I am the blessed human owned by Rosamunda, a gray tabby cat. She came into my life two days before the old stray cat that my son had brought home last spring died. I won't dwell on what a heartbreak that death was. If interested, please read my blog entry Rosamunda.
The point is that Rosamunda was a street cat initially, so I made sure her safe apartment cat life, involving plenty of food and not much physical activity, wouldn't turn her into a depressed tub of lard, with the painful, and costly, prospect of a diabetic old age. I walked her regularly, on a leash. We did well. She was stimulated by the neighborhood urine scents, bird sounds, and squirrels’ acrobatics. We graduated from the nearby puny park with its dried grass baseball field to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. But though we enjoyed the flower bed designs and the excitement we caused in other humans who had never seen before a cat on a leash, so they eagerly had to Facebook Rosamunda, our exploits were limited by the park's policy. No pets were allowed to explore the bushes, their walking restricted to paved areas only.
Thus the day came when we took off for the larger vistas of meadows where people sunbathed, ate cucumber sandwiches, flirted, played Frisbee, and so on. It was a hot summer day. I allowed Rosamunda to stay in the shade of a bush, my hand holding tightly her red leash.
A bunch of youngsters passed by, and one of them shouted, ‘Look, a cat on a leash! Look, there into the bush! You can see the red leash! There! There!’ and Rosamunda scurried deeper and deeper into the bush, and I quietly tried to follow her, until the leash got tangled in the thorny branches, and she got out of her harness. In vain I and the youngsters tried to catch her, in vain I called her name, she was gone. She was gone, gone. I sat on a flat stone shuttered. My beloved Rosamunda was gone. At the first occasion she fled me. I thought I was a good guardian to her, but I was wrong, bitterly wrong. Rosamunda ran away at the first occasion. I was deluding myself all this time. She didn’t love me, foolish me, she hated me, resented me that I had to have her spayed, she ran away from me, back to the streets, I was but a jailer, a slave owner, she was my captive. How I misperceived. I sat on that stone stunned, crying, trying to contain myself. At intervals I’d go back into the bushes and call her name, but she was gone. Maybe even exited the park at the speed she was running. I was a slave owner imagining myself a benefactress.
After hours of fruitless waiting, I tied a part of her red leash on a tree, and left crushed, speechless. I went to the animal shelter nearby my home to report her missing. I couldn’t stop crying, feeling ridiculous. But the intake person soothed me. Maybe my Rosamunda was already found by someone and brought in. Maybe she was waiting for me. He took me to see all the cats waiting in their cubicled cages. Some of them were sullen, others were even hidden behind curtains, because they were unfriendly, aggressive. Cage after cage without my Rosamunda. So many cats, I could love them all, bring them back home, but they were not my Rosamunda, my Rosamunda was lost in the huge park, in the immense city. The shelter man said his cat once disappeared for three days, and came back jumping on the garbage bins, meowing under his window. There was hope. Often they came back to where they were lost. There was hope. I nodded sniffling.
And then I saw Sebastian in a cage! He was a kitten, a tabby like Rosamunda, only he had white feet, and a white patch on his chest. He was actively, eagerly seeking my attention. He leaned into the wired cage for me to pet him. And he wanted more and more of my caress. I told the attendant, ‘I want to take him home. I can’t cope with the misery of no Rosamunda. I must take Sebastian home. Can I take him now?’ He said there was a process to go through. A three-day wait time for its owner to claim him back. It was Sunday, so by Tuesday if his owner didn’t claim him, I’ll be the first on the adoption list.
It was evening by then. I went back to the park, asked my way around, where is the Northern Meadow, by a bridge, please, I lost my cat there. A young couple helped me get to my red ribbon tree, and they stayed, calling with me, ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda!’ until the girl’s mother called on the phone and when she heard about me, this lady who lost her cat, she probably alerted her daughter I might be a dangerous nutcase, so they left me. I stayed in the dark, imagining bad things. I cried her name for an hour, but she was gone. My Rosamunda was gone. I asked my way towards the West Side exit from a dog walker, and as I went towards it, I’d call from time to time, ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda,’ to no avail. I was ashamed, here I am a cat lady walking about the dangerous alleys of Central Park at night, calling Rosamunda, Rosamunda.
Near the park exit I saw the young couple seated on a bench. The girl said she heard Rosamunda responding! After they left me, they kept on calling, ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda!’ themselves! And she answered. Where? Up on the boulders! We climbed with the young man, his smart phone in flash light mode, calling her. We saw a pair of glinting eyes. ‘There she is!’ the boy cried, scaring the eyes into hiding. Definitely not a cat person, young man. I stayed on the boulder after he left, and called my Rosamunda, but after awhile I felt danger. Raccoons. Coyotes. I shimmied down the stone and walked out of the park, then headed north along the tall stone wall. I passed by the young couple, again were seated on a bench, and the girl called to me, that they saw Rosamunda up on the jutting boulders. They saw her! ‘How did she look like?’ ‘White and black.’ ‘That is not Rosamunda.’ Nevertheless, I went in the brush with the young man once more, and called her name, but no one responded. I assumed she found other stray cats and had to shut up, the alpha cat growling at her, it was for the safety of the group.
