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half tail

Man vs. Cat. Final Score: Cat, 1; Me, 0
By Bob Welch

It is not unusual to walk into our house and see a cat sprawled on our natural wood floor, the look on his face saying: “I own this place. Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

The thing that recently made the scene so odd was that the laid-back feline did not belong to us. Or, apparently, to anybody.

The mangy tiger cat with half a tail began showing up about a year ago, scratching at our door. We ignored him. He meowed. We ignored him. He persisted. We ignored him.

“Stubby,” said She Who Would Befriend a Wounded Grizzly with feigned conviction, “go home.”

Therein lay the problem. Scruffy, obviously, did not have a home. And I was intent on keeping it that way.

“Go home, Shorty,” I said with a bit more conviction.

“It’s Stubby,” my counterpart replied. “Because his tail got cut off or something. I call him Stubby.”

“Whatever,” I said, knowing that she had already made a major mistake by naming this nuisance.

When you name a cat, even if you think it’s not yours, it encourages the thing to believe it is yours.

It’s the same way with fish. You see a nameless fish in some stream, and it’s just a fish. But the goldfish your little kids named “Mr. Fish” is a family friend. And when he goes belly up, the kids hold a two-hour memorial service, complete with an open casket and finger food afterward. (Said the invitation: “Please join us for Fish and chips.”)

Years ago, we had four cats, and we were now down to two; there was hope in the air. But now this tail-less interloper was threatening everything.

One night last winter, I was just about asleep when Spunky meowed from outside.

“He’s cold,” She-Who said.

“He’s not our cat,” I said. “Remember?”

In the morning, I heard a noise in the kitchen. Slinky was wolfing down our two cats’ food with the gusto of a home-from--college son having found a bag of marshmallows.

“Out, Slippy!” I yelled.

He darted into the living room.

“It’s Stubby,” She-Who reminded.

“Out!” I yelled.

He finally slipped out the kitchen door, his eyes riveted with the fear of a trail horse who’d just seen a rattlesnake.

But, gradually, that began to change. We’d accidentally leave a door ajar, and he’d bolt for the cats’ food like ex-Duck Igor Olshansky to an unprotected quarterback. From time to time, I’d notice She-Who slipping him a can of Friskies Sliced Beef with Gravy. Hours later, he’d still be working for every last morsel, even if that morsel had been consumed long ago.

The scenario repeated, then began taking on a more sinister tinge. I’d come home from work and Smitty, lying in the driveway, would look at me with that Cheshire cat look on his face, as if to say: “She’s caved. And you’ll be next, Bob-o.”

I’d look back at him as if to say: “You’ll never break me. You’re not cat enough.”

And he’d glare back with the cockiness of Puss in Boots in “Shrek 2” before he coughs up the hairball. “Try me.”

For months, the two of us played this game of cat-and-louse, he looking at me with hungry eyes, me looking away. A test of wills. Mind games. Man vs. feline.

Then, home alone one rainy night, I heard Scabby crying from outside.

This had gone on much too long.

Nobody was around. It was dark. I could put an end to his months of begging with one simple act. Who would know?

So I slipped out into the rain and, against my will, did something I never thought I would do. Something that, weeks later, I would regret deeply: I left a can of Friskies for Stinky. (Hey, he was hungry.)

With summer’s good weather, he’s now as much a part of our household as our couch, grandchildren’s Legos and my framed 2002 Fiesta Bowl front page.

I walk in, and he’s lying on the floor with a totally new disposition. As if to say: “Hey, you’re welcome around my campfire anytime, partner. But, uh, first, would you mind handing me the remote?”

“Sure, Smily,” I say to myself. “Anytime.”

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