Holiday salute to an old soldier |

Holiday salute to an old soldier

When I picked him up, I learned that he really wasn’t very big. I never had him in my arms while he lived, but for 9 plus years, he made his home under my trailer, having been in residence when we moved in.

We called him Big Cat because, despite his tattered ears and many scars, he was a large presence who commanded respect. He was surely the father of the smaller version of himself who was his shadow, and of many others in the park who bore him a strong resemblance.

Of course, we immediately set out to trap and neuter the many feral cats in the neighborhood, including Big Cat and his offspring and wives. We eventually got them all — except him. One by one, we brought the others back, vaccinated, spayed and neutered and he checked them over with care, welcoming them home.

Unlike many feral toms, he was the protector. He would rush out at any stray dogs or foreign cats and send them packing, fiercely defending his family and their territory.

He was sturdy and plain, not one of those cats who obsessed over personal grooming, but he did take care of himself in his own way. It must have been adequate, because he was a survivor. He occupied his space unapologetically, never slinking around or hiding. He was self-contained and competent in a world that never protected a place for him. He should have been worn down, miserable, or died early. Instead, he endured with dignity. He was devoted to his son, and he was neighborly toward our house cats, Pico and Gracie, and to me. Eventually, he outlived his entire feline family.

Once he was living alone under the trailer, he took to sitting in the carport, just observing us going about our affairs. Sometimes he left for a few days on business of his own, and I worried about him. He was getting elderly, and I wondered if he ever thought about giving up his ways and moving into the house with us, but I never got the slightest inkling that he did. Although I had been feeding him for years, he never came close or let me touch him.

One day, when he had been away for a few days, I spotted him sitting in the sun sporting a red bandanna. Astonished, I couldn’t believe he had allowed someone to put it on him. But no. On closer look, I saw it wasn’t a bandanna but a strip where his skin had been peeled off around his entire neck, right down to the fascia. My mind raced, considering what I should or could do for him.

Every option depended on being able to trap him and get him to the vet so he could be sedated and treated. A fantasy of finally getting him neutered, bringing him inside, healing and taming him, cycled through my mind. But something held my rescue impulses in check. I thought he hadn’t come home for that, though I sensed his willingness to accept some help. So I fed him the best canned cat food, and while he ate, I told him I would tend his wound if he would let me, and he did.

By fall it had healed and was nearly invisible under his luxuriant coat, but I suspected the cold would be hard on him that winter. I bought him a little foam heated cat house and fixed it to his feeding platform in the carport, along with a heated bowl so his water wouldn’t freeze. He would lie in his house, watching for me at first light every morning. I would warm up his breakfast and he’d meow in greeting as I brought it. He unbent to the extent of allowing me to stroke him a bit.

The next spring, he was slower and stiffer, but still went off on his excursions. I worried and watched out for him, and then one day I found him lying beside the road. I brought him home and buried him near his favorite sunning spot, and this Memorial Day, I swept off his grave and sprinkled some catnip there. We pay homage on Memorial Day to the gallantry of protectors, both those who fall contending, and the ones who endure their losses, outliving the role but not the price of sacrifice. It’s a great privilege to have known heroes among other species, who also deserve to be remembered with gratitude.

— Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.

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