The Cat Who Lived (#371)

Our Boss Cat was determined to use up every single one of her nine lives. We thought she should be an indoor cat; she thought she was a big game hunter and bolted outside at every opportunity. We grew adept at using bags and purses to shield the doorway when entering. Thwarted, Boss Cat would hiss at us, assuage her rage by beating up our rescue dog Woofie, and plot her next attempt. She learned to lurk under Woofie and our other rescue dog Fey as they stood by the door. When we let them into the backyard, she’d streak out and over the back fence. The neighborhood got used to seeing me wandering around the block, calling: “Here, kitty, kitty!”

Sometimes she came back quickly (i.e., if she hadn’t eaten and I had chicken). Sometimes she didn’t. Then I’d usually find her on our morning dog walk, stalking other dogs on their morning stroll or chasing racoons down the sidewalk and up trees.

Juvenile raccoon in our orange tree. Beneath feline notice.

These fleeing racoons? They were twice her size.

In the evening, I’d once had to rescue her when she got stuck on a telephone wire.

Every neighbor with a dog had a story of Boss Cat terrorizing that dog. Including dogs who outweighed her by seventy pounds. Yellow Labradors fled from her. The famously aggressive terrier? She cowered.

Boss Cat once disappeared for an entire day. We put signs up all around the neighborhood and feared she was gone forever. Boss Cat returned at 1 AM, covered in grass and looking pissed as hell. There wasn’t a scratch on her. She ate three helpings of food and then slept for sixteen hours.

Boss Cat’s one injury came after she tussled with the lanky brawler cat Blackie. She wound up with an infected abscess. Which was getting off easy, since all the other cats Blackie attacked “looked like they’d been run over with a lawn mower,” according to one mauled cat’s owner. Boss Cat refused to accept defeat. After we’d spent hundreds at the vet and she’d healed, she snuck out and lured Blackie back to our yard just as I was setting out with Woofie. Blackie’s initial attack pounce turned into a scrambling, inglorious retreat—with both Boss Cat and ninety pounds of canine backup hot on his heels.

Blackie never bothered Boss Cat again.

So it wasn’t the neighborhood cats or dogs that worried me when Boss escaped.

It was the coyotes.

California was coyote territory long before white folks started shooting and poisoning them. I was thrilled to see them finally return. My neighbors? Not so much. Many of them had outdoor cats. “Missing Cat” signs began popping up. Our semi-feral cat colony disappeared. More than one napping cat was snatched off a porch on our block. Some cat owners brought their cats completely inside or built “catios.” Some would only let their cats out during daylight hours, with supervision or a leash.

All the other outdoor cats? Gone within a year.

Yet Boss Cat was still determined to escape. At dawn one morning, Boss Cat shot through my legs when I went outside to water plants. She paused on our front steps, giving me a triumphant, taunting look. She knew I could never catch her. If I tried to chase her, she’d just run across the street. Since our newest dog was in the backyard, I left the front door open as I hurried inside to dig up chicken scraps. Within thirty seconds, I heard an unfamiliar canine snarl. I sprinted for the front door.

Boss Cat was in the doorway, SLASHING A COYOTE IN THE FACE.

A hard right, a solid left, repeat. Because she had cleverly positioned herself in the doorway, the coyote could only snap at her from one direction. And because cats are unbelievably fast and Boss Cat never paused, the coyote was getting hammered.

I imagined Boss Cat’s internal monologue thusly: “Come at me, bro! You think you can take ME, motherfucker?! Think again! You are nothing to me, coyote! Nothing! I’ve made canines three times your size CRY and I will fuck you up!” BAM. BAM. BAM BAM BAmbambam!

Mr. Coyote fled. Boss Cat not the easy prey he expected and there was a big, loud human charging in (I was yelling, albeit incoherently). As soon as the coyote disappeared, Boss Cat stalked back inside. Her tail had puffed up to three times its normal size and her pupils were huge, but she’d taken no damage. For once, she refused food.

