He Wasn’t Much of a Hunter

He closes the door of the red pick-up truck, repositions his gun over his shoulder, and sets off into the woods.  Despite trying to ease his weight onto the twigs and leaves, toe first then heel, his footfalls snap and crackle and echo through the pre-dawn forest.

A doe lifts her head from foraging, her button-black nose twitching with scent-taking.  With noiseless ease, she lopes off, her white tail high.  A groundhog stands on the crest of his mound-home squinting into the distance, his forepaws tucked up to his heart, his teddy-bear ears angled forward.  He squeaks and retreats inside his burrow.  A flock of quibbling sparrows wheels off into the sky.  Only the cat remains.   She is motionless except for the white tip of her tail.

The hunter walks on, pausing from time to time, looking around, then moving on.  The cat follows, unnoticed, at a distance.

When the sun has climbed well above the horizon, the hunter sits down on a large, sunny rock.  He opens a thermos of steaming coffee, crinkles flat the wax paper covering his sandwich, and munches thoughtfully, his head angled to the side.  Sun-warmed and drowsy, his shoulders relax and he closes his eyes.

The cats comes closer, soundlessly.  She sits a few feet in front of him and looks up.  The hunter opens his eyes and startles, then feels foolish.  He mutters something about cats—he’s never liked cats.  He glares at the cat and looks into her gold eyes.  She holds his gaze evenly.  He sighs, then he breaks off a small piece of cheese from his sandwich and tosses it on the ground.  The cat eats it and looks up expectantly.  The man breaks off a larger piece and holds it out to her.  She gracefully leaps onto the rock, and with one paw on the hunter’s leg, she gingerly takes the cheese from his hand.  The hunter slides his broad palm down her back, then offers her the rest of his sandwich.

After a while, he gathers his things, slings the gun over his shoulder, and sets off.  The cat jumps down and follows.  Twice he looks back over his shoulder.  He opens the truck door and sweeps his arm wide in a welcoming gesture. The cat jumps in, settles herself on the passenger seat, and washes her face.

Two seasons have passed since I found my hunter.  He wasn’t much of a hunter, really—I could read that much in the way he moved.  It was plain to me that he wasn’t really interested in hunting as much as he was playing a role.  It was also plain to me that he thought he didn’t like cats.  Most people who give cats a chance find they like them after all.

These days I wait by the window for my hunter.  He comes in with a blast of cold air.  I jump down and wind my way around his legs.  He stoops to pet me and says a word or two.  Then we pass a companionable evening in silence.  His gun is in the attic, tucked away forever.

 

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The Raleigh Dama

raleighI was born under a porch where I nestled with my mother and siblings in the cool, shaded dirt.  We stayed put when she left each night; she didn’t tell us to do so, but she made it clear somehow.  We weren’t inclined to wander anyway—there were odd sounds at night beyond the latticework that separated us from the world.  So we chewed on each other, and climbed on top of each other, and silently curled around each other, awaiting her return.  She came back before first light.  We nursed happily and slept.

One morning there was commotion outside our hideaway.  Our mother stepped in front of us, tense.  There was a wrenching sound, then the latticework fell away and sunlight streamed in.  A man and woman stooped down and peered at us, making friendly little sounds.  My mother, wary, moved toward them, her thin body silhouetted against the glare.  She sniffed their hands then allowed them to pet her.  She turned to us and meowed, and we came to her.  The man gently scooped all four of us kittens up at once in his arms and placed us in a crate.  He called to my mother, who looked at us in the crate, glanced to the side toward freedom, looked at us again, then climbed into the crate.  We pressed against her body on the jostling ride.

We came to a place of meowing cats and barking dogs and talking people.  A woman carried us to a cage in a back room.  Another woman draped our mother across her shoulder, petting her, and brought her to join us.  There was a bowl of water, into which I dipped my nose and sneezed repeatedly.  There was a bowl of food that my mother ate, all at once.  There was a soft blanket on which we slept and passed the time together.

People came and went—tall people and little people, high voices and low voices, kind hands that pet us and fed us.  My mother grew less boney.  We grew bigger.

An older man came one day, white haired and angular.  He opened our cage and petted each of us with exquisite tenderness, then the spoke to our mother.  They regarded each other for some time, as though something was passing between them.  Before he took her away, he held her near each of us.  We touched noses with her, and then she was gone.

Two days later, two of my siblings were adopted by a young couple, and three days after that, my remaining sibling was adopted.  The cage had a lot of space to move in, but I missed the sense of belonging and deep comfort that came from my family’s nearness.  The people who cared for me were kind, picked me up, and spoke to me, but mostly they were bustling about caring for so many cats.

At night the shelter grew quiet and peaceful.  The moon came through the bars of my cage, bluing the floor and my black fur.  In its soothing light, I slept deeply.

One day a woman came and paused before each of the cages.  I liked the way she moved, like a blade of tall grass in the wind.  She lay her open palm against the door of each cage and talked softly to the cats.  When she came to my cage I stretched my arm out toward her and blinked slowly—the language of cat love.  She asked someone if she could hold me.

When the door swung open, I walked into her outstretched arms, settled in, and reached up and touched her face with my paw.  She laughed, a lovely, silvery sound, stroked my fur, and said something to the shelter person.  I went home with her.

Sometimes I dream of my mother and siblings, a far-off memory now.  In my dreams each of them has someone to love.

Some have the mistaken belief that shelter cats aren’t adoptable, that they’re in the shelter for behavioral and other problems.  Generally this is not true.  Cats land in shelters because 2% of lost cats ever find their way home… because unscrupulous owners abandon them…because their people die…. Please consider adopting from a shelter.  There are 70 million homeless cats in the U.S.

About www.untoldanimalstories.org —We tell animals’ stories from their perspectives.  Gentle in our approach rather than shocking, we invite connection, compassion and, from that, action.  We also provide tips on what you can do to help animals, and seek new action ideas, as well as animal and rescue stories, from you….  Please write to us at untoldanimalstories@gmail.com