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Six toes, nine lives

Agriculture.com Staff 07/13/2006 @ 8:07am

My cat died.

I suppose he wasn't really my cat. He moved out a couple of years ago, when he was already quite elderly, and limped his way to my parent's house. "Into assisted living," one of my friends said, when I told him about the terrific care he was getting.

On top of the change of address, he was, after all, a cat. It would be a misstatement to say he belonged to anyone.

But he was a heck of a cat.

We think he was born about sixteen years ago. We don't remember the year, but we all remember the event. His mother was a petite, friendly momma cat named Emily Spot and BD (short for Black Diamond -- my daughters named all the cats) was a big-boned kitten with a head like a pumpkin. There was trouble in the obstetrics ward and I stepped in to help.

My wife watched for second and then asked nervously, "Do you know what you're doing?"

I was offended. I'm a farmer, for Pete's sake. I had hogs on three farms and I regularly presided over thousands of births each year. I certainly felt competent in lending a helping hand to one worthless cat. Other than the claws and fur, how different can a cat and a hog be?

The procedure was a little "challenging," but soon we had a lovely, black, six-toed kitten and my reputation for animal husbandry was intact.

The six toes were an issue. In three years, every kitten born within five miles of our farm had six toes and BD had already started to acquire a vast array of scars from his competitors. It was a little embarrassing since I've never really liked bullies, and now I had the neighborhood bully meowing for treats outside my window.

It only got worse. BD started out little and sweet, but quickly moved to grumpy, demanding, and… mean. I clearly remember the time a half-grown pup, grown bold with chasing cats up trees, took off at a dead run across the yard toward BD.  The pup skidded to a halt about ten feet from his target, took a long look at what he'd found, and not liking the odds, turned and tiptoed away, ears and tail drooping. The old cat didn't even look up or break stride as he limped across the grass on his own private errand.

I think it was the next year that he disappeared. He always took off on a romantic journey in the spring, wooing the ladies and terrorizing the neighborhood tom cats, but this time he was gone for months. I thought he'd run out of luck, but one morning I heard a faint "meow" and found him laying on the front step, wasted away to skin and bones, with an infected bullet wound that passed entirely through his neck. We took him to the vet that time -- a real chore, because handling him in a good mood was a bit of a risk, and he'd left cheerful behind long before he'd been shot. I'll never forget dodging the massive black paws and sharp claws as I tried to stuff him in a cardboard box for the ride to the doctor's office. The vet did what he could and told me that, with luck, he'd live a few more days. That was about seven years ago.

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