Boss on sentry duty that morning

Instead, she jumped up on the kitchen counter and glared out the window in the direction Mr. Coyote had fled. She lashed her puffy tail repeatedly before settling down to clean her paws and claws.

I guess the blood of her enemy was tastier than chicken.

I’ve yet to see a coyote on our block again.

The story of Boss Cat vanquishing the coyote went down the street. Various neighbors and kids, especially those who had lost cats, came by to gawk and/or pet her. Some brought treats. Boss Cat lapped up the attention and the food, and rightly so. She was a local legend.

She was the Cat Who Lived.


Cat on the Run (#343)

Some cats see an open back door, yawn, and go back to sleep.

Some cats bolt at the speed of light.

Our Boss Cat would bolt—and then stop in the center of the patio. She’d look back at the human in the doorway, tail twitching. If no chicken bribe appeared within 30 seconds, Boss Cat would climb a tree and disappear over the fence.

Her hapless humans would then circle the block with chicken, calling, “Here, kitty-kitty! C’mon, Boss!”

The speed with which we found Boss Cat was inversely proportional to the time since her last meal. If she’d just eaten or already gorged on a chicken bribe, she couldn’t be lured home. Instead, I’d walk around, checking in with dog walkers.

Boss Cat liked dogs. She liked to play with them. She especially liked to hit them in the face. While out hunting for Boss with our dogs, I once ran into one outraged neighbor and his prized Basset hound show dogs.

The Champion Basset Hounds

 “Look out,” he warned me. “There’s a cat back there that’s followed us half a block and keeps trying to attack my dogs! I think it might be rabid!”

I sighed. “She’s not rabid. She’s mine. She likes to beat up dogs.”

The neighbor stared at ninety-pound Woofie and seventy-pound Fey. “Even those big dogs?”

“These dogs are her personal punching bags. She’s clearly bored and hoping for new targets.”

A neighbor across the street, one who didn’t have a fence but who trained her Labrador retrievers to stay on her property (mostly), flagged me down during another hunt for Boss.

“Your cat was sitting in your front yard a little while ago. My six-month-old puppy saw her and went on alert. I told puppy to leave it, but she charged across the street and straight up to your cat.”


“Your cat didn’t even MOVE until puppy got close. Then she smacked puppy right across the muzzle. It was so hard I heard it, clear across the street. Puppy ran back to me as fast as she could. I don’t think she’ll be leaving the yard to chase cats again,” the neighbor laughed.

Boss could clearly take care of herself, but I still worried. All it would take was a car or a coyote, and we’d have no more Boss Cat. Baby D would be devastated. I would be devastated. Even Andy would be devastated (maybe).

One evening, when my ExStepmother was visiting, I circled the block repeatedly, unable to find the cat—until a neighbor over the back fence finally pointed up.

Boss Cat was lying across the telephone wire above our backyard, a foot or two from the telephone pole. Maybe she got there while in hot pursuit of a squirrel (telephone wires are the squirrel highways of the neighborhood). Her perch was precarious, at best, with her belly straddling the wire and one front claw snagged on the wire.

I could see the problem. If Boss yanked hard enough to pull her claw out, she’d lose her balance and fall. She might even wind up hanging by that one claw.

Baby D turned to me, face full of alarm. “Mommy! You have to save her!”

“That’s twenty feet up!” exclaimed my ExStepmother. “Mommy needs to call the fire department!”

I shook my head and went to get the ladder, telling her, “I read recently that fire departments don’t do that anymore. At least not in big cities.” (ExStepmother is from a small town in New Hampshire.)

Now, no one knows better than I do that even if Boss Cat fell, she would probably be fine. Cats are built to land from great heights. Humans…not so much.

I climbed the ladder anyway.  I couldn’t stand to see Boss Cat stuck like that, especially not as nightfall approached. And I couldn’t let my cat or my kid down.

