47: Muffin the Warrior

47: Muffin the Warrior

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

Muffin the Warrior

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

~Helen Keller

He was little more than a fluffy gray fur ball, crawling through the chain link fence to play with our children. We had promised the kids a pet as a way to soften the blow of our frequent moves as an Air Force family — a forever friend they didn’t always have to leave behind.

I was unpacking boxes and organizing my new kitchen when the children came running in squealing, our oldest daughter clutching a tiny, wiggly, adorable kitten. Wasn’t it interesting that we just happened to move in next door to someone with a new litter of kittens?

Though they were too young to be separated from their mother, the kittens squeezed through the fence to join our kids every time they went out to play. After about four weeks we had our new pet and the spell was cast.

Muffin was a longhaired, gray tiger cat with an enormous raccoon-like tail. In fact, people often mistook him for a Maine Coon cat. He loved to be with the children. They would tuck him down their shirts until only his little gray face and green eyes showed above the collar. They carried him around in a butterfly net, dressed him in baby clothes and took turns sleeping with him at night.

As he grew, his personality became apparent. He loved people and would sit on the front porch waiting for passersby. When someone approached, he would saunter down the walk, meow sweetly, and luxuriate in the attention. He soaked up the sun with his face uplifted and scrunched into an expression that looked like an imitation of Yoda.

Muffin refused to be an indoor cat. Like his father, the neighborhood tom, he was struck with wanderlust and full of courage. Muffin was a skilled hunter and very territorial. One day, our neighbor’s dog, a Golden Retriever named Dusty, climbed onto his doghouse and jumped over the fence into our yard.

Muffin went on the offensive as the intruder entered his space. With the hair on his back raised, he crouched and stalked, preparing for his attack like a lion on the Serengeti. Then he went at Dusty full force, teeth bared, paws and claws like windmills twirling wildly in the air. Dusty outweighed Muffin by fifty pounds, but he was no match for this cat’s ferocity. Muffin swiped and hissed until Dusty was dizzy from trying to avoid him. After running in circles and jumping constantly to avoid Muffin’s razor-like claws, Dusty finally gave up and leapt straight from the ground over the fence and back to his yard. Muffin simply sat down calmly and began licking his fur as if to remove any speck of that dog from his universe.

As Muffin reached cat puberty he tested the boundaries. One evening, I heard a terrible cat fight outside. When Muffin didn’t show up for breakfast the next morning I went to investigate. Tufts of cat hair and damaged bushes gave testament to the tussle, but there was no other sign of Muffin.

Days turned into weeks and still he didn’t return. Searches and posters produced nothing, so we tried to comfort the children and move on. About a month later, the phone rang. Apparently, after losing the fight Muffin left to find his own territory. He traipsed through woods, fields, brambles and bushes until he was about ten miles from our house. Then, in the middle of a thunderstorm, he jumped up on the caller’s kitchen windowsill, exactly as he did at our house when he wanted to be let in. He looked pitiful so she went outside to get him. At our reunion he was wet, bedraggled and full of burrs, but otherwise fine.

On our next move we chose to live on the Air Force base where all pets had to be leashed when they were outside. We honestly tried to keep Muffin in, but he would sit for hours at the window meowing mournfully. I finally relented and let him out. Imagine our chagrin as we arrived at the Officer’s Club for an official function only to find Muffin sound asleep, ensconced on the wing of the airplane displayed at the entrance. We pretended not to see him.

The neighbors were actually grateful for Muffin’s outdoor presence as he controlled the local mole population. He even entertained us at a ladies’ brunch by catching a mole, tossing it in the air and batting it playfully as we tried to eat our quiche.

Muffin’s greatest mole adventure by far occurred one afternoon just before the children returned home from school. I spotted Muffin sitting quietly in the yard and recognized his watchful stance; a mole was about to meet its fate. Then he tipped his head ever so slightly and pounced forward to seize the hapless mole in his claws. Before he could savor the moment, a hawk swooped down from the top of a tree, gliding soundlessly across the yard, just skimming the grass. Muffin never saw him coming. The hawk snatched the mole in its talons and took off. Ever the fighter, Muffin was not about to let this interloper have his catch. The hawk had one end of the mole and Muffin the other. As the hawk flew upward Muffin hung on. The hawk flew higher and higher, mole in tow and Muffin dangling below. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Finally at about nine feet in the air, Muffin decided this was one fight he couldn’t win. He let go and fell to the ground with nothing but his ego damaged. The hawk soared off into the woods with his prize.

As the children grew up and moved on, their forever friend was left in our care. So, at the age of twenty-one, Muffin, now blind, retired to Florida with us. Always the outdoor cat, we fixed a basket with a heating pad for him on the screened porch where he spent his final days prowling the perimeter of the lanai, enjoying the coastal breeze and sniffing the salty air.

As he sat in the sun with his long tail curled around him, eyes closed and face scrunched into his Yoda grin, I wondered if he was reminiscing about the adventures of his amazing life. Did he see himself as a young cat, climbing trees, chasing dogs, and challenging hawks? He lived to be twenty-three, a testament to those tomcat genes. A few days after Muffin died, a bobcat appeared at the edge of the pond across the street from our house. I e-mailed a picture of it to our oldest daughter, Muffin’s original champion. She replied simply, “Mom, that isn’t just a bobcat. It’s Muffin’s spirit returning to tell you he’s okay.”

~Liz Graf

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