I left, hoping in my sorrow that her new cat family would be kind to her, if this is what she wanted, and not me. I barely slept, fearing she got raped by tomcats, bitten, or eaten by raccoons.
In the morning I went back, walked stealthily through the brush, and I saw a black cat, who stared at me, then disappeared. Indeed a colony of cats was living there, hiding during day, prowling at night.
I went and talked to the park rangers. Not much hope. They didn’t have the capacity to rescue cats lost in Central Park. I emphasized there was an entire colony of feral cats up on the boulders. Yeah, but they just didn’t have the man power… I went to the Conservatory Garden where once I saw the workers setting traps to catch feral cats, and I talked to a gentleman who said he himself had owned four cats but when he moved to a smaller apartment he had to give them away. He didn’t find me ridiculous. But they couldn’t help me with a cat trap; or mount a rescuing expedition for my Rosamunda.
I left. To my surprise they called from the animal shelter that Sebastian was up for adoption, even if it was just Monday. Could I come at 7 p.m. to sign the papers? I cancelled my evening appointments and eagerly went to meet Sebastian. As I was waiting in the hallway a team of policemen came dragging a large plastic cage, containing what appeared to be a drugged dog. I asked them if they rescued dogs, couldn’t they help me with my Rosamunda? No, they couldn’t, they gave me the cold shoulder and they were suppressing a malevolent laughter. Came out that dog was not a dog, but a coyote! And he wasn’t brought in for adoption, but to be put to sleep. A coyote had come all the way from the woods to the city, running along the highways! It was not good. My Rosamunda might be dead by now, I moaned. Raped. She was like me when I left for the big city, a bright-eyed girl falling prey to a gang of rapists.
But the shelter attendant assured me Rosamunda being fixed, won’t attract any rapists.
They let Sebastian out of his cage, so we could become acquainted. He let me eagerly pet him, hold him. He was mine, the tiny, innocent creature. Now they had to neuter him, give him vaccines, and I’d bring him home the next evening. They had me sign various promissory papers. One said I promise not to eat Sebastian! Really?!
The next evening when I came to take him home, I again did the cage rounds to see if Rosamunda had come in. So many caged, sad cats. No Rosamunda. A dog owner was distraught over his pit-bull. His nephew took the dog to his home, while this man was away, but his mother gave him to the shelter. So now the owner had to pay the adoption fees, and his dog would be released only after he got castrated. ‘Oh, man,’ he hold his head in his hands, ‘if I knew this is gonna happen, I would have kept at least one of the puppies.’
Probably he was a breeder… But here was my Sebastian, with his Elizabethan collar cone, in a plastic pet carrier.
For the next day or two, I busied myself over his wound, his eating, litter box.
Only on Friday afternoon I had the respite to go back to Central Park. By now I consoled myself, Rosamunda chose her cat family and freedom over the confined life I offered her, the bowl of dry food and loneliness she must had felt when I was out tending to business. But still it hurt.
We went with a friend, first scurrying the brush up on the boulders. ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda, Rosamunda.’ No answer. I tried to keep my voice cheery, because they told me at the shelter if I was emotional, Rosamunda would get scared, thinking I’d give her grief, so she wouldn’t be easily coaxed back. I resigned myself. ‘Let’s go home.’
But my friend said, ‘We’re nearby the picnic meadow. Just a few moiré steps. Come on.’ We went. Here was the red leash tied on the tree, here was the thorny bush. I sat down under its branches. I chanted, ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda, Rosamunda.’ I heard a weak voice responding. My heart jolted. ‘Hear that?! ‘Oh, it’s a bird,’ my friend said. I called again, ‘Rosamunda, Rosamunda.’ The feeble voice was nearing! I called more. The bush rustled! A shiny back with red reflexes, my very Rosamunda, was running towards me! My Rosamunda! She wanted me! She was as desperate as I was for her. She came so close to me, my darling, my dear darling. I lunged to get hold of her, but scared she ran away. So close, so close and now she is lost for me again?! My friend asked if I wanted him to get her for me. ‘Yes. Yes.’ I was faint. ‘Open the can of cat food, so Rosamunda can smell the food, and she won’t resist then.’ We called her again, and she came back. My friend threw a lump of food toward her, Rosamunda famished ate. He threw another lump closer, Rosamunda approached, couldn’t resist the flavor. Again closer. And as she gulped the food, my friend, with his strong, vise-like grip, took hold of her waist. I was laughing, crying, feeling so elated! There is God. There is God. I was so fired up, it might be strange to say, more than at the fall of communism, the ‘89 revolution.
