An older gentleman is inspired to open his home and heart to an aging cat on his ninth life.
I sat down in front of the TV to watch the local news. That’s something I did like clockwork. It helped me feel like I was still a part of New York City.
You see, for 24 years I’d been the principal doorman for the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park. I’d met movie stars, athletes, politicians and famous people of all sorts, as well as regular people who just wanted to treat themselves to a night on the town for a birthday or anniversary.
I loved greeting them all, sometimes shaking their hands, and always making sure they felt welcome.
Of course I did my job standing. When a leg injury forced me into early retirement, I fell into a more solitary routine, spending most days alone in my apartment.
Even after the leg recovered, and I could walk the neighborhood streets like I used to, I still felt a little bit cut off at times, a stranger in a town that once had loved me as much as I loved it.
The local news that night, however, was upsetting. Sixty-three kittens had been dumped at the door of the animal shelter in Mt. Vernon, New York. Days earlier, police had broken up a pit bull fighting ring. Kittens had been used to whet the dogs’ appetite for blood.
The reporter surmised that someone connected to the ring had felt a pang of remorse and taken the kittens to safety. But the shelter’s director, Paula Young, wondered how she could possibly take care of them all.
I said a prayer for all the animals involved, and a funny thought popped into my head: Call the shelter.
Where had that come from? I didn’t want a cat. It had been 10 years since my beloved Hadley had died, and I didn’t want to sully her memory by replacing her with another cat in her own home. Even if I did have a problem that needed addressing.
Ever since an old building down the block had been torn down, I had an ongoing mouse problem, which my landlord ignored. Moreover, my current lease had a no-animal clause in it, and he’d never consent to my getting a cat. But here I was living with mice! Hadley would consider that an insult.
Something had to give. The next day I threatened to get the Board of Health to inspect my apartment. The landlord relented, and signed a rider stating that I could have one cat.
Paula Young answered the phone at the shelter. Her voice was firm and warm, and her matter-of-fact style put me right at ease. Thanks to the media attention, she informed me, all but a few of those lucky 63 kittens had found homes.
“Wonderful,” I said. “I’d like to adopt one to help me with a little problem I’m having with some mice.”
“If it’s a mouser you need,” Paula advised, “an older cat would be more suitable. I have three or four who qualify. And there’s one in particular I’d recommend just for you.”
I trusted her to make a good match. “I don’t care about cute,” I said, “I care about noble.” Somehow I think she’d already surmised that.
Two days later Paula pulled up at my stoop in her truck with a 13-and-a-half pound orange and white male cat, neutered, with all his shots and a mangled right ear. I could see he’d gone through the mill, but his spirit was still intact.
Paula filled me in on his story. He had come from the streets of Mt. Vernon, where he’d seen tough times. He had bad teeth, owing to fights and a poor diet in kittenhood. After his rescue, his deplorable physical condition suggested he be put down.
However, his indomitable will to live commanded Paula’s intercession to get him the complex medical care he needed to recover. His battle scars kept him from being adopted, but his personality had made him the favorite feline at the shelter for the two-year duration of his stay. Which was about as long as I’d had my mouse problem!
The cat’s story resonated with this 67-year-old native New Yorker who had grown up on the rough and tumble streets of the West Side. I knew about want, pain and suffering, and my heart had thrilled to stirring comebacks ever since Bobby Thomson’s homer in the last of the ninth won the pennant for the New York baseball Giants in 1951.
The analogy did not escape me that this cat was on his ninth life, while I was entering the ninth inning of mine. And when I learned that Paula had been planning a permanent move across the country, wanting only to insure a good home for her most special cat before she left, I considered the whole incident divinely orchestrated.
After three hours hiding under the bed in my apartment, my new charge emerged from seclusion and brushed up against my leg, telling me that his situation was acceptable. Wyatt, I called him, after the famous American lawman Wyatt Earp. Fast, athletic, canny and dedicated, the cat chased down the mice in my apartment. In two days—after two years of lawlessness—Dodge City (my apartment) had been cleaned up once and for all.
Wyatt is indeed a noble cat, and I’m blessed to be his steward. The vets at the Humane Society guessed he is about eight years old. After all his early misfortune, he is happy and flourishing in his own home. And I’m flourishing again too, by the grace of Jesus Christ and with Wyatt by my side.
We play ball, he gets groomed, he watches me when I watch the news. And I make sure he gets his yearly blessing on the Feast of St. Francis. We’re two grizzly veterans, each rescued by the other, together for a good stretch run.
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