Cindy Lou’s tail just hangs dead. She can’t twitch it like other cats. Cindy started out life with eight of her nine lives already used up. I don’t know the precise circumstance I just know it can’t have been good given how she became a part of my family.
Back when Michele still smoked we were sitting on the front porch so she could still smoke, and snowflakes were slowly replacing the drops of freezing rain. Normally, nothing much good can come from smoking cigarettes. We had already lost Charley because of cigarette smoking.
Charley was a black puppy with an unusually long and narrow snout, always happy and excited about every little part of his dog’s life, and he came along at a time when Michele had decided she must stop smoking. But the stress of that quitting caused the skin on her hands to peel, so the doctor gave her a tube of ointment to control it. She put it in a bathroom drawer, but Charley’s long snout could open drawers, dig things out, and he dug out that tube and bit some holes in it. He was dead a few days later. It slowly poisoned him.
But that dark evening we sat outside so Michele could smoke, and felt something warm and furry on our legs and we looked down to see a wet, freezing, badly damaged kitten. One hip was twisted funny, and the tail hung down limp, and the tip was bloody and stripped of fur. There was no meat on the kitten bones, the ears were both bloody and stinky with mites, and both eyes were watery, red and puffy at the edges. She curled over the top of my foot and she wouldn’t let go, so we decided to do what we could to save her, although we were both pretty sure she stood little chance of surviving.
She was so tiny we named her after the littlest Who in Whoville, Cindy Lou Who, and we had no problem getting her to eat and drink, although the broken hip, damaged tail and ear mites were a major concern. Gradually the ear mites cleared up, and she was able to get about on three legs, the right hind leg dangling fairly useless. The tip of her tail gradually turned dark and just fell off.
She developed a little hop to her giddyap like a bunny rabbit, and she did not let her injury keep her from crazy kitten antics. We kept the cat bowls on top the washer and dryer so the dogs wouldn’t clean them out, and it took Cindy Lou a couple of weeks to figure out how to leap up there on her own, but she found a way.
Cats are cats and dogs are dogs, and when it comes to being haughty and finicky Cindy Lou is very catlike, but in other fundamental ways she is more like a dog. I never expected her to be my cat, she decided that for me, and she was my shadow, never letting me out of her sight for long. When I sat at the computer, clacking away writing columns like this one, she sat on the back of my neck, curled in a ball, and took a nap.
Eventually she had to test the cat door and go out into the yard. I looked out the window one day and saw her way up at the top of a tree. Given her gimp hip, I wasn’t sure she could make her way down, so I opened the window and leaned out and told one of my boys to help her out. I never call Cindy Lou her name very often, I just look at her and say, “Who does that little kitty-cat belong to?” I said that this time, and she raced right down that tree trunk, right up the side of the house and through the window into my arms, and there was this intense look of deep concern, and I realized she would always take the outside world that had almost killed her very seriously, warily, and prudently.
About six months after we found Cindy Lou, she disappeared. Days went by, then a week, and I was certain I had lost her for good, angry at myself for letting a crippled little kitten come and go outside as she pleased. It was the dead of night, when and I rolled over, and there she sat staring at me, purring loud enough to rattle the headboard. She snuggled in tight, and licked my face until it was raw from her rough tongue.
Concerned she had come home pregnant, I decided to have her fixed and she hadn’t been home from the vet very long when a friend needed help hauling hay bales. At the top of a stack of bales 12 feet high, we found four kittens nested in between two bales. Another neighbor took two and I took the other two, and Cindy Lou must have thought these were her kittens. She was barely more than a kitten herself, and would never be a biological mother, but she was the best mom those kittens could have ever had.
Sometimes when we take the dogs for a walk Cindy Lou goes with us. She stays right with us, no matter how far we walk, at a prudent distance, of course, because she never forgets she has already used up eight of her nine lives, always keeping close to anything she can hide under, or scamper up, should there be trouble.
It is a big, dangerous world, but Cindy Lou, all six pounds of her, has found her special niche, and it is amazing how deeply intriguing the life of even a crippled little housecat can be. She’s far more interesting than most people I know.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)