Daisy and the Rat
When I first got the news that the stray cat who'd adopted my brother had given birth to a litter of white kittens, I vowed to restrain myself. I had a history of glomming onto every blue-eyed, pink-nosed, white-furred meowing creature who crossed my path, but since moving into my tiny house of less than 500 square feet I had begun to feel that the two cats I already had were more than enough. (More on the house HERE.)
But just out of curiosity I thought I'd take a look. I promised myself I would JUST look. Several other family members trooped out to my brother's barn with me, where I discovered that the kittens were not only white, they were long haired. They looked like fluffy little angels, plus tail. I didn't see any wings, but they were so adorable they looked like they could sprout some any minute.
All the kittens but one had been spoken for. I held my breath as the frowsy-headed little beastie was put into my hands. I held her up near my face and we both stared at each other with round, astonished eyes. I don't know why she looked so surprised, but I was amazed because she had all the usual white cat equipment--white fur, pink nose, meows--but she only had one blue eye! No, not a cyclops. Her second eye was a glowing amber. She was so special that instantly I became forever hers.
I felt an urgent need to christen her with a name. Having already used up the obvious white cat names of Sugar, Angel, and Snowy, I debated. No—I was not going to name her Salt--no. The name Lily occurred to me, but I'd just acquired a grand-niece by that name. 'What other flowers are white?' I wondered. Ah, yes! Daisies are white, and so Daisy it was.
It was only later that I confronted the question of how I would get her home, since my brother lives in Illinois and I live in Texas. There would be a short train ride and a longer plane ride, but I was undaunted. I was certain the strength of my commitment would overcome any obstacle.
I called Amtrak, hoping to get a pass to bring her on the train. Nope. A plan sprung to mind. I had a backpack. How hard could it be? Before boarding I stuffed her down inside the backpack and carried it on my chest, one hand on the outside cradling the small warm ball that was kitten. She only made a few sounds the whole trip, and I managed to cover them up by humming randomly and adding a few coughs when necessary. It worked! No one suspected. I felt triumphant.
As I zipped through the station she remained quiet. Just as we'd planned, my friend Roger was there to pick me up. As soon as we drove away she became uncontrollable. She squeezed her muzzle out of the tiny opening in the top of the backpack. She pushed so hard to get out the flesh of her face pulled back, making her eyes look like they were bulging out of her head. Her fur and ears were so mashed that her head looked like a skull. She was obviously terrified. She uttered a piercing shriek, but Roger was unfazed. “Ah,” he said. “A friend for the dog.” A snack, more like.
I had a couple of days at his house to fret over her refusal to eat or drink. Shut up in the downstairs bathroom with a litter pan, she cried piteously. She missed the barn, her mom, and her siblings. Holding her didn't seem to provide any comfort at all, judging by the rate and intensity of cries. And she mystified me by doing something bizarre: She'd push her wet cold nose against mine, using so much strength that it seemed as if she might be trying to insert her nose into my nostril! (Later, googling it, I found that it's a bonding behavior. Nose kisses!)
After a couple of days I was able to celebrate. A few bites of cat food had gone missing and the water level in her bowl was lower. Yay! Hunger strike over!
Here's a double negative for you: Daisy never DIDN'T come when I called her by name. Never. I pitched my voice about as high as her usual “meow” and even the first time she was curious enough to come check me out. After a couple of trials I could count on her racing toward me when I squealed “Daisy!”
The airline informed me that by paying $125 extra I could bring her along with me in a cat carrier. Usually frugal, I did not hesitate, thinking that it was a small price to pay to have her as my friend. I borrowed a soft-sided carrier just the right size and Roger drove us to the airport. Daisy was quite vocal about her unhappiness and yowled her distress with a volume that would not have shamed a massive tom. As we walked through the airport all heads swung in our direction. “Is that a cat?” people asked. Some of the cat lovers wanted to see her. When I let them peek through the mesh they were surprised that such a small kitten could make such a big noise. After a few minutes, I grew tired of the attention we were getting and I started answering the is-that-a-cat question by making a disgusted face and pointing over my shoulder, trying to shift the blame to the unsuspecting soul behind me.
The first woman I encountered at security asked, “didn't you get the medicine from the vet?”
“What medicine?” I asked.
“The medicine that puts them to sleep,” she said.
I made the excuse that I didn't know there was such a thing but the look on her face did not improve.
On the plane it was even worse. “My daughter's allergic to cats,” an alarmed parent exclaimed. The steward moved me elsewhere. “MY daughter's allergic to cats,” I heard from across the aisle in the new location. I showed them that she was fully contained and that I could even drape something over her. They stopped complaining long enough for me to keep that seat.
I tried to pacify Daisy by patting her through the carrier and she bit me.
Nothing calmed her. I was distressed by her distress, and uncomfortable because I imagined that every other person on the plane was finding her tirade annoying. I eased my guilt by reflecting on how many times I'd endured screaming babies on plane rides. I crossed my fingers and hoped high-pitched meows were less offensive. If I were voted off the plane I would be in trouble, not having brought my parachute.
