Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Wombat, the stray cat, chilled out with me, under Matty's baby pool, while I took pictures of a butterfly (the one to the left on this page) the last week in June.

I'm not the sort of person who gets depressed, but I've been in kind of a rut this year. So much has happened in my life in the last few years, and finally (for now) things are settling down. Now that I have a bit of space in my head and heart to process what's around me, I realize there's a lot to do, and yet, I'm not all that motivated. I'm not complaining about my boy, but having a toddler challenges the concept of "me time," not that I need that much. But it's difficult to do much since said toddler is not a good sleeper, and yet, has an abundance of energy.

Despite that abundance of energy, Matthew is like his Canadian father: he hates the heat. So the yard tops the list of the areas of my life I've been neglecting. The weeds aren't totally out of control, but I'm so far away from the look I'd like for my yard, and my lack of awareness and maintenance is probably why last week Glen and I got poison oak (we're both still itching by the way; Glen far worse than I am). We have a little clubhouse for Matty, along with a slide/track/car thingy, a splash table, and a baby pool, and on the days that aren't too hot, he's happy to play outside for a little while before demanding to go back in. On those days, I'm usually overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done, and I need to keep an eye on my boy around the water toys, that I'm unable to do anything, except clean up animal shit before the kid starts to pull the door off the hinges to go back inside.


If I didn't feel disconnected enough from the world, last week Glen and I were watching that show, River Monsters, with that British dude who looks like Malcolm McDowell, but slightly more psycho. While we waited for him to come back on to tell us all about the giant sturgeon that's flipping boats in Alaska and causing the people there to think they've got a malevolent demon lurking, a promo for the Animal Planet channel came on. In that promo, several biologists and/or zoologists, set against all sorts of stunning backdrops, talked about the wonders of seeing life in action: the polar bears on the ice floes and the lions in the savannas, and the great apes running in the jungles, and so forth. The banality of my own life, with my silly little crafts and the abundance of weeds and stray cats in my backyard, just slapped me in the face.

Because I haven't been in the backyard much this summer, I didn't notice that Wombat, one of the feral cats who comes around, was sick. Holy frijole, she's sick. She was born in 2007, a daughter of Liz the Whore (who is now gone), and a member of the last litter of kittens we bequeathed with names, since so much horrible stuff happened to our strays and ferals since then, that it was just too painful to even name them. I am sure that by now, Wombat is no more.

I had hopes, in the fall of 2007 of trapping beautiful fluffy little Wombie and finding a home for her; but she was elusive, like her mother. We were able to catch her sister, Garbage Juice, and her aunt, Sophie, and get them cleaned up and sterilized. We couldn't find them homes, though; so they went back outside to their colony. Wombat came around a lot, and sat nearby that fall, after my dog, Lacey, died. It was a rough year for me, since we also lost our daughter, Catherine in January of 2007. I suppose there was a bit of solace in having some other warm-blooded critter sit with me, while I reflected on life and death. Wombat was around a lot in 2008, after my mom passed away; she stuck around as I waddled around the backyard, pregnant with Matthew, scared about all of the terrible things that I knew could happen, because of our experience with Catherine, and my subsequent involvement in a support group, where I learned just about every single random and pointless way a baby can die; all the while mourning my mom's sudden death, and trying to come to terms with how that relationship went so awry at the end, without getting to make up. Wombat sat quietly through that, and generously endured the insanity of Steve the dog, who showed up on the day my mom died. She sat there, in the hostas, while Steve launched himself at her, time and time again, until he learned it wasn't worth the effort. She was curious about Matty, watching from the side; first, listening to his coos, and then later, as he ran around the yard.

She had a litter of kittens this year, and I saw her nurse her little ones on Saturday, with one eye glued closed, and an emaciated belly. Damn. I let her down; I wasn't able to trap her initially, and then when my own life got hectic, I stopped trying. She would have made a nice pet; she understood the relationship we humans have with her species; she knew she was domesticated, a companion animal, even though something went wrong in her family tree that put her just outside all of that. I suppose it could have been worse: at least she was born in my backyard, and spent most of her days here. I run a pretty good Kittyland.

She was resting in the shady spot under the lip of the baby pool on Saturday, and for the first time, she allowed me to touch her. I ran inside for the eye medicine, and moved quickly to get some in her eye; I couldn't rub it in, but maybe she would take care of that while grooming, I figured. She was so skinny and so brittle, and her gait reminded me of Lacey in her last couple of days. Damn. Damn. Damn. I took a picture of Wombat just a few days ago while I was photographing a butterfly in my backyard, and she looked fine. Life is makes no sense sometimes. Despite what I knew in my head, I hoped maybe the medicine would help, and she'd recover. In my head, I was thinking that she didn't want to be alone when she died. I am probably projecting my human sensibilities onto the cat, but to all you anti-anthropomorphists out there, I say there's a good chance we got our human sensibilities from our animal relatives.

