There was more to the kittens’ wild genetic heritage than exceptional hunting skills. Merlin and Misty loved trees. Wild leopards are tree dwellers as well as ground hunters. They typically sleep in trees. No need to call the fire department for rescue if our cats were up in a tree. They were at home there. Chasing the squirrels around from branch to branch became one of their favorite sports.
The cats inherited more than just trees and hunting. Our house had a swimming pool. I used to keep it covered to reduce evaporation until I realized this did little good and served mostly to impede its easy use. One day I was rolling up the pool cover when Merlin jumped onto the unspooled portion. I yelled at him to get off of there but it was too late. He lost his purchase on the plastic and slid down the incline straight into the water.
Even though I was still dressed I was about to jump in and rescue my dear friend. But then I realized Merlin was perfectly happy. He started paddling around the pool without the slightest sign of distress. After a bit he swam back over to the pool cover, clawed a grip, pulled himself out of the water then shook himself dry. After that Merlin showed no sign of fear of the pool, often walking right on the edge. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Merlin and Misty had webbed feet, and I learned they were very close cousins of the web-toed Leopard Cat, the Asian Fishing Cat that makes its living diving for fish.
For a few weeks in the middle of the night we would hear Merlin, at the far end of the house, singing away. What was he doing? On inspection we discovered that Merlin had a friend. A bobcat was coming to visit. The two of them, sitting on either side of the dining room slider would paw the glass and talk to each other. The bobcat was skittish though so we kept our distance. Then, one day I looked out the slider and there was Merlin. How had he gotten out of house? I knew no doors had been opened. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t Merlin. The bobcat had come to visit during the day. What fooled me was his coloration and markings were almost identical to Merlin’s. Merlin dashed up, they greeted each other, and the two of them walked side by side down the length of the glass wall. The bobcat was almost exactly twice as long as Merlin and Merlin was a big cat! That was the last we saw of the bobcat. Apparently having seen me, he came thereafter only at night.
I mentioned that Merlin had an exceptional talent for spatial analysis. One evening Sarah and I were watching a wildlife documentary. Merlin was sitting next to my chair. On the screen a bear was walking across an empty grassy landscape. Merlin was fascinated. He had not seen a bear before and he was very curious. He moved up closer to the television screen to get a better view. The bear ambled by a lone tree. Merlin, suddenly realizing the great size of the animal, dashed behind my chair and hid there for the rest of the show.
As the cats matured Merlin became increasingly independent. When he was about two years old we began to be concerned that Merlin might turn feral. His behavior was increasingly odd. Then, one evening he didn’t show up at the usual dinner call. Since he usually prowled around down the hill I got in the car and drove down to see if I could find him. Sure enough, there he was. I opened the car door and he dashed up and jumped in, happy to see me. After that both cats were grounded. We would only allow them outside in the backyard and then only if we were present. What we didn’t realize is that Merlin had a serious problem. He hadn’t deliberately rejected the call. That evening when he didn’t come for dinner the climb back up the hill must have been too much for him.
Playing in the back yard the cats found plenty of places to climb and amble about. One of Merlin’s favorite gambols was to jump from the fence to the roof of the house, to better survey the neighborhood. A few days after the grounding, he made the leap – usually easy for him. But this time he didn’t make it. For an instant he grabbed hold of the gutter but lost his grip and fell hard on the pavement below.
We scooped him up and took him right to the vet. After a long examination the news wasn’t good. Merlin was suffering from spindle cell cancer. He had weeks, or maybe months to live, no longer. There was a small ray of hope, though. There was one case in the literature where a cat with spindle cell had lived to the age of five. That was small comfort.
We were given some tranquilizers for Merlin, but he wouldn’t take them. Even if they were forced down his throat he would regurgitate the pills, stash or hide them in the pouch of his cheek and spit them out later. We found them scattered around the floor. Merlin very much did not like what those pills did to him. We stopped trying. Let Merlin be Merlin.
Oddly, while he no longer had the physical agility he once had, nothing else seemed to change. He was still an active, happy, affectionate cat. He still, every morning, engaged in Misty’s rough and tumble teasing. Without being tranquilized he was as curious and bold as ever. He showed no signs of the predicted sudden decline.
Every six months we would take him to the vet’s for an examination. Every time the report came back the same: no further deterioration. A year passed, then two. The people at the veterinary hospital all knew Merlin by then. They were now rooting for him. They began calling him their “miracle kitty” because of his exceptional longevity with this deadly cancer.
Five years passed and Merlin was now famous within the veterinary community. The word had spread widely for this was no ordinary hospital. It was located in Thousand Oaks, California. Back in the old days Thousand Oaks was home to Jungleland. This was the place where the Ringling Brothers Circus trained its big animals: lions, tigers, and elephants. The great Clyde Beatty, demonstrating his big cat training, was a featured attraction.
The veterinary hospital was established to care for those magnificent creatures. It was staffed by the nation’s top professionals. Jungleland was gone by the time we had arrived, but the hospital was still there and it was still the preferred clinic for exotic animals. Merlin had the very best care.
Every six months we would take Merlin in for an exam. Every time the staff would cluster around to greet Merlin. Nothing changed and the years of this now famous Miracle Kitty rolled on.
Ten years had passed since we brought the kittens home. I was in great pain from a very difficult surgery — the inside of my skull had been reconstructed – when the Reaper came visiting. It wasn’t sudden. We had days of warning. One morning Misty began her usual tease. But this time Merlin backed away. He wouldn’t let her touch him. Sarah and I bundled him down to the vet’s. The news was bad. Merlin had a large tumor bulging from his side. It had grown so quickly – mostly since the previous day — that we hadn’t noticed. Merlin had days to live. A narcotic was prescribed but, as usual, Merlin spit the pills out. He preferred a clear head.
For a few days Merlin rallied. He ate well and seemed his old self. Misty kept him constant company. She knew this was bad. Then, one evening I found Merlin lying half paralyzed. He had no control over his hind quarters. I took Merlin into a place of comfort and sat close to him. Far into the night we consoled each other, me singing softly to Merlin and Merlin’s musical voice returning the affection. Eventually Merlin slept and I was able to get a few hours, myself, before the inevitable events in the morning.
At the vet’s some of the old timers came in to say goodbye to their friend, the Miracle Kitty. Then the tranquilizer took effect. I cradled Merlin’s head in my hand as he gazed at me, love in his eyes. His heart stopped and so did the sparkle.
Each year, on the anniversary of Merlin’s passing, paperwhite lilies bloom for a few days where Merlin’s ashes were scattered.
© 2023 Chester L. Richards. All rights reserved.
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Miracle Kitty Part 1 │ Miracle Kitty Part 2 │ Miracle Kitty Part 3
Thanks to all who have been buying my book From The Potato to Star Trek and Beyond. I am so grateful and hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoyed having, and writing about them.
Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly recommend The Potato to Star Trek and Beyond: Memoirs of a Rocket Scientist with its shining 5-star rating. It is a captivating read that will leave a lasting impression on any reader fortunate enough to embark on this heartfelt journey."
---Julia K. Goodman
From Chester L. Richards
Hello, and happy to see you here! A little about what's behind these stories: Having retired from the world of aerospace engineering, I now spend time reading, inventing, listening to music, taking photographs and sharing them with friends. And writing stories. Often about people I've met as I've traveled to exotic places, learned about music, surfing, white water rafting, optics, photography. Every story is true. I hope you enjoy them.