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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Miss Bonnie the Cat - Portrait of a Survivor

Warning: There are two photos, one of a headless woodpecker and another of a dead gopher. No blood is involved. If you don't like dead things, stop here.
We are pretty sure that Bonnie, or “Miss Bonnie,” as Ms. Pearl calls her, is our twelfth cat. All the other cats who lived with us in California succumbed to the forces of nature, one by one, in terrible ways. We had Sylvester, a striking black and white kitty, for  several years until he was found in the back yard, strafed and eaten by either a barn owl or a hawk. Stryker, optimistically named after the John Wayne character in The Sands of Iwo Jima, died after two years, victim of the local coyote/bobcat gang.

At this point you're wondering why we didn't keep our cats inside. Well, I grew up in a home with two allergic asthmatics, so any cats we had were relegated to the outside. Cats were outside animals, and that was the way it was. I was born this way.

When we moved to the Southern California countryside and a stray cat showed up at our doorstep or people said, "Want a kitten?"  these kitties became country cats,  rodent eradicators who lounged on the deck and around the garden, showing up for a pat or two when we were outside doing chores. They were not decorative, but there to earn their keep.  Country living, though, can be fraught with peril and disappearing cats were the norm.

Thinking there might be safety in numbers, we tried two cats at a time. Dirk and Al were tabbies Tom named after some roughtough characters in Clyde Cussler's novels. We still feel guilty about Dirk and Al because while we ate dinner and watched them through the kitchen window, Dirk and Al looked nervously over their shoulders. "They seem a little jumpy," I observed. The next morning they were gone, presumably to coyotes. It seems macho names didn't offer any special protection.

For years the fate of our cats seemed preordained, as Bob, Skeleton and Cougar also became coyote fodder. Even Arnold, another macho sounding name, fell to the onslaught. We have no idea if he fathered any illegitimate children along the way like a California governor of the same name. Dixie, a Siamese with a loud meow, lived almost nine years, but was diagnosed with cancer. Her secret to longevity? She insisted on living on the roof and took all her meals up there as well. She came down only if my dad visited, climbing down when she heard the Honda car driving up the dirt driveway.

Bonnie and Clyde, two purebred tortoiseshell Manx cats, came from a neighbor who would have drowned them because of their flawed tails. It seems that Manx cats' tails can't be too long or they will be worthless and can't be bred.  We figured their camouflaged Tortie fur might save them, but our attempt using killer names as good luck talismans was only half-successful: Clyde disappeared, gunned down, again by local coyotes. Bonnie prevailed and Tom installed two cat doors, one for the outside porch door and an inner one to the living room. She was a keeper; guilt, our motivator.

Bonnie has been the longest lasting of all the kitties, going on her thirteenth year with us. Extremely watchful, she is a killer in her own right, having brought numerous gophers, squirrels, birds, and sadly, baby rabbits, into our house at night, announced with a coy "meow," or a terrified scream from her prey. It became a common chore to clean up a pile of guts from her kill each morning. Sometimes all she left in the hallway was a head. Her favorite meal is gopher.

When we moved to New Mexico I was determined to counter Tom's careless, "Leave her!" attitude by bringing Bonnie with us. In a cage lined with puppy piddle pads and old towels, she accompanied me in the cab of the GMC pickup while Ms. Pearl kept Tom company in the Toyota. Bonnie's incessant meowing and her refusal to poop, even though I regularly placed her litter box into her cage, is what I remember most about that three-day travel ordeal.

 Before we left I attempted to get Bonnie used to a harness for walks, but she had a fit and ran away for a day. So no harness. While traveling I was afraid to let her out for fear she would disappear. It wasn't until the end of the second travel day that she stopped yowling and Tom made sure to remind me at each rest stop that Ms. Pearl was docile and cuddly throughout their journey together.

On the third and last day, the weather freezing outside, Bonnie finally let go.  There was some preliminary frantic activity, plaintive meowing and energetic scrabbling in the cage next to me. Suddenly, the air  became toxic and I had to drive with the window down in freezing weather, breathing only through my mouth. "I'm stopping," I gasped into the two way radio we were using to communicate. At the gas station I leaped out of the car, not caring that it was below freezing,  disposed of the contents of the cage (except for the cat), swabbed the interior with Nature's Miracle cleaner, relined the cage, added new towels, and we were on our way again. I had prepared for the worst and it was over. I could (almost) breathe easily, now.
Bonnie adapted quickly to her new home when Tom reluctantly installed some cat doors, and she is once again back on the prowl. Several dead birds, like this headless woodpecker, have been found in our yard. Maybe Bonnie heard us yelling at this particular woodpecker as it was ratatattatting on our roof one morning.  Tom and Ms. Pearl didn't feel any sympathy for the dead  Woody. When she brought a dead gopher into the living room for our approval,  I knew she was back on the job.

When Ms. Pearl was a puppy she made a genuine attempt to kill Bonnie, but has learned that Bonnie is a family member. They often take afternoon naps together on the couch. Ms. P is okay with this arrangement as long as Bonnie doesn't get crazy and start biting her ear.

Bonnie just put down the book. Pearl has never learned how to read.
 On a cold morning we usually wake to find both pets on the bed competing for Tom's attention. I'm allergic to cat fur so Bonnie lobbies Tom for a morning scratch by perching on his chest, peering into his face.

 Bonnie almost had some competition last year when a young stray arrived on our doorstep, instantly named Hobocat by unimaginative Tom. Just as Hobocat was getting to know and trust us, we had to make a trip back to California to see my parents.

When we returned, Hobocat was gone, even though Ernest made sure he and Bonnie were fed and watered. Another victim of the coyotes, and more proof of what a survivor Ms. Bonnie is.

Or maybe Bonnie, jealous as she is, did away with him while we were gone......


  1. I gave up on kittens and cats a long time ago. Just about the time you really get bonded, they disappear. So I rely on the neighborhood cats to handle the rodent problems.. Jeanie

  2. love the poop story...nothing worse than cat poop...and so glad you have a literary kitty...bonnie is a smaller version of our sadie...torties have very sweet personalities....theer

  3. Coyotes have been the culprets at our house also. We have had probably 50 cats. They all disappear just about the time I get attached.The last was a big tom--
    Snowball of course--we are not nearly as creative as you and Tom. When Snow left us, I determined after my days of grief to never get attached to a cat again. I haven't. Currently Bob has Smokey who I call Grey because she hates me, but it is Bob's cat!! shela

  4. culprits--I need to proof


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