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It was just after three in the afternoon when I went to pick up the payroll. The accountant's office was just a few blocks down from the high school, so instead of trying to squeeze into heavy traffic on Fourth Street, I decided to take the back alley to go back to the radio station.
On the corner of the accountant's driveway and the alley, there's a vacant lot with a foundation in the hillside from an old garage or barn torn down years ago. The foundation's three walls are in disrepair, leaning outward, with gaps and spaces between the carved blocks of limestone. The cement floor is cracked and separated near the back wall; an opening that tapers to about four inches wide, with a hollow space under the floor, seems like a great place for small critters to dwell. Still, the structure was stable enough; tenants from a nearby apartment building used the space for parking. I've passed the ruins hundreds of times but never given them much attention until that day. Something moved and caught my eye. Rather than turning left toward the radio station, I turned right.
I smiled when a tiny kitten sprang up from the opening in the floor. Its orange tiger-striped coat stood out in contrast next to the grey concrete floor. The kitten ran, being chased by another small gray striped cat that soon pounced. The two rolled about the floor. One would get free, then spring back to re-engage. Soon a third gray kitten joined the fun, then a fourth. They entertained me, to say the least. I shifted my truck into park and walked toward the kittens. "Hey, you guys, what are you doing out here? Does your mom know where you are?"
The cats froze, skeptical of an intruder. The orange tiger-stripe was bravely curious and walked my way, brushing against my ankle. I bent over, giving him a welcome rub on the head, then spoke softly and started to pick him up. "How are you doing, little guy." When I began to lift him, his three siblings scurried, retreating to their shelter. The orange kitten jumped from my hand and sprinted off to join them. His sharp little claws left thin red scratch marks on my palm. I wanted to know more about the kittens; they seemed barely old enough to be away from their mother.
Getting down on my hands and knees, I peered into the opening on the floor. I could only briefly see the little orange cat; then, it ran back deeper into the hollow area. I walked down the slope to the face of the foundation wall and looked into an opening. In the daylight coming through the crack in the floor above, I could see the kittens playing with the mama cat in the back. "Hello, beautiful," I said, "Now I see where your babies get their stripes." She didn't growl at me but didn't take her eyes off me either.
As I continued peering through the opening, my eyes adjusted, allowing me to get a better look at the mother cat. She was thin, looked tired and hungry, and had plenty of battle scars on her face. "I'll go get you something to eat," I said, "wait here."
A man came out from the yellow house adjacent to the empty lot. He saw me looking into the hole. "What are you doing," he asked with a gruff tone of voice.
"There's a mother cat in here with four kittens." I explained, "She wouldn't happen to belong to you, would she?" He adamantly assured me it was not his cat. "She looks hungry," I said, "I'm going to get her something to eat."
The man shook his head. "She's a stray, and she's mean. She fights with other cats all the time. I wish someone would get rid of her."
"Well, I'm going to try to help her. If nothing else, maybe I could get her to the animal shelter."
The man shook his head, "You would be best to leave that cat alone," he advised, then went back inside his house.
I drove to the radio station, not far away. Some company promoting a new cat food had sent us sample packages of their product to give away on the air. I grabbed a couple of the foil pouches and a long-handled cooking spoon from the drawer in the breakroom.
My daughter Delaney was at the radio station. "Do you want to come to help me," I asked? Delaney was hesitant to answer. This question usually led to being roped into working on some project of which she wanted no part. "I'm going to rescue a mother cat with four kittens," I explained.
She responded with excitement, "Heck ya, I'll go with you!" Being a big cat lover, Delaney was thrilled with the prospect of seeing some kittens. On the way to my truck, I grabbed an empty box. My daughter, Annie, also rode along with us.
At the foundation, I put a few pieces of food on the spoon, lowering it through the crack in the floor. The grey tiger-striped kitten came and took them immediately. I scattered a few more on the concrete floor, attempting to lure her out into the open. The kitten came right out, and I handed it to Delaney, who snuggled it with enthusiasm.
One by one, I lured the other three kittens from the cave, handing each to Delaney. With their sharp little claws, they started climbing on her shirt, up her arms, and onto her shoulder. Delaney was the playground to the four active kittens. I had her put them inside the truck. We sprinkled food in the box, and all four cats began wolfing down the nuggets; they were starving. Annie sat with them while Delaney and I went for the mother cat.
The older, street-wise feline wanted nothing to do with the dry cat food; I moved on to plan B.
There was a drive-in restaurant just two blocks away. I gave Delaney a few dollars and my truck keys. "Go to Sonic, and buy a cooked hamburger patty, no bun or cheese, just a cooked burger. I should be able to get the mama cat to come out for that." Meanwhile, I kept talking to mama.
Delaney returned. "What took you so long," I asked? "Sonic is only two blocks away."
