Friday, January 14, 2011

Gator, Dooby, and Neighbors

Just after noon, Connie came home with Dooby, a three month old Catahoula mix that has leopard-looking spots on his back. The pup has been recovering from a variety of illnesses, including meningitis, and has been cared for in the home of the manager of the Humane Society of Redmond and where Connie is the foster coordinator. The manager was going away on vacation and Dooby is not quite well enough to be back in the shelter. So, Connie brought him here until the manager returns. She set him up in an x-pen out in the studio - a large building that houses a wheel, kiln, and lots of clay and pots - until she could get a place ready for Dooby inside the house.

We haven’t fostered puppies for a while and our two studio cats, Lily and Gator, didn’t quite know what to make of the new puppy. The cats are used to our dogs, but the presence of Dooby made them nervous, especially Gator. Gator is a year and a half old gray and white male with the softest long hair I’ve ever felt on a cat. Like most rescues, we know little of their earlier lives. While I’m always asking questions about what is known about their pasts, I’m probably better off not knowing. Gator was found at the age of five weeks in a horse pasture in the midst of a herd of mustangs. There was no trace of his mother or siblings. Connie named him “Gator” because he had a fierce bite, a practice he has now given up.

After lunch, I went out to check on Dooby and the cats. The skies had opened and we were having a rare downpour. When I opened the door of the studio, Gator shot out between my legs like a bullet from a gun. Because he had never done anything like this before and because since we’ve had him he’s not been outside, I watched in horror as he ricocheted around the backyard fence until he came to an old thirty foot high juniper tree. Up he went, yowling in apparent complaint of the rain that was quickly soaking him.

For the first thirty minutes, Connie and I alternately tried to talk him down. We put up a ten foot ladder that Connie ascended, but Gator was far above us and meowing plaintively. I couldn’t believe the amount of rain that was falling. This is Central Oregon, not the Willamette Valley! All of the coaxing didn’t work.

I needed an extension ladder, but I didn’t know what I would do if I had one. I went next door and asked our neighbor Karen if they had one. She called Lonnie at work and said she would call me as soon as she talked with her husband. I called another friend who lives about ten minutes away. He had one and offered it to me. Then, Karen called back reported that Lonnie said they had an extension ladder at his company that makes control instruments for industrial applications. He was tied up north of Bend but he was sending one his staff and the ladder. “His name is ‘Paul’,” Karen relayed.

Rain continued to fall and Gator continued yowling while we waited for Paul’s arrival. I opened the side gate to a young man slightly graying at the temples carrying the ladder. As I explained the situation, probably with a lot more information than he needed, two things impressed me: a sense of calm and kindness in his face and speech. I was reassured, even though I didn’t know what I would do up on the ladder.

Paul extended the ladder all sixteen feet and leaned it in a mass of old growth that I wasn’t sure would hold either one of us. As he started up the ladder I said, “You’re going up wasn’t a part of the deal; I only asked to borrow a ladder.” Over his shoulder, he smiled and said, “Lonnie told me to go up.”

I feared that this stranger would scare Gator even more, but there was that calm and kindness. I hoped Gator would sense what I had. I explained to Paul that Gator was used to being scruffed (held by the skin behind the ears, the way mother cats move their kittens), and loved it. Every afternoon before siesta, Gator wanted to be scruffed and I obliged. Paul seemed surprised.

Fully extended, the ladder wasn’t long enough. At the top, Paul stepped off and onto branches of the tree, climbing until he and Gator were face to face about twenty feet off the ground. Paul reached around and took the cat by the scruff. Gator immediately relaxed and released his frantic hold on the branch.

Paul put Gator on his shoulder like you would to burp a baby, got back on the ladder, and descended. Gator didn’t move. I took him from Paul’s arms. Gator seemed completely relaxed. Maybe he was exhausted. By this time he had been clinging precariously to that two-inch thick branch for an hour and a half. I carried Gator to the studio where he immediately set about cleaning himself, no small task because he, like the rest of us, was soaked to the skin.

Words can’t describe my sense of relief at having Gator back safe, or the gratitude I felt for the response of my neighbors and Paul.

Last night when Lonnie got home, he told me that Paul was a highly trained Search and Rescue volunteer with Deschutes County, and had been responsible for saving more than one stranded climber. I didn’t know that before, but somehow it didn’t surprise me. Neither did what Lonnie said next,
“I’m sorry that I was not available to come myself, but I think Paul’s presence was meant to be.”

Gator and the rest of the animals that inhabit this place are doing well. They’ve accepted Dooby, and Dooby them. I don’t think it will be too long before he is recovered and ready to be adopted into his “forever” home. Today at siesta, I scruffed Gator as I usually do. He relaxed and closed his eyes in contentment. I wonder what he remembers about yesterday.

- Milo

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