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fall 2005

Howdy folks,

I don't believe I've talked to you about Panther, our black tomcat, since the newsletter of Spring 2004, when the black devil was just a pup of 21. Maybe you remember the story of the Osama field mouse that got in the house and launched a suicide attack against Shirl in our bed.

Bad news. Panther is still alive. Now, I don't mind that, although I have become a geriatric caregiver…to a geriatric cat. After all, Pan saved Shirl from a crawl-by nibble, at the risk of his own pretty fragile fangs; and if you remember, we wouldn't even let him count coup on the vanquished rodent by eating it! Trooper that he is, he didn't even complain-much.

Well, Panther is now 22 and a half and is declined in the veil of years. He started having mini-strokes about nine months ago. I noticed that he was wobbling around the house, but at first I thought, who wouldn't wobble at 105 years of age. (That's what 22 and a half feline years are equivalent to in human terms.) Then I noticed that the left side of his face would get all scrunched up, but I didn't think too much of that either. Both sides of my face are sort of scrunched up, too. Finally, the old boy stopped eating, and Shirl started talking about a couple of cute little baby kittens. Pan and I both got worried. (That's all either of us needs is couple of uncivilized kittens with needle sharp teeth and claws. Those can really hurt old guys.)

So I bought some Gerber baby food and started feeding Panther by dipping my finger in the jar and then sticking it in his mouth. He started sucking my finger and after a while he began to wobble straighter and his face unscrunched; he went back to regular cat food-only one variety that he eats voraciously. He's had a couple of relapses since then, but he always comes back like the Energizer Bunny. Okay, he has gotten stranger, but hey! At 105 that's called eccentric. He still chases his tail, but now he goes into the darkened half-bath to chase it. It's a little room; and as he spins round and round, he smacks his head and his butt into the walls. It sounds like a wrecking crew, but maybe he has a reasonable strategy. He's never been able to catch that offending tail in one of the great rooms. Maybe he figures that in the smallest room in the house he has a better chance. He's ancient, but he may be shrewd.

Back when Pan was in that finger-sucking, nursing stage, our son Matt came by to browse through the fridge. As I was sitting on the floor, nursing Panther, Matt sarcastically mused, "You never treated me so good when I was a baby." To which I replied, "Yeah, but then you never had a shiny coat, never could learn to catch mice, and would never use a litter pan. Lot easier poop scooping a pan than changing a diaper. And take your damned hands off that leftover steak, that's my lunch. I liked you better when you ate cat chow."

When he was a tiny rug rat, he really did, if I didn't watch him. I'd put down a bowl of hard Purina cat food for the beasts, and the little human one would crawl across that floor like a cheetah after a gazelle, push his way between the two cats we had then, and start gobbling their chow. God knows how long it would have taken me to catch on to this rather bizarre (and potentially dangerous) dietary aberration if not for our then senior tom, Cotton, a big white Angora.

I believe that Cotton considered the human baby a deformed kitten. Cotton loved kittens. Lord, he would lick them and mother them. When we brought Matt home from the hospital we put him in his crib. About five minutes later Cotton climbed up in the crib and started nuzzling the baby. Cotton had always spent nights on the foot of our bed, never stirring. But as soon as Matt came, that changed. Three or four times a night, Cotton would slip off our bed to go into the baby's room to check him out. And if the infant was restless or making baby noises, that old devil would raise hell until Shirl or I came to investigate.

His mothering instinct was how I stumbled onto Matt's addiction for Purina. I had put down a bowl of chow for the cats and retreated to the living room to grade papers while Shirl was out. I heard Cotton raising a distressed ruckus. Finally, I went into the kitchen and there was Matt trying to get to the food dish. Cotton was right alongside of him with his entire front arm hooked over the baby's back, leaning away from the dish-obviously trying to drag the rug rat away from the dish. Now, since Cotton was always willing to share the dish with any creature that happened to be around, I can only surmise that he decided that deformed kittens without fur shouldn't be eating Purina. Especially, since he followed me back into the living room after I had gathered up Matt, scolding me at the top of his voice.

Too bad Matt hasn't changed. Now, it's my "food bowl" he steals from. I wish Cotton would not have been so dutiful a nursemaid and let the kid eat the Purina. Maybe his eating habits wouldn't be so rotten today. Dumpsters have a more balanced diet. Growing up with cats is both blessing and curse, I suppose.

Speaking of critters, have a happy turkey day.


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