I have an extremely large soft spot in my heart for all animals, but certainly mankind’s most popular pets, dogs and cats, are my favorites. Animals on a farm have to serve a purpose, and dogs and cats are no different. Having a dog bark at any strange vehicle that entered the yard was considered a substantial asset to our family. Likewise, a barn full of cats meant that small rodents, most importantly mice, were kept to a minimum. While these animals, like our livestock, had value, they were not above any of the others, and they had to live outside the house, like animals were supposed to do!
My wife Sue comes with a different perspective involving the place of animals in our lives. Dogs are slightly elevated above all others into a category I call “companion animals:” One that places them continuously at the side of their human masters. Having dogs involved in the daily activities of their lives is common place for Sue and her family, and they view their canine companions as dear friends.
One would expect that these two opposing views of animals in the lives of humans would be the source of considerable marital friction for the two of us, but that simply hasn’t been the case. We both greatly enjoy animals, and the ability to make some even a bigger part of my life is actually quite appealing to me. Having a dog in the house has become as enjoyable for me as it is for Sue and her family. The only difference of opinion that has surfaced during our 27 years of marriage is that I enjoy dogs and cats equally, while Sue is a bit unfamiliar with the mannerisms of cats, and her level of comfort around them isn’t what it is with dogs. I, on the other hand, also understand cats, and enjoy their company when they are willing to give it!
One of the most emotionally draining stories I’ve written was the one I posted on Areas Voices about the barn cat I named Skunk. We shared our farm with many animals during the years I lived there, but I don’t believe any came to mean as much to me as that scruffy, black and white cat.
Well, this summer, a black tomcat with white markings somewhat similar to Skunk, started prowling around our neighborhood. Since people let their cats out at night, I thought he must belong to someone on our block. Our large black dog Maxie always did a great job of intimidating cats and keeping them out of our yard, so I didn’t expect to see this one show up at our door anytime soon.
This strange black cat not only appeared to be unafraid of our big, black, barking dog, but actually seemed to like her. The cat would come into the yard several times a day, and when Maxie ran to greet him, the cat would put his tail up in the air and purr around Maxie’s feet. The feline really liked Maxie, but wouldn’t warm up to me; running away whenever I approached.
This went on for a month, with the cat spending a fair amount of time in our yard whenever Maxie was outside. I still assumed there was an owner in the vicinity because we didn’t feed the cat and he still kept coming around anyway. I was finally able to start getting close enough to pet him, and I caught a glimpse of a tag that introduced him as “Bobbin Keating.” I looked at the names on the mailboxes inside the neighboring apartment buildings and found none with the last name Keating. Sue did a search and found a person with the name Keating inside a downtown apartment five blocks from our house and gave them a call. They weren’t the owners of Bobbin, and didn’t know of any relatives with such a cat either.
Bobbin was starting to be in our yard all the time, so I began to suspect he was homeless. I was finally able to pick him up and hold him, and found the tomcat to possess a gentle, friendly temperament. Bobbin began to frequently stand on the fence post outside our kitchen window and meow when I sat at the table. We bonded quickly and I soon presented Sue with the possibility that I may want to keep Bobbin if we couldn’t find out who his owners were. Sue reminded me that she wasn’t a cat person, but did admit that Bobbin was the nicest cat she had ever been around. There was at least hope!
I started to feed Bobbin Maxie’s dog food outside and discovered he was hungry! We joked that we hoped he wouldn’t start barking from the dog food! One evening I carried him inside the house and held him on my lap while I sat at the table to see how he and Maxie would react. Both seemed comfortable with the situation. I repeated this daily for awhile, and eventually set him down on the floor. Bobbin walked around my feet for a few seconds then went to the door, wanting to go back outside. The next night, he walked around the house for ten minutes with Maxie at his side, almost as though our dog was showing him around. A few days later, Bobbin jumped onto my recliner and got comfortable while Maxie jumped onto the couch a foot away and did the same. These two were buddies!
I told Sue that if we kept Bobbin, I would keep his litter box and food in the basement. When she didn’t object and the snow started flying the next day, I went out and purchased a litter box and a bag of cat food. Bobbin gladly came in out of the freezing weather and went into the basement. I set him inside the litter box and showed him his food, and within an hour he had used both of them! What a good kitty!
It was the night of that first snow, however, that I noticed the dime sized tag that had his name engraved, also had a phone number etched on the back. I knew I had to make the call. The lady that answered said that Bobbin was her cat and she lived in a small town an hour from Grand Forks. She had brought Bobbin into town last spring so a friend could care for him while she went on a trip. Bobbin had bolted from her arms as they left the car and they were unable to locate him. This had occurred four months earlier, at least a month before Bobbin had made his way to our neighborhood.
The lady said that when Bobbin was taken from his mother, he had formed a close bond with their black dog who was nursing pups at the time. She didn’t think Bobbin would remember her or her family after this long, and because they had adopted another kitten a month ago, she thought he may no longer fit in. She said if we didn’t want him, she would take him back, but thought he may be better off living with us. I explained that Maxie and I were very attached to Bobbin, but I wasn’t sure about my wife and son. We agreed to take a few days to think about it, and I gave her my phone number.
I returned from Minneapolis Monday evening, and still wasn’t sure what to tell the lady. Sue and Carl both said they would accept Bobbin if it was what I wanted, but I got the impression both would experience some difficulties learning to live with a cat. As it turned out, the choice was already made for us when the phone rang Tuesday morning. The Lady said she had thought about it, and she really, really wanted Bobbin back unless we were totally sure we wanted to keep him. When I explained that we weren’t sure, she said she was in town and could pick Bobbin up in five minutes.
I hung up the phone, and picked Bobbin up for one final hug. He had gained some weight since we had started feeding him, and looked very healthy. He purred loudly as I stroked his head and back, not realizing he would never see me again after I returned him to his rightful owner in a few minutes. Maxie sensed something was up, and wanted to wait on the porch with us until the lady arrived. Maxie jumped up on me, something she never does, and the three of us shared one final moment celebrating the brief time Bobbin was in our lives.
The lady came to the door, and I put Maxie inside the house. Bobbin didn’t seem to recognize the lady, but was willing to be handed over to her nonetheless. While she held him, pet him, and talked about his life prior to being lost last spring, she got a tear in the corner of her eye. She had raised Bobbin from the time he was taken from his mother, and he would always have a place in her heart! It was at that moment that I knew I had made the right decision: Bobbin was not just leaving Grand Forks, he was finally going home!