It takes a lot to get Paula angry. Since our children grew up and moved on, she rarely has need of raising her voice - except at me of course, when I step out of line. With the exception of the occasional fist-wave at semi drivers who decide they are going to seize her space on I-77 while she occupies it, she is very even-tempered. Meak. Docile. Centered.
But you don't want to provoke her. You've heard expressions about the Biblical wrath of God? Well, Paula learned from the Master.
And now she's mad.
You see, it has to do with these three dogs. And Paula's effort to save the world's cat population. It began several months ago when Paula was driving by an abandoned house on the turnpike leading to our home. There on and about the sagging porch, scurrying in all directions, were several tiny furry newborn kittens. I will agree that they were cute. Way too cute. The saving grace from my perspective was that they were just old enough to know their station in life, for they were also feral kittens. We couldn't get near them without their running under the old house. To me, this was a good thing. We already warehouse ten formerly abandoned cats (make that formerly abandoned former kittens). We sure don't need more.
I remember the last time we went through this. I was leaving for work early one morning and was racing along the gravel turnpike, heading for Bland and the highway that was going to take me into the world. The road crosses Little Walker Creek below our house and there, just as I came to the bridge, something on the side of the road caught my eye. I looked over and saw a little gray kitten. Its funny, looking back to that day, the only image I maintain of that first glimpse was of a mouth full of teeth. For this little kitten was about as forlorn as one of God's creatures could be. It had obviously been abandoned by one of God's lesser creatures, probably someone who had driven there from the city and tossed him from the car. I have this vivid memory of his teeth probably because this kitten was so upset, his mouth was so wide-open, it was the only part of him that I could see.
But I've learned how to deal with situations like this over the years. If I were to stop and pick up the animal, it would immediately become a permanent member of the family. A burgeoning family. So I did what I trained myself to do. I drove faster. And left the little screaming kitten in my rear-view mirror.
But then that little angel that one occasionally finds sitting on one's shoulder appeared and said, "You know you can't do this."
"Oh yes I can," says I.
"No. What would Paula say?"
So I grabbed my cellphone and called Paula. I told her about the tiny gray kitten at the bridge and hung up. There was a day when I would have said something like, "Now, if you think we are going to keep this animal, I will pack my bags and ... whatever ... " I went to work knowing that a new addition had come to the Fuhrman family.
Something odd about that kitten though. When I got home later in the day, I immediately noticed that it had gained a couple of pounds. I know Paula can work magic with animals but even she couldn't grow a cat that much in a matter of hours. Something was wrong.
Then it came to me. This wasn't the kitten I'd seen at the bridge. Even though Paula said she found him right where I had told her to look, the one I saw was a good bit smaller than this one. And it came to me that if this isn't the one I saw earlier, the one I saw had to be...
So we got in the car and drove to the bridge. No sooner did we stop the car and get out than out of the weeds came the frightened kitten, teeth bared, mouth wide, as if crying, "Help me. Help me."
So we ended the day with two additions to the burgeoning Fuhrman household. Say hello to Frodo and Pippin.
Getting back to this other batch of kittens, Paula decided that if she couldn't bring this brood home, she would feed the cats there at the abandoned house. So every day she would take a bowl of Kibbles and Bits or Bitsy Bibbles or whatever that crap is called, along with a jug of water to the house and leave both there for these wild kittens.
And then a neighbor's dogs got wise to the fact that there was food at the abandoned house. Dogs apparently like Kibbley Diddley too. So they began showing up as soon as Paula left and ate all the cat food.
Paula was peeved. So she took the bowl of food and the other containing the water and slid them under the sagging porch. Problem solved? No. Dogs, she found out, can crawl under the porch as easily as Paula can. They continued to eat the cat food.
Paula was mad. So she decided to confront the neighbor. Now in matters like this, I take the Rodney King approach to life. That being, "Can't we all just get along?" Or in this case, I looked at Paula and said, "What, are you nuts? Those dogs may not belong under the abandoned house but your butt doesn't belong there either. You can't very well tell a neighbor - one we don't even know - that he is to keep his animals off your - er, make that - off someone else's property."
So Paula changed tactics. She decided to perform a bit of urban renewal on that old house. Or a facelift, if you will. A remodel. She decided to prevent the dogs from getting to the food by propping boards against the sides of the porch to keep the dogs from crawling underneath. And by wedging other boards under the porch supports. After a number of architectural changes, she seems to be satisfied with her latest design. Call it Gothic Pile of Boards Against Collapsing Porch.
But for now it seems to be working. Paula shows up and feeds the cats. The whole time she's there, the dogs are watching from a distance with a look in their eyes like, "Just you wait. You think you've outsmarted us but we will find a way..."
And Paula stands guard. She feeds the kittens and waits in her car. Watching. "Damn dogs."
And she called me today (I'm in northern West Virginia) and told me that when she went to feed the kittens their meat today (I said to myself, meat? What's this about meat?), she said two of the kittens came out and ate at her feet. She was full of rapture. Bliss.
And I said, "If you think you are going to bring these animals into my home, I'll pack my bags and ... "
Oh for the love of God.
* Originally published on November 9, 2004