My indoor cat, the rotund Prince Charming, hated her. He assaulted her with his ugliest growls and opened his mouth so wide while hissing that his nose wrinkled. She was undeterred. The tiny bit of fluff that was Daisy pounced on him when he wasn't looking. She rolled over on her back underneath his nose and waggled all four legs in his face, huffing loudly. He was appalled. His expression clearly asked, “What IS this THING?” She was relentless. After several days he seemed to decide she was a TOY, and they began to play. Daisy often got the worst of their wrestling matches since he weighed almost ten times as much as her, but she couldn't get enough. (Click the third video HERE.)
Every single music student that came in the house instantly fell in love with her. Often their parents did, too. Every week they would exclaim, "Oh, she looks SO much bigger!" Sisters who came together hunted in packs to capture and hold her. Those who were so allergic to cats that they would be crying by the end of the lesson if they touched her, touched her anyway. One mother said it was shocking how white she looked against my dark slate floor. And they were all amazed by her mismatched eyes. “Heterochromia,” my son declared—he who loves words. Distressed that she would not let him hold her, he labeled her a living ornament. She did seem to display herself in the most attractive poses. Her policy was "look but don't touch."
Inspired by my friend Russell who had taught his cat to fetch, I gave it a try when Daisy was at the stage where she liked to chase a wad of paper. She'd race after the paper ball, grab it in her mouth, race back to me, and snap her head down to throw it onto the floor. It became our favorite game and she would keep it up for a long time. Then I stuffed an old sock with grocery bags and threw that. It was just about as long as she was, but she'd race after it, grab it, and trot back to me dragging it along the floor. Then she'd leap onto a stool with it, drop it, and eagerly look up at me, begging for another round. (Click HERE for a video of her retrieving the sock. It's the last video on the page.)
Her tail grew and her fur became longer. When the light was just right, I could see that super-fine angora hair rising above her every time I ran my hand down her back. It came to adorn everything in my house. I learned to check the surface of my tea for the long filaments. If I made the mistake of going to bed without removing my mascara, I woke with Daisy hair stuck in my eyelashes. I became familiar with the delicious feeling of relief I'd experience when I could find the end of an individual hair and pull, sliding it across my eyeball and out. Small white tumbleweeds gathered around anything left on the floor for more than a few hours, and occasionally drifted across the room when disturbed. My computer crashed because a build-up of you-know-what had slowed down the cooling fan. (Click HERE for a stirring account of that episode.) For awhile I checked every plate of food for cat fur, but eventually I gave up. I'd probably already eaten plenty of it in my life. A little extra fiber wouldn't hurt me.
Fine white fur piled up in every nook and cranny in my house. I bought a new vacuum in self-defense. I used a small broom to get into those spots too narrow for the vacuum. One trip with the broom around the edges of my central room still yields a double handful of fur, and what is sucked up in the vacuum looks like dirty white cotton candy. If she didn't lose her hair so quickly would she come to look like a perfect sphere of fluff? Would I be able to roll her across the floor? Would she blow away in a high wind?
And why, oh why, is black my favorite color to wear when I love white cats so much? I had to start buying expensive lint rollers. The cheap ninety-nine cent variety was no longer adequate. And I had to change the way I shopped for clothes. I could no longer choose based only on price and appearance. I also had to consider whether cat hair would adhere to the fabric.
Because of my concern for the environment I had been hanging laundry out in the sun to dry, but I broke down and installed a clothes dryer. Even freshly laundered wash cloths and towels still retained so much cat hair that they left my face feeling like I had dried it directly on Daisy. I had to start putting laundry in the dryer for a few minutes to suck off the fuzz before hanging it up. What turned up in the lint filter looked like felted fabric. Maybe I should have ordered that reprint of the Victorian era book, "Crafts to Make With Cat Hair."
In an attempt to lessen the shedding, we began starting every morning with a thorough brushing. Still, when Daisy hears my alarm she races up the ship's ladder to the loft and begins meowing insistently. If I am slow to respond she tries to irritate me awake by finding something of mine she can dig her claws into, most often the cover of my Kindle. By now it looks like it's had a bad case of chicken pox.
The second thing we do every morning is practice playing catch and fetch. (At that time of day that's as much cognitive challenge as I am capable of handling, anyway.) I throw a paper ball up in the air. She stands on her hind legs, stretching full length to reach it. She does a three point catch, capturing it with mouth and front paws. She rarely misses. Then I accidentally on purpose let it fall down the ladder and she's off! She thunders down: thump-a-thump-a-thump-a. She races back up: thump-a-thump-a-thump. She snaps her head down and the ball hits the floor next to me. I toss it again. Occasionally we disagree about whose turn it is to possess the thing, and I begin my day with new punctures.
