The Whiskey Mattimoe Mysteries

humorous whodunnits by Nina Wright . . . starring a Michigan realtor and her felonious Afghan hound

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zen and the Art of Catching a Cat

Myth: If a cat escapes, you can catch it.
Fact: You can try.

The following true story is about a Devon rex cat named Redford. Most of what happens in this story could happen to any indoor cat who decided to go for a test run in the Great Outdoors; the difference is that Devons may be a little faster and more devious. They’re definitely stranger looking.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the breed, Devons come in every possible feline color, including Siamese points; however, they lack a topcoat. That doesn’t mean they’re bald—ugh—like sphinxes. (Apologies to sphinx aficionados, but I don’t want a cat that can get sunburned.) Devons have only a short wavy undercoat that doesn’t shed and feels like warm flannel. A wet Devon looks just like a dry Devon, only darker—a truth I discovered when my first Devon elected to join me in the bathtub. As for the rest of their appearance: large oval eyes, oversized wide-set ears, a heart-shaped face, an expressive tail, dainty paws, and a compact muscular body covered by rippling fur. They look like elves . . . or cats from outer space.

Disclosure: Over the years I’ve rescued “mutt” cats and acquired a few purebreds, too, yet Devon rexes remain my favorites. Which means I probably deserve whatever they do to me. In an attempt to balance the scales, I invented a truly naughty Devon rex named Yoda for my Whiskey Mattimoe mystery series. He combines the most annoying qualities of every Devon I’ve ever known, which list includes scaling people as if they were mountains, adhering to human necks, and setting wall art askew as an attention-getting tactic. Whiskey can’t stand Yoda, but her animal-loving sidekick-neighbor-kid
Chester adores him.

Time for that true story I promised you.

First, one more disclosure: This story is also about a dear man named Coach who used to be indifferent to cats until he met a Devon rex. Now he’s completely befuddled by cats.

A few Sundays ago, I was on the return loop of a long leisurely walk, which took me through the state recreation area near my home. I was also talking on my cell phone to a friend in a faraway state. As my friend was concluding a complicated story, my phone signaled that I had an incoming call from Coach. Understanding the nature of the narrative arc, this storyteller was loathe to interrupt her friend’s dramatic denouement. So I let the call go. Coach immediately phoned again. My friend was waxing eloquent; ergo, I let the second call go. But when Coach phoned a third time, I knew I had to pick up.

“You need to get home!” Coach panted.

His breathlessness alarmed me because Coach is much older than I am; I imagined heart attack, stroke, or a fall down a flight of stairs.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. But Redford is gone.”


“Out the back door. I think he pried it open.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Redford had exited the house onto the deck or into the connecting garage. But getting all the way outside was a major advance . . . in the wrong direction. Coach had been known to make Redford’s escape easy by failing to securely latch said door.

This was no time for recriminations. I let Coach fill in the operative facts.

“The door was standing wide open when I came into the kitchen, so I checked outside. Redford saw me and ducked into the bushes. I chased him along the side of the condo, and then I . . . lost him.”

“Lost him? You mean he’s not in the bushes now?”

“Well, I tried to pull him out of the bushes, and he ran under the deck. I tried to coax him out of there, but he wouldn’t come, and I couldn’t reach him. So I went back inside to get that feather toy-thing he likes—and when I came out with it . . . I couldn’t see him under the deck anymore.”

I had already accelerated my walk into a jog; how I longed to break into a full trot, but lower-back issues wouldn’t permit it. Middle-age impairments notwithstanding, I could cover the distance between me and the condo in five minutes, tops. Until then, Coach was in charge.

When I arrived, he was pacing up and down the back of the building, feather toy dangling from his hand.

“I can’t see him under the deck anymore, but I don’t think he went into the woods. I don’t think he went into the woods.”

I didn’t want to think about going there, either. Our yard slopes sharply into a wooded area that quickly becomes a wetland.

Dropping to the ground I peered under the deck and realized for the first time that it connected to the neighbor’s deck, which was separated from ours only on the surface, via a latticework wall. Underneath it stretched without barrier. Way at the other end, where sunlight met shadows, I thought I saw a Devon silhouette. Then it was gone.
“He’s under there!” I exclaimed.

Calling to a cat when he’s determined to be difficult is a total waste of breath; of course, I did it anyway. Scooting around to the neighbor’s end of the connecting decks, I hit the ground again and peered underneath. There was now no sign of Redford although I discovered our teen neighbor’s stash of beer, cigarettes, and dope. A door creaked open behind me.

“Uh, did you, like, lose something?”

Since moving in a few months earlier, I had never seen the teen neighbor up close. He sported enormous pupils and a shambling gait. Not a zombie, he was a stoner.

I explained that my indoor cat was now outdoors, way in the back under this side of the deck. The teen, whose name turned out to be Nathan, gave the matter slow thought.

“Well . . . I could, like, jump up and down. On the deck,” he suggested. “That might scare him out.”

Gratefully I embraced the notion. Coach and I took positions on the exit side of the deck, knees bent, arms out, ready for cat retrieval.

Here’s what happened: Nathan jumped. Redford zipped straight past us into the woods.

Eventually, I lured him back up the tree-covered slope so that I could tackle him and drag him home. But that didn’t happen any time soon. And it wasn’t accomplished by doing anything other than waiting where he could see me. I sat on the ground, thankful that most of the leaves had left the trees so that I could visually track my cat. I watched while Redford zig-zagged in maddeningly slow motion, occasionally glancing up to make sure Mom was paying attention. Even when he finally wandered close enough for me to launch myself at him, the little jerk veered back toward the swamp. By then, I didn’t care who got hurt, just as long as I got Redford home. I pitched myself full-force on top of him. He yowled, I cursed; I still have the scratches to show for it.

Coach, who had never seen a cat in an agitated state, wondered what was wrong with Redford’s tail. You feline-fans know what I’m talking about: the tail puffed up like a plume, and the rest of his coat also inflated impressively. Redford looked, for a moment, like a normal cat rather than the wavy-coated alien devil I know, love, and am willing to outwait, even on my tush, even on the cold damp ground.

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