click to enlarge Nora isn't much on pugs or catching mice or coming out of the basement, but she has charm nonetheless. - PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON
Photo by Bruce Rushton
Nora isn't much on pugs or catching mice or coming out of the basement, but she has charm nonetheless.

I suck at killing things. This is why I got a cat.

After recently trapping a mouse in my kitchen and seeing its desperate eyes while being dispatched, squeaking all the way, to the trash bin outside, I thought it better to have its friends hunted down and eaten. And so I filled out an online application, offering to provide feline foster care for the local animal shelter and figuring I'd keep the first mouser.

My preference was old – I need a cat for eight years or so, not 18 – and black, to match Champ The Wonder Pug, and I'd heard that such cats are tough to place. After not hearing back for awhile, I visited the shelter, where they were giving away cats. I explained that I'd be happy to donate $200 to the shelter for the privilege of auditioning mousers. We can't do that, they said.

My foster application had gone missing, so I filled out a new one. A few days later, I got an email: No cats available for foster homes. Perhaps you'd be interested in adoption. I went back to the shelter a second time. They couldn't show me a cat just then, but I met a fine-looking tabby outside, which nuzzled my leg and purred when I picked it up and paid no mind to Champ, and vice versa, when I took him out of the truck for a quick visit. This, they said, was a feral cat, which I should have known by its clipped ear. Goes to show how much I know about cats.

While my adoption application was pending, I pondered the best way to ensure getting a mouser. Since I couldn't return the cat for not chasing mice, I hit on buying a mouse from the pet store and bringing it to the shelter. When the woman from the shelter called, saying that my application had been approved, I asked whether I'd be able to spend time alone with candidates in a quiet room to see if we might bond. No, she said, we can't do that. Can I bring my pug to make sure that it will get along with the cat? No, we can't do that. What if the pug and the cat fight? "I guess you could bring the cat back," she replied.

I made an appointment.

There seemed no shortage of cats in cages and rooms on two floors, but just two fit my criteria of being older with no health issues. One seemed too eager, the other too aloof. What about Nora, I asked, the one I saw on the website? I was led to a room I'd passed by on my way in. There were just a handful of cages here, fewer than in the other rooms, like this was ad seg or maybe the Group W bench. The label on Nora's cage said that she'd been here since September and pinpointed her age at 14 years, two months.

"How do you know that?" I asked. "We had her as a fresh kitten," the attendant answered. "She's been back six times." Why? The attendant thumbed through a sheaf of papers contained in a manila folder. She's a talker, he reported, likes things quiet, may not get along with kids. I put my finger near her mouth. She bit it, but not too hard. "See?" the attendant said. She held my gaze without seeming aloof or eager while I scratched her chin – ball's in your court, I've done this before.

Wrap her up, I commanded.

Nora has made herself at home in the basement, mostly on a box four feet high and so safely separated both from rodents and my pug, who now can boast that he has scared something. There is grit somewhere – I have never seen a cat go from purr to hiss so quickly, sometimes in the same breath, and she sometimes hisses even as she's enjoying a back scratch. They were right about her being a talker: When meowed at, Nora meows back. She seems in no hurry to come upstairs. She also drools a lot. A week after her arrival, I trapped a mouse and dangled the carcass within an inch of her nose.

She'll get the hang of it.

Just because a cat is old doesn't mean that it won't hunt, especially after a day or two of no food, which I will try soon. Always, there are raisins. Best mousetrap bait ever. And drool never hurt anyone.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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