Monday, October 25, 2021


The rule is this:  Never name a stray because once you give a stray a name, it’s no longer a stray.  It is yours.


It had been three days of rain, and, on this Sunday, a phenomenon known as an atmospheric river had aimed itself directly over Cloverdale.  Still, amid 72-hours in the house, we had to get Edward, the lab-mix – himself, years ago, a nameless stray puppy – out for a walk through our drenched neighborhood.  We’d make a short loop down the street, across a bridge and then up a paved path tracing the bank of a swollen creek.  Travelling that path, I’m not sure who noticed it first, Candi, or Edward.  But huddled next to a post on the split-rail fence lay a small cat – not a kitten – but not very big.  Cats, worldly ones, at least, flee whenever Edward crosses the horizon not knowing he’s on leash.  This cute little guy, white with tan and gray splotches, just lay under the fence, eyes following Edward’s moves.

         Something wasn’t right.

         Candi held Edward close while I approached.  At about six feet distant, the cat had had enough.  He leapt to his feet, and, after only two strides, fell on his side.  As I gingerly moved forward, he didn’t attempt to run.  He couldn’t.  Rather he hissed, bared his pin-like teeth and uttered guttural feline profanities at me.  I chose not to touch.

         A decision had to be made and Candi made it.  “Take Edward home, get a towel and a box and come back in the car.  I’ll stay here with the umbrella.”

         Upon my return Candi stood with the umbrella, but nowhere near the cat.  He’d probably exchanged words with her.  Unfolding the towel, I danced it in front of him, eliciting more kitty-cussing, then moved the terrycloth behind the split-rail where I felt I could safely sneak up on and enfold the feline without losing skin or blood.  Success.  Hissing and spitting and uttering his disdain, wrapped in the towel with pupils as big as ripe, black olives, he reposed in the box at Candi’s feet, teeth angrily clinching the towel, as we brought him home.


Now we had a cat, and we didn’t need a cat.  We posted his picture on local social media and searched for a vet or an animal rescue.  Animal rescue turned out to be animal control.  Given the rainfall, officers from this outfit were flush with rescues and orphans and injuries.  “It may be a couple of hours,” we were told.  We placed him in his box in the tiled shower stall and loosened the damp towel that encased him, figuring that if he warms up and calms down, he may want to wiggle out of the towel.  

         Social media response was almost instantaneous.  Respondent after respondent said, “Aren’t you wonderful…” or “I hope you find his Mom and Dad.”  One neighbor from a few blocks over knocked on the door having lost her kitty earlier in the morning.  This guy wasn’t hers.

         Cat cloistered in the bathroom, Candi and I kept watch. He never released his toothy grip on the towel and though his pupils diminished his eyes seemed pinned open.  Was he dead?  I blew gently across his face and his eyelids closed and reopened.  My fingers found the back of his head and rubbed his damp coat.  Tiptoeing them down to his shoulder I found the little guy had nothing between his skin and his skeleton.  His eyes looked at mine and he wasn’t cursing me anymore, so this, I thought, was progress.  I loosened the towel a bit more and fetched a tiny saucer of half-n-half, touching a droplet of it to his nose.

         Twenty minutes later, I came back to check.  He’d pushed himself a few inches further out of the box, but his mouth still clamped the terrycloth.  Rubbing down his spindly back a bit further, it was clear he didn’t like it, so I put another drop of milk on his nose and left.

         The little cat had been injured.  Perhaps he’d been hit by a car or fell out of a tree during a wind gust.  No signs of open wounds, but unable to ambulate, he was soaked and angry as… well… a wet cat.    Plus, it was clear he was both starving and not in the mood to eat – at least not what we were offering.

         Every fifteen to twenty minutes, one of us would peek into the bathroom to check on his welfare and offer the warm touch of another mammal.  On one visit, as I cracked open the door, I blurted out, “Hey there, Mr. Buttons.”  I don’t know what prompted me or where it came from.  But I was aware of the consequence.  That visit ended with the ringing of the doorbell.



The animal control officer was a big kind man dressed in a green uniform and girdled with a heavy service belt. He said he smelled “like about eleven different dogs,” as Edward sniffed his pantlegs.  We led the officer through the house to the bathroom.  Entering, I said, “Hey there, Mr. Buttons.  Help is here.”  I caught Candi’s quizzical, sideways glance.  Didn’t I know the rule?

         The big man bent down and lifted the little cat swaddled in the damp towel.  Mr. Buttons lay entirely limp.  “I think he may have passed,” the officer said, but then the cat responded somehow to something.  Now, with even more care, he cradled the kitty, checked for an ID chip – there would be none – and placed him in a carrier. 

         “What do you think?” we asked.

         “My job is just to take ‘em to the vet and they’ll decide.”  I watched from the window as he loaded Mr. Buttons into a compartment and sat in his truck, getting directions to his next rescue.  



No words were expressed.  None were needed.  Injury, shock, hunger and wet were more than the totality of his nine lives could handle.  For closure, I reported this on neighborhood social media, eliciting from someone: “You did your best.  You know there are plenty of cats at the shelter.”

         My curt reply: “We don’t need a cat.”

         I thought about this through the rainy mid-afternoon and into the evening ultimately realizing that while my comment may have been true, perhaps, in this case, Mr. Buttons simply needed us.  

         If only for his final hours.


© 2021

Church of the Open Road Press


  1. I was imagining Mr Buttons recovering and becoming your Enzo as in "The Art of Racing in the Rain".

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