All this training paid off the night Daisy and Prince Charming brought an enormous rat in through the cat door. I was at the computer when I heard some scrabbling and banging behind me. Something was shrieking shrilly. The room was dark, but as the noise approached the kitchen I was transfixed by the sight of a large and well-fed rat. Shocked, I reacted without thinking. To my shame I found myself standing on a chair, just like those silly people in cartoons do when frightened by a rodent. I had thought I was above all that. Don't tell anybody.
The rat escaped the cats by scooting under a small hutch in the kitchen. Daisy prowled around it sniffing for a long time, but the rat maintained complete silence. Since there is no door between the kitchen and my loft, I wondered where I was going to sleep. What if the cats caught the rat and gifted me with their trophy while I was in bed? A white cat of the past had brought me a live snake in just that way. Another time it was an enormous dead spider. Could a dead rat be much worse? I decided it could.
There were still a few hours until bedtime. By the time I was yawning I had somehow accommodated to the presence of the rat, and decided to just follow my usual routine. Maybe the rat would continue his silent retreat. Maybe he had already died of his injuries. Maybe I would get a no-kill trap tomorrow. I slept well.
The next day there was still not a single sign of the rat. Could it have escaped back out the cat door? When my son visited he looked around the hutch and saw nothing. To make sure I had him pull the hutch away from the wall while I kept watch on the widening space.
There was the rat, clinging to the back of the hutch! As soon as it realized it had been discovered it took off lightning fast with Daisy right on its tail. All that eye-paw coordination and fetch training had paid off. The rat only made it halfway across the central room before she caught it, her mouth open wider than I thought possible and her teeth clamped around the middle of its back.
She froze. We froze. The rat froze as well, but we could tell it was definitely not dead. We had to figure out what to do without delay! Main goal: get the rat out of house. I shouted to my son to open the kitchen door. I whispered to Daisy, “Don't drop the rat!” I sneaked up on her slowly and gently. Then as fast as I could I grabbed her, ran across the room, and pushed her out the back door. Such an obedient cat! She followed my directions perfectly. She held onto the rat. Once cat and rat were outside we quickly slammed the door.
Later my son went out in the yard and talked Daisy into letting go. The rat raced off toward the chicken yard and disappeared. What a relief. Daisy didn't seem to hold our interference against us. We considered the problem solved.
The following week I was checking something in the chicken yard and suddenly the very same rat (I swear it was!) shot out from under the chunk of cement I had put against the wall of the chicken house to—you guessed it—keep out rats. It had dug a little cave under the cement so it could hide unseen, and had tunneled under the wall so it could go directly into the chicken house from its cozy home! For weeks I had been finding broken egg shells in the nests, evidence that something was stealing eggs. I had tightened up the seal on the door but that didn't help. I had been outsmarted by a rodent! No wonder he looked so well fed!
I had noticed the hundreds of teeth marks around the plastic top of the five gallon buckets I use for chicken feed. I had foiled him that time by topping the buckets with an old piece of metal held down by a brick. But something had ravaged my apple crop, my peaches, the pear tree, and pomegranate. Lots of half chewed hollow pomegranates were all that was left. And I had only gotten a couple of figs all summer. I'd watch them grow larger on the tree, but long before they were ripe they would disappear. Birds peck chunks out of them but there was no evidence of that. Something was carrying them off whole! That rat was better nourished than I was—and on my homegrown organic food!
I was outraged but I had no idea what to do when the rat scuttled across the chicken yard. How could I catch him? I couldn't bear to kill him with poison or a trap. Out of empathy, I would have had to relive his dying moments and suffer his agony in my imagination. The only thing I could do would be to get a live trap and bait it with one of his favorite foods. I reflected with chagrin that I had plenty of evidence as to his dietary preferences. In the meantime I readjusted the chunk of cement to block his home and filled around it with dirt and gravel. I made a plan to collect the eggs before dark so I could get them before the rat did.
That night Daisy didn't come running when I called so I walked around the yard looking for her. In the dark I spotted a while blob in the chicken yard. I couldn't imagine how she'd gotten in. I knew she couldn't have climbed the flimsy wire fence. I walked closer and called her again but she didn't move. I opened the gate and walked in, joking “Did you catch the rat, Daisy?” She still crouched in the same spot. I knelt down to pick her up and that's when I saw it, right under her nose. She was guarding a large rat—a dead and somewhat mangled large rat. OUR large rat. He had become quite familiar by then and I was sure it was him.
We had deprived Daisy of her kill once, but she wasn't about to let bygones be bygones. His corpse did not merit inclusion in our cat/chicken graveyard. His shroud was a plastic bag and his coffin the garbage can.
As for me, my conscience was clear. The rat had been killed by its natural predator and I had nothing to do with it.
Since then my eggs are undisturbed and I have managed to claim a few ripe figs from my tree. Next time there is evidence of rat activity I will know who to call.
She still looks like a fluffy angel with a tail, but don't let that fool you. She is DEADLY.
Deadly Daisy the Rat Catcher, Terror of all Rodentia.
Let me know if you need her services. You can rent her. 20% discount for new customers.
Dana Clark, August 2018