Suddenly, Steve went ballistic, because the asshole with the pit bull came around again. Steve's barking and fervent patrol of the perimeter caused quite the commotion; I yelled for him to calm down. Glen heard the chaos from inside, and burst out of the house, shirtless and covered in angry lesions of poison oak, ready to kick some ass. Matty was startled by the activity, and for whatever reason, yelled, "baybee!" and headed for Wombat. Steve, not in his right mind, headed toward Wombat, too. Normally, she wouldn't move for Steve, but I think the added threat of Matthew made her run, with legs that barely cooperated, under our fence, and into the street, where the asshole and his pit bull were standing. Angry, shirtless Glen went out too, and thankfully, the asshole had the dog on a leash for the first time ever. But the dog, so strong, was able to pull the skinny little asshole toward Wombat. The asshole whipped the dog with the asshole's side of the leash, and the dog stopped, just inches before she reached the cat. The dog, the asshole, Wombat, and Glen all faced each other; the asshole proclaimed, "Wha da? Sumthin wrong with dat black cat. Wha da fuck. Come on, let's go," he said to the dog. As if Wombat wasn't worth the bother of the cat hunt.

Wombat ran off into the neighbor's yard, and we haven't seen her since. I cannot imagine she's still around.

To make myself feel better at times of despair in the kitty world, I tell myself we do so much for our strays and ferals, with the resources we have. After all, most people around here don't do anything, except for one of our crazy neighbors who loads them up, and dumps them in North Trenton. Not that he's helping at all. But many people do help, and are able to do way more than I can. So, I beat myself up. While I wouldn't give up our Angus or Platooski, two big Trenton cats we cleaned up and brought inside from our yard, the randomness of it all bugs me. It could have just as easily been Wombat stuck in the bushes; if so, perhaps she'd be inside now; maybe healthy and thriving. Timing was bad for Wombat, and it's unfair. It sucks.

The last few days wondering about Wombat have made me rethink my feelings of isolation and purposelessness, thanks to the Animal Planet commercial, and how extra silly our little backyard cat sanctuary seems. But I'm okay with it. I think. Wombat's species isn't threatened, and there's nothing majestic about stray and feral cats who eat on our back porch and shit in my gardens. And yet, the bond that develops between animal (regardless of regality) and human can still inspire awe, and even provide comfort. I am so, so sorry things didn't work out better for Wombat, but it has been an honor to spend some time with her, all the same.


Chris D. said...

I read a story the other day about how they have killed 58,000 stray dogs in Baghdad in the last three months...not a typo, it's fifty eight thousand/three months...because the strays are overwhelming the population.
And Mount Laurel killed off a boatload of Canadian Geese in a local park because the residents hated the poo so much.
And I always come to the same conclusion, that it's our fault, in part because there's so damn many of us and in part because we must be the laziest, nastiest, species on the entire planet.
And I don't understand the level of hardheartedness that it takes to not care. Anyone who dares speak out against the goose killing is ridiculed mercilessly. And it's typical crap..."there are worse things than dead geese to worry about" blah, blah, blah...but I always think, maybe if we had a little more compassion as a whole (even for geese that have to poop) and could be a little more humane to animals, maybe we'd be a little more humane to each other.

Or maybe I'm an ass for thinking that would ever be possible.

Chrissy Ott said...

The "humane" killing of other animals on the planet is so unthinkable to me. I agree, WE are the problem, with our sea of (often unused) parking lots, and cars, and strip malls, and sprawling starter mansions, etc. etc. etc. Why do we need so much? So much of it goes to waste anyway.

I like to think maybe we can change, but most days I feel pretty certain that's not a possibility. I'm not a pessimist, I just kind of accept that maybe we (as a species at least) are hardwired to be greedy douchebags.

Last week, though, I couldn't sleep, and listened to a podcast. It's called Radio Lab, and it's produced by WNYC, and the hosts were discussing this very point. Can a species (particularly humans) change? You know, over the course of a few years, rather than generations and generations of evolution. They approach it from an entirely scientific angle, and in the end, there is good evidence that we can become kinder, gentler beings in a few years. In case you want to hear it, the episode is called "New Normal," and you can read about it here before you listen, and I think you can listen to each segment on that page, it might be easier to download it, and listen to it when you want. You can get it here.

Thanks for reading.