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Elbert: Encomium for a cat family


We had to put down Teeny, our 23-year-old feral cat, the other day.

She’d been with us since her mother showed up carrying three kittens across our backyard in 1995. The mother was a black stray we named Mrs. Buttons.

We already had three house cats and weren’t about to adopt this new Buttons family. But we did feel sorry for them and began leaving dry food on our deck, which led to their taking up residence under the deck.

Teeny was the first kitten we named. She was the runt of the litter, and we didn’t expect her to survive, but she did, probably because she was also the feistiest.

She and a sister were nondescript gray tabbies. The third kitten was a black male we called Blackie. Like his mother, he was more social. One day, he walked into the house and spent the night in a chair that was usually occupied by Winston, our house Persian, who was fortunately oblivious.  

Not long after that, we found Blackie dead in the garage. The only thing we could figure was that he was hit by a car and somehow managed to get into the garage before dying of internal injuries. I wrapped him in a towel and buried him in the backyard.

There was little time to mourn, because that’s also when we realized we needed to get the girls spayed, as we’d done with Mrs. Buttons earlier. Two male cats had started hanging around, and that was not a good sign. We figured one — we called him Daddy Uncle — was Teeny’s father because her meow was nearly identical to his deep-throated “rreow, rreow, rreow.”

Catching the girls was not easy. They would not let anyone near, but eventually we used a can of tuna to lure them in the back door where we trapped them in the basement.

We chased Teeny round and round, finally cornering her on the stairs, where she made a flying leap past me and over my wife, grazing her cheek with razor sharp claws. After another two or three minutes of chasing, Teeny was worn out, and I was able to throw a towel over her and pick her up.

After surgery, the vet said we should keep her calm so she wouldn’t pull out the stitches. We put Teeny in the basement under a pool table with food and water and stacked boxes to prevent her from escaping.

The next morning, when we went down to retrieve the other kitten and take her in for her surgery, both Teeny and her sister had somehow climbed into the drop ceiling.

We’d planned to find homes for them, but after the surgery gave up on that idea. I built a cat condominium on the deck, and the Buttons family lived in it for many years.

We began calling Teeny’s sister Mitzy after a friend said getting the girls spayed was a “mitzvah,” which is Hebrew for “good deed.”

The Buttonses earned their keep by ridding our yard of chipmunks and moles, and for many years one or all of them followed my wife around the yard as she gardened.

Mrs. Buttons, who always had the sense to sleep indoors when it was cold, wandered off one day 10 years ago and never returned.

Four or five years later, Mitzy consented to living indoors after we found her limping up the driveway. She died in March 2013.

About the time Mitzy died, Teeny also agreed to come inside, where she remained the last five years of her life, sleeping most nights between us on our bed.

It’s been a long time, but I like to think that after 23 years all four members of the Buttons family are together again. 

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