Story: Kitty’s coming home for Thanksgiving (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I wrote about how Oil Slick, my husband’s cousin’s husband’s brother’s cat (it makes sense if you read the story) needed a new home. My friend Hadas thought Slick would be a perfect addition to her mother-in-law’s fur family. The cat would be brought to New Jersey by our son Pete, who lives in Connecticut, and who volunteered to play kitty chauffeur on Thanksgiving. Hadas and Colleen would  pick up the cat on Friday and bring him to Colleen’s mom.

On any given Thanksgiving morning, I’m a tad frantic. This year, like most, my daughter Corinne and my cousin’s wife Colleen were on hand to help cook, but it still is a bit of a mad rush to get the enormous meal for fifteen people prepared and on the table. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of coordination to make it work. I don’t like to be interrupted and I don’t want anyone else in my kitchen while we’re working. Even the animals know to stay out from underfoot on Thanksgiving morning. They position themselves far enough away to not get tripped over, yet near enough to grab a stray stuffing cube or corn muffin if it falls on the floor.

Yet I stopped everything when Pete came home. Of course I would have stopped to say hello anyway, but this time, I whisked the dogs out into the yard, gave Pete a quick hug, and had him bring the cat into our finished basement. He set the crate down, careful not to jar it’s inhabitant. We both looked in at the cat, to see how he fared during his two-and-a-half-hour ride.

All we could see of Slick was his face, which was criss-crossed with the shadows from the crate’s door. Two eyes looked dolefully out at us.

I sent Pete back out to the car to bring in the rest of Slick’s stuff. He came back with a bed, a blanket and some Arbonne Rejuvenating Body Mist (with chamomile and ylang ylang), provided by another cousin, who thought it would help Slick stay relaxed during his trip.

We set up the bed and blanket in a safe corner, and positioned Slick’s crate in a spot away from the stairs and in view of the litter box.

“Have a seat,” I motioned to Pete to join me on the floor. “Let’s open the crate and see what happens.”

Pete untwisted the lock and swung open the crate door.

Nobody moved. Not human. Not cat.

Cat in crate

I’m just fine in here, thank you.

I reached my hand into the crate, not sure whether Slick would appreciate a strange arm invading his personal space. Eyes on me, he blinked slowly. I touched his head, petted him a bit. He didn’t seem to mind. Pete reached in and scratched his chin. No growls. No hisses. No swats. From Slick–or Pete.

Petting the cat in the crate

Pete gives Slick chin scratchies.

The cat  was not about to move, though. “Let’s leave him alone. Give him some time to get used to the place.” We headed back upstairs, so I could get back to cooking and Pete could bring in his own suitcase.

Later, I ventured downstairs and found an empty crate. Poor Slick had squished himself underneath a bookcase, his head behind the furthest leg. I told him what a good and brave cat he was, and stoked his side. He twitched and shifted slightly.

By now all the guests had arrived and Thanksgiving eating was in full swing. As was Thanksgiving talking, drinking and laughing. Fifteen people were having eighteen conversations simultaneously. Dawn, Athena, Calvin and Elsa Clair found refuge in my bedroom, where we had left the door open and installed an extra litter box. Calvin and Dawn hid together under the bed, their paws tucked beneath them, looking like little cat loaves.

Elsa Clair perched on the bookcase where I had left a blanket; the spot provided a cat-tastic view down toward our birdfeeders.

Cat in window

Best spot for bird watching.

Athena ruled from atop the queen-sized bed.

Athena cat on bed

Athena rules.

As people munched on shrimp and veggies and dip and guacamole and cheese and crackers, I headed back downstairs. Slick was still smooshed under the bookcase, facing into the corner–the kitty version of a human toddler’s “If I don’t see it, it’s not there.” Once again, I reached my hand underneath to pet him. He tucked his head back under the bookcase and looked at me. He started leaning into my hand.

Then I heard it. Though it was almost inaudible, there was a gentle rumble coming from the cat. Slick was purring. “You’ll be okay, Slick, “I told him. “You will be okay.”

Every hour or so, I visited Slick. Each time he’d inch further toward me. After dessert, I waddled downstairs and looked under the bookcase. No cat. Turning around, I saw Slick trotting in my direction, like he’d been waiting for me all along.

Cat running toward me

You’re back!

I sat down on the floor, and he rubbed against me and then lay down next to my leg.

Happy cat

Getting friendly.

I gave him a full complement of head scritches, chin scratchies and full body pets. This time the rumble had a bit more heft.

A little to the left, please.

A little to the left, please.

I kept him company for a few minutes, and then put some more food in the bowl I had left out for him. Slick sauntered over and started to chow down.

Cat eating

Time for a snack.

For the first time, I could actually see Oil Slick. And for the first time, I realized just how big he was. His body was solid, like a sack of flour, and his tail was so thick that it would have dwarfed any one of my cat’s tails in full fuzz-out mode. As Greg mentioned in his original post, the cat had a large splotch of black that nearly covered his entire back. Sea green eyes looked at me from a wide flat face. His short stubby legs ended in thick feet–each of which had six fat toes. Slick was a true New Englander; polydactyl cats are common in the northeast, descendants of ship’s cats.

