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ANIMALS

A Very Determined Tom

February 21, 1988|WILLIAM JORDAN

RAFER THE TOM was one of that strange, gray, nondescript, unpublicized breed of cat that just appears in a neighborhood. Everyone assumes he belongs to someone else--some new neighbor somewhere. Probably.

The truth about this aggressive tom was just the opposite. Rafer was a free-lance cat. He belonged to no one. He made his living by raiding the food bowls of cats who were owned--soft cats, cats grown fat and pusillanimous from the kept life--and he ruled the realm with 30 gleaming teeth and 18 nasty claws. He yowled louder, fought harder, sprayed farther and reigned longer than any other cat in memory hereabouts. But the reason was not size, nor skill nor coordination, because he was ordinary in all ways except one: innate temperament. The determination of the tomcat is relentless.

This became clear from the way Rafer whipped old Zero, the previous lord of the territory, and drove him into exile. Those first few fights were actually draws; Zero, in fact, probably had the best of it. But Rafer got up and came back. Once, twice, three times--he just wouldn't give up. The battles raged for several months. It could be early morning, late afternoon, midnight, noon--and Rafer kept coming. His only reason for being was to follow Zero, hound him, dog him (the foulest things one cat could do to another), make him dread the sight of his foe.

Gradually Zero grew more haggard. His coat turned to rags. He rarely came into sight from under the bushes but that he was skulking, watching, expecting--and, no doubt about it, fearing. Then one day he disappeared altogether. He was never seen again.

Maybe a year later Rafer himself came to a mysterious end--dead in the street--and out of amazement at how small he actually was, we weighed him. He tipped the scales at 10 1/2 pounds. His temperament, however, weighed 15 more. In the neighborhood legends he weighs 25 pounds. This is the impact of the tomcat. It is the power of mind.

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