Dad, where did the chippies (chipmunks) go?” All three of my children looked-up at me with round wondering eyes. Dad’s know EVERYTHING to 7, 5 and 4-year-olds. Especially when Dad is an engineer. I had several hypotheses, but none that I wanted to share with young minds. There was a redtailed hawk that had been sitting in the locust trees, and we heard owls at night. I had seen a coyote a couple of times. There was a family of foxes living in the driveway culvert. There were some big garter snakes living under the front porch. (BTW – this is when we lived in a suburban neighborhood, not on the river, and not in the woods – I guess we’ve always been surrounded by critters)
“Maybe they’re in their nests raising babies. Keep putting your piles of birdseed out and maybe they’ll get it at night to feed their families.” “Good answer Dad,” I thought to myself.
A few evenings later I saw three feral kittens playing in the front yard as I turned into the driveway after work. A white one, a black & white one, and a calico. That might be a clue to the chipmunk mystery! I pulled into the garage and walked into the kitchen. My family was eating dinner at the kitchen counter. I gave them each a kiss on the top of their heads and said, “I have something to do, but I’ll be right back.” I grabbed a small can of tuna from the pantry, went back to the garage, found the live rabbit cage-trap, baited it with some tuna, set it, and put it in the grass where I had seen the cats playing. I returned to the kitchen, washed my hands, and sat down for dinner.
“Whuhdjuh do Dad?” middle daughter Sean asked.
“I’ll show you after dinner.”
After dinner I checked the trap. SUCCESS! The calico kitten was trapped in the galvanized cage. Wild-eyed and hissing, I carried the dangerous looking beast, still in the trap, to the garage, and gathered the family to take a look. Mom and Dad agreed that this critter looked untamable, so we decided to take it to the Will County Humane Society in the morning. I offered, “I’ll put it in Echo’s crate for the night.” Echo had long ago graduated to full-time run of the house and was a great dog. “I’ll set it up in the basement and I’ll do it alone, so if the cat escapes it won’t bite anybody.” All agreed. This appeared to be a dangerous wild animal!
I carried the trap and cat to the basement and set up the dog crate. I put some blankets, the tuna can, and a bowl of water in the crate. I kept a spoonful of tuna to reset the trap.
I opened the door of the crate and pulled-up the front door of the trap hoping that the kitten would scurry out of the small trap into the large crate. Nope.
I shook the trap to dislodge the animal. Nope.
I thought, “Well then…I’ll just reach in the trap…grab the cat by the scruff of the neck…and…” “MEEEEOWWW!!!!!”
The vicious feline flipped, spun and attacked, digging and latching 18 needle-sharp claws into my right forearm through my white oxford-cloth dress shirt. This attack was combined with a chomp into the top of my hand and pain from equally needle-sharp teeth. I instinctively withdraw my arm from the trap (with fangs, claws and critter still attached) and flung the attacking animal into the crate along with a few droplets of my blood. The dirty white beast with orange and gray smudges backed into the corner of the crate and hissed at me. I slammed the door of the crate shut and latched it securely. The hiss became a low growl.
I surveyed the damage to my arm and hand. Multiple scratches and a few punctures from which a little blood was flowing. Tetanus? Rabies? I’d rather risk those than be exposed as an idiot for reaching into a cage with a wild animal. I pulled my shirt sleeve down to cover the back of my bitten and bleeding hand, went outside, and reset the trap. We never saw the other kittens again, but I did catch a blackbird the next morning. I did not catch rabies or tetanus.
The next day Kristen called the Humane Society. “We don’t have room for any cats. Call Animal Control.”
Joliet Township Animal Control, “No cats. Try Plainfield Animal Control.”
Plainfield Township Animal Control, “We can’t take anymore cats. We’ll euthanize it for you though.”
Kristen called me at work, “I think we have a new cat.”
By the time I came home, our new vet Ron (Dr. Hampton had retired and moved), had proclaimed the kitten healthy but malnourished, and had vaccinated her. She had a name, Lizzy, and was bathed, revealing a soft white coat with dusty orange and gray blazes. An interesting fact about cats is that most calicos are females. She was curled-up on Sean’s lap on the family room couch and was purring contentedly as all three kids, and Kristen, took turns petting her. I entered the room and Lizzy locked eyes with me, hissed and pulled back under Sean’s arm. “I’m the one that saved you, you crap-cat,” I muttered to myself. She would never be “my cat” like Bentley was but she loved everyone else, and they loved her back.
Kristen was slicing cantaloupe one morning, and Lizzy began circling her ankles while meowing loudly. The cat’s human mother, sensing a need rather than a desire, put two thin slivers of the orange fruit onto a red Tupperware lid, and placed the lid on the floor. The voracious feline immediately snarfed-down both pieces and began meowing for more. Unsure of the digestive impacts of raw fruit on a cat, and not wanting to witness explosive catarhea, two slivers were all that was offered. From that point forward, if a cantaloupe arrived in the kitchen, in any form, Lizzy would sprint in, spring onto the counter and beg for her treat of two slivers. Not honeydew melon, watermelon, or any other fruit – it had to be cantaloupe. Dr. Ron educated us that it was probably the manifestation of a form of pica, and that she was supplementing a nutrient that she lacked when she was a kitten.
The Smith family from across the street were going on vacation and they asked Sean if she would babysit their hamster for the week. She asked us, and we agreed. Friday afternoon Sean carried the cage and critter through the front door, and we placed it at the center of the only occasionally-used dining room table. About an hour after we had turned-off the lights and gone to bed, it began: “SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK- SQUEAK…” until dawn! Early Saturday morning with stubble face and bleary eyes, I removed the hamster wheel from the cage and greased the shaft with Crisco. That night we were still serenaded with, “whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir- whir…” Quieter, but definitely not silent.
Sunday after church, Sean, with no one else around, decided to pet the hamster. She opened the cage door, reached in and stroked its furry tan head with her index finger. The soft ball of fur lifted its little pink nose, opened its mouth in what appeared to be a contented yawn, and bit her. She pulled her hand back and ran away from the blood-thirsty rodent, crying uncontrollably. After several moments of motherly consolation, Kristen was able to learn the story from between the sobs. A light bulb popped in her mom brain, “Did—you—close—the cage?!!?”
The cage was left open, and the hamster was gone! Kristen was understandably displeased that there was a mouse-like creature loose in our otherwise pristine palace, and the hunt was on! We soon gave-up our futile search, but within an hour Lizzy presented us with the prize.
Sean found a small box to use as a casket and fished the five-dollar “birthday” bill from her piggy bank. When the Smiths returned, Sean presented the empty cage, the cash and the hamster sarcophagus to Mrs. Smith. She handed the money back (with a few dollars more), placed her hand on the shoulder of my teary-eyed daughter and purred, “That’s okay honey. We lose at least one hamster a month.” Later, to Kristen she shared, “You’d be surprised how many different ways there are to kill a hamster. There must be a half-dozen that we’ve never found!”
That was the only hamster that has ever been allowed in our house.
“Choose your pets wisely” (Disney Mainstreet Gazette)