—into my house. As for taking care of other people’s animals, while I wasn’t above doing a favor if pressing need there be, I was forever done with that, too. So imagine my shock and dismay when my wife came into the house and set a tiny little maybe two-week-old feline fur ball into my palm of my hand. Our landlady had found it hidden behind some bales in the hay barn, obviously it had been abandoned by its mother, and our landlady wondered if we’d like to try’n save it to keep as a mouser.
Taking the measure of the furry Twinkie trembling in my palm, my first thought was to drown it in the sink; put it out of its misery and save myself some money, time and trouble. One of the kitten’s BB eyes was festered half-open, its other was stuck shut, its ears were lying limp like wash rags and its weak, worn-out, rasping S.O.S’s sounded like the last gasps of some broken-up old man dying in the bottom of some dry water well. Yet I wasn’t in the business of drowning kittens, I wasn’t about the farm the chore out and—gee—it was a she (Tomcats suck) and, a Siamese-tiger stripe mix, she sure was purdy. Then, if she was going to die, she’d do it here pretty quick and, taking into account my wife’s moon-eyed expression as she gazed at me in hopeful anticipation, I knew she’d be doing most all the nursing and that got me off the hook. Also, I’ve never given a rat’s ass about easy, and what’s easier than carrying around a cold heart? Finally, what’s an oath sworn on the Altar of God? This is America, ain’t it?
So my wife called Cheryl Schrader of Anderson Valley Animal Rescue, got summoned to Boonville, then came back with a teensy baby bottle fitted with a weensy nipple, a can of infant kitten formula, salve for the eyes, drops for the ears, a short list of do’s and don’ts and—this was a pleasant surprise—gift certificates to get the kitten inspected, inoculated and, once she was big enough, spayed at the vet’s. So we got to work and, once the kitten figured out how to milk that nipple, she didn’t mind lying on her back in the crock of an arm like a human baby does. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was holding on to the sides of the bottle with her front paws, her toes spread like fingers, and happily gurgling. And when I’d make like I wanted to pull the nipple out of her mouth, she’d say “Oh, no you don’t!” by suckling and clinging to the bottle all the harder just like my boys did back when, after some slight amusement and wanting to maybe put a little fight into them, I’d done it to them. Within a couple of days it seemed certain she’d survive and, seeing how she’d won the abandoned feral kitten lottery, we named her Last Chance.
When, a couple of months later, we took Last Chance to the vet’s and she weighted in at 1.9 pounds, my wife and I brimmed with pride. Since she’d bonded with us at such an early age, and because she’d had no raggedy wildcat mother to teach her raggedy wildcat ways, we made Last Chance into a dignified housecat and, as such, she’s now about 90% civilized. As for the 10% that ain’t civilized, that’s probably my fault. Back when she was learning how to run across the living room without having her ass end, which is powered by the stronger legs, turning her sideways like a hook-and-ladder, and I was home from the woods by way of the saloon, I was sitting on the couch and, having learned how to climb up there, Last Chance was sitting atop it at a distance above my shoulder. Something caused me to cautiously turn to sneak a peek at her and, when we caught eyes, she sprung into the air and came at me like Rocky the Flying Squirrel except with outstretched feet with switchblade claws and a crocodile mouth full of needles. Not wanting to get bit or clawed, I grabbed up one of our puffy throw pillows and, using it as a shield to parry her lunge, I knocked her backward to the far side of the couch. After landing on all fours, instantly she was back atop the couch, down it and leaping at me, and again I batted her away with my pillow, this time trying to swish her into the exact far corner of the couch.
Good and mad now, and channeling her ancestral inner mountain lion, she attacked me again and again and—here’s Bambi whipping on Godzilla—she got me laughing so hard that she finally pierced my defenses and, whizzing by, she swiped a pair of inch-long bleeding scratches into my forearm. I let out with a yelp, jumped up and, with her nipping at my heels, I made for our bedroom to fetch our water-filled spray bottle. Once I had my semi-automatic, organic mace gun in my clutches and aimed right, I beat off her assault with a barrage of exploding mist balls administered about the head, neck and shoulders.
She’s never again attacked me like that but sometimes, especially when she thinks I ain’t looking, she’ll stalk me and I can tell she’s mighty tempted. Occasionally, like a Lakota brave counting coup on a bull buffalo, she’ll put a scratch into me or give me a playful/painful bite. But she does the same with my wife and visitors so I don’t take it personal. She’s just expressing her eternal feline soul is all.