Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Devon, our thirteen-year-old cat, is king around here. Born, and within days orphaned, in a Mississippi barn, we rescued him and his sister from near death when we found them curled up together, all bones and fleas. And near death he has been a few times since.
Soon after arriving in Vermont ten years ago — after riding in the back of the car for twenty-something hours — he was snagged by an owl in the middle of the day as I watched, screaming, in horror. My No! No! No!s apparently spooked the owl enough that it never got full grasp of the cat, and it dropped him just inches from the ground.
Just last summer, when one would think a cat of such advanced years would be content to stay curled up on someone’s bed at night, he was out exploring. In the morning, as we were packing up to leave town for the weekend, I discovered him on a chair looking uncharacteristically lethargic. Petting him, I realized he was hurt. Very hurt. Deep holes on both sides of his body were obvious animal bites.
Although around this time a fisher cat had been spotted in the area, we have never been able to verify if one of these vicious animals was the culprit. One vet thought it was more likely to be a dog, another said that the position of the bites was consistent with a fisher’s manner of jumping on its prey from above. That the cat survived not only the attack, but also the surgery to repair his stomach, is a miracle. Today, this tenacious little thing is back out climbing trees and protecting his castle from unwelcome strays, even ones twice his size.
But into this kingdom, into his inner sanctum, we had the audacity to bring not one, not two, but three such homeless creatures. First, it was a goofy, bouncy, tail-wagging, behind-sniffing, take-up-the-whole-bed, cat food-eating, attention-hogging, loud dog. The king was not pleased.
At first, unlike his sister, who hid from the canine intruder, Devon made it known this was his domain and he was not going to be displaced. Sauntering through the house, upon coming face to face with a big, black, wet nose eager to smell him up good, Devon would fly up and with a hiss, smack the dog in the face. After a few painful nicks on his snout, the dog quickly learned who was regent.
Four years after the arrival of Dog, two hissing, prowling, back-arching, lap-stealing felines sat their furry haunches down in Devonland. Again, the king was not pleased. But, it seems even cats can mellow with age. Early on, he made his presence and position in the hierarchy known to the newcomers by wandering into whichever room they were occupying at the time and staring them down. Then, turning tail with a sweep of privileged nonchalance, he would depart, leaving behind him the two younger cats on their toes, sprung like a couple of bows. Soon he’d ignore them altogether, undoubtedly enjoying their wide-eyed wariness.
This past week, something changed. One evening, I entered my daughter’s room to find Devon sharing the expanse of the bed with one cat, while the other, the one who runs for cover if you so much as look at her, sniffed around the corners of the bed, apparently more curious than concerned. Yesterday I found the warm sun patch in front of the door occupied by Devon and one of the other cats. As I watched quietly, they both wandered towards the middle, and, almost as if they felt it an obligation, non-committedly and clawlessly batted at each other, more high-five-ish than anything else. Returning to their opposite corners of the patch, sunbathing resumed.
And this morning, the most amazing thing of all. The dog, the one who side-eyes His Royal Catness whenever He approaches and quickly vacates the bed in front of the stove when He requires warmth for His old bones, yes, this dog, was curled up next to the cat, both seemingly as relaxed as you’d imagine anyone nestled in front a fire on a cold morning would be.
Devon’s been through some things in his time upon this planet; he’s played hard and he’s fought hard. He even grieved hard when his sister died. (Most of his hair fell out. It did grow back eventually). He’s earned his place in front of the fire.
But, even this old boy saw there was no point living in discord with newcomers and those of different ways. He still struts his stuff, but at the end of the day (or at the beginning or middle), he, as the other cats do, just wants a comfy place to lay his head, a cozy lap to get loves in, and a dish of yummy, very soft food (his teeth aren’t what they used to be). Spitting and clawing, living on edge as if you are in perpetual danger from those with whom you live, isn’t a great way to live. It’s no way to live at all. Once in awhile, negotiations over curl-up spots or bowls of milk might be in order, but if the bop on the nose is without malice, everyone can find their own place in the sun patch.