Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Katrina cats

Through all the trials and travails of these past six months, they’ve held up remarkably well. You’d think that such extreme events would have left them shaken, frightened, even traumatized. But, no, Smudge and Cally are doing just fine.

Our cats are some of the most traveled pets you would probably ever meet.

They live with us in New Orleans near the Mississippi River. Before Katrina, they lived on the other side of town near Lake Pontchartrain. And in between, they’ve been to Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia.

Prior to the hurricane, we had four cats under our roof. And a hedgehog.

Yes, I did say four. Yes, I did say hedgehog.

Our cats always were “in and out” cats, spending an equal number of hours prowling the neighborhood and sleeping on the beds and sofas of our comfortable house in the Vista Park area of town.

They did nothing to earn their keep—no hunting of vermin, no guard or attack duties, no alerting us in the middle of the night if there was a fire or a prowler in our house. Nothing, unless of course you count the pleasure of having one hop on your lap for a few minutes of trading purrs for petting, or unless you give them credit for curling up next to you in bed to share their warmth.

On Saturday, August 27 of last year, we realized with dread that we would have to leave town. There was never a question of what to do with the cats and the hedgehog. We had cages for them all and they would all go with us.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, we loaded up a car and headed west. My brother lives near San Antonio, and he said we would all be welcome for a few days.

The two older cats, Cupcake and Midnight, did not like the journey. They meowed and moaned on and off during the many hours on the highway. The two younger cats, also sisters, did not care for the car trip either, but they were not so vocal about it.

A few days later, when the enormity of the situation had settled upon us, we knew we could not stay in Texas. We decided that we would be better off staying with family in Virginia, where they had a larger house and children to complement our child.

And I knew that we could not keep all the animals. Not if we were going to be on the road. Not if we were going to be living by the goodness of family. Not if we were going to be in temporary housing for many months to come.

We were fortunate to find a generous family in Dallas willing to take two of the cats and the hedgehog. Although they agreed to take them permanently, they encouraged us to come back for our pets when we were able to.

From Dallas on, we had only the two cats, Smudge and Cally. Again, they slept most of the time, curled up in the back of the pet carrier. From Texas to Arkansas, a night in Tennessee, and finally to northern Virginia.

After a couple weeks in the basement playroom, we began to let them venture outside. I’m sure it was both scary and exciting for them, their little feline hearts pumping many times faster than a human’s, looking and tasting and smelling an almost totally different environment. They always came home when we whistled, and while in Virginia, they came home very quickly.

When I returned to New Orleans in late September, my Darling Wife and Precious Daughter remained in Virginia with the cats. Honestly, I missed them all.

About a month later, they all joined me here, in an apartment in the sliver by the river. Again, the two sisters had to learn about a new home and a new neighborhood. We thought perhaps Smudge was lost at one point, but she returned with a happy meow.

Through it all, they’re holding up remarkably well. I suppose you could say it’s a survival skill, that adaptability is the most essential survival skill of any species. Across thousands of miles, boxed up and transferred like cargo from one port to the next, Smudge and Cally have been through much more than the vast majority of domestic cats.

Our cats have been through a lot, and so have we. I still get people asking me, “How do you do it?” They say things like, “If I was going through what you’re going through, I’d totally lose it.” They really think I’m brave, or stout-hearted, or somehow above the average human because I haven’t had a breakdown in the aftermath of Katrina.

But in all seriousness, what choice do we have?

Life is simply getting up each day, not knowing what will happen, but setting out to face it anyway--and going to bed each night, not knowing what will happen in the morning, but making unlikely plans anyway.

Our house—gone. Our possessions—gone. Our routines—gone. Our friends and neighbors—gone. All of it washed away in a flood of nature’s fury.

You’d think that such extreme events would have left us shaken, frightened, even traumatized. But, no, we’re doing just fine. We have each other, we have a place to stay for now and dreams for the future.

And we have Smudge and Cally to keep us warm at night.


Marco said...

Cats are soothing creatures. They are who they are, no more no less.
All the power to you, your family and your feline friends. New Orleans needs people like you. I know that I wouldn't have dealt well with what you are going through. I enjoy reading your blog from up here in NY state where it's still winter. I hope to come and visit your city in the fall and pour some cash into the pot.

Len said...

We had two outside cats that we fed and left during the storm. When we returned a month later, they appeared immediately and now the group has gotten larger. There are 4 or 5 regulars now. Other people in my uptown neighborhood have told me similar stories.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed. Ain't nothing heroic about our suffering. Plenty of heroism around, actually, but most of us simply rise to the occasion and do what has to be done. Cats too.

Laurie said...

I just got back from New Orleans. It was a great trip and this was another great post.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a cat named Smudge. She was all white, and when she was born (on an easter, under my dresser, to a ferral mother that let us take her in long enough to see her through the pregnancy and weaning) she had a grey smudge on her forehead, like she had just attended services on ash wednesday. She out-grew the smudge, eventually becoming all white like her mother, who we had dubbed "Whitey" durring her brief stay with us, but by then the name Smudge had stuck. I'm glad your Smudge had such good people to stick by. :)