42: The Lion of Woodhaven

42: The Lion of Woodhaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

The Lion of Woodhaven

Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel. True, and they have many other fine qualities as well.

~Missy Dizick

Buster was gorgeous — emerald green eyes and a long Persian coat the color of caramel. The day we adopted him from the animal shelter he was no more than a tiny ball of fluff. Who knew he would grow up to be the curse of the cul-de-sac, the bane of the block, the scourge of the sidewalks? He was, after all, a cream puff at home.

Some cats choose to ignore their names, pretending not to hear when you call them home. Buster wasn’t like that. He would prick up his ears, stop whatever he was doing, and run for the house the minute he heard me call his name. Once, he stopped dead in his tracks while chasing a mouse and scampered into the house with his tail ramrod straight, purring like a Porsche and rubbing against my leg.

But as much as we loved him, we had to admit that Buster was the meanest cat in Woodhaven. Neighbors called him “Devil Cat,” and didn’t think twice about turning the water hose on him when he had the bad manners to pick a fight with their cats. Buster was definitely the neighborhood bully.

Then one fateful day, Buster’s world turned upside down. It was a Saturday, and I had just come home from the grocery store.

“Can you help me with these bags?” I asked my husband, Terry. He was in the garage brushing the final coat of linseed oil on an old chest he’d refinished, but he put his brush down to help me unload the car. Just as Terry set the last bag on the counter, we heard a loud crash and a horrible yowling coming from the garage.

“What in the world was that?” I asked.

We dashed to the garage, imagining all kinds of terrible things. What we found was the gallon can of linseed oil on its side, a thick, gooey mess spreading across the concrete floor. Buster howled again and we found him hunkered down in a corner, crying like a baby. His body was covered in linseed oil, and he looked like a refugee from a house of horrors.

“You’ve done it now, buddy,” Terry said, shaking his head.

“How in the world will we ever get him clean?”

“Call the vet. I’ll try to get Buster into his carrier,” Terry said as he grabbed an old beach towel.

Three hours later, we stared in stunned silence as the pet groomer handed us a very different version of our old Buster.

“The vet says he’s perfectly fine,” the young woman assured us. “I shampooed him four or five times, but finally gave up and just shaved him. It was the only way I could get all the gunk out of his hair.” She smiled. “I think he looks like a little lion now, don’t you?”

I nodded as she put the shivering cat in my arms. Buster looked exactly like a miniature lion. His head was a shaggy mane, but his legs, body, and tail were sleek and smooth with only a little fluff of hair at the tip of his tail. And even though he looked like a wild beast, there was nothing ferocious about the new Buster. He seemed embarrassed, actually mortified, the epitome of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.

Terry and I couldn’t help laughing out loud as soon as we reached our car. Buster crawled to the back of his pet carrier and licked at his paws, feigning nonchalance. The minute we were home, he dived under the bed and hid until after dark.

The next morning Buster refused to go outside. I found his old litter box and made sure he knew where it was. Then I fed him some kitty treats, and held him for a while as I read the newspaper. He purred contently in my lap, but skittered to the bedroom when the doorbell rang. Marilyn, my next-door neighbor, stood on the porch holding a basket of homegrown tomatoes.

“I saw you dash off with the pet carrier yesterday,” she said. “Is Buster all right?”

I described Buster’s misadventure and then asked, “Want to see him?”

“Absolutely!”

I gathered Buster from under the bed and held him like a baby as Marilyn stared in disbelief.

“That’s Buster?” she asked. “Our Buster? The unholy terror of Woodhaven?”

“The very same,” I answered.

Buster struggled from my arms and darted under the sofa.

“He doesn’t seem quite so ferocious now, does he?”

“I don’t think he likes his new look. He won’t go outside, and his favorite time of day is when we turn out all the lights and go to bed.”

Thirty minutes after Marilyn left, the doorbell rang again. Four little girls stood at my door, begging to see Buster. Marilyn had been on the phone, no doubt, announcing Buster’s makeover to everyone in Woodhaven.

“We heard he looks like a baby lion,” one girl said with a giggle.

“See for yourself,” I answered, coaxing Buster out from under the sofa with cat treats. He scarfed down the treat, glanced up at the wide-eyed visitors, and scampered down the hall to find another hiding place.

The phone rang as soon as the girls left and continued to ring all day as poor Buster’s news traveled through the neighborhood. Everyone who’d ever had a run-in with our cat seemed to be having a field day.

“I’m going to start charging admission,” I told Terry three days later. “Every kid in the neighborhood has been by to see Buster. Some of them twice.”

Buster’s hair gradually grew longer, and within a couple of months he looked more like his old self. When he finally decided to venture back outside though, we noticed a change in his “cattitude.” He seemed reluctant to leave our yard and was almost polite when he encountered neighboring animals. Several friends commented that Buster’s experience with the linseed oil seemed to have humbled him — a “new and improved” Buster, they said.

Terry and I didn’t mind the change, mainly because folks no longer complained about Buster’s poor behavior. For years, at our neighborhoods’ annual summer block party, discussion would eventually get around to Buster’s accident, drawing howls of laughter at the memory. Terry and I laughed, too, not just about the way Buster had looked, but the way he’d acted. Who knew a cat could be embarrassed?

Buster died of natural causes several years later at the ripe old age of thirteen. Word traveled quickly through the neighborhood that our beloved pet was gone. Every neighbor who had ever fussed about our devil cat came to pay last respects to the little lion of Woodhaven, and laugh with us at the fond memory of a very changed cat.

~Ruth Jones

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