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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feline friends fit in family

June Lemen

The hierarchy of cats in the Lemen/Broyles family went from oldest to youngest in terms of power.

Ninja, the first cat we ever got, was a male and was the boss of the family. He was Bill’s cat, and it was Bill’s lap he sought out when he was tired from hunting chipmunks. He was the alpha pet, having complete and total power over all our pets, including Buffer, the collie who outweighed him by more than 70 pounds. He arrived after Buffer and quickly assessed the situation: There was no need to put Buffer in his place. Buffer already knew where it was – behind Ninja.

After Ninja, we acquired Paddlefoot, double-pawed and double-hearted. He was a big warm love of a cat: friendly to everyone, gentle with children, a serious purr-er. When he arrived, Ninja quickly showed him his place. But Paddlefoot never cared who was in charge: He got along with everyone, human, feline and canine.

We moved to the Old Beauty just before we acquired our third cat: Weasel. Weasella deVille. She had the name of Pansy when we first got her, but it did not suit her.

I picked her from the litter of kittens because she was so beautiful: an orange and gray and white calico, with golden eyes and incredibly soft fur. She was petite, our smallest cat. Little did I know that her size was in inverse proportion to her ability to assert her will.

So, after we moved to the Old Beauty we had four pets and no children. Sadly, we lost Ninja just six months after we moved in, after he had finally convinced Weasel that he was the alpha cat.

Ninja had always been an outdoor cat, and he continued to be so after we moved. He followed me everywhere around the neighborhood: to Jeannotte’s, to the park at Sargents Avenue, and once I even found him following me when I was close to the end of Webster Street. Lucy never got to meet Ninja.

Buffer was her introduction to animals. He watched over Lucy as if she was his own offspring. I would walk Lucy in the stroller, with Buffer at her side, and he loved it, because the pace was nice and slow. He was getting old. When we got to the parks, he was fine until I put her on the swings, which made him bark fiercely and protectively. So we spent more time on other apparatus. And a lot of the time, we played in the yard. Lucy learned to walk in pace with an elderly collie.

He died one day during a nap in the sun, after we had been playing in the yard. It was a good way to go.

Lucy missed him. She looked for him in the house. We still had Paddlefoot and Weasel, and Paddlefoot became Lucy’s special pet. She spent many hours with him, sometimes even sleeping on him, which he would suffer through until she awakened.

As soon as Lucy started kindergarten, Paddlefoot became a watchcat: waiting in the yard every day for her to come home. Many children from Mount Pleasant made Paddlefoot’s acquaintance, squatting down and patting him on their own way home from school. Paddles was happy to be petted by others until Lucy arrived; after that, he was her cat. When he died, Lucy was in charge of the funeral. It was a solemn and serious service.

Weasel was more like a dog. A female dog, if you get my drift.

Weasel was not an easy pet. She did not like Lucy at first, and where Paddlefoot would wander into Lucy’s room to share her crib, Weasel looked as if she were reconnoitering for a kidnapping. A kidnapping with no ransom demand.

She was a cat who either liked you or not, and if she didn’t like you, she was not averse to showing her dislike. With claws.

She grew to tolerate, and eventually love, Lucy, once she realized that Lucy was an ally in helping Weasel get her way. Lucy constantly slipped her scraps of food, and Weasel’s drug of choice, catnip. She played with her endlessly. The weekend that we babysat the first grades’ anole lizards may have been the high point of Weasel’s life.

Lucy sat in her nearly 90 degree room, armed with a water pistol to shoot at the lizards if they attacked each other. Weasel, who loved heat and hunting, sat bolt upright next to Lucy, fascinated by these lovely creatures. It was live entertainment for the feline set.

But if Ninja was Bill’s cat, and Paddlefoot was Lucy’s, Weasel was always peculiarly mine. She was a talker. She was moody. She tried to control everything. She was, in essence, my feline evil twin. Her speaking voice was that of a Siamese. She yowled. I’ve had many phone calls where Weasel would talk and the caller would say, “June, do you have a baby there?” and I would have to admit that it was my cat.

Weasel demanded attention. If I did not interrupt my writing to pat her, she would jump on my desk. If I did not pat her quickly enough, or long enough, she would walk across my keyboard. If I, however, was in need of a cat to pat, she might let me pet her, but only if she was in the mood.

It was I she said goodbye to, the night before she died. She woke me over and over that night, nudging her small apple head under my palm, insisting that I pat her and purring loudly, in that astonishing way she had. She never weighed more than 10 pounds, but her purr was that of a tiger.

She purred for me when I left for work, too, and she purred when I came home. When I took a break after writing for a couple of hours, I saw her lying in the sun, and I went over to pat her. She didn’t purr.

We buried her under the maple tree in the front of the yard. The same maple she climbed up and got stuck in the day we moved into this house.

Good-bye, Weasella.

June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. Contact her at june@junelemen.com. Her column runs the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.