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Loving memories of nature’s perfect hunting machine: Send us your pet rescue stories

January 10, 2019

Loving memories of nature’s perfect hunting machine: Send us your pet rescue stories

BROOK PARK, Ohio -- Let us take a trip down memory lane. Behold my family: two loving parents, four rambunctious boys, a dog, a cat and numerous fish that came and went. Life was many things, but boring was not one of them. Neither was quiet, much to my parents’ occasional dismay.

One day, the cat wandered away, as cats are wont to do, and never came back. Things quieted down. And my parents, much to their dawning horror, discovered that they missed the action the cat had provided. Why, it had been quite a while since they had to stop a cat from trying to get into the fish tank. And waking up to yowls and hisses from random nightly cat fights was jarring by its absence. And we boys were constantly asking when we could get another cat.

So my parents decided that maybe we needed to get another cat after all. So down to the animal shelter we went to adopt a kitten.

What to call him? The boys wanted a cool name: Trouble, Hunter, Ninja, Rumble -- something that said this cat was awesome. However, for the first few weeks, the kitten showed a disturbing tendency to piddle behind the couch. Puddles he made, so Puddles he became.

But sensing that the boys might be disappointed by the lack of an impressive name, our cat vowed to make the name Puddles one of the most fearsome and intimidating names in the history of cat-kind, spoken only in terror-filled whispers among the birds and squirrels (and occasional dogs) of the neighborhood.

At first, we had no notion of just what a formidable cat we had adopted. Those first few months, we thought he was a fun-loving cat. He continued the tradition of having to be daily pulled off the top of the fish tank. Our dog would chase the cat around the living room, through the kitchen and down the stairs. Then the cat would chase the dog back up the stairs, through the kitchen, around the living room, and back downstairs.

Puddles taught himself to knock at the door when he wanted to come inside. Actually knock -- as in, sit in front of the screen door and pound it with his front paws.

Then we discovered the voles. Or rather, what remained of the voles. Just one or two at first, hidden underneath the shrubs by our front porch. And then, much more than one or two, all wearing a terminal expression of “What the heck was THAT?!?!”

Like a master honing his craft, Puddles moved on to more challenging prey, and we began to find birds, squirrels, mice, rabbits and, once, a possum. As boys, we thought this was the coolest thing ever and re-christened the shrubs as “The Graveyard.”

One memorable time we heard the familiar bam bam bam bam! that was the sound of Puddles knocking on the door to be let inside. We opened the door and were greeted by the hellacious sound of many squawking birds as the cat sauntered in. A few seconds later, a blue jay flew in front of the door, screeching madly. Puddles, totally unperturbed, hopped onto the front window sill and began grooming himself.

We looked out the window and saw a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” There were at least 60 blue jays on the power lines across the street, all jeering and cawing and looking at our house. We then noticed that The Graveyard had new and recently deceased blue jay arrivals.

Blue streaks of righteous fury began to zoom into our front yard and around our porch, daring the cat to come outside. Puddles, secure in the knowledge that he had a thick window in front of him, disdainfully curled up for a nap in full view of the birds.

But Puddles did not limit himself to birds. Oh, no. That would be too easy. Once upon a time, a neighborhood dog who routinely got loose came into our front yard, where the cat was peacefully dozing in the sun. Seeing easy prey, the dog raced across the yard, barking for all it was worth.

Our dog was looking out the front door and didn’t bark, or rise, or even bat an eyelid. She settled back on her haunches and looked at me as if to say: “Get your popcorn ready! This is gonna be goooood!”

And it was. It so was. The intruding dog -- a black lab mix who weighed at least 70 pounds -- thundered full speed at the dozing Puddles. When it was about five feet away, my peacefully sleeping cat exploded into a ball of fury and claws. The next thing we knew, the dog had crashed to the ground, yipping madly, with rake marks across its nose and jaw. It wobbly got to its feet and looked at my cat, who calmly sat there, daring the dog to try again.

The dog -- who it must be stressed was at least seven times heavier than my cat -- whimpered away, tail between its legs. It would still escape its yard, but ever after gave our house a wide berth.

Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, squirrels, moles, alien invaders -- it didn’t matter. If you dared to trespass on Puddles’ territory, you were in for a bad day. The fact that Puddles considered our entire neighborhood his territory was a bit … problematic … for the local wildlife.

Dogs who used to split the neighborhood quiet with frenzied barking would now whisper-woof for fear of attracting attention. The formerly raucous sounds of the night birds quickly gave way to the only occasional lone chirp-chirp-chi-SQUAWK! of a newbie bird who didn’t realize whose land he was in.

On the bright side, for seven years, the neighbors marveled at how amazing their vegetable gardens were because no animals ever seemed to nibble on their plants.

Our cat was definitely a fighter. Unfortunately for my parents’ wallets, this meant a few extra trips to the vet each year. The only thing Puddles loathed more than animals intruding on his territory was people poking him with needles. In one memorable visit, we had to take Puddles to the vet to remove what turned out to be another cat’s tooth from his rear leg.

The fresh-out-of-school pet doctor didn’t heed our warnings, and told us that our injured cat couldn’t possibly be as hostile as we made him out to be. He took Puddles back to give him a tranquilizer shot to remove the tooth.

After a minute, we heard a yelp and the veterinarian asking for a helper, some bandages and more shots. After another minute, we heard another yelp, a request for more bandages, more helpers and even more shots.

It took four people (two dressed in thick gloves and chest protectors), a roll of bandages (for the freely bleeding doctor) and enough tranquilizers to knock out a 50-pound dog. And, after all that, we could still hear Puddles faintly yowling at the veterinarians.

Puddles wasn’t all lethal violence, though. We had plenty of nights of him quietly sitting with us as we watched TV. And he had a soft spot for little children. For reasons I will never understand, he liked to hang around when kids were over.

Two-year-olds are not known for being gentle, and they patted Puddles on the head with all the gentleness of a sledgehammer. If an adult tried that, they would be wearing their intestines as a scarf. Yet for little tykes, Puddles would purr loudly and bump his head against their legs, causing them to giggle and pat/pound him some more.

He loved our mother. One Christmas morning, she came down to discover Puddles sitting next to the wrapped presents, a dead bird at his paws, looking up at my mother with adoring eyes as if to say: “Merry Christmas, Mom! I picked it out for you myself!”

My mother was, shall we say, less than thrilled. But it’s the thought that counts.

Finally, Puddles was a travelin’ cat. It wasn’t uncommon for him to wander away for a few days at a time and turn up in our front yard just as we would start to get worried. One of the visits to his hated enemy the vet ended with him clawing his way out of the kitty carrier and jumping out a nearby open window (presumably yowling “FREEDOM!” in his best “Braveheart” impression).

A day-and-a-half later, we heard the familiar bam bam bam bam! of him wanting to be let inside, like nothing had ever happened.

Alas, all good stories come to an end. One day, our cat went out wandering and never came home. I prefer to think that after being the undisputed lord and ruler of Brook Park, he set out for other lands to conquer.

Happy trails, Puddles.

Johnny Bender,

Brook Park

Do you share your life with an animal that is near and dear to you? Tell us something about your pet - all species are welcome - and send along a photo of the two of you. Be sure to tell us which Greater Cleveland community you live in. Send everything to Ann Norman at anorman@cleveland.com.

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