Delighted to welcome Donna Hill to the blog with a series of posts from her archives.
Stray Cat & Working Dog: Abandonment, Rescue & Redemption in the Middle of Nowhere by Donna Hill
According to an evolutionary time-line exhibit at Wyoming’s Fossil Butte National Monument, dogs and cats shared a common ancestry until 42 million years ago. Factions from both groups ultimately took the plunge into domestication, so what drove them apart to begin with?
My musings on this subject are rooted in the reference to “42.” As a fan of the late British sci-fi writer and satirist Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), I treasure any mention of the number. Actually, I’m obsessed with it. The first paragraph in this article, for instance, contains 42 words, but that was an accident. Wasn’t it?
In Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a BBC radio production turned into a ‘trilogy’ of ‘five’ novels, “42” turns out to be the answer to “life, the universe and everything.” I collect such references, and wrote an article in homage to Adams in 2009. He has yet to properly thank me for it … unless, of course, it was he who sent the cat.
Cats and Dogs: Irreconcilable Differences?
Goofus, a male, Strawberry-blonde tabby, hangs upside-down in the family room: photo by Rich Hill
My interest in cats and dogs and their relationships with us and each other comes from a lifetime of living with dogs and a good little while of living with one particular cat named Goofus.
Some rifts in the ancestral dog-cat community seem painfully obvious — especially from the cat’s perspective. Grace, for instance, though not entirely lacking in the canine, reaches the level of an art-form in felines.
Some dog-cat predecessors preferred a unilateral gait, both right legs stepping forward together and vice versa. Others — “plodders and klutzes,” as our cat would call them — adopted a bilateral gait — right front and left rear. Humans do this with our arms, a point which pretty much seals the inferiority of it in the cat’s view.
Then, there’s the collarbone. Humans and canines apparently agreed on this one also.
“Yes, of course we want collarbones; see how big and strong they make our shoulders look?”
We might assume that the cat would have taken the plunge into vanity on this point, but for the cat, survival is the most attractive thing on the menu. Proto-cat valued the ability to squeeze through narrow spots — a feat which is compromised when the limitation is the width of your shoulders and not your head. Cats have “floating” collarbones, buried in their shoulder muscles.
Several other features ensure the feline’s survival. Sensitive and functional whiskers, adjustable and independent ears, and elliptical pupils make hunting at night a viable option. The dog yawns and wonders why anyone would want to go out at night, when everyone’s sleeping.
There is also the whole “sniffing the butt” ritual. Though it is one of the canine’s greatest pleasures, it remains unseemly to the feline. The cat is also offended by the whole obedience thing. Tolerating the propensity of the dog to throw all dignity to the wind for the sake of trifles is, as I am assured, one of the thankless burdens of being a cat.
“And those tales! You look like you’re being followed by an invisible oscillating fan. Is that why you chase them? Just trying to get them to slow down?”
Animal Abandonment & Rescue
Despite the cat’s self-proclaimed superiority, it was the dog who saved the cat, at least in our lives. According to the ASPCA, a pet is beaten or neglected every 60 seconds.
One such victim was a six-month-old strawberry-blonde, neutered male tabby, who was dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the summer of 2010. With shelters filled to capacity during the recession and embarrassment no small factor, many animals were abandoned along rural roads to survive or die by their own wits.
The middle of nowhere is where we live. The first thing we noticed was a beautiful cat watching Rich from afar as he worked in the barn, on the vehicles and preparing firewood for the upcoming winter. His coat was so thick and luxurious that we assumed he had a home. Then, as I walked our trails with Hunter, my black Lab guide dog, I heard a small animal following us.
“These rabbits are getting really brazen,” I thought, but it wasn’t a rabbit. It wasn’t a squirrel either.
One night, with a stone wall between us, he talked to me, and I was smitten. As winter approached, he started hanging around more often. We began suspecting that he was a stray. We didn’t really want a cat. I was allergic, and how fair would it be to Hunter to bring an interloper into our little family?
Donna & her guide dog Hunter walk along path in Redwoods. There’s a glowing mist: Photo by Rich Hill
We put food out for him, and somebody ate it. Toward the end of November as the temperatures dipped below freezing, he approached Hunter and me with the most mournful and urgent tale. Animals don’t generally want anything to do with me. They must see that I have one of their kind in harness and don’t want to risk a similar fate. But, this cat was desperate and, in all fairness to his dignity, he had been vetting us for months.
The Reality of Goofus
When we finally got our hands on him, we realized that he was all skin and bones, infested with worms and covered in ticks. We thought he had been declawed; even when Rich spread his toes, he could see nothing resembling a claw.
“We’ll just get him cleaned up and healthy. Then we’ll give him to the shelter.”
Yeah, right. Our local Humane Society is a “no kill” shelter, and they were full. By the time they had room, we loved him, and Hunter decided that kitty could stay.
Hunter, Donna’s guide dog, in autumn leaves: photo by Rich Hill
“He’s OK; he’s just a little trouble.”
