I was hanging out in the backyard watching Darby do his favorite Darby backyard thing --- run from one end of the yard to the other, stopping briefly to let out a few of his singularly Darby-like combo bark/howl sounds, tail raised so high on his back that it seems nearly impossible to believe that it is still connected to the rest of his spinal cord. He loves his territorial outbursts far more than our neighbors do, but in the middle of the afternoon there’s little effort made by us to stop him from indulging. Honestly, if a dog can’t rip a few out in the middle of Saturday afternoon, when can he?
I hear the thump of the fence and look to see Bad Kitty Bo coming over the top. At nearly fourteen, I’d much prefer that he stay in his own yard, but the house behind us is the only place he really goes, generally two or three times a day. It was vacant for nearly the first year that we lived here so it became the de facto hangout for the area cats, pet and stray alike. The family who recently moved in have small children but no apparent pets of their own, and don’t seem to mind much that their yard is part of the feline superhighway, connecting one dead-end street to another. The cats who use their yard as a combination pass-through/lounge don’t much cotton to the humans living there, so when someone threatens to walk outside they scatter pretty quickly to less inhabited digs.
Bo usually walks the length of the fence line until he’s over our compost bin, where he will drop down with a thud before the final hop back to the ground, but not this time. For this reentry he comes over the fence, scrambles his way to the second half-fence wall about foot further in from the property’s edge and drops down to the ground. It’s an indelicate reentry, not typical of his usual graceful style.
A few seconds later Brindle appears on the fence ledge. We don’t know his actual name, but my husband starting calling him “Brindle” due to his striking classic tabby pattern and it’s stuck with us to the point that Darby will react if you use while outdoors. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a true feral in the area since we moved here a little over a year ago. He is uninterested in our attention or affection, but is secure enough that he will skirt along the edge of the backyard while we are outside, making his way from one street to another. He seems to enjoy Bo’s company and will rest in our yard near Bo if Darby is safely indoors. Like Bo, he seems stressed, as though they were the recipients of an unwelcome surprise. Brindle quickly makes his way down the fence ledge and disappears into the yard of another neighbor.
I head in with Darby, ready to get back to a pet-related blog-a-thon that is taking place over the weekend. I’m not a participant, but I’m not sure the average houseguest would have known that, given my attention to it. After giving the doodlebug his treat for coming inside, I cross the living room to get back to my laptop. I glance out the back door at Bo, who is now sitting on the patio.
The first thing I notice are the weeds wrapped in his fur. After six-plus years of him hunting along the bank of the American River in Sacramento I thought I had seen every possible type of weed that can get stuck in the longish fur of a Maine Coon, but I was mistaken. The house behind us offers a new variety for my fur-picking pleasure. Turns out it is a variant of the foxtail family (naturally), only instead of having barbed seed pods these pesty plants have heads on them that can wind their way into fur like thread on a bobbin. Fortunately, Bad Kitty Bo knows when we are trying to help ease his discomfort and generally keeps his meathooks to himself while we are relieving him of his unwanted riders. I sigh, knowing this will further keep me from blog-a-thon lurking, and head out back to start picking him clean.
That’s when I see it.
A bright red splotch of fresh blood about the size of a quarter mars the soft white beauty of his chest.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Damn the world that he is wounded and damn that the hurt happened on a Saturday afternoon, the time when veterinary bills magically triple.
Of all the things Bad Kitty Bo does well, one the things he is the very best at is being hurt. Bo becomes the nicest, most compliant cat in the world when he doesn’t feel well. I pick him up gingerly, trying to avoid the wound area, and carry him into the house, calling for my husband to help me out as I get him to his table in the kitchen. Yeah, you read that part right. He has his own table in the kitchen. Technically it’s for all the cats, but being Bad Kitty Bo means it’s mostly his.
John grabs some paper towels, gets them wet and brings them to me, then holds and soothes Bo as I begin picking the weeds out of his fur, trying to get him as clean as possible before we begin the part that will hurt. I get the weeds as fast as possible and grab the first towel, still wondering who hurt him. There weren’t any sounds to indicate a cat fight, nor did I see him get hung up on anything coming over the fence but there’s no doubt that something bad went down.
But not to him.
It wasn’t until I was on paper towel number two before my brain caught up with my eyes. Yes, there was blood, and no small amount of it, but it didn’t belong to Bo. The bright sticky mass coated the first quarter inch of the fur on his chest, but his skin remained white as snow.
We checked, then rechecked him. We checked his chest, his neck, his jaw, his mouth. Nothing. Not even a scratch.
Bo, weed-free and tired of the inordinate amount of now unnecessary attention he was receiving, struggled to get free. His needs having been met, he loped off to a quiet sunny spot to relax.
We spent the next half hour watching him as he cleaned up behind our cleaning job, looking for signs that might indicate what might have taken place during his sojourn to account for his “injury”. No matter what theories we come up with, the only one who knows for sure is Bo.
And he ain’t talkin’.