CHAPTER 2: THE SHELTER
“Noooo!” The sudden yowl from his mother jerked Tiger awake.
“Noooo!” Duchess protested again as her human momma picked up Tiger. Tiger flattened his ears, and mewled, a sad cry that sounded like “meh!” He saw daylight streaming in the windows, and realized he had slept through the entire night, exhausted by the wonderful play with his father.
“Nooo!” his mother wailed again, shattering Tiger’s memories of the day before.
“I am sorry, Duchy, I am, but nobody wants him. We can’t keep him, so I am taking him to a shelter where someone can adopt him.”
“Nooooo!” Duchess yowled as the woman pushed Tiger into a carrier.
“Mama!” Tiger mewled, sensing his mother’s distress.
“Poor Duchess. I have no choice. This will be your last litter, too. You’ll be spayed so you can’t have any more kittens. It is getting too hard to sell your kittens; because neither you nor Big Mike have papers, I can’t prove your babies are purebred. To get your pedigree, I’d have had to spay you before your first litter. That’s what the breeder contract says about pet-quality kittens. But I wanted you to have babies anyway. Same with Big Mike, except he’d have been neutered so he could not breed either. I wish I could make you understand.” The woman patted Duchess’ head, then walked toward the door. Duchess leaped up and ranged in front of the woman.
“Noooo!” Duchess wailed. “I don’t care about stupid papers! If he is my last baby, don’t take him away!”
“Duchess, behave now,” the woman scolded. “We can’t keep him any longer. He is so big -- he already looks almost grown.”
His distraught mother rubbed against the door of the carrier, her red fur filling his vision through the crate’s bars. His ears quivered with her distressed wailing as the woman carried him out of the home he loved.
“Mama!” he cried, his mew coming out soft, low, and lamblike. The woman opened the door of a strange blue contraption. Tiger peered at the car, mystified and scared. The woman set his carrier down inside the vehicle. Soon, he bounced and gyrated as his world suddenly moved. He curled up against the rear of the crate -- calm outside, scared inside. The carrier finally stopped vibrating, and all went quiet. Tiger’s owner lifted him, swinging the box around. Dizzying sights met his blinking amber eyes. He heard dogs barking, and, as the woman carried him closer to the huge building, cat voices floated to his ears. Tiger listened, twitching his ears at the uncertain voices. The woman brought him into the shelter, setting the carrier on a counter.
“Can I help you?” a stranger’s voice asked.
“Yes. I am sorry, but we can’t keep this kitten. I can’t even give him away,” she said.
“Why not?” The young woman behind the counter frowned. Tiger sensed her disapproval.
“We have too many mouths to feed as it is.”
“You do know we aren’t a no-kill shelter,” the shelter worker warned. “There are others in Connecticut that are no-kill.”
“Yes, I know, but you’re the closest to my home. I just can’t keep him. He’s a kitten. Someone should take him. Just find him a home, OK?”
“Sure. How old is he?” the shelter worker’s voice lowered with obvious annoyance. Tiger trembled, and wondered what no-kill meant.
“He is fourteen weeks old. Good day, and thank you.”
Hands suddenly grasped Tiger, and pulled him out of the box. Without a word to him, the woman his mother called Momma turned and left the building, taking the crate with her. The noise of barking dogs and wailing cats assailed Tiger’s ears, and he shivered with fear. Tiger mewled, and the stranger stroked his back.
“Poor kitty. It is so sad when people dump kittens like this. No real good reason. Sheesh -- she couldn’t keep one more cat? I don’t understand it at all. Well, at least she didn’t dump you on the roadside. Come, big boy, we’ll get you settled in,” the stranger murmured, as she placed Tiger in a box made of wire. He saw through its mesh sides with ease, surprised to see another enclosure below him. A small litterbox sat in the back corner, and empty food bowls rested at the front. Tiger sat down on the cool plexiglass flooring, shivering. He resisted crying for his mother, trying to be brave, but dread permeated his whole body. He stared straight ahead, aware of cats in cages on either side of him. Below, a litter of very young kittens romped. He glanced down, filled with a yearning to join them.
“Hey, kid,” a voice to his right meowed in growling tones. Tiger turned his head, coming face to face with a young black tomcat with a notched ear.
“Me?” Tiger meowed back, ears erect as he minced across the floor to the mesh that separated him from the black cat. His tail rose above his back in friendly greeting, curving, as always, like a huge candy cane. He twitched, trying to straighten it, but it only flopped over, creating another furry hook.
“Yeah, kid, you,” the black tom grumbled, his piercing yellow eyes full of curiosity and belligerence.
“I am Tiger, a Maine Coon cat,” Tiger replied, puffing with kitten pride.
“Ha! So noble a name for so tiny a tom.”