We supplemented his food with homemade turkey breast. We got him a litter box, which he refused to use. Having spent so much of his short life outdoors, he wasn’t comfortable staying inside. For months, he continually flexed his claws, trying to get his strength back. As his health returned, he began shunning human food, running to leave the house whenever we showed the slightest inclination to eat.
Goofus became a skilled hunter, ridding our barn of mice. And my allergies? Not an issue; he smells like the great outdoors.
Cat and Dog: Brothers and Friends
Goofus maintains a curiosity about Hunter’s diet. He is allowed to stick his head in the bowl while his brother eats. More amazing than Hunter’s tolerance is that Goofus, who is fastidious to the extreme, is willing to risk being pelted with bits of flying food and that Hunter, who enjoys the stereotypical Labrador fondness for anything remotely edible, never touches kitty’s food.
Hunter likes to run up to whatever chair Goofus is in and smash his snoot into him, sneezing and slobbering. Goofus, who is still wary of most dogs and humans, accepts these overtures without hesitation or complaint. They head-butt and sprawl on the floor together, and they keep each other’s confidences.
Many times, when I can’t find kitty, I have asked Hunter to find him. Hunter, who dug my glove out of a foot of snow and who comes running at the sound of me dropping anything, will not show me where Goofus is.
Only once did he break from this policy. Goofus had been gone for three days. We were convinced we’d lost him. One evening after lots of tears, I took Hunter out for a break. In a last-ditch effort I said, “Can’t you find kitty for Mama?”
He led me into the high grass where I found a cowering, but otherwise unharmed Goofus, who allowed himself to be scooped up into my arms and returned to the house.
He’d probably been treed by a neighbor’s dog.
Nowadays, Goofus spends most of his time in our laps or at least keeping our chairs warm. My knitting is out in the open all over the house, and he never touches it. He still enjoys accompanying us on our last walk of the evening. In summer, he escorts us to the door and then peels off into the night.
Dogs and Cats in The Heart of Applebutter Hill
Goofus, the strawberry-blonde, male tabby sits with a copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill. His paw is covering the author’s/his mother’s name: photo by Rich Hill
Curly Connor, half black Lab and half Golden Retriever, and Emmett, a rescued orange tabby kitten, each play a prominent role in my novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill. Curly Connor works as a guide dog for the fourteen-year-old heroine Abigail, a shy singer-songwriter.
About The Heart of Applebutter Hill
Imagine you’re 14 and in a strange country with your camera, your best friend, her guitar and her dog. You uncover a secret and are instantly in danger. Join Baggy, Abigail and Curly Connor as they explore Elfin Pond, sneak around Bar Gundoom Castle and row across an underground lake. The powerful Heartstone of Arden-Goth is hidden nearby, and corporate giants unleash a spy to seize it. Compelled to unmask the spy and find the Heartstone, they can’t trust anyone.
As summer heats up, their troubled friend Christopher is viciously bullied and an armed stranger terrorizes Abigail and Baggy. The friends disagree about the spy’s identity, but are convinced it’s a teacher. When a desperate Christopher shows up one night with a terrified cat, the truth is revealed. Soon, police are involved.
One of the over 50 reviews for the book
This is a book about a blind girl without being a book about a blind girl….which is exactly the point. The main character, Abby, doesn’t trumpet her disability around the world as if it were her defining characteristic. She doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. The reader is never tempted to pity her, even for a moment. She is a driven, bright, gregarious yet measured girl who just happens to be blind.
Through her experiences we are exposed to a world that depends on the other senses, we find new ways to connect to the world around us. Mrs. Hill paints Abby’s thrill ride with her companion dog (Curly Connor) and best friend (Baggy Brichaz) in such a manner that the reader leaves the book better equipped to understand visual impairments without hitting them over the head with it. It took me a while to realize this because at first I was just writing this review on the merits of good vs. bad Young Adult fiction (and it is good, trust me). The feather in the cap of this book is that it stands as a great story that actually teaches you something, leaves you pondering your own disabilities vs. those of others.
I am a middle school reading teacher and I review and teach a lot of YA fiction. What separates the wheat from the chaff for me is well-developed characters that show humanness and overcome in spite of failures. You get the feeling that each of the characters in this book could very well survive on their own but the adventure is exponentially heightened because of the relationships they garner with each other. Mrs. Hill does a brilliant job of showing weaknesses, strengths and diversity as just a starting point to the basics of character interaction. By the end of this book, I felt like Abby, Baggy and Curly were my next-door neighbors and I still find myself looking out my window, waiting for the Cloud Scooper to swing by….
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Applebutter-Hill-Donna-W-ebook/dp/B00CNG6DDM
Read more reviews and follow Donna on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7126655.Donna_W_Hill
About Donna Hill
Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college.
A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, “Satori Green” appears in Richard Singer’s Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012).
From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups.
Connect to Donna.
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Donna-W.-Hill/e/B00CNTTUK2
Thanks to Donna for sharing this lovely post about Goofus who was so lucky to find this warm loving home..
After Easter there will be a new theme for the Posts from Your Archives…so keep an eye out for the introductory post.