Monday, March 31, 2014

COLUMN: Carol the Feral

Grab your hankies, kids. This one's gonna be a weepie.

Since I started columnizing on a weekly basis, I've learned a thing or two. Mostly, I've discovered that I'm a snarky, bitter, jaded, cynical, pathetic excuse for a human being whose only happiness in life comes in 1000-word weekly bursts of self-serving mockery in a feeble attempt to take down the very society that I so desperately crave acceptance from. Comedy gold, right?

But if all I ever did was snark, even I'd start to hate myself after a while. That's why at least a couple times a year, I need to write a tender emotional tear-jerker to remind us all that inside this bitter journalistic lion beats a heart of gold. Well, it's probably about 80% gold and 20% cholesterol, but I digress.

Occasionally I need to come across as sensitive and kindhearted in order to win you all over, and what better way than to cast myself into the role of Good Samaritan? But, as it turns out, being a Good Samaritan is hard work -- especially when the recipient of all this good samariting is an ungrateful little doodiehead.

Two years ago, I moved into my house. Less than a week later, I met Carol. Except back then, she was Daryl -- Daryl the Feral, to be precise. I was making dinner when suddenly my cats started making a ruckus a little more involved than the usual "pet and/or feed me" meows I'd grown accustomed to. I peered around back and that's when I first saw Daryl, sad-eyed and skinny and a clear frontrunner for Cutest Cat of the Year. There was no resisting; I set out a bowl of food that was instantly gobbled up.

Within days, she had my schedule memorized. When I got home from work, Daryl was there on the back steps. Only later did I discover that I'd just opened my yard up to a family of feline grifters. One night, I put food out for Daryl, then looked out the door minutes later to find no fewer than six ragtag cats making quick work of that tuna. Daryl was the cute one; the others were road-hard, torn-eared scuzzebutts -- but I fell in love with the lot of 'em.

A shock came that summer, when Daryl turned out to be a Carol and gave birth to a litter of kittens. My cat gang was street-smart; the kittens not so much. After nearly watching kitten carnage on the street, we spent that summer catching the kittens and finding them good homes through Animal Aid. In the process, we inadvertently trapped Carol herself and used the opportunity to get her neutered and vaccinated.

I wondered about keeping her, but she was none too cooperative and the vet doubted we could ever socialize her enough to make her a housecat. Instead, I brought her home and let her out in my back yard, which admittedly, was pretty much HER back yard. I was just lucky enough to get to live there and feed her.

Since then, Carol's remained a fixture on my back steps. Two years ago, I couldn't come within 20 feet of her. These days, she'll stroll right on inside and lets me pet her until her eyes roll back and she drools like a hapless cat zombie. My cats have even gotten used to having her around. Still, I've only let her just inside the door since I had no idea if she was carrying any kind of cat cooties.

The other night, though, I heard her hoarse meow and cracked the door open like usual to let her in. One look and I dropped everything I was doing. My outdoor fur baby was in a bad way. She hobbled in on three legs with sad eyes that weren't a ruse for once. I got her to eat and purr, but she wouldn't put any weight on that foot. I couldn't risk infecting my indoor cats with anything, but I wasn't about to kick her outside as a feline tripod.

It was Christmas weekend and I couldn't get her into the vet for a couple days, so my friend Dianna agreed to temporarily house Carol in her basement. The next morning, though, Miss Scaredy-Cat had wedged herself into a tiny space behind the basement stairs and would NOT come out, resulting in a rescheduled vet appointment, a lot of pleading, some wasted tuna, and finally the reemergence of a terrified kitty.

All was good, until the morning of the appointment and a frenzied 9 a.m. phone call from Dianna. This time, Carol had managed - on three legs, mind you - to climb to the ceiling of the basement, where she'd sequestered herself above a sewer line in a space juuust too small for us to reach. What followed was a good solid hour of more tuna, broom handles, heavy gloves, some amateur plumbing, at least 35 swear words, a fair amount of minor human blood loss, and an impassioned soliloque from yours truly attempting to explain that the capture and sale of her children, subsequent imprisonment, forced surgery, and repeated imprisonment was me attempting to be a nice guy, dang it.

It wasn't pretty, and poor Dianna's basement may never be the same again, but we eventually got her out. The vet found her to be in good health, other than a nasty abscess on her foot and a fever from the resulting infection. Within minutes, she was patched up, pumped full of antibiotics, and absolutely hated the both of us forever and ever.

Or for about four days. That's how long it took for her to come out of the cat carrier and get familiar with her new surroundings in one of Dianna's extra rooms - this one without crawlspaces or sewer lines. She tested negative for cat cooties, but the vet still wants us to quarantine her for two months to be certain. So far, she's gone from hating us to tolerating us to once again being a drooling cat zombie when you scratch that magic spot behind her ears.

She's still not exactly thrilled by recent developments, but from her window seat in that spare room, I think even she could tell a guest room anywhere was better than a -45 wind chill last week. Every day, she's getting more and more used to life indoors. With any luck, I'm soon to be the owner of THREE cats instead of two. Only fifty-seven more and I'll achieve my goal of becoming the creepy cat guy who scares off the neighbor children.

Seriously, though, if you're the praying type, say a good word for my buddy Carol. I'd love to see her become a part of the family.

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