The Amazing Misadventures of Miss Chef
Cats do not like to make a straight journey from one point to another. They prefer to wander, turning aside here, and stopping to sniff there. It is fascinating to watch the way they behave, and pay attention to the things that interest them. So on Tuesday morning, I took all three cats outside. It was the first really nice day we had had in a while, and I wanted them to have the chance to enjoy it.
No mere human can possibly handle three leashed cats at once for more than a minute or two, so I attach their leashes to a tie-out or the trunk of a tree, then take one for a walk within sight of the others. All of them get to enjoy the fresh air and outside scents, and they take turns wandering more freely. It is a system that has worked well for me in the past, so I saw no reason to change it Tuesday morning.
My son's cat, Mandarin, is a great big two year old orange and white tiger cat who lives for these outings. The two kittens, brother and sister, are Tristan Brighteyes, a grey tiger, and Miss Chef (not her real name; to protect her reputation, I refer to her here by the name we should have given her - I hope it's not necessary to explain the second word is pronounced slightly different than usual), a brown tiger.
Tristan Brighteyes and Miss Chef were found, along with their brother Brendan the Baptizer and their sister Lady Victoria Muffin, beneath a pickup truck in a junkyard. It was just after Hurricane Ophelia tore through North Carolina, and they were only a week old and very hungry. Our son, a Marine Sergeant with the Second Tanks at Camp LeJeune, carried around a box full of four tiny kittens for a week.
As soon as he could get leave, he brought the kittens to us, and we bottle fed them and raised them, then found a good home for Brendan the Baptizer and Lady Victoria Muffin. Their story is important because kittens who are orphaned have no mother to teach them what they need to know. Although a special bond often exists between them and their human 'parents', they don't have the skills they need in life, and are unusually helpless on their own.
Tristan Brighteyes is now a robust eleven month old kitten with an eager attitude and a brave heart. His sister, Miss Chef, is more contemplative. She prefers to observe and understand before participating, although she can be very active, energetic, and amazingly skilful at getting into things no one imagined even a determined cat would ever be able to get into. Yet it is impossible to be upset with her, even for a moment.
When she is caught doing anything outrageous, she cocks her head, offers up her softest look, wriggles her whole body, and flirts, as openly and outrageously as any blonde in a convertible bent on escaping a traffic ticket. And it works, on men and women alike. She has fur as soft as any rabbit's, and is the most charming cat I have ever known. She is also the smallest of the three cats, and the most vulnerable.
It is barely possible to walk the two kittens at the same time, so I attached Mandarin's leash to a tie-out and let Tristan Brighteyes and Miss Chef explore for a while. Soon, they were interested in lazing on the ground near an apple tree, so I used a loop to attach their leashes firmly to the trunk, and took Mandarin for a little stroll.
He found something that smelled intriguing, and I enjoyed watching his head move back and forth, sniffing industriously. It occurred to me cats sniffing a particularly fascinating scent have many of the mannerisms of an absorbed reader, and indeed smelling is to them what reading is to us, a way of gathering information about our world. I was reflecting on that when I looked over and saw only one kitten under the apple tree.
I wasn't alarmed, since their leashes are long enough to allow them to reach a clump of tall grass and bushes nearby. Miss Chef likes to hide in the undergrowth so she can observe the world undisturbed. I think she would like to be a scientist. Still, I like to know where they are, and they often tangle their leashes among the bushes and need rescuing. So I strolled over with Mandarin to look for Miss Chef.
She wasn't in sight, so I followed her leash - and came up with a completely empty harness! It was still fastened, but she was not in it. Now, this is a "Roman" harness, usually used for dogs, rather than a figure eight harness such as cats usually wear. They are supposed to be nearly impossible to escape, but Miss Chef had managed it somehow, and was nowhere to be found.
I couldn't see her anywhere nearby, although I was aware her colouring would be a nearly perfect camouflage against the ground. She could be under the trees or bushes not far away, and unless I stood right beside her I'd never notice she was there. Pure terror raced through my veins. I scooped up Mandarin and hustled him into the house despite his protests. I was too shaken up to trust my ability to securely fasten his leash outside.
I ran back out to where Tristan Brighteyes stood watching me alertly. I raced around searching for Miss Chef while frantically reviewing all the things I needed to do if I couldn't find her soon. After a few minutes, the reality hit me that we might never be able to find her. The thought nearly crushed me to the ground; a moment like that puts your life in perspective, and Miss Chef had become a very important part of my life.
I forced myself not to fall apart so I could continue to look for her. I might fear I'd never succeed, but I wasn't about to give up while she could be out there needing me. Tristan Brighteyes was standing, watching me intently. When I passed him for perhaps the twentieth time, I had an idea. I unfastened his leash from the tree trunk and took him with me, hoping he might notice his sister.
Since I didn't have any better idea of where to go, I let him walk wherever he wanted. He seemed to want to go into a patch of brush and trees nearby, and when I followed him, he led me right to his sister! This deed has earned him a new name; Tristan Brighteyes, Hero! I scooped up Miss Chef, who seemed fine, and got her into the house before she could wriggle free.
Then I headed outside to collect her harness and leash, which I'd left lying on the ground. Now that I knew precious little Miss Chef was safe, I could no longer hold myself together. I had to grab something to keep from falling, and I just slumped there, overcome by the enormity of what could have happened, and desperately thanking God that I'd found her so quickly. (I found her within half an hour at most; it only seemed like several centuries.)
When I was able to walk again, I went inside, a little shakily, and tried to compose myself. I even tried getting a little work done. But things weren't going to be that easy. My daughter came over, and after a few minutes she noticed Miss Chef was holding her left eye half-closed and blinking it a lot. When we looked at her, we could see the eye was swollen.
I called the vet about one o'clock, and after I explained the situation, they told me I didn't need to bring her right over; they would see her at two-thirty, unless I noticed any change. Then I should bring her right over without even stopping to call. In other words, something I'd told them sounded quite urgent to them, but they were trying not to panic me.
Of course, I panicked. What else would a normal person do in my situation? I made her carrier as comfortable as I could, and got her to the vet's a bit early. It would have been earlier still, but we don't take our cats to the nearest vet. We take them to a vet's office almost a half hour drive from where we live, because they are the best vets we can find, and we trust them. Which counts for a lot, since we've had a few bad experiences with other vets.
They got an examining room ready for Miss Chef more quickly than they usually do, and by this time I was grateful I hadn't had the chance to grab any lunch. After the vet examined her, he explained she had poked her eye on something and slightly injured it. Apparently such eye injuries can become much worse if they aren't treated right away.
Because we noticed it right away, she only needs to have prescription ointment put in her eyes three times a day for a week, unless there is any sign of complications. I am very relieved to say that her eye shows every sign of healing nicely. And many of the times we've put the ointment in her eyes, her brother studies her with concern for a minute afterward, then goes over to wash her face for her. (Which, the vet said when we called, is perfectly safe for both of them.)
If you don't love cats, you have no idea what you're missing!