John Keats 8 a.m., Jan. 28
- Community Blog
When my ex-wife, April, and I were living on Bacon Street, our cats, Tundra and Elaine, begrudgingly tolerated a stray that would periodically wander into our six-foot high wooden fenced yard to sunbathe and panhandle food. The stray was a big lazy sand colored male cat with brown highlights and bright blue eyes that almost always seemed to be on the verge of closing for a nap. April christened him “Boyd”; she felt the name held a certain Southern charm that implied a keen passion for passivity and leisure.
When Boyd first began loitering in our yard, we assumed he was homeless because he wore no collar and had a large open abscess on the side of his head that appeared as if it had never had any medical attention. We fed Boyd and tried to apply home remedies to his head, but then he’d disappear for a few days, and when he’d come back his sore would be just as bad as ever. As time passed, and April and I fretted over how to properly help Boyd recover from his abscess, Tundra, Elaine, and he had decided to become friends. Not friends who would communicate but friends who were comfortable lying in the same yard together and occasionally glancing at each other with tired eyes.
Though Boyd never stayed past sundown, April and I maintained our homeless theory. One day we decided to force Boyd to stay in our yard for a few days. If we cleaned Boyd’s abscess and applied medication to it consecutively, maybe it would finally begin to heal. After seeing to his abscess, we fed Boyd and then put a cat collar on him. He didn’t seem to like this much, and he demonstrated his displeasure by scratching at his neck and meowing. Though we were dismayed at Boyd’s discomfort, it was nothing compared to what we did to him next. I had fashioned an Elizabethan collar (a plastic cone that veterinarians put around a pet’s neck to prevent it from biting or scratching itself) from a two-liter plastic Pepsi bottle and a piece of foam rubber plumbing insulation for padding. I then duct taped it around Boyd’s neck. It’s important to remember we were trying to help Boyd.
We tied one end of a long length of nylon cord to the sturdy Japanese privet shrub near our front door, then we tied the other end to Boyd’s cat collar. Boyd sat there complacently for a moment, crouched down on all fours. His eyes went in slow circles around and around as he examined the perimeter of the homemade Elizabethan collar that jutted out several inches past his head. April and I watched him with philanthropic self-satisfaction. Boyd gave the Elizabethan collar a final turn of his eyes, and then he went berserk. First he stood up and, with the Elizabethan collar pointed down, began to walk rapidly backward. He did this until the slack in the cord ended and Boyd was met with resistance from the other end of the cord tied to the Japanese privet. Boyd then performed a succession of chest-high backward somersaults. When this didn’t bring the desired results, with the cord pulled tight, Boyd began to spin wildly on the ground as if he were an African crocodile trying to tear loose a chuck roast from the shoulder of a dying gnu. Approaching the problem from another angle, Boyd sprang forward at a full run. He ran past the Japanese privet until, again, the slack ran out. The cord yanked Boyd back so violently that I was certain that if he wasn’t paralyzed he soon would be. As he pulled at the cord with his whole body weight, he also began to yowl and hiss in rage. “Row-wooow! Hissss! Row-wooow!”
“Oh, my God!” April screamed. “He’s going to kill himself!”
Boyd then began to hurl himself against the fence. He was oblivious to the pain, and he struck the fence, time and time again. Thump! Thump! Wap! “Row-wooow! Hissss!”
Tiring of this, Boyd darted back into the yard where he began to sail into daring midair cartwheels and then launch himself into high velocity corkscrew pile drivers into the grass, all the while tethered to the Japanese privet that would shudder here and tremble there whenever he used up all the slack in the nylon cord. As I watched Boyd continue to execute a variety of gymnastic stunts in our yard, I was reminded of a robust fish on the end of a line. A real fighter!
I then tried to grab Boyd to see if I could calm him down some, but I ended up with nothing to show for my troubles but a crisscross pattern of bleeding red scratches on my hands. Boyd showed absolutely no sign of tiring.