“I’m not a tom.” Tiger blinked with surprise. He purred. “I’m not grown up yet.”
“Oh, no?” the black cat growled. “If you are more than 6 moon cycles old, you’re a tom.”
“But I am just three moon cycles old,” Tiger retorted, slanting his ears back with indignation. He sat down, gazing at the black cat.
“Three?” The tomcat lifted his ears with surprise.
“Yes, three,” Tiger insisted. The black tom scented the air carefully, and relaxed, his expression friendly.
“I smell no tomcat scent from you. You are what you say -- a mere kitten.”
“A strong kitten!” Tiger puffed again with pride, and stood up.
“Yes, perhaps,” the tomcat sneezed with feline mirth. “You’re a big one all right.”
Tiger trotted forward, and pressed his nose against the mesh.
“Sure, kid,” the black tom purred. “You can call me Black.”
“Want to hear a story, kid?”
“Yes!” Tiger settled back onto his rump.
“Well, many sun cycles ago, when I was just a very young tom, my owner put me in a place like this, right after I began spraying to mark my territory.”
“You’ve been here for sun cycles?” Tiger cocked his head. “Spraying?”
“No, no,” Black chuckled. “This was a different place, a small building, far from here. You will know spraying when you get older, young one. Anyway, one morning when they opened the cage to feed me, I leaped out.”
“Yes, and I ran and ran, all over the place, until another human entered the shelter. When that door opened, I escaped. I raced until I ran out of breath. I was frightened at first, out all alone, with no human to feed me.”
“Weak tom, you are, Black!” A sharp voice interrupted them. “Wasting time on a goofy kitten. Dumb kitten. Big stupid kitten.”
Tiger whirled to face the cage on his left. A white female with black markings glared at him. Baleful green eyes bore into him.
“I’m not dumb,” Tiger said.
“Big dopey kitten, who knows nothing of this world,” the female spat. Tiger flattened his ears, and hissed back at her in defiance and hurt.
“I’m only a kitten. I can’t know such things.”
“Faugh! You are dopier than most, clumsy big-pawed idiot.”
“Am not!” Tiger wailed.
“Kid, ignore her. She is just an cranky old queen.”
Tiger shook himself, and slowly turned his back on her. He sat down, ignoring her continuing insults, and listened to Black’s stories of the tomcat’s days on the streets. Tiger’s heart pounded with a mix of fear and excitement, until the lights shut off, leaving the shelter in the dark. He stepped onto the old towel the shelter people supplied for a bed. He lay still, noticing things he missed earlier. The odor of many litterboxes lingered in the air. He suddenly understood what Black meant earlier by spraying, when he saw a grey tabby tom across the aisle mark the back of his cage with urine. The pungent scents of tomcats spraying their meager territories hung in the air. Black, too, joined in, marking the back of his cage, growling insults at the tom across the room.
Tiger flattened his ears, not understanding the exchanges of anger and strife, nor the need to pass water in any other place but the litterbox. He wanted to ask Black why the tom sprayed, but found no courage to interrupt the tomcat, as Black paced his cage, trading insults with the other tomcats.
The smell of strong disinfectants mingled with the odor of dogs and humans. The food which lay in the bowl inside his cage smelled stale. He nibbled at it earlier, liking the crunchy texture, but its bland taste repelled him. But his hunger moved him again, and he rose to eat the dry food. He drank plenty of water. He lay back on his bedding, then closed his eyes, yawning. The dogs quieted in the darkened building, and cat talk dominated the airwaves.
“Little clumsy mongrel kitten,” the cranky female suddenly snarled at him. “You are no Maine Coon.”
“I am, too!” Tiger bared his teeth in a defiant hiss of indignation. “My mama and papa were. So am I.”
“Ha!” the female curled her lips in a derisive hiss. The cap of black on her head wrinkled as she laid back her ears. “And I am some Queen Angora!”
“I wouldn’t know it if you were,” Tiger sat up, cocking his head, his voice rising with pride. “But I know I am a Maine Coon.”
“Faugh!” she growled. “Look at you! Cow-hocked, splay-footed, no ruff to speak of. You’re a misfit.”
“You’re so mean. Why?” Tiger flattened his ears with sudden shame. “Why do you hate me?”
“Cappie, leave the poor kid alone.” Black’s sharp snarl turned Tiger around on his bedding. “Ignore her, kid. She is jealous. It’s obvious you’re a Maine Coon. She knows nothing.”
“No,” Black rumbled. “I’ve seen Maine Coons. You are one. Don’t fret. Sleep.”
“You’re right.” Tiger curled up against the mesh, feeling the warmth of his new friend’s body. He turned his back to the snobbish female, and fell asleep.
KHAN: A MAINE COON
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