6 toed-cat

See my six toes?

Slick finished his snack and sauntered over to me. He lay down and showed me his mitten paws, clenching and unclenching them as I rubbed his back. I scratched his chin, and he rolled over and purred. Loudly this time.

Cat belly

I’m beginning to like it here.

A burst of laughter from above reminded me I had people guests too. As I headed upstairs, Slick looked at me. “Don’t go.”

I promised I’d be back.

Cat looking up

You’re leaving me?

Everyone at the table knew about the kitty in the basement, and during the course of the day I offered reports of Slick’s progress. Corinne came down with me to visit, and Aaron as well. The cat ventured out of wherever he was hiding to say hello to each of us. With all he’d been through, I thought it was remarkable that he felt so comfortable so quickly.

My brother Mark was visiting from California; he planned to spend the next few days with us. Normally Mark stays in the basement, where the couch folds out into a bed. Because I wasn’t sure things would work out, I hadn’t told Mark ahead of time he might have a feline roommate, but I didn’t think he’d mind. A veterinarian owned by two cats, my brother was the person most likely to be comfortable sharing space with a kitty. When Mark arrived earlier in the day, I explained the situation and he was, as expected, completely unfazed (and possibly even happy) about keeping company with a new feline friend.

By now, the evening was winding down. Several guests roused themselves from turkey-induced after-dinner naps. Those who were staying in nearby hotels left to sleep off the rest of the meal. With most people gone, Mark headed downstairs to introduce himself to the cat. A few minutes later, my brother was back in the kitchen. “I found flea dirt on him.”

“Fleas? Or flea dirt?” Flea dirt  meant at one time there were fleas. It didn’t mean Slick had them now.

“Just dirt. But I didn’t do a full exam.” Ever the vet. I guess you can’t turn if off.

Because we didn’t know for sure, we decided to consider the basement a flea zone. The best thing to do was to get some anti-flea treatment onto him ASAP, and treat all the animals in my house as a precaution as well. I had Frontline for the dogs, but would have to venture out on Black Friday to get the medication for the cats. I didn’t mind, though; it was easy enough to deal with, and the cat (and possible fleas) had been isolated. I’m sure Greg and his family didn’t know with all they had been through; Slick looked well-taken-care-of (possibly  a little too well-taken-care-of) and fleas are just one of those things that happens.

Since my brother was okay about sleeping in the flea zone (you can tell we’re family), it was a non-issue. I think once you have a few cats or dogs, you learn to take in stride things like fleas and litter-box misses and dog barf on the Chinese rug. It’s part of the deal. Dogs and cats give you companionship and love, purrs and licks, and better entertainment than cable TV–and in return you feed them, get paw prints on your best black pants, and proudly wear cat fur to work.

Happy Oil Slick cat

Playing up the cute factor.

The next morning, Mark reported the Slick visited him on the bed, yowled briefly at one point, but generally seemed to have adapted well. However, by the time I traipsed back downstairs to give him his flea treatment (the cat, not my brother), Slick was wedged under the bed. Sliding my arm underneath, I stroked him, and he rubbed his head on my hand.  I tried to encourage the cat to move toward the back of the bed, because that was the only way out. He didn’t get it though; going the opposite direction to get to an intended destination is counterintuitive to a cat brain.

Hadas and Colleen came to pick up Slick that afternoon. First they had to be introduced to my menagerie, since up until now, they’d only seen them online. The dogs bounced and wagged appropriately, giving Colleen tons of doggy kisses as she knelt down to say hello. Athena inspected the new people, Elsa Clair stopped by on her way to an important appointment. Dawn made a brief appearance at the top of the stairs, and Calvin, who was tired of new people in his house, huddled under the bed. Pleasantries exchanged, pets and snuggles freely given, we all trooped downstairs to collect Slick.

Slick was still ensconced under the bed, so the easiest way to get to him was to lift the bottom as if we were turning it back into a couch. Exposed, Slick dug claws on all four of his six-toed feet into the carpet,making him about as movable as a Mack truck with it’s brakes on. Hadas tried to pull him closer so we could lift him up. “He has no scruff!” She laughed.

Hadas and I detached his feet from the rug, and I leaned in and picked him up. It was like lifting a twenty-pound bag of sand. I placed him on the floor and Colleen applied the flea medication. Then we encouraged Slick into his crate. The cat was ready for his next life.

The sun was setting by the time Hadas and Colleen–and Slick–left my house. I stood on our porch and watched as their car pulled out of the driveway. I thought about all the things that had to fit into place to help Slick  land in such a good home, and all the people who played their parts in helping him on his journey. I thought about Mike–whom I never met–and sent him a mental message. Oil Slick is safe. He will be cared for. He will be loved.

Then I walked back into my house where three dogs and four cats–and several humans–were waiting.

Happy cat in his new home

Slick getting playful in his new home.

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