It was a miracle. A living miracle. An in-my-face miracle.
We exited the park. I hailed a taxi, but the driver said morosely, ‘Sorry, no pets.’ So we walked all the way crosstown holding the cat. Each time someone looked askance we’d announce, ‘We found her after almost a week. We lost her in Central Park on Sunday! We found her! It’s unbelievable!’ Some looked away, others said smiling, ‘God be praised.’
When we arrived at our building, I went inside my apartment and brought out the pet carrier. We pushed Rosamunda in it, and I took her straight to my room. I was afraid she got flees, or she’d go wild when she’d see Sebastian in his cone. I feared she’d scratch his wound open. So I gave her a good bath, toweled her, fed her, and for three days I kept her in my room, her litter box too. She curled by my side, watching me, so I don’t leave her lost to the wilderness again. Gradually I let down my guard and forgot to shut the door after me when I went to tend to Sebastian, who was in a cage, because I couldn’t have him jump on and off the furniture, his wound could have ruptured. And so Rosamunda followed me and saw Sebastian. She bristled and hissed at him. She arched her back, the fur rose on her back, seeing her replacement. I took her back to my room, but she cried. How could I bring a stranger in her home?! Is that how it is?! I’m gone four days and you replace me?! ‘But Rosamunda, it was you who left me heartbroken! I thought I’d die without you. Besides Sebastian is a kitten, he was abandoned in the streets of Bronx. You could play with him, you won’t be alone anymore while I’m away. It’s gonna be fun.’
She meowed dolorously.
Sebastian couldn’t care less about her hisses. Gradually, after his wound healed and I took off his cone, and got rid of the cage, they befriended each other. Now Sebastian is often pruning Rosamunda who accepts his ministrations like a queen. It’s a wonder to see them playing together. They grab each other by the neck and move so fast, it’s like a blur of bundled fur tumbling around at such high speed you can’t even see them. When I first brought Sebastian home he was bobbing his head, like those toys people put on their car dashboards. I read that was a sign he had suffered from an illness, distemper. But in time with nourishment, the bobbing went away. He is the calmest creature, like I’d like to be, like I imagine God might be. He doesn’t hold grudges. Darling Rosamunda never totally forgave me for my betrayal. Each time Sebastian hopped on my bed she left the room in a huff. Plus she turned scardy after the expedition. She runs into hiding if I move towards her fast, or if she hears a building noise, she stops eating. She behaves like my old self, high strung from the past attacks. God knows what had happened to her in the park. I sooth her, I tell her she is safe now, I love her, she should hang out with Sebastian and I on my bed. Gradually she comes into my bedroom and sits on a shelf by the window, likes to watch the birds flying outside, or even briefly relaxes on my bed quilt. She is still shy, not like Sebastian who licks my hands or gives me playful bites, or grabs me with his paws when I scratch his belly. Sebastian knows no evil. He often sleeps belly up, which is the most trusting and vulnerable position for a feline, Jack Galaxy, the cat whisperer, said on Youtube. To watch him is bliss. I often fall asleep, not a care in the world.
On our excursions at times I’m reminded how arrogant it is of people to disdain animals. One day we were walking back from the compost bin placed in front of the community garden three blocks away, and Sebastian was exploring the many scents along the fence. I walked by his side, one foot away, holding his leash. An old Caucasian man came along and instead of going around us, there was plenty of sidewalk space, he barged between me and Sebastian, scowling that no cat had priority over him. He was superior to a bloody cat. As he walked away I told him my Sebastian was God’s creature too. He hollered that I should watch what would happen next time when he comes upon my cat. Only later on the right reply came to me. ‘Indeed, sir, I know exactly what would happen. I’ll call 911 and report you for animal cruelty and you’ll get yourself handcuffed, that’s what will happen!’
Or one day we were crossing the street. It was raining. I was holding Sebastian in my arms, protecting him from the drizzle. A hefty young black guy spitted out, ‘Stupid cat!’ when he passed us by. His intense hatred stunned me. My Sebastian is brighter and kinder than that hoodlum. Both him and Rosamunda when they hear me opening the ziplock bag of treats they scurry from whatever far corner of the apartment. If I say to Rosamunda, when she furiously scratches the kitchen upholstered chairs, ‘Rosamunda, NO!’ she stops instantly. And they move so gracefully, so fluidly, I often wonder if the fashion shows’ catwalk derives from their feline slinky strut.
Their round astonished eyes, watching me perform the fantastic feat of dishwashing, or slicing onions, are gratifying.