~ ABC Dog School ~
Traveling Bob
Copyright 2004 Carole J Sulser
   He ambled in one day, an old wreck of a cat.  With his dull, dirty, scruffy coat and bony frame, he looked as though he had been on the road of life too long, and it had been a rough road at that.  The edges of his ears were ragged, rolled up in places, probably having suffered frostbite, and the end of his tail was gone.
     I looked upon this drop-in with consternation and repugnance.  Not only was he another mouth to feed, but he was the ugliest cat I had ever seen.  His coat, besides being dirty, was a solid dreary gray, on the brownish side, and his face was long and homely.
     I discovered quickly that he was friendly.  Unlike Mama Cat, who sneaks in for a meal of cheap food and races away at the sight of me, this cat was eager for contact.  When he approached me with the intention of rubbing against my leg and hoping for a caress, I backed away.
     It was winter then, and a year since I had put a feeder in the garage for Mama Cat, to help her survive the ravages of nature.  I decided that it was time to move the feeder to another location so I could close the garage door on the coldest nights, and now I had another reason to do so.  I didn't want to encourage this scuzzy intruder to take up residence so close to the house.
     So, carrying the feeder, I coaxed the old gray cat to follow me to the detached cement block garage where we keep the mowers and a lot of other things, and there I placed it on the picnic table so it would be off the floor, which gets wet when it rains. To my dismay, he followed me back to the house!
     He was obviously in need of help, and I couldn't turn him down, but I hoped he would leave  when he had rested and fueled up.  But, day after day, there he was.  "Isn't it about time for you to move on?" I would say to him.  And he would just walk along behind me, hoping I would give him some attention.
     In February, I participated in the local follies.  Included in the show, was a spectacular number from the musical, "Cats," followed by the beautiful song, "Memory."  When the gal who was doing such a wonderful job of singing this tear-jerker got to the line, "Touch me...if you touch me you'll know what happiness is..." I thought of Bob.
     Bob was what I was calling him by then.  Traveling Bob, actually, as he was a traveler, and because of his tail, which seemed to have been accidentally bobbed in a mishap, with a door probably, not an uncommon occurrence with cats.  I couldn't help but choke up a little as I listened to the song and considered that friendly old cat.  I wondered what he had endured in his lifetime.  Whatever it was, he didn't hold it against the human race, and all he asked was to be touched.
     And so I touched him.  Only a little at first, a small pat on the head, a light swipe along his back.  I even let him rub on my pantleg after a time.  A transformation had taken place shortly after his arrival, in that he was no longer dirty.  I had to wonder what had caused him to be in that condition if he was capable of cleaning himself.  But Bob couldn't tell me his story.
     I got used to Bob.  I was careful about driving in and out of the garage.  When someone else drove in or out of the driveway, I made sure he was out of the way.  The dogs, however, did not get used to Bob.  His trips to and from the building where the food was, always caused a stir.  He didn't seem to fear them though, and if he saw me in the dog yard, he would approach the fence, while dogs went berserk.  The day he jumped to the top of the fence, I knew that there was something he needed badly enough to tke the risk.  I immediately went out the gate and called him.  Together we went to the building where the feeder sat empty.  He had got his message across.
     Bob was a silent cat.  I don't recall that he ever meowed for attention, or food, or for the joy of it.  Except once.  It was a strange sound, loud and mournful, a throaty rippling undulation, emanating from deep within this ancient soul.  It seemed as though he were expressing a great sadness.
      Although I provided Bob with food and shelter, looked out for his safety, and gave him a minimal dose of affection now and then, I did not consider him to be my cat, nor did I acknowledge him when reporting the number of cats in my household.  When asked by someone, or when filling out a coupon, I would always say "five," for that is the number of housecats I had.
     It was a warm spring day in March when Bob and I went for a walk together.  I was curious about a barking dog behind the neighbor's vacant house, so I set off down the road to investigate.  I thought Bob would turn back before we went very far, but to my surprise, he followed me all the way to the house.  The barking was more distant by then, and I knew I would not be seeing the dog, but I found it quite enjoyable to go walking with Bob.  I thought about where he might have come from and if he had left voluntarily.  Why would he leave home in the winter?  Or had someone taken him for a ride?
     I found as I turned toward home, that I was concerned about what he would do, and when he hesitated to follow, I called him.  When he had trouble keeping up, I slowed down.  And I began to wonder what would happen to him if I packed up and moved to another house far away.
     Bob's strength seemed to ebb away in the following weeks, and one morning in April, the day before Easter, I found him huddled in the head-down-I-don't-feel-so-good position, under a stand in the garage.  Upon examination, I was only able to determine that he was in pain, but I didn't know where.  As I probed his ribcage, I heard a low growl.  My heart went out to him that day.  He was clearly suffering and he simply did not deserve it.  He rode to the vet's in a cardboard box, too weak to climb out, and came home several days later, thin and wobbly, with no diagnosis made.  He had been treated with antibiotics and tested negative for feline leukemia. 
     Suspecting that he was unable to get to the feeder in the building, I moved it to the garage, and added canned food and Lixotinic vitamins to his morning meal.  The night before he fell ill, I had heard a ruckus and spotted another cat outside.  I was advised to protect him from this leonine intruder, but I had no place to put him.  A week later I heard the squalling again and ran out to rescue Bob, but there were no cats in sight.  I wondered if Bob would survive, but the next morning he was in his usual place, sleeping.
     I had an early appointment that day. "I'll feed you when I get back," I told him.  When I returned, I failed to notice whether he was there or not.  When I put his food out, he was nowhere around, and when the food remained uneaten, I began to worry.  Maybe he has gone off to die, I thought, and I was overcome with remorse.  I berated myself for not checking on him earlier.  He was always there.  I took it for granted.  Now he had slipped away unnoticed, to die alone.
     I cried.  And I looked for him.  And I cried some more.  And when I had caught up with my morning chores, I walked down the road, calling to him.  Maybe I would see him lying in the field.  Maybe I wouldn't be too late.  Still no Bob.  Then I peered into the field along the edge of the yard, and suddenly became aware of him, curled up in the weeds.  I thought he was dead until he raised his head.
     What a relief it was to see him rise to his feet!  "Come on," I said to him, "Let's go eat breakfast."  He ambled slowly and weakly along behind me.  I was tempted to carry him, but didn't.  Bob was delighted to discover the canned food that was waiting for him.  I wondered if he was deaf.  It would explain why he doesn't seem to notice the bedlam he causes with the dogs, but he always seems to know when I enter the garage with his food.
     I don't know when I will be leaving this place, but I know that Bob will not be abandoned.  Perhaps nature will take its course and he will disappear again, never to return.  Or maybe I will have to end his suffering and give him a proper burial.  But if his spirit is tenacious and his will is strong, I suppose that he and I will travel a little farther down the road together.  I will notice him more, and touch him more, and I won't ask him if it isn't about time for him to be moving on.

     I found him one day in June, lying in a flower bed with a Johnny Jumpup clenched in his mouth.   He'd been there long enough to grow cold, and it was obvious that he'd had a seizure or convulsion of some sort.  I buried him nearby, under a yellow juniper, and not far from the garage, his last home.