Of mice, grumpy men and cats looking for the maternity ward

Burt's Eye View

All my life, I’ve had this distressing problem with animals. They like me.

It’s nearly impossible to keep up my reputation as a grumpy old codger with a kitten curled up in my lap. What’s a grouch supposed to do?

My childhood was filled with cats, dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, goldfish, a baby sister and a pony. Critters crawled, clomped and clattered everywhere.

Now I’m an adult with a postage stamp-sized backyard. We’ve hosted a red-tailed hawk, a black bear, deer, fox, rabbits, ducks and, just last week, a convention of about two dozen wild turkeys.

This is fine. I love nature — as long as nature stays where it’s meant to be, which is outdoors. Nature doesn’t.

From the comfort of my living room recliner, often with the assistance of an inherited cat, I’ve gaped at a circus of bats, mice, moles, toads, grasshoppers and chipmunks. The squirrels were content to scamper through the attic.

People ask if I have any pets. No — the pets have me.

There were some that objected. When I was in college, I found a garter snake. I named it Fred and gave it a lovely home in a fish bowl in my room. One morning, Fred was gone. I considered asking the people in the neighboring apartments if they’d seen him, but I figured I would have already heard them if they had.

When my daughter, Melissa, was young, her pets included two hamster escape artists. Once, I startled awake at 3 a.m. to see a twitching, fuzzy mass with long teeth sitting on my chest staring back at me. When I finally unclamped my fingers from the ceiling and stopped hollering, we returned that hamster to her plastic castle.

We never saw the second hamster again. I slept fitfully for months.

When my mother-in-law passed, her big, ol’ cat Molly passed on to us. Molly never saw a mouse, mole or chipmunk that she didn’t think would be the perfect present for me. I never agreed, but she kept gifting me anyway.

Finally, Molly left us, too. Terry and I said that’s it, no more pets. We were done.

Then a neighborhood cat wandered into our yard.

“No,” I said.

“But she looks hungry,” Terry said. She sat on the back porch with bacon from breakfast and began taming the cat.

The cat dropped by every so often. Eventually, Terry invited it inside.

“No,” I said.

“Only in the kitchen,” Terry said.

Some weeks, she hung around a lot. Often, days would go by without a feline visit before she’d tiptoe once again into the kitchen, eat and leave.

“See,” Terry said. “No problem.”

Recently, the cat hadn’t been around for days. Then there she was Tuesday, yowling on the back porch. Terry let her in. The cat nibbled. Then she began crying and cuddling up to Terry. She is not a cuddly kind of cat. Terry recognized the signs.

And that’s how Terry became a midwife to a guest cat in our kitchen. A feline that never belonged to us. Now with kittens.

“No,” I said, holding one of the four newborns in my palm. I stroked the downy back. The kitten nestled in and slept. “Um, we could name this one Snuggles.”

I think we’ve been adopted.

What’s a grouch supposed to do?

— To adopt four kittens and their mother, write the old softy at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.

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