April 25, 2020 8:30:44 PM
About 15 years ago a stray cat gave birth to a litter of kittens in a wall of The Dispatch pressroom. Shortly thereafter she rendered them orphans when she tried to exit the building through a normally dormant exhaust fan.
This was on a Friday.
"We were running the early run, and the mama jumped through the fan," said Jamie Morrison, who has been with The Dispatch for four decades. "We (looked later and) saw a little blood on the fan blade," he said.
On the following Monday, Morrison and fellow pressman Jerry Hayes heard meowing kittens in the wall of their workroom.
It took 30 minutes of demolition before the pressmen reached the five kittens. Their eyes had not opened.
"Let's carry 'em upstairs and see if anybody wants one," Hayes said.
"Next thing I know, they were gone," said Morrison
Steve Rogers, who worked in the newsroom, had a friend with a cat that had just given birth to a litter of kittens. She could nurse two of the kittens.
We took the other three.
A woman working for veterinarian Jim Dowdle had goats and was willing to bottle feed the three with goat's milk. Beth would go to Jim's during the day to help with the feeding. A client of Jim's spoke for one of the kittens. We took the other two.
They would become Miss Prissy and Boy Cat, essential members of our household.
No two cats could be more different.
Miss Prissy, as her name implies, has long fur, soft as a cashmere sweater and is discriminating about whom she associates with.
She will have nothing to do with me.
Despite her delicate outward demeanor, she's a daredevil when it comes to choosing a perch or napping spot. Among her favorite refuges are a freshly planted hanging planter, atop a wooden fence, even in the crotch of the old pecan tree that leans over into our backyard.
Her favorite spot, though, is on top of Beth when she is sleeping.
Boy Cat, on the other hand, was short-haired, a mundane gray and white, a roustabout and a brawler. He had a gray swirl on his side that Beth says can be seen on feral cats around town. In fact, last week she saw a cat on Television Road that could have passed for Boy Cat.
He protected Miss Prissy, says Beth. "He protected all of us (from nocturnal visits of armadillos, opossums, neighborhood cats)."
Boy Cat would show up for morning chow-call, eat and then drift off.
In recent years, since I've taken up gardening, Boy Cat and I developed a morning ritual.
Sometime between 6 and 7, I would stumble into the backyard, coffee in hand, with the intent of pulling a few weeds before the workday began. As if by magic, Boy Cat would appear.
When I bent over to weed, he would bump against my hand, insisting I attend to him. When I complied, he would roll over on his back, regardless of the condition of the ground, exposing his stomach.
Lately I had given up on the weeds. Boy Cat and I would meet in the yard and together repair to a cypress bench Melvin Brewer made us years ago.
There I would hold my coffee with one hand and pet Boy Cat with the other.
I called it cat therapy, and while I won't presume to speak for Boy Cat, I think it was a calming way to begin the day for us both.
Tuesday was no different. I walked out back noting dollar weed that is consuming the yard. With the arrival of the gray and white, battle-scarred cat, I headed for Melvin's bench.
There, as was our routine, I petted and scratched.
The night before I noticed the cat carriers on the back porch. Beth was taking the cats in for their annual checkup.
About 8:30 Beth called from the parking lot of the veterinarian, who was offering curb service. Beth said Boy Cat was going to have to be put down.
It took me a minute to process the news before the inevitable stomach punch.
Boy Cat had tested positive for FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, a highly-contagious condition most common in roaming male cats prone to fighting. We would have to keep him inside and isolate him from Prissy, a situation, Boy Cat would find unacceptable and one we would find impossible to maintain.
I miss my early morning rendezvous with the demanding wanderer. The nondescript gray cat, an orphan born with ink in his blood, who showed up each morning with only one, simple demand, that I pet him rather than pull weeds.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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