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Soon after we were married, my wife announced her philosophy of life.  It was to be,  “Daisies, daffodils and kitty cats!”  Since I had once had a dog named Susie and she had a cat named Michael when we met -- mirror images of our names -- it seemed certain that fate brought us together, and our shared lives would be filled with furry, purring creatures.  Not long after we had a house of our own, she sallied forth and retrieved our first cat, an orange tabby tomcat languishing in a rabbit hutch out in the hinterlands.  We named him Tigger since our daughter was young at the time and the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too was a bedtime favorite.

Tigger’s early neglected upbringing left him somewhat at a competitive disadvantage versus the established toms in his new neighborhood, and he became devoted to us rather than venturing forth nightly to do battle with the locals as a roaming tomcat.  Which suited both of us just fine.  Over time, he became a cat of dignity and elegance, always well-behaved and a model citizen -- the elder statesman of our cat family, as it were.  Even as we accumulated more cats, they all deferred to him.

Katie the Lady

Years later, when our daughter was in elementary school and we were in a second home, a small black-and-white female tuxedo kitten followed our daughter home from school one day.  It was a pitiful little thing, obviously lost, or possibly abandoned by someone, and in immediate need of food and water -- and a little care and kindness.  We took it in, and our daughter immediately fell in love with it as it had clearly adopted her as its protector.  We debated what to do, because the kitten looked healthy and therefore almost certainly had an owner.

Finally, we decided to place a lost-and-found ad in the newspaper and an announcement on the local radio station, asking for claimants to contact us.  As a sign of her maturity, our very understanding young daughter agreed with the decision -- even though she very much wanted to keep the kitten.  She realized that there might be some other child out there even at that moment missing it and wishing for its return every bit as much as she was wishing to keep it.

The next day a very young and quite delighted little girl called to claim the kitten.  Brimming with the faith and clarity of childhood, and a maturity and self-assurance beyond her years, she described the waif in detail.  “That’s my kitten!” she said in a tiny but firm and emphatic voice.  “She wandered away, and I’m so glad you found her.  I’ll tell my Daddy, and we’ll come get her as soon as he gets home,” she added, with utter faith in a quick reunion with her beloved kitten.  We promised to have the little black-and-white fur ball ready and hung up.

But, neither Daddy nor little girl showed up, that afternoon or ever, confirming our suspicion that Daddy was the villain of the piece.  Likely, he had dumped the kitten far from home and then made up a fake story for his own child, about the kitten wandering off and becoming lost.

There's no way to know the inner workings of that other household, but one thing is certain; that is no way to treat a child.

In any case, that's how Katie came to live with us.  And, that’s how the Vole Patrol was born.  Because Katie was the most relentless vole hunter that ever lived.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Just to give you an idea of Katie's personality, one example will suffice.  She got along fine with all of our cats, and, in fact, with all the cats in the neighborhood -- except for one.  Eventually, another tuxedo cat moved into a house a few doors down.  This drove Katie bonkers.  Every time this doppelgänger showed up in our yard, Katie was out the door like a flash and after this threat to her special place in our home.  Katie was a bit plump, and the imposter cat was younger and more fit, but no matter.  He would not, must not be allowed to steal her place in our affections!  She was Miss Personality super plus and an absolute jewel of a cat, and we loved her dearly!

Cats Rule!

Katie was but one of many animals that our daughter befriended as she grew up.  Others included a gerbil, a hamster, several parakeets, including one named Blue Bell, a tank full of salt water fish, horses (that's a whole 'nother story, and one that continues to this day!), and inevitably, the frienemy of all cats -- a dog.  Having expressed a desire for one, and having researched the idea herself, we set out one day to visit a lady with a litter of Brittany puppies.  I had a Cocker Spanial myself growing up,so I was delighted with her choice -- Brittanys are a beautiful breed, both in form and function, having been bred as bird hunting dogs.  As such, they are alert, active and eager to please.  Just the thing for a young lady discovering herself.

We brought a pup home, and she was immediately christened, Jenny.  Naturally the cats were wary of this bouncing, energetic new addition.  And, of course, the pup was wary of nothing, but instead curious about everything, bounding here and there with an energy and enthusiasm that was quite evidently beneath the dignity of our rather patrician felines -- who avoided her whenever possible.  Jenny grew and prospered in her new home, and all was well for awhile.  And then one day the inevitable that must happen where there are cats and dogs under the same roof finally did happen.

We heard a hiss and then a yelp from our breakfast room.  We all came running to see what had transpired.  There was no cat to be seen, but Jenny stood there with a look of surpise and hurt feelings in her eyes, looking to us for sympathy.  We took one look at her and had to laugh.  For, on her nose were three perfectly spaced vertical claw scratches.  She had finally gotten too close, no doubt wanting to play, and one of our cats (we suspect Katie!), taking offense at the audacity of such familiarity, had given her a stripped nose for her presumptiousness.  The nose eventually healed, of course, but from that day forward Jenny knew with whom she might play and who to avoid.

Philosopher Cat

The next member of our cat family was a tiny, odd looking little fellow who actually belonged next door.  He was a small but plump little tomcat of uncertain provenance, partly white but with inexplicable gray-brown patches that made him look like he had been assembled from parts of two or three different cats.  The neighbors didn’t allow their pets indoors, and I guess he noticed that there were well-fed felines coming and going at all hours at our house.  So by-and-by, he showed up and began sampling the feed bowls along with Tigger and Katie.  He was such an innocuous little fellow that hardly anyone noticed, and soon he became, nominally, our cat.  There was an advantage to the arrangement -- the neighbor was a vet, and offered free care since he was still, on paper, the owner.  Who could refuse!

He was the gentlest, purest soul that I can ever remember encountering, man or beast, and we named him Thomas Aquinas Noted Philosopher.  Thomas was quiet, he never complained about anything, and he accepted and gave affection unconditionally.  He would sit in my lap for hours; even sit with other cats in my lap.  When he developed a fatal internal blockage and had to be put down I was desolated.  The vet, his original owner, was so distraught that he could not perform the necessary service and had to delegate the heartbreaking task to someone else in his office.  Thomas lies buried in one of our flower gardens, and his quiet, gentle purr is a memory that will live on with me forever.

Abby the Tabby

The final member of the Vole Patrol arrived from no one knows where.  Abby the gray tabby just wandered in one day, liked the food, shelter and companionship, and decided to stay.  Abigail, as we named her, was the most inconspicuous of the four, hardly ever doing anything of note around the house.  However, she was a constant sidekick and silent partner for Katie on the hunt.  Together, they were the Vole Patrol in all their deadly efficiency.  We never knew which one did the actual pouncing and catching, but it was always Katie that bought the catch back to our patio and devoured it there, leaving only the -- well, you know -- uneaten behind for us to clean up.

For years, these four cats, Tigger, the dignified old gentleman of the group; Katie, the ever active live wire and instigator; Thomas, the pure and gentle soul; and Abigail, the quiet ghostly shadow, shared our home and our lives and gave us much pleasure.  At any one time, one or more of them could be found in my lap with me on my recliner.  And once, all four managed to find places to curl up there.  You know you are truly loved when four cats share your lap!

They are all gone now.  The Vole Patrol is but a fond memory.  Our current cat, Lucky, is, like Katie, a silent and efficient hunter, and every bit as successful.  And sometimes in a reflective moment, I let my mind wander and wonder what it would have been like if Katie and Lucky had been contemporaries.  Talk about a hunting pair!  There’d be no voles for miles around.  We could make a fortune leasing them out to flower gardeners everywhere!

-- Michael & Susan

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