Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Many Lives of Ratfink

Cartoon by Ronald Searle


One of the first cats we ever owned was DumDum, a vicious Siamese cat who could chase a dog up a tree. When my father brought home a collie-white german shephard mixed pup, Dum Dum promptly set the cur straight as to where it belonged. (under the basement steps, trembling in her own pee, usually) After Mom died, Dum Dum just went over the top insane and took off. We thankfully never saw him again.

Later came Charles, a stray white cat with a black stripe going from his head to his tailless rump. He had gas perpetually and could clear a room just by walking in. He became known as Pepe Le Pew, and I held out hope that my father would just get used to him and let us keep him. No such luck. Charles met his fate at the animal shelter.

My father decided that sending a cat to its end wasn't good for the filial relationship and bought me a new kitten from the pet shop next door to his music store. I got him for Christmas. (Two years before Bra entered the picture). He was a slim, lovely kitten, a long hair black cat with white paws and chest, and a white stripe that spread out like a smile over his chin. We called him Sachiko.

Sachiko was graceful and sleek. He had a sweet odor about him and he liked to do somersaults. We would tie a feather onto a fishing line and he would chase and jump over it, and never seemed to get tired playing with us. He was every pet owner's dream cat. He did his business in the catbox and didn't spray the furniture...he was neutered when we bought him.

One day, when we moved to a new city in another state, Sachiko ran away from home. He just couldn't adjust to his new home.

My father then bought us a Norwegian Elk Hound we named Goozer, and he followed us everywhere, and kept the Madrid Brothers and the Couch Brothers away.

Our street was an eclectic melange of assorted insane types. All races and ethicities collected on our street. We didn't bother the blacks, and they didn't bother us. We got along just fine that way. We didn't get along with the boys across the street, however. The Beaudry Brothers were dangerous. At least Danny B. was. He was violent and a known prowler. We did everything we could to stay out of our way, but he often peeped into our windows. Calling the police was always pointless, but a dropped frying pan on the end of Little Sister's jump rope often kept him from actually gaining entrance through the windows.

Other types, even more dangerous than the Beaudry Boys inhabited our street as well. One of the more dangerous types was an animal killer. He didn't kill rabbits and squirrels...his quarry was kitty cats. Cute little kitty cats. At any given time the smell of formaldahyde permeated our street, and we knew to stay away from the red house with the constantly open front door....no one ever seemed to go in or out, but the always-opened door kept the rumors about the occupants fueled for a long time.

One summer day, My brother Stauche and my sister Mouse came running like they were being chased by the very Devil himself, as they burst into the house. Stauche was carrying a bundle that reeked of formaldahyde, and Mouse was looking out the front door to see if Satan had followed them home.

Stauche opened the bundle, a red bandana, and inside was a tiny baby kitten, shaking and smelling of the poison.
"We rescued him," Stauche said.
"YOU rescued him," corrected Mouse.
"You are brave, little brother," I said.
"There were four dead kittens, and this one was trying to walk around, so we snatched it." Stauche explained.
"You mean you went into that house?" I was truly in awe of my younger 10 year old brother.
"No," he said. " There was a tub of chemicals in the back yard, and Mouse and I were walking throught the alley, when we saw all the dead kittens. I am never going back there again. It was too scary. I thought someone would come out and grab me." Stauche was shaking in his sneakers.
"Let's take him to a vet," said Mouse.
"Vets cost money, and we don't have any money," replied Stauche.

Not far up the street was a veterinarian. We explained what happened to the kitten, and smelling the poor thing for himself, he simply gave us some medicine and gravely asserted that the animal would probably not last through the night.

But he did. Stauche stayed up all night in his room, feeding the kitten, religiously giving him the medicine, til it was gone. In a week, the kitten had survived and thrived under my brother's care.

"I have decided to call him Ratfink." Stauche said. And who were we to argue?
Ratfink was a gentle cat. He was a patient and longsuffering cat, as though the ordeal in the chemical bath had given him a wise perspective on life. Nothing frightend him, either. Not Goozer, who could be wired for sound. But Goozer loved the new kitten, and the two became good friends. Stauche fed him like a king, and Ratfink grew fat and contented.

On one hot late spring afternoon, when the four lilac trees in our yard were in full bloom, when the air was hot and muggy, with an impending thunderstorm on the way, we could smell it, and there was just enough time for a water hose fight with the Slutzes, Ratfink decided to come out on the porch and watch the fun....til the first spray of the hose sent him scampering back into the house. He didn't quite clear the screen door, however, and it slammed on his back leg. Everyone stopped the war immediately, and to our utter horror, we saw that Ratfink's leg was nearly amputated.

Stauche got a towel, and gently picking up the cat, who was going into shock, carried him out the door and up the street a few blocks to the vet who had given him the medicine the first time.

Astonished to see that the cat had survived and was clearly in good health, with the exception of nearly bleeding to death, the vet put a splint on Ratfink's leg, and showed Stauche how to apply the ointment, and how to reapply new bandages. This time, however, the doctor was not optimistic. He told Stauche of all the possible outcomes, and each and every time, death was the probability. But Stauche only smiled. Ratfink was still alive.

And once again, Stauche cleared out the bottom drawer of his dresser, filled it with clean towels, and tenderly took care of Ratfink. He cleansed the leg, gave him his pain medicine, fed him his water through an eye dropper, and bought sardines from his allowance. And once again, Stauche took him into the vet for inspection, and once again, the vet was surprised at how Ratfink thrived and was able to hop about without the splint. His foot was no longer strong, and he could only hop, but he lived.
The vet never once charged my brother for his services. He was too impressed with my brother's diligence, and he would tell all the pet owners who brought their animals to see him about Ratfink and Stauche.

Ratfink lived with us for several years until well after R had moved in. She didn't like the cat, often nitpicking his every flaw. She had bought new furniture for the house, and Ratfink just didn't fit in with the decor. When she saw the cat stretching and scratching her new drapes, it provided her with an excuse to get rid of him. She took him to an animal drop off box located by the side of the road near the animal shelter and only told Stauche after a week of fruitless searching, and when he called the pound, it was already too late. Ratfink had been put down. My brother flew into a rage, and took a tennis racket after his step mother. He missed her, but put a slice into the wall near our parent's bedroom. She stayed out of his way after that.

One day, a few months after she'd gotten rid of Ratfink, she spent 250 dollars on a longhaired purebred Persian she named Pooty. My brother glowered at the cat and smiled one of his most ominous smiles. "I have decided to call him PUDWHACKER," and who were we to argue?

Pudwhacker prooved to be as opposite of Ratfink that any cat could be. But Stauche managed to keep the pretentious stepmother from fulfilling her dream of showing the cat off in competition, by teasing the cat's fur with Mouse's comb...and by putting bubble gum into his fur. He didn't actually inflict pain on the poor, bedraggled hairball, but he rendered him useless as an objet d'art, for when the stepmother's friends came over, she could no longer say, "I paid $250 for him." and hope to impress them. Pudwhacker got revenge on my brother by using his bed as his toilet, and the ultimate revenge on us all, when he went into the maintenance crawlspace behind the bathtub and died. It took us forever to find where the foul odor was coming from. That was the end of Pudwhacker, and we didn't own anymore cats til we moved away from home.

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