A Cat Tail   Leave a comment

“And what are you going to name your kitten?” my mom asked.  I was 6-years-old and my begging for a kitten had finally paid off.  We had just brought home this little orange ball of fluff.  He was six-weeks-old and the only one of a litter of kittens that was not being given away for free.  The seller wanted ten dollars for this kitten because he was special.  He had six toes on each of his front feet and was a “mitten-paw.”

“Fluffy!” I announced.

The name Fluffy suited this little kitten well.  He was a big hit at Halloween a couple of days later as I went to the door to greet the neighborhood goblins and witches with my kitten in my arms.  Many trick-or-treaters wanted to put him in their goody bags and take him home!  But I was the lucky girl.  Fluffy was mine!

Neither of my parents was an experienced cat owner.  Following the custom of the day, this kitten was allowed outside to roam wherever he wanted.  As he grew into adulthood as an unneutered tom, he came home with injuries related to his fighting with other cats.  On a couple different occasions, he suffered bites to the head and neck, resulting in abscess development.  One night, one of these abscesses ruptured and sent yucky pus spewing all over the lower kitchen cabinets.  And still he roamed.

He was probably not even two years old when one of his fighting episodes resulted in an abscess which entirely circled his tail about four inches from his rump.  This time, my mom took him to the vet who said that the tail needed to be amputated above the abscess to get rid of the damaged tissue.  I cried at the prospect of my cat losing his tail, but my parents explained that either the tail got cut off or the cat may die.  Fluffy came home from the vet in a day or so with about a three-inch stump of a tail all bandaged in white gauze.  While he was under anesthesia, he was also finally neutered.

This was his last trip to the vet in his lifetime.  He roamed.  He had fleas and surely intestinal parasites.  He came in to eat and spent most of his nights indoors, confined to the basement during the night-time hours.  He wasn’t allowed on the furniture and seldom received any “snuggle time.”


Easter Sunday 1966

I overheard my mother say to a neighbor when I was 11 or 12 that she let him outside to roam, hoping that one day something would happen to him and he wouldn’t come home.  But he always did.

One night, he became the brunt of my father’s uncontrolled anger and was thrown down the basement stairs where he hit the concrete floor.  My mother said that Fluffy didn’t get up for a while and she had feared that my father had badly hurt or killed him.  He did get up, and I didn’t find out about this until years after it occurred.   I felt terrible when I learned that an animal had been treated like this in our home!

He was a tough streetwise guy, able to fend for himself.  The name Fluffy no longer seemed to suit a scruffy tom with a three-inch tail.  It fact, it was downright laughable.  When I was around 13, I started calling him Ralph.  It was a much better name, although he didn’t care what anyone called him as long as he had a roof over his head when he needed to come in out of the rain and the cold.  Under that roof, he could find a couple of cans of daily 9-Lives and a place to snooze.

In January 1972, my father moved out of our home and I went to live with him in an apartment.  I was in high school, a teenager, and just assumed that my mom would take care of Ralph in the home where he had always lived.  It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t.  I visited my mom and always asked about Ralph, spending some time with him if he was around.  In the spring of 1973, I went to visit my mom one evening and looked around for Ralph.  I didn’t see him.  “Where’s Ralph?” I asked.

My mom hesitated for a few seconds before saying, “I took him to the pound.”  Upon my horrified expression, she added, “I couldn’t afford to feed him.”


At the Piano 1968

I was broken-hearted and outraged.  She couldn’t afford less than half-a-buck a day to feed him?  Cat food was ten cents a can in those days.  And why didn’t she tell me that she was planning to get rid of him?  I would have done anything I could have to prevent that poor 11-and-a-half-year-old cat from ending up at the “pound.”  I would have paid “cat support” or found a way to take him.

I asked when she had done that and she said that it had been several weeks earlier – too late to try to rescue him.  “Maybe someone adopted him,” she said.  “Maybe someone wanted him because of those mitten paws.”

And maybe pigs will fly, I thought.  He was an 11-year-old scruffy tomcat with a lopped-off tail, not a cute little fluffy kitten.  More likely than not, he went to his death there as an unadoptable cat.

He didn’t deserve that.  He was dealt a fairly mediocre hand in life as a member of our household.  It still breaks my heart, and I hope that some kind soul felt sorry for him and took him home from the “pound,” but I’ll never know.  I wish that I had had more of a sense of responsibility for him and tried to take better care of him, but I was a kid.  I still weep when I think about this sad ending.

I saw a little kitten about three-months-old last summer.  He had been taken in by St. Francis of Assisi Animal Rescue after being found out in a rain storm when he was about six-weeks-old.  He was an orange tabby and he had big mitten paws.  He was at his first pet adoption fair held at a local PetsMart.  I held him and fell in love with him.  We paid the adoption fee.

“What are you going to name your new kitten?” the rescue volunteer asked me.

“Ralphie,” I replied and held him to my heart.


Posted March 18, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, Family of Origin

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