Country life was the cat's meow. Really! It was everything we expected and a lot we didn't expect. Day to day, we never knew who we would find at the end of our driveway, on our doorstep, or even tied to a tree.
During the years we lived in the country, there was a steady stream of tail chasers and tail waggers that were dependent on the softness of our hearts. Some were in good health, having been dropped off at the end of our driveway. Others found us too long after they had been left to fend for themselves.
The parade of strays started the week we moved into our country home. Before all the boxes were unpacked, our kids found a very pretty calico cat and her three tiny kittens living in one of the sheds on our property. One female kitten was a calico, like her mother, the other female was pure black, and the only male wore a tuxedo.
The mother was feral. She had either reverted to wild or been born of a feral mother, so we had to warn our kids to stay away from her and her babies.
A week later, they found the calico kitten dead, its neck broken. We believed it may have been the victim of the black feral tom that we had seen lurking in the area. The mother was nowhere around so we worried about the two remaining kittens. A few days later, we found the mother cat dead by the side of our busy county road.
We rescued the two surviving kittens. The little male was already a wild man. We named him Hissy to suit his temperament, but once he lost his fear of us, he was quite the gentleman. His sister immediately won us over with her putt-putt purring so we named her Putt-Putt. They were the first of the many strays we would adopt over the next nine years.
Two years later we took in another stray: a tiny lost kitten that we named Blooper. We didn't find him on our property. We found him staggering down the center line of an asphalt road on a hot summer's day.
Then there was Curly, a yellow tabby who always held his tail in an arc. He would rub against our legs and “meow” as we worked outside, until one day I reached down to pet him.
He bit into the skin between my thumb and index finger and attached himself with such force that even when I stood up to pull away he dangled in the air. My husband came to my rescue and took him off, but we couldn't let him go. We had to keep him alive, well, and on our property until we could ascertain that he didn’t have rabies. Lucky for me, he didn't.
Learn more about stray and feral pets and what you can do to help them.
We kept him in a pen in our garage, the only out building that we were sure our other animals couldn't get into. After his 10-day incarceration, he became very wary of our presence and very belligerent when we approached him. Even so, he did not leave although we tried several times to chase him away. Finally, after about a year, he did leave and we never saw him again.
Cats weren’t the only animals that pulled on our heart strings. The first stray dog that came onto our place was Phantom. If malnutrition hadn't already been consuming her, she would have been a beautiful dog. She appeared to be an American Eskimo/Golden Lab cross. Even in her poor condition, her coat was soft and silk-like. Although she had the sweetest disposition imaginable, her breath was so rancid that we could hardly get near her.
When a week of feeding her didn't help her condition, we took her to the vet, but it was too late. It had been too late at the start. The malnutrition was so advanced that she was eating herself alive from the inside out. Our only choice was to mercifully put her out of her suffering.
Next was Puppy Smurf. When we found her, she was in great shape. In fact, my two children saw her previous owners kick her out of the car.
I had just recently had to Euthanize my 14 old dog, Mañana, and a puppy was the last thing I wanted, but my kids instantly fell in love with her. It took me a long time to warm up to her, but when I did, I found that she was a little black ball of fun. Unfortunately, though, country roads and puppies don't mix well. Before we could teach her to stay out of the road, we learned that hard lesson.
Last of all, there was Lady. She was a Sheltie-cross that a 'friend' insisted we take since she was moving to a place that didn’t allow pets. Although we already had two dogs and were planning a move ourselves, she was quite sure that we would give her dog a good home.
We flat out said, "No!" and Lady's owner left in a huff. The next day we woke up to find the dog tied to a tree in our yard with a note attached to her collar. The note apologized but went on to say Lady's owner just couldn't take the dog with her. She dropped her off and conveniently left the state. She didn't leave a forwarding address and we never saw her again.
We weren't the only family on our road that had a problem with acquiring strays. At one time our nearest neighbors had a total of 14 dogs; most of which were strays left at the end of their half-mile long driveway.
My experience with stray animals taught me that people shouldn't adopt an animal unless they are prepared to make a commitment to care for it for as long as the animal needs them. Each life has value, even Curly's. Although he never found a place in my heart, he did earn my respect for his persistence and strong will to live.