He belongs to the world now, always a spunky tuxedo kitten with bright green eyes, big ears and black toes on his white boots. He should have had the good life we all want our cats to have, grown to a big cat, loved and cherished, and not dumped on a back road by careless, heartless owners to meet his end.
But I will do my best to see that he is not forgotten, and that his brief life makes a positive difference in the lives of other cats.
The Favorite Dumping Spot
Fifteen years ago this month I was driving home on a stretch of two-lane back road adjacent to a residential neighborhood near me. Suddenly in the shadows I saw what appeared to be leaves blowing around on the road and I slowed in automatic response.
The leaves slowed and regrouped and turned into a group of various-sized kittens before running to one side of the road and up a slight hill among the underbrush, one or two peeking back out at me. It turned out to be a group of five frightened kittens and of them I only caught two orange boys, one older and one younger who I wrote about in Kittens in the Night. I still remember the tiny tuxedo and tortoiseshell kittens, whose round faces should have been full of curiosity and mock kitten aggression but were instead frozen masks of fear, as they disappeared into the darkness behind the third orange boy.
I never saw another trace of them; there was a storm that night, and without cover tiny kittens would likely have easily succumbed to exposure or an upper respiratory infection. But from that night the experience has made me slow down and study the road and the vegetation on either side every time I drive there. I have seen cats or kittens there again through the years and learned that it’s a common dumping ground for kittens, which means it’s likely someone who lives close, but I’ve never successfully caught any, even with traps.
Still in Use
Near the end of June two years ago I drove down the same road, slowed and gave the area a good look as I always do when entering an area where I’ve seen or trapped cats or kittens. I saw a small shape on the road ahead of me, and even though my natural defenses tried to convince me it was not what I thought, I know that no other animal in our area is as solid black as a cat, or is the size and shape of a kitten lying on its side. Once you live with cats long enough, especially studying them to create artwork as I do, you recognize a cat even if you see only the tip of its tail disappear into the woods.
I slowed to stop, and indeed saw white paws, no mistaking this. No cars were coming but I didn’t care, I just didn’t want the kitten on the road, so I hopped out with a paper bag and ran up to him hoping he might only be injured and could be saved, but even though he was not badly damaged he had clearly crossed over. As I gently slid him into the bag I saw the black toes on his sweet white mittens and boots, the white belly and chin, a classic tuxedo cat, just about eight weeks old. I laid him in his bag on my back seat and tried not to think of him those last few moments of fear and pain he most likely suffered.
I knew it must have just happened within the hour, and even though I knew this was a classic kitten dumping spot so this kitten was likely abandoned, and I’d hate to deliver bad news to a family, I looked around to see the closest house but not that house nor any others showed anyone home. I would come back later. For now I needed to get home and hug all my cats. Sometimes when I’ve seen a companion animal hit along the road I’ll simply move it to the side so that if the owner is out looking they’ll find it, sad as that may be, but I had the feeling no one was looking for this kitten, and the brush came right to the side of the road anyway, so he was coming home with me.
No lost pet networks reported a lost tuxedo kitten. The weather was warm so, strange as this may sound, I put the kitten in my downstairs freezer; other animals’ remains have resided in the special plastic bin there as I’ve found birds and raccoons that have needed to be taken to the County Health Department for testing for West Nile Virus and rabies, respectively. Only the next morning did I find someone who was home at that house. She felt as badly as I did to hear the news and told me she’d recently seen what looked like a mama kitty and her baby on that section of the road, and though she didn’t remember what they looked like she had wondered where they’d come from. She had two indoor cats and one small dog plus two children so other cats rarely came near her yard, but she often saw cats around.
I knew I would never find this kitten’s owner, so next was to determine what to do with his little body. I had considered having him cremated at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and had called Deb the day before just to talk over the situation with a sympathetic ear.
I decided instead to bury him in my back yard in a safe place that wouldn’t be disturbed. Perhaps this was my unconscious inclination to “bury” the situation, and in a way it was to help rid my memory of the images and thoughts and while I engaged in a respectful burial to work out the new idea forming in my head. I got my tools and Cookie and we went out to the end of the yard; Cookie did not commit manual labor but was happy to supervise from the picnic table and provide moral support, and I dug a hole large enough to bury him.
While I had looked around for a door to knock on the previous evening, I had been visualizing what the kitten had looked like, sketching a portrait in my mind. Images are always building in my visual consciousness, and even in those circumstances visualizing a sketch isn’t unusual, in part it was to keep myself from visualizing him being hit by the car. But from that process developed the idea of using this portrait, this image given to me at that moment when I accepted his condition, and giving him a name as I would have if I’d rescued him, and using this identity to help other kittens and cats avoid the same fate in some way.
I took the kitten from the plastic and paper bags and set him on our picnic table so he looked as if he was sleeping there in the dappled sun, and stroked his soft shiny kitten fur. Cookie settled on her favorite edge and watched as I did a quick pencil then marker sketch of what I felt the kitten had looked like, and as a last-minute whim I gave him a toy. What you see above is that sketch, drawn from study, from imagination, and through no small amount of tears. Then I laid the kitten in his little grave and covered him and tossed pieces of broken block and brick over his grave—not the traditional cairn, but what I had on hand at the end of my yard.
Mr. Mistoffelees, The Forever Kitten
Mr. Mistoffelees, named for the clever character in T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, will always be a playful kitten, forever loved and cherished, ready to grab your ankle from behind the chair or tuck a toy into your pocket for you to find later in the day. And perhaps as the Original Conjuring Cat he can conjure homes for homeless kittens!
And it is no coincidence that he appeared in June, Adopt-a-Cat Month. He represents all those homeless, unwanted kittens born to unspayed mother cats and who appear in the millions in shelters every summer during “kitten season”. Shelters are overburdened with homeless animals to begin with, then the influx of all these kittens forces them to drastic measures to handle only what they are permitted to manage.
All it takes is a spay or neuter, and if a cat does have kittens it’s a much better idea to surrender them to a shelter and spay the mother instead of dumping them off somewhere to become someone else’s problem, and to likely die an untimely death. Mr. Mistoffelees reminds everyone to be responsible!
This was my first draft of the sketch—before I had the benefit of daily practice with my Daily Sketches—and I’ve always intended to refine it. I used the simple line style in this version so that I can either cut a linoleum block print and fill the color areas with watercolor or I can create a three-color screen print. This idea has waited this long because that June, in 2010, I had just moved my mother to skilled nursing and Peaches was in kidney failure; both continued to fail and I lost both of them within months. Now I have the time, the materials and the studio space to carry this idea through.
Thanks for listening to the story. I still feel a twinge of sadness for the little Jellicle Cat, but I hope by giving Mr. Mistoffelees a new life I can see my way through to a somewhat happy ending.
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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.