Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Tree Family: Part Three

This is the third installment in "The Tree Family" series. We will be running their story over the next few days. Their story is an example of dedication and perseverance, and we hope you enjoy it.

For the begining of the story, please read here.
Our expert looked at our catch for a while, then delivered her opinion: “I don’t think this is the same cat.”

We couldn’t believe it—didn’t believe it—at first. We compared pictures we had taken of Miss Fluffy on Day One to the angry kennel resident in front of us. The markings were the same, but slowly, a few differences emerged to bolster the initial suspicions: A dark spot on the nose that didn’t seem to be just dirt. A broader face and shorter fur. The most telling difference was in demeanor. We couldn’t really get near enough to check out the nursing situation directly, but when this cat climbed the kennel walls, it was easy to see that there were no active nipples. (In fact, the belly view seemed to suggest that this cat didn’t exactly have the right equipment even to be a mother.) Finally, we were forced to accept that we had not captured Miss Fluffy after all. We named him Mr. X (for being a master of impersonation).

Mr. X (Miss Fluffy imposter)

(We can’t disagree with those who found it somewhat amusing that we caught the wrong cat and didn’t even realize it. However, in our defense, it should be noted that nobody expected us to catch a different cat with such similar markings. The pictures look different enough, side by side, but under a porch at midnight, after a week of sleep deprivation, it had been easy enough to believe it was the same cat.)

So, on Day 18, we resumed feeding under the porch. Sure enough, food disappeared that night. The hunt for Miss Fluffy was on again.

At 1:30am on Day 20, Miss Fluffy (really, we promise!) was in the trap, not entirely happy, but still friendly. That was the good news. The complicating news was that she was still nursing from the same two active nipples we’d seen originally. And now, we had a pretty good guess about what the kittens might look like.

We tried again to get Miss Fluffy to lead us to her kittens, but she slipped her harness even more quickly than she had the first time and disappeared into the back yards of our block. This was another low moment, but we resumed feeding under the neighbors’ porch.

On the night of Day 22, we were a little late getting out to the porch with food, and Miss Fluffy was already there. When she saw us, she ran away. We followed from a distance as she headed toward the busiest street in our neighborhood—and, much to our dismay, crossed it. She continued on for another block and then sat down in a front yard, calmly grooming herself as we watched from across the street. After several minutes, she got up and sauntered a few feet to a large, mostly dead tree in the yard. Then she jumped up and disappeared into a hole in the tree, just a few feet off the ground.

It seemed clear from Miss Fluffy’s behavior that she already knew the hole was there and that she’d fit into it, and so we felt we had found another of her hangouts. But we couldn’t think of anything to do without risking scaring her back across the busy street, and so we withdrew for the rest of the night. All the cats we dreamt of were dodging cars.

Day 23 started with meeting some more neighbors: Hi, you’ve never seen us before in your life, but we think there’s a cat and maybe some kittens in this tree in your front yard and would it be OK if we just looked for them for a little bit? It won’t take us long—after all, we’ve only been working on this for more than three weeks so far...

Fortunately, these neighbors were also supportive of our improbable mission, and so we approached the tree. Peering into the hole, we could see a flat-bottomed cavity, about 18 inches in diameter. In an instant, three weeks of worry and lost sleep were swept away by a fleeting glimpse of a furry little kitten bottom disappearing into the unreachable parts of the tree. We had found the kitten den. Since we couldn’t reach the kitten we had seen, we needed some time to plan our next move. As we walked away, however, Miss Fluffy appeared on the scene from somewhere. We approached her, but she hopped into the hole again. After waiting several minutes, we walked confidently to the tree, ready to reach in to collect the nursing kittens and bring the entire story to a happy conclusion. But this, too, was not to be. be continued on 5/29/ sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion!

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