A few thoughts … On abandoned critters

By Sandy Compton
Reader Columnist

Several days before Thanksgiving, a collection of tracks appear in my driveway, those of a domestic cat. My neighbors have cats, but they don’t visit. These tracks are everywhere, very visible in the fresh snow. I then realize there are two cats, and I suspect that the border of responsibility has been breached again. 

I’ve lived near a state border much of my life, during which time people of a certain ilk — one I don’t understand — have dumped unwanted “pets” in our driveway. This decades-long parade of abandoned dogs and cats has been always problematic, sometimes enraging and often heartbreaking. 

As kids, we got a couple of great dogs “off the highway.” Peanut Butter was a dun-colored, short-haired mutt we fell in love with and who returned the favor. Trixie was a dandy border collie my grandparents adopted. But Bozo — a long-legged, uncontrollable knot-head — had some severely bad habits and was eventually put down. My dad was charged with that. Others came and went, looking, looking, looking for the car they had arrived in. 

When I was a kid, this all seemed sort of normal. It was part of where we lived, and seemed kind of spontaneous. When you’re a kid, you might not think much about how the critter might feel, or even that critters might have feelings. 

Then, you grow up. You become the guy who deals with what my dad used to deal with. What do you do about a critter who comes to visit via the decision of someone else that they can’t handle caring for an animal? And, what is it that causes them to put an animal in a car, take them to a stranger’s driveway, shove them out and drive away? Is it that they don’t have a heart or a conscience, or not enough money for pet food? Do they look back to see if the dog is following them? Do they care what happens to that kitten they are leaving? Are they crying? Do they look around to see if they have been caught? Or do they just drive away? 

Who do they think they are? God? Or the devil? They are playing both. 

The day before Thanksgiving, I see them in the cabin, my eternal rebuilding project. I’m working in what will be the bathroom — if I ever get done — when they appear. One is a pretty tuxedo cat that dodges under the floor as soon as it sees me. The other is a gray tabby who, in good cat fashion, throws up in the entry room and then runs away. They have become real, and a decision has to be made here at this end of the driveway. What to do, what to do? 

Ignore them and hope they go away? That probably won’t work. They seem to be self-sufficient enough. They’re catching mice — yay! — and one seems to be a total badass, savvy and tough enough to take down a snowshoe hare, evidence of which is strewn here and there. 

Shall I trap them in the Have-A-Heart and take them to the shelter, which may or may not accept them? Will I have to do what my dad and I and my neighbors have done a number of times? No matter what I do, I’ll be cleaning up someone else’s messy decision. And no matter what I do, I will be playing God. Or the devil. Or maybe both. 

It’s a few days since I’ve seen them. The tuna I left out in the shop is still there this morning. Maybe something took care of my problem that’s really not mine, except by circumstance. Maybe a coyote. Maybe an owl. Maybe something, no matter how badass they seemed, they had no chance against. So, now I mourn them, even though I never really knew them. I only saw them once, right? I wonder if they remembered where they came from, or just that they were in a world new to them, one they arrived in without any reason they could comprehend. 

I look at their leftover tracks, and think about their courage in the face of disaster, and my heart sags. I watch for fresh tracks, but there are none, just that mélange of old ones, and I find myself wishing it would snow and cover it all up.

I got my wish about snow. And in the snow, are tracks. The tuxedo seems to have gone missing, but the tabby, my game camera tells me, has moved into the loft of my shop. 

It’s been a while since I had a cat. The last one came to me “off the highway” as well. I’ve purchased a bag of cat food. And, I’ve seen the tabby twice. Welcome to this side of the border, cat. Enjoy your stay. 

Sandy Compton evidently has a soft heart. His books — most of which have happy endings — are available at select bookstores, at bluecreekpress.com and on Amazon. 

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