This I Believe

Diana - Grafton, Vermont
Entered on April 23, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe that leopards should not have to change their spots.

When my sister-in-law, Anne, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she made some difficult decisions. She chose a treatment plan and a hospital, made her will, and gave away her pets. Because they mattered so much to her, I like to think that it comforted Anne to know that her animals would have happy homes. My husband volunteered to take Max, a mischievous kitten with long black hair, luminous green eyes, and a stubby rabbit tail, whose pedigree seemed to fall somewhere between a Siamese and a Manx. We promised to give him a happy life.

Unlike countless rude children the world over, Max actually WAS raised in a barn, and he could not be held to a life of domesticity. Not for him the simulated bark of the indoor scratching post, the false squeak of the toy rodent, the regimen of the enclosed litter box, and the overstuffed landscape of the monogrammed cat bed. Even when it came to drinking, Max was a child of the woods. It was the backyard dog bowl or nothing.

Max always dined alone, pleased with himself and content with his own company. He was careful to wash himself before entering the house, a gesture I naturally appreciated. And he was always willing to move his dinner out of the way of the lawnmower, which I think shows foresight AND good breeding.

His tastes were varied: squirrels, moles, chipmunks, birds, voles, and bats, and he rarely made the same selection two days in a row. He was a master of the hunt. I saw him catch bats in mid-flight, climb 15 feet into a tree to stalk a bird, and nail a flying squirrel from across the yard in utter darkness as it dropped from the eaves of our house. My husband shook his head in wonder. “If Max was bigger than us, he would eat us,” he said.

We worried that something nasty would get him, but except for an unfortunate incident with a Have-a-Heart skunk trap and a few lost sections of flesh that were clearly not vital, he repeatedly stalked his way through summer and well into fall. In winter, he wistfully watched the chickadees pecking at dried seed heads only inches from his window perch, but he never developed a taste for frozen food. He looked longingly over the barren yard and submitted to the call of the cat food can, waiting for outdoor dining to resume once more.

When Max came home limping or bleeding, I simply cleaned him up and brought down the dreaded pet bed, to which he reluctantly agreed. My friends scolded me for giving him his freedom, but I felt duty-bound to honor his calling. Max craves the tall grass, the noises of the forest, the wind in his whiskers, and supper on the porch, and who am I to disagree?