April ran into the house and retrieved some salami from the refrigerator. By the time she got back to the yard, Boyd was stationary. With all four of his feet dug into the grass and his body leaning in the opposite direction of the Japanese privet, Boyd strained against the resistant nylon cord, emitting a low, persistant growl. April began to wave the salami in front of Boyd’s Elizabethan collar. This seemed to do the trick. Boyd had to be exhausted after his frantic escape routine, and I think he welcomed the distraction from his anxiety.
Breathing heavily, Boyd calmed himself down and accepted the salami from April’s hand. Slack was now visible in the nylon cord. He held the cured meat between his teeth and didn't begin chewing it until his breathing had returned to normal. As he ate, April stroked his back and spoke soothingly to him. By then Boyd really did seem to shed some of the terror that had enveloped him. April stayed with Boyd for another ten minutes. She put some more medicine on his sore and then suggested that we go inside and allow Boyd to get used to the Elizabethan collar and leash. The sun was setting and we thought this might help to pacify Boyd. We were inside for about an hour when we heard somebody pounding on the gate to our yard. We went outside and opened the gate. A middle-aged woman stood in the darkened alley. Her hands were on her hips and she was clearly outraged. “I just saved your cat from strangling!” she declared.
“What?” April said, not understanding. April looked at the woman and then at me. I shrugged.
“I just saved your cat,” the woman reiterated, “from strangling!” We looked over to where we’d left Boyd. Boyd huddled near the fence with a length of slack nylon cord coiled next to him, and we realized what must have happened. “I was walking down the alley,” the woman continued, “when I saw your cat dangling over your fence by his leash!”
Strangling and dangling, I thought absurdly. Boyd had probably had enough of the Elizabethan collar, and he must have decided to make a break for it by jumping over the fence. I’ll bet he was pretty surprised when he leaped from the top of the fence and only made it halfway down before the cord tied to the Japanese privet began to throttle him.
“Cats weren’t meant to be on leashes!” shrieked the woman. “Do you have any idea what would have happened to him if I hadn’t put him back over the fence?”
“Yes,” I said contritely. I wondered why she had failed to bring up the homemade Elizabethan collar. It was, after all, the most preposterous component in the entire equation. My handiwork, by even the furthest stretch of the imagination, wasn’t anything a true veterinarian would allow anywhere near his office, let alone, approve of. I glanced over at the Pepsi bottle and plumbing insulation contraption duct taped around Boyd’s neck—it looked like a device of torture! Perhaps the woman thought she had stumbled upon some sort of cat concentration camp that April and I were fiendishly conducting behind our fence.
“If I ever see a cat being strangled over your fence again, I’ll call the ASPCA on you so fast it’ll make your heads spin!” threatened the woman. She glared at us a moment longer, undoubtedly memorizing our faces in case she were asked to pick us out of a police lineup, and then she marched off.
As April closed the gate, I tried to picture what might have happened if the woman hadn’t happened along. Boyd would have died and then been left hanging over our fence until the next morning. In an animal loving town like OB, the public outcry would have been terrible. A picture of Boyd hanging from the nylon cord would have made the Beacon, as well as a picture of April and me with our heads down as we tried to avoid the photographer. I stopped short of imagining villagers in boardshorts carrying torches and pitchforks.
“So much for civic good will,” April said as she freed Boyd. We wondered if Boyd would be all right as he disappeared over our fence.
We didn’t see Boyd again for almost two weeks, but eventually he forgave us and came back. But in the meantime, a few days after we’d freed him, April saw Boyd jump a fence into a yard at the end of our alley. A man then emerged from the yard. April talked briefly with the man and learned that he was Boyd’s owner. April didn’t bother to mention our holding his cat prisoner in our yard for an hour and a half tethered to a Japanese privet with part of a Pepsi bottle duct taped around his neck. The man told April that his cat’s name was Rusty. In spite of this fact we never called him that. He would always be Boyd to us. Eventually Boyd’s abscess healed on its own, and he was none the worse for wear, regardless of what we had done to him.