Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's a "Loaner Kitty Christmas"

Author, Bob McMillan

time of year, people who know I run a private petting zoo in my home ask me,
“So, how’s the holidays with your kids home and ... all those dogs and cats?”

Verrrrrry festive, I reply, hoping they don’t see the crazy in my eyes. Knowing
we have three dogs and two cats in our small home, they already look at me with
amusement and horror like I’m a reformed headhunter. They never know if I’m
about to break into native song or whip out that blade. Why go into details
about spending Christmas snowed in with our offspring and furpals? They’re
already thinking “Donner Party.”

the kids grew up and left, we filled the void with hounds. We like our hounds. They
love us. Our hounds have worked the rules out among themselves and our two
cats. We get a tiny corner of the couch. We get the beds for
sleep. Otherwise, the place is theirs. Think shag carpet, only the fur’s
constantly on the go. Kind of like a bed of eels.

a small house, just big enough for my wife and I and our pack. Our daughter
(who insists I don’t use her name, so let’s call her Tilda Mae) lives in Nashville and comes home
often to see Sully, the beagle mix she rescued and lets us raise for her. We
squeeze her in. Last week, our son in Kansas
suddenly decided to fly home for Christmas, too. Ben’s a giant. More squeezing.
We worked out sleeping arrangements. The kids got their old rooms back. I got
my bed half the night. The wolfhound and deerhound wrestled for it the second
half. I groggily refereed.

a blizzard approaching, we went into the submariner mode. Space is critical on
a submarine. Every nook, every cranny, every corridor has a specific function.
You don’t leave your tennis shoes or cola cans lying around, for example. We
similarly choreographed use of the family room so everything and everyone would
have a place by the tree and the television. It’d be cozy but somewhat

is when Tilda Mae showed up with Loaner Kitty.

agreed to catsit for a friend. Why not kill two parents with one cat and do the
sitting at home, Casa del Houndo, where training and primal hunting instincts
are always teetering in the balance?

we worried our dogs might eat Loaner Kitty. Sully’s an agreeable little beagle
mix who occasionally lapses into werewolfery when the hunt drive kicks in.
Gracie’s a sighthound bred to bring down stags. Anything moving quickly or
erratically can set her off like a furry bolt of lightning with big teeth.
Finn, the wolfhound, is reasonably nimble for a dog the size of a pony. He’s
loving but sometimes steps on little things. Like Godzilla steps on Tokyo.

wife and I fixed grins on our faces when Tilda Mae showed us Loaner Kitty. We
chimed, “Isn’t he cuuuute?” The hounds were more honest. They recoiled
in horror and disgust. Another cat? Here? On Christmas Eve?
It’s a world gone maaaaaaad ...

we all settled in and waited for Santa as the snowflakes fell and Loaner Kitty
swung from the curtains and scampered across the ceiling. The dogs looked like
spectators at a tennis match. Their eyes ticked left. Their eyes ticked right.
The crazy little guy had to come down sometime. Not really. He
discovered the Christmas tree.

had to have a tree. The kids were coming home, after all. But it had to
be a high tree and a little one since Finn regularly cruises the
countertops and top of the refrigerator for anything interesting. Like shiny
glass balls and heirloom ceramic angels. We mounted the tree on a sturdy stack
of boxes, tossed a festive drape over the base and braced the holiday tower
safely against the front window.

midnight, I figure Santa was busy slinging gifts in our neighborhood but Donner
and Blitzen would have seen a strange sight standing in the drifts looking in
our front window. The McMillan’s Christmas tree was possessed. It shimmied
left. It swayed right. Then it nosedived off the pedestal and onto the sleeping
hounds below. Loaner Kitty slinked from the green and twinkling mess, wide-eyed
and happy. The hounds were just wide-eyed.

the hounds weren’t going to hurt the cat. Loaner Kitty made the dogs nervous. They
followed the rules: Stay off the countertops. Eat from your bowl, not the
refrigerator. Walk on the floor, not on the furniture or us. Loaner Kitty was
like a sack of bottle rockets. You never knew which way he’d blast off next.

thing is, Loaner Kitty was cute. Grey and white. All of a year old. He
had no bones. He just flowed like quicksilver. Huge innocent eyes. Affectionate
and bouncy. He was like one of those dolls that comes to life in horror films.
Something in your gut screamed that if you turned your back on that adorable
face, Loaner Kitty would getcha.

hounds knew this and the other cats did, too. Ancient Polly sprawled all
weekend in my wife’s lap giving everyone the stink eye and muttered murderously.
Ridalin, our hulking indoor-outdoor tomcat (he’s not actually ours. He
mooches off the whole neighborhood. He just bunks at our place) usually puts
other cats on short notice. But Ridalin gave Loaner Kitty one quick glance and
... shot to the rear of the house.

holed up in my room. I only heard from him at 4 a.m. each day. That’s when I
normally get up to go to work. I figured over the holidays, I’d sleep ‘til at
least six, but Ridalin doesn’t observe holidays. He wanted out and yowled at the
closed bedroom door. Then strolled across my face to be sure I was listening.
He’d rather face the blizzard than Loaner Kitty.

hounds gave the evil kitten a wide berth. Keeping track of Loaner Kitty was
easy. Just look for the hounds leaping straight up. Finn spent the weekend in
my lap. Which made me nervous because the slab of fur and ribs kept me from
seeing Loaner Kitty. All I could move were my fingertips. Which the cat kept
batting as he swept crazily through the house.

snatched down the Christmas wreath. He flipped the pecan pie off the shelf. He
left tracks on the ceiling and along the walls. The hounds lingered longer and
longer in the backyard for “playtime.” We finally had to make them come inside
before they stuck to the ice. Then they huddled by the door looking longingly
and desperately out at the sheet ice.

holiday finally ended. The Kitten from Hell went away and I gained a new
training tool. If a hound gets out of line, I invoke two magic words that
guarantee quick and slavering obedience: “Looooannner Kitttttyyyy....”

Bob McMillan is an editor and columnist with the

newspaper and lives on a mountain with several giant hounds and wary cats.

This column was originally printed in the Herald-Citizen

in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Please visit http://www.herald-citizen.com/ for more information on the

newspaper. We thank the Herald-Citizen
staff for allowing FFBF

to re-print this piece.

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