Delany presented the bait wrapped in sandwich paper. "It was kind of a weird request, Dad. I had to explain what we were doing." I broke off two small pieces of meat, placed them on the spoon, and reached inside the opening on the foundation wall. The mother cat approached cautiously and ate them both. I offered another piece on the spoon, which she eagerly took. It was time to up my game, so to speak.
I offered the next morsel of meat on my open hand; the mama cat took it. After hand feeding her another piece, I slowly took my hand to give her a rub on the chin. She pushed her cheek into my hand, then let me rub her ear. While I was massaging her, the mother cat turned her head so that I could rub the other ear too. Feeling I had now earned her trust, I tried to coax her out, but she retreated back farther into the hole. The burger wasn't working; it was time to move on to plan C.
"Delaney, go to the truck and bring out the loudest kitten." We would use her crying baby to lure the mother cat. Surely, she would come out and tend to her baby. I had Delaney set the kitten in the grass, about ten feet or so in front of the wall. The mother watched her young with great concern but stayed well inside her safe harbor, out of my reach. It was time to move on to plan D.
I moved to the top, on the concrete floor. I had Delaney place the loud kitten right next to the wall. The mother cat would have to lean out to see the crying offspring. When she did, I would grab her from above, lifting her by the nape of her neck – just like she carries her babies. In one quick sweeping motion, I would rescue the mama cat, reuniting her with her litter, and everyone would live happily ever after – right? It seemed to be my best idea yet, and it worked!
Delaney positioned the meowing kitten. The mother cat peeked out from the opening to locate her young. I reached down to grab the mama cat's nape – but something went horribly wrong.
At the last second, the cat looked up, seeing me. I was already in motion and couldn't stop. The plan did not include an option to retreat. Rather than grabbing the nape, when the cat turned, I inadvertently grabbed around her neck. The cat simultaneously sank her teeth, with a death grip, into my pinky finger.
As I pulled her from the opening, the angry cat dug her left front claws into the back of my left hand, bringing her other front paw up to secure my right. Then, in a split second, she dug her rear claws into my left and right forearms. I quickly stood upright on the concrete floor. There was a lot of hissing, cursing, and growling going on.
Delaney pleaded, "Let her go, Dad!"
"I don't think you understand," I confessed, "It's not me who has her – it is her who has me!" It was a serious situation that called for immediate action. How would I free myself from this cat without her shredding my limbs?
I got on my hands and knees, placing the cat between my knees. I called Delaney to assist me. "Put your hand behind her paw on her right leg, and push her foot forward, so she can't tear my flesh." We did the same with the left hind leg, and I held the cat's back end firmly with my knees. Delaney did the same with the two front paws. "Now, I need you to get that kitchen spoon."
My daughter protested, "I'm not going to club the cat!"
"Just get the spoon," I snapped. While I held the cat, I had Delaney press the thin round shaft of the handle between my finger and the cat's lower jaw. The cat reaffirmed her biting hold, allowing Delaney to slip the steel shaft inside the feline's mouth and across her bottom jaw. "Now, push her jaw down to her chest, and I'll be able to get my finger out of her mouth without her taking a chunk of flesh."
Once freed of the cat's grip, I held her legs tightly, pressing the cat to the ground. "Get in the bed of the truck, Delaney. I have no idea what this cat's going to do when I let her go."
With Delany in a safe position, and Annie in the cab of the truck, I held the cat's body, then in a single motion, I released the pressure on my legs and lunged the cat away from me. The feral cat ran off so fast; I didn't even see where she went.
My arms were throbbing with pain, keeping rhythm with my racing pulse. "All in all, it's not too bad, considering what that cat could have done to me!" I stood up and examined my wounds and realized this Tomcat was no match for that alley cat!
This particular part of town is overrun with feral cats, so we decided to take the kittens with us. We would find good homes for them. I dropped the girls and kittens off at the house while I went to seek medical attention.
This turned out to be the beginning of a long-running health care relationship with Cynthia at the new Get Well Clinic.
The nurse practitioner walked into the exam room, seeming like she already knew me. But, admittedly, she did look familiar. "Your younger brother used to date my daughter."
With a nervous shakiness, I laughed the way Shaggy did when he and Scooby-Doo met the bad guy. Then, I muttered under my breath, "Why should I be nervous?" I hoped my younger brother and the daughter parted on good terms. I had already tangled with the scorned mother of four kittens today; I wasn't sure I could handle another.
Cynthia directed me to a sink, "First, you need to wash your hands." I rinsed my hands carefully, keeping the water out of the open wounds. I reached for a paper towel and started to walk away. Cynthia led me back to the sink, "With soap this time."
Imaging the burning sting, I protested, "With Soap? Are you crazy?"
Cynthia turned on the water, "Am I crazy," she repeated my question, "I'm not the one who was trying to catch a feral cat. Here's the Soap right here."
In time, my hand healed after a round of antibiotics. Unfortunately, I never did catch the mama cat. However, I would see the mother cat sometimes when I would get the payroll. We soon found good homes for all the kittens, including the little grey cat Delaney named Bella.