78: Unforgiven

78: Unforgiven

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

Unforgiven

We do not quite forgive a giver.

The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We didn’t want to leave him so soon. Really we didn’t. But my husband Bill and I had made plans for a Caribbean vacation long before we rescued the shaky little eight-pound, black-and-white tuxedo cat we called Chuck.

Three months earlier, our new addition had come home with us coughing and sneezing and on the verge of what our veterinarian called “the cat version of a nervous breakdown.” Chuck had been abandoned twice in the past year, and when the adoption call went out from our local animal shelter it was noted that in addition to being lethargic, he was refusing to eat. Two sets of owners had given up on him and now he was giving up on himself. Nonetheless, Bill and I saw something special in this little fellow and we vowed to soothe his trauma and give him the best home possible.

So, Chuck became our joint project. Together we nursed him through a respiratory infection, conjunctivitis, a psoriasis flare-up, and the worst case of fleas either of us had ever seen in our many previous years of cat ownership. It took a month and unmentionable expense until we found a brand of cat food that Chuck would agree to occasionally nibble, and eventually his weight did increase to a healthy ten pounds. No wonder his previous owners had returned Chuck to the shelter; he was a lot of work.

Yet our little Chuck had so much to offer. Each evening when I returned home from the office, he greeted me at the door then stood by my side as I prepared dinner. Afterward, he would chase a ping-pong ball or swat at a piece of string until, exhausted from his efforts, he would curl up on my lap and purr, practically vibrating with gratitude for his new home. Chuck was like a big, cuddly ball of love, and Bill and I were both smitten with him. That’s what made leaving him for even one week so difficult.

Still, we convinced ourselves that Chuck would be fine in the care of my parents and we trundled him over to their house along with a large supply of food, his wicker basket, favorite toys, treats, and the name and phone number of not one, but two highly accredited veterinarians, just in case. After familiarizing Chuck with his temporary surroundings, Bill and I both kissed him goodbye and then proceeded directly to the airport. Securely tucked in my carry-on bag was a photo of our furry little friend.

I was the first to take out his photo as we sat in the airplane, preparing for take-off.

“I miss Chuck,” I sighed to Bill over the roar of the engines.

“Miss him? We haven’t even gotten off the ground yet,” he answered.

But by the time we landed, Bill had asked to look at Chuck’s photo twice, and when we found ourselves back on terra firma, our little friend somehow snuck his way into most of our conversations.

While swimming: “Ah, this beach is so serene. What do you think Chuck is doing now?”

While sightseeing: “Have you ever seen such a beautiful park? Chuck would love the shady spots under the trees.”

During dinner: “This flounder is delicious. So well seasoned. Chuck would really enjoy a little nip of it.”

And so it went for one week.

All too soon, though, our final day in the Caribbean arrived, and Bill and I strolled into town to do a little souvenir shopping, commenting of course, on how much Chuck would appreciate the cooling breeze. Suddenly, Bill stopped dead. Pointing, he turned my attention into a wide, shop window. “Chuck would just love this,” he exclaimed, gesturing toward a wriggling, battery-operated toy muskrat. I noted the price: far more than either of us had spent on any souvenirs for ourselves. It was, however, for Chuck, and price notwithstanding, the muskrat was swiftly purchased.

Back at the hotel, I wrapped the souvenir and secured it for travel all the while imagining Chuck’s delighted response to the return of his owners. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned my little fur-ball running to greet me at my parents’ front door. His purr would be on high speed.

When we arrived, I walked up the front walk barely able to contain my anticipation.

“Chuck! We’re home!” I cried out. But, no Chuck. “Where’s my cat?” I asked my mother.

“I think he’s sleeping on the guest bed. That’s where he spent most of his time,” she said. “Except when he sat on your father’s lap and watched television.”

Bill followed me into the guest room, souvenir bag in hand. There lay Chuck atop the velour bedspread in a deep sleep, looking quite content. I petted his soft back. Chuck opened one eye, took a look at us and rolled over.

“I think he’s giving us the ‘cold-paw’ treatment,” Bill said. “He’ll change his tune once he sees this gift.” Bill took the muskrat out of the bag, laid it on the floor then turned it on. It wriggled in all directions. Chuck, however, remained supine.

I picked him up and placed him on the floor next to his new toy. “Chuck, it’s for you. It’s your souvenir from our vacation,” I explained as I moved the muskrat closer to him.

Then, finally a spark of interest. Bill and I watched with bated breath as Chuck took a few cursory swats at the toy. Then he laid one paw atop the muskrat until it stopped moving, eyed it squarely, squatted on top of it, and promptly did his business all over it. Chuck had spoken. And Bill and I heard his message loud and clear. It was a long time before we left Chuck for a vacation again.

~Monica A. Andermann

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