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A Cat-alogue of Compelling Reasons

June 01, 1986|Zan Thompson

The cat my friend Christine is talking about is a long-haired black one with a tuxedo front and four white feet. He needs a new home because his people are moving to a place where he is not allowed.

Christine thought we would like to have him because he looks like Cuchulain, the noble beast I had for 11 years. He walked into the house on the hill in La Habra Heights after the schnauzer, Dempsey, died, and was no longer there to mount his regular cat patrol.

Cuchulain complained loudly of a stomachache and Dr. Dick Macy, the veterinarian who had taken care of all of our dogs, cured him with some mysterious antibiotic nostrum.

After that Cuch never meowed unless he had something important or provocative to say. He was not a garrulous cat to my satisfaction. That had been the reason I had never been enthusiastic about cats--their constant complaining conversation.

Shortly after Cuchulain moved in, I bought another schnauzer, Bixby by name, a small puppy who looked as if he had been knit of gray, black and white yarn. There was not the slightest problem about who was senior man on board. When Bixby first saw Cuch, he stumbled over his feet in his eagerness to go greet a new friend. Cuch slapped him smartly on his left cheek, with his claws in. No harm was done to the happy pup. It was simply made crystal clear that Cuchulain was in residence, the puppy was on sufferance and watch it, bub.

Soon, all three of us moved to the Carmel Valley and lived in a post adobe house, which I restored. Oh, I didn't pat my own bricks. But I did research adobe architecture and we soon had a snug house under the Sierra de Salinas, a row of mountains between the ocean and the inland farm country. The mountains were tawny folds of land, looking like sleeping lionesses. In the spring they were green, the upland meadows sprinkled with small mountain flowers.

In the Carmel Valley, Cuchulain learned about coyotes. And about bobcats, raccoons and even, in the highest crags a mountain lion or two. Although he was intrepid, I don't think he ever got up that high.

His Carmel Valley lore made him a cautious cat, not afraid but not given to showoff behavior. That on top of the street smarts he had learned as a young, mistreated animal, made him as safe as a cat could be against predators of all kinds.

When we moved to Pasadena, his wilderness knowledge stood him in good stead. Our hills and the arroyo beneath us are filled with coyotes. We see them in broad daylight and hear them singing their sad songs of romance and loss on moonlit nights and their battle cries when one tribe challenges another. Yes, I am sorry for the coyotes and I am sad during the months of summer dryness when they are hungry and thirsty and I know they were here before the houses were. But it depends on whose ox is gored or whose cat or small dog is destroyed.

I am loath to take the cat Chris tells me I will love. Naturally, I have not yet seen him. I know that one look and I would say, "Why, bring him right in."

But I do not know if this cat is wise enough to keep itself from getting cornered by the brigands who roam these hills.

Mrs. Goldfarb, the matronly white cat, is safe because she never leaves the yard, which is surrounded by a chain link fence. And Peaches doesn't, either, except by mistake. She has a brain of pure marshmallow and loves every living thing so it is especially important that she not go down the hill.

Another reason that I don't know if this is a good move is that the birds are back. The hummingbirds appeared a few days ago, to drink the sugar and water mixture Patsy puts out for them. And yesterday, the orioles in their decisive uniforms of Princeton orange and black swaggered in. And the small brown freeloader birds are here by the hundreds.

When Cuchulain graced this hill, we did not want bird feeders because he was the Dead-Eye Dick of hunters, birds and rodents falling to his lightning strikes. We didn't think it fair to lure the birds only to have them eaten.

That is the puzzlement in which I find myself on this sunny morning. I dearly want the cat who will soon be homeless but I do not want him to be taken by the coyotes.

If he is a gently bred apartment cat, he simply won't make it. It takes a cat of equal parts courage and caution to live on our hill. Actually, it requires the same doughty attributes for Patsy and me to live here. I'll let you know what happens. I only hope Christine doesn't just come up and drop him off. The cat question will be moot.

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