Friday, November 24, 2006

It's almost 6am and I'm still up worrying about my lil' cat. Allow me to introduce her,

This is August, also known as Augie or Aug-Bog. It's usually a challenge to get a shot of her when she's not running and hiding under somewhere, hence the blurry-ness of the pic.

She got her name from the month we both became homeless back in 2000. It started at 4am when some asshole in my apartment building decided to get drunk and leave a pot cooking on the stove while he napped on the couch. As I typed away on my computer a little feral Calico living her own nocturnal life in the underground parking garage was probably hunting for food. I'd seen several cats living in a boat parked down there so I'm guessing she was one of them. A few hours later a hundred or so tenants stood outside the building in absolute shock at the destructive power of mac and cheese, and downstairs a very damp firefighter plucked this terrified calico out of her hiding spot and tossed her in a cage.

Days later, as I was settling in a new apartment downtown, trying to get the smoke out of my salvaged belongings, the phone rang. It was my mom calling to tell me about this cat from the fire. She had either read about it or someone had called her to see if she knew anyone who could take one of the many cats pulled from the building. Mom, who already had four cats and two dogs, laid down the guilt trip hard, the way only moms can do, telling me the cats were un-adoptable because they were either too traumatized or feral or whatever and that I should give one a home "so we could both get through this together" or something like that.

I was eager to finally get a cat, that old building didn't allow pets officially but my neighbours had cats and I had been planning ways to sneak one in. The new place didn't care (just like they didn't care about leaving the heat on at night) so I agreed.

We drove out to Queensboro to this semi-rural house on the edge of the industrial park there, where lived a woman who took in problem cats. She showed us a few outdoor kennels where one of the fire cats was housed, a very pretty black cat who hissed and scratched when I tried to go near her. Not the typical "Oh, I don't know you so I'm gonnna hiss until we understand each other" swat and hiss but a "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE BEFORE I EAT YOUR FACE!" kind of hiss. She reeeeally didn't like me. The owner, seeing that I was looking for a more gentle-minded kitty then directed me back to the house, up to the dusty attic, where in the middle of the room stood a large cage with a little orange, white and black bundle in it. A terrified, wide-eyed, shaking little bundle named 'Sparks' by the firefighters.

And I instantly fell in love.

Sparks had been in that cage since the fire, she could not be picked up, could not be petted because she would just flee in terror. She couldn't be adopted out at the SPCA or PetsCo because the comings and goings of all the people eager to touch a feel a new potential companion would go badly, if not give her a heart attack. I asked what would happen to her if she couldn't be adopted and the woman said that she'd do her best to rehab the cat but if it didn't work out Sparks would be let loose to live in the surrounding fields, with food provided near the kennels if she wanted.

All I could see was the eventual run-in with a coyote or a dump truck. I decided to give it a go and then was the very long process of coaxing her into a carrier. I had to climb into the cage to pry her from the corner, jumping at every twitch she made. I wasn't used to the reactions of a feral animal, so unlike those of a regular cat. She didn't show any aggression at all, no swatting or meowing, just hisses. Not angry hisses, just "this is all I have to tell you to leave me alone so please go away" kind of hisses. Finally she leapt into the carrier and we went back downstairs to take care of the paperwork. I asked if it was okay to change her name because Sparks just didn't fit her. It would be a while before I came up with August, maybe because it sounded gentler and nobler at the same time. Plus the whole fateful date that brought us together thing... but anyway, continuing with the story.

Back at the apartment her first move was to take up shop behind the TV cabinet. She squished herself in there good and tight, balancing on her back legs on the heat register in that tiny space and wouldn't move. She peed on the register she was so scared. I was already wondering if this was a good idea. I didn't care about the floor so much as putting her through crazy amounts of stress. Did she really deserve this?

This became even more of a concern when one day she crammed herself into the miniscule space behind the stove. Ian and I had to move the fridge and maneuver open the pot drawer to free her and it freaked the hell out of me thinking of how she could have hurt herself back there.

At one point I herded her into the bathroom so she could have some privacy and space. It seemed to work for an hour or so. That is until I tried to feed her. She had dry food but I wanted to give her a treat to set up a truce of some sort so I grabbed a can of tuna and walked into the bathroom with the can opener. I showed her the can, talked to her gently about how yummy it was and started to crank the thing open.

And then my hand slipped.

And the opener crashed into the tub near where she was tucked into the corner.

In the craziest matrix-like move I'd ever seen, she leaped straight up about four feet, launched herself from the wall and sailed right over my head where I was kneeling by the tub. Right clean over my head! And then she raced out the open door into the bedroom and parked herself under the bed.

Where she remained for the next 5 months.

Every day I'd slide a dish of food and water under the bed into the little crawl space under the headboard. At night, when I went to sleep she would rush out to use the litter box and then rush right back to safety. On nights I was up late I would have to take time to get into bed, turn out the light and pretend I was asleep so she could use the box, and after she was back under the headboard I'd get back up and finish whatever it was I was doing.

Around month two I started leaving the bowls next to the bed and when it was safe, she would come out and eat. Eventually I had the bowls by the door in the hallway. Each time she saw me, she would hiss, but again, not in an angry defensive way but as if she were meowing.

At month 6, as I was setting down food in the hall, Augie walked up to me and hissed. Only this hiss ended in a strangled squeak. It shocked the hell out of me. She did it again, this time drawing out her squeak into a very weird sounding meow. More like an "Aaaoowp!" I couldn't believe it, I e-mailed Ian next door right away "SHE MEOWED! HOLY SHIT SHE MEOWED!" And she wouldn't stop, she seemed downright pleased with her discovery and squeaked up a storm after that.

There were so many milestones like this. It wasn't long until Charlie came into our lives (more about him later) and then things really got interesting as he started to pull Augie even more out of her shell.

It was two years later, in a whole new apartment, on a new bed that Augie climbed up while I was reading and stepped, voluntarily, onto my lap. I tell you, I burst into tears at that moment. It was a brief visit but more would follow to the point today where I can pat the armrest on the couch and she'll hop up onto my lap and promptly drool all over my clothes, curl up and nap. I can pick her up for short spells and listen to her purr, and when we go to the vet she'll stuff her head into the crook of my arm and pretend she's somewhere else.

I love my little Aug-Bog.

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