Last week my husband found himself in need of a computer monitor. In our part of SE Utah, if you need affordable computer parts of middling quality right away, you drive the 160 mile round trip to the nearest Walmart, located in the shadow of Mesa Verde in Cortez, Colorado. He left late and returned home about 1:30 a.m. Our household keeps late hours so we were all up when he arrived. He came through the door in obvious distress carrying something wrapped in a sheet of plastic. He’d hit a cat that ran out in front of him near a neighbor’s house about a mile and a half away. When he stopped the car and turned it around to see what had happened to the cat, he found it lying in the road, down on its side but still breathing. Rather than wake the cat’s (possible) owners at 1:30 in the morning, he brought the unfortunate creature home.
The kids fetched a box and I warmed towels in the dryer. The cat €”white with black spots, including oval black spots on each white shoulder €”looked totally out of it, eyes closed, blood dripping from its mouth. We drive a Ford Expedition. My husband said the accident sounded like a solid hit and he suspected the creature had suffered a serious head injury and wouldn’t last long. How could collision with an Expedition turn out well for such a soft body? He wanted to give the cat somewhere comfortable to die rather than just leave it lying in the middle of the road. We put the cat in the box near a heater and it understood right away that this was where it needed to be and settled in. It could barely open its eyes. We covered it with the warm towels. The kids talked to it and petted it, avoiding its obviously injured head €”a broad, square head, suggesting the animal was a tomcat. We all went to bed wondering if we would find him alive when we woke the next morning.
I rose first the next day and found the cat still in the box and yet alive €”a good sign and better results than expected. But he barely moved to any touch, and from time to time both husband and thirteen-year-old daughter had to lay a hand along his side to determine if he was still breathing. After talking details over with husband and kids, we made a guess as to whom the cat belonged and I braced myself for a sad phone call to my neighbors.
The neighbor was disappointed about her cat being hit but not surprised. Out here, we’re all pretty pragmatic about our cats, which we lose frequently if we let them outside at all. We have lost one cat ourselves to its being hit by a car and two others to unknown causes, which could include anything from foxes to coyotes to coyote traps to kids with guns to big hawks and owls. The neighbor told us the cat’s name was Oreo. I said that if it was all right with her, we would like to keep Oreo at our house and watch over him for better or for worse. If he died, we would bury him. We did indeed suppose we were keeping a deathwatch and that the cat deserved to die in peace instead of in the home of the owner where he might possibly be subjected to pokings and proddings from numerous kids, including a baby. That was fine with the neighbor €”she really didn’t want to deal with the problem, didn’t want her kids upset, and wanted to talk to her husband to decide what to do, but he was away getting job training and was unreachable. The big question, of course, was whether or not they could afford to take Oreo to a vet and find out if he could be treated for his injuries.
So with my husband and two ambulatory kids checking often to see if Oreo was still alive, we continued our deathwatch. At about 3 p.m., my daughter petted Oreo, and much to everybody’s astonishment, and without lifting his head or moving in any other way, he purred. A little later, he raised his head and cleaned some of the blood off his paws. He started talking to our cats, especially the Munchkin Sisters, the two short-legged, unspayed female cats we keep in the house (we have one fulltime outside and two part-time outside cats as well). Around 5 p.m., Oreo began standing up in the box to change his position more frequently, each time lying back down and falling instantly asleep.
At 7:30, he suddenly stood up, stretched, stepped out of the box and walked to the door. Thinking he was too weak to go far, I told the kids to let him out, he probably needed to relieve himself. Once he achieved freedom, I realized I’d made a mistake. He ran off, dodging the kids trying to catch him with amazing energy for having been so recently mostly dead. He holed up beneath one of the sheds we have in our front yard €”the burnt-out refrigerator box of a delivery truck €”and wouldn’t come out. The kids tried coaxing and prodding him, but he refused to cooperate. When darkness and cold descended, I called kids in because both were ill, telling them, €œWe did the best we could, Oreo’s on his own now. I’m not putting you guys at further risk. €
I called the neighbor and told her, €œThe patient recovered fully … but he … um … escaped. Hopefully, he’s on his way home, please keep watch for him and let us know if and when he arrives. € Although my neighbor seemed more amused than anything by this surprising turn of events, I regretted losing the cat. After everything, it would have been nice to return him to the owner myself. But we had taken good care of Oreo, providing him comforting touch and a warm place by a heater to not die.
The next morning I went outside and climbed into the cat-crunching SUV to leave for yoga class. I looked over my shoulder to back out of our dirt driveway and caught sight out of corner of my eye of something strange up on our roof. It was Oreo. He had somehow climbed up there and jammed himself into the rain gutter on the NE corner of the house. I stopped the SUV and went over to talk to him. He meowed back but looked completely miserable. Spring here scrapes in on abrasive winds, some of which were blowing hard at that time. Dark skies to the south and east promised even worse weather to come.
After thinking the situation over, I guessed that he would keep ’til after class and I went on my way. Even if he did come down from the roof, given that he hadn’t gone far after escaping, I figured that he knew he still needed help and would stick around the house where he had already received it. Everyone inside was still sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb them with clanging ladders, etc.
When I returned home after class I saw that Oreo had indeed maintained position hunkered down in the rain gutter. I woke my daughter, who has a fine way with cats. I warmed some leftover chicken and with my daughter went out to see if we could coax Oreo out of the rain gutter. He could smell the chicken. We talked to him a little, he talked back, then we raised the ladder. As soon as the ladder touched the roof, Oreo grasped the situation and worked his way along the edge of the roof to the ladder. My daughter went up while I held ladder steady with one hand and balanced the tantalizing chicken with the other. She petted Oreo, then picked him up, backed down ladder, handed the cat to me, and came the rest of the way down. We took Oreo inside and fed him the chicken, which he gulped down with gusto.
At that point I wanted to get Oreo back to his home before we either lost him again or became too attached to let him go. I called my neighbor and told her, €œWe got him. We’ll be over with him in a few minutes. € We put Oreo in his box and my daughter held him while I drove.
At my neighbor’s house, we took the cat inside and let him out of the box. Right away, he knew where he was and obviously felt very happy about being home, winding himself around and through my neighbor’s shins. She was quite appreciative of our taking care of Oreo while he got back on his four feet.
It was an unexpectedly happy ending. And now we understand better where those nine lives stories come from. In Oreo vs. Ford Expedition, Oreo came out far better than expected, and what we supposed would be a tragedy turned out to be an amusing and educational adventure. Husband was deeply delighted he didn’t kill somebody’s cat and agreed when I said, “Isn’t it nice to have a success like this? € My thirteen-year-old, who expects to be a naturalist one day, mused repeatedly on how our first animal rehabilitation effort had turned out very well. A follow-up call to Oreo’s owners a week later found the cat alive and well and apparently suffering no complications from his run-in with our tank.