At the top of the ladder, I was still about 10 feet shy of the cat. I moved to the telephone pole, continuing upwards using the metal rods driven into the pole that utility workers use to access electrical and phone lines.

Which was when I discovered why utility workers always wear heavy clothing and gloves, even in summer. Those telephone poles are not smooth. They are splinter fucking central.

Close up of a never-been-sanded telephone pole.

It was like climbing a porcupine–and I was wearing light cotton clothing. I collected slinters on my stomach, chest, and hands. I gritted my teeth, continuing until I was high enough to reach the cat.

This was the part that worried me. Cats are not the most rational or trusting creatures. Boss might fight me, or try and flee. And how was I going to carry her back down? I had not thought this rescue through.

I was an idiot.

Luckily, my cat was not an idiot. Boss Cat didn’t fight as I unhooked her claw. She immediately crept across the wire and my arm, settling herself smoothly across my shoulders. Like she’d totally thought this through while I was climbing. Or like she rode human elevators daily. The cat stayed put until we were about 8 feet off the ground. Then Boss Cat jumped down and went straight to Baby D, who carried her inside and fed her chicken.

I put away the ladder and spent the following week removing splinters.

The next time Baby D’s Cub Scout troop visited the local fire department, I did ask one of the firemen, “You guys don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do you?”

The nice young fireman said, “Actually, we will if we aren’t too busy.”


Author’s Note: If your cat ever does get stuck in a tree, who you gonna call? An arborist. 

The Extortionist (#281)

Our new cat didn’t just come with attitude. She also came with a serious weight problem. Boss Cat was big for a female cat, with large feet, a long body, and a very long tail. But you couldn’t say she was merely “big boned.” Like Garfield, her belly bulged over her feet. She could only play with a string for about 2 minutes before she got winded, even though she was only 2 years old.

We promised the rescue group we would put her on a diet. We bought  special “Fat Cat” food and doled it out by an eighth of a cup.  At the time, I wondered why her foster dad had let Boss get so fat.

After 2 days, I no longer wondered. Continue reading The Extortionist (#281)

New Cat (#278)

When my husband mellowed on the subject of a new cat, I contacted the group that had rescued our dog Fey from the streets of Los Angeles.

“We have a big dog who tries to play with everyone and everything,” I explained. “We mostly trained him out of chasing our old cats, but Woofie’s not totally reliable. Do you have a cat that’s okay with dogs?”

The volunteer said, “Oh, do we have a cat for you!” Continue reading New Cat (#278)

Felines & Persuasion (#273)

My child was always fascinated by cats.

My cats were only fascinated by my child when he was an immobile source of warmth. The minute he developed enough motor control to grab their fur, the cats were out.

Bat Cat and Commando Cat had been my pampered bachelorette cats. They grudgingly adapted to both husband and rescue dogs. But small fingers pulling fur? Hell no. They hid up in their scratching posts or heated cat bed.

Baby D had a boy-loving rescue dog who would have happily played chase or keep away with him for hours. But Baby D was contrary. He scorned the in-your-face, I-love-you-so-much creatures. He wanted the ones that were hard to get.

“This,” I told my husband, “does not bode well for his future dating life.” Continue reading Felines & Persuasion (#273)

Many Mothers. No Mom (#131)

IMG_7933 (1)
The Aisle of Pain

It was the year after Andy and I got married. It was the week before the United States would indulge in an orgy of brunches and flower arrangements.

Mother’s Day was coming at me. Much like a Mack truck. Of manure. Continue reading Many Mothers. No Mom (#131)

Commando Cat vs. Owen (#19)

This is Owen the Newfoundland. Darling of Clan Drooling.
This is Owen the Newfoundland. Darling of Clan Drooling.

When JM and Shamu moved out, little Bat Cat was lonely. I was lonely. I was definitely poorer. We found a new roommate – an actress with a dog.

Bat Cat and I decided being lonely was preferable. Continue reading Commando Cat vs. Owen (#19)