45: Mandrake

45: Mandrake

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Mandrake

Cats are kindly masters, just so long as you remember your place.

~Paul Gray

Mandrake was a never a “here kitty, kitty” kind of cat. Black as midnight, it was clear from kittenhood that this cat had channeled more of the wild, dominant genes than those of his more domestic ancestors. He tolerated us as a family. We were, after all, his main source of food. But he made it clear from Day One who was King.

My parents brought Mandrake and a black Lab puppy, Sugar, into our home the day I turned one. We were a formidable trio, but Mandrake established the pecking order early. The wiry, black kitten ruled. Sugar and I gave him a wide berth. This “live and let live” philosophy pretty much governed the rest of Mandrake’s existence. A few years later, when my sister and then my brother arrived, Mandrake still ruled. Even my dad held no sway when Mandrake was around.

The first time we realized how fearsome our black cat was, our family had run out to the front yard in response to strange sounds. The neighborhood terror, a large aggressive German Shepherd, was a biter of children and pets. Now he was whining and running out of our yard at a full sprint. We stared in astonishment at the bully’s uncharacteristic behavior. Soon we saw the cause.

Mandrake sat crouched on all fours on the Shepherd’s back, riding the dog out of our yard. Seeing Mandrake repeat this performance became a monthly ritual. He perched on the fence leading between the front yard and back. When unsuspecting large neighborhood dogs passed by on our property, Mandrake, self-appointed defender of our land, jumped on their backs, dug in his claws and rode them off our land.

Through the years this pattern continued. Mandrake defended our property, purposely walking widely around Sugar and the rest of us, and ignoring us as if we didn’t exist. That changed one night. Twelve-year-old Sugar disappeared. She had not been looking her normal spry self. Gray whiskers mingled with the black. Her walking had become labored.

We set off around the neighborhood calling for her. When we looked back, Mandrake was following, twenty feet behind. We walked a good mile before we located Sugar, belly down in a ditch. Her sad eyes looked up as we carried her home. Mandrake followed us, still twenty feet behind. We set up a comfortable bed for Sugar and wrapped her in blankets.

As soon as we closed the door, Mandrake went wild. He scratched. He yowled. He climbed the screen. When we opened the door, Mandrake, the cat that loved no one, climbed in the bed with Sugar. No amount of moving him would make him leave. We put him outside. He yowled and waited until the door opened. Then he headed back to Sugar’s bed. For two days, Mandrake refused to leave Sugar’s side. He wouldn’t leave for food. He didn’t leave for water.

The time came when Dad said the end was near. We gathered around our sweet dog. Mandrake left his recent home curled up by Sugar’s belly. He walked over to Sugar, lay down by her head, and placed his nose on hers. Mandrake gently rubbed his nose on Sugar’s as she closed her eyes for the last time.

Mandrake was old and fierce and independent. After Sugar died, we got a new dog, Rocky. Mandrake went back to his old ways, riding neighborhood dogs out of our yard, ignoring us and our new dog. Anyone watching him would have said he didn’t care.

We all knew better.

~Julie Reece-DeMarco

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