Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tribute to Dusty the Shelter Cat

Nancy Czerwinski's short story about a shelter dog...


reminds me that last week I promised to post a funeral tribute to Dusty the cat here.

Regular readers may remember the story of how Dusty came to the Cat Sanctuary. Graybelle had disappeared, leaving me with three kittens to try to rear. The kittens weren't exactly thriving on formula. If a mother cat who'd lost kittens could be found, maybe the kittens could survive. I went to two shelters in search of a mother cat. The second shelter had just taken in a stray found beside a road, with her coat so full of dust that it was hard to be sure what her real color might turn out to be. She had obviously lost a few kittens. I took her to the vet across the street to make sure she wasn't infected with any deadly cat diseases. She seemed healthy. She seemed overjoyed to be rescued, even by a human who already belonged to other cats. The shelter wanted her to have a name for their records, and the only name that came to mind was "Dusty."

During the next two weeks Dusty was an indoor cat. She was friendly and learned her name quickly. Her real color was gray, but not the same shade of gray it had first appeared to be. She did not bond with Graybelle's kittens. She was much more interested in Bounce and Pounce, two young unaltered male cats who were about ready to move on to their permanent homes, and complained about not being allowed out to spend more time with them. She had obviously been a pet, and accepted me so quickly and completely that we wondered whether her original human had died. But there was a problem. Dusty was not accustomed to the luxury of a litter box. Some cats, given the choice, prefer to wrap rather than bury. Ignoring all suggestions about the litter box I'd provided, Dusty didn't presume to ask for newspapers or shopping bags, but quietly pulled laundered, stored clothing out of a storage box, wrapped everything in fabric, and hid it behind the box.

So Dusty went to live with a friend of the Cat Sanctuary, happily ever after...well, sort of happily. Pounce and Dusty had really been "in love." For that summer and the next summer, both of them seemed so uninterested in other cats that their permanent human families didn't think they needed to be spayed or neutered, although neither family wanted kittens. It's rare for cats to be monogamous, but not unknown. For more than a year both of these cats probably mourned.

Of course, the contract of Dusty's adoption had specified that after the kittens had died or been weaned Dusty would be spayed. Dusty's humans procrastinated. A spayed cat can still adopt and nurse kittens; since Dusty showed no interest in starting more kittens, they said, she must already have been spayed. No scar was visible, but the operation was postponed.

Dusty was nothing special to look at, her permanent family and I agreed...until one day someone saw her and asked, "Is that a Russian Blue cat?" The Russian Blue breed was produced by crossbreeding Siamese and ordinary gray tabby cats, but whether Dusty had any real Russian ancestry or was only a similar crossbreed will never be known. Her permanent family seemed happier about her appearance after realizing that Dusty could be mistaken for a fancy breed.

Anyway Dusty was extremely human-friendly, and converted at least one man who, though generally animal-friendly, had thought of himself as a dog person for eighty years.

During the next six years Dusty ruled the animal population of her neighborhood. For a nondescript little city stray who never weighed more than six pounds, she turned out to be quite an imperious little Queen, asserting her dominance by dirty street fighting when other animals weren't sufficiently impressed by her confident approach to humans. Her family included a few dogs during her reign. They recognized her reign as Queen Cat, too.

What the household did not include were mice, crickets, or other vermin. Dusty absolutely barred those.

Eventually the male kitten Steelgray reached a stage in life where the one dominant adult male cat the Cat Sanctuary has kept, Mackerel, and I agreed that he needed to be either neutered or adopted. A friend agreed to have Steelgray neutered, then decided to leave him as he was and keep him as a pet, partly because after beating him in a few fights Dusty accepted him as a mate. This convinced her humans that Dusty needed to be spayed. Like many cats (and humans) Dusty found physical sterility no great obstacle to True Love. Although they didn't have kittens of their own, Dusty and Steelgray adopted a few abandoned adolescent cats over the years.

How old was Dusty, really? The shelter workers and I had thought she was a spring kitten, but she was a small, slim cat and never seemed much older than she'd been when I met her. Only in May did she suddenly start to look gaunt and "old." She didn't seem to be in pain but she must have known something was wrong; she solicited attention even more eagerly than she usually did. Petting her, feeling the vertebrae stand out through her thin skin, I said to her human godfather, "You ought to take her to the vet." In June I asked whether he'd taken Dusty to the vet, and he said, "No; she died."

She was preceded in death by Steelgray and is survived by her last foster kitten, Little Mo, who was born at the Cat Sanctuary. It's fair to say that Dusty was dearly loved and will be missed by humans, cats, and possibly even dogs.

All shelter pets have survived severe emotional traumas. Adopting a shelter pet is not as smooth as adopting a friend's kitten or puppy who already knows you and agrees with you that it's time s/he had a home of her/his own. Nevertheless, some shelter pets are worth the initial drama. Dusty was more humane than mousetraps, more environmentally correct than insecticides, a good trainer for puppies, and a delightful companion for humans.