Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Taming the Feral Cat: Mango

AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, an adorable little creature will waltz unexpectedly into your life, proceed to wreak havoc, jeopardize your relationship with your landlord, and take all the money you were saving up for...something. In time, you realize you can't imagine life without them.

Meet Mango

Feral cats are everywhere on Oahu. They gather in large colonies in the parking lots after dark, and you can feel all of the luminous eyes watching you as you drive by. It's anyone's guess how Mango found her way from the lot behind Foodland to our neighborhood, but one day, she was there, a skin-and-bones bundle with a striking tortoiseshell coat. She rubbed against the fishing poles and made herself comfortable under the barbeque stand. But the minute she saw us, she was gone in a flash of black fur. 

It was for the best, of course. We had a "no pets rule" in our housing contract. However, the kitten chose to show up while our landlords were away on vacation. She slunk back into our enclosure the next day, certainly not looking any healthier. We left a can of tuna out. Stray or lost pet? Looks like we had committed ourselves to find out. 

My boyfriend and I often argue about who won her trust first, but it look only a couple more bowls of food before I had the distinct honor of being approached. The little kitten mewed, climbed onto my lap, and sniffed my nose. I felt in danger of becoming attached. Since the mangoes were just beginning to ripen to rosy red, "Mango" became her name. And our landlords were due home the next day.

Honesty is the best policy, but it's equally all about timing. When we picked our landlords up from the airport, they were exhausted from an international flight. When to drop the bomb? The moment we pulled into the driveway, little Mango began crying for us. I'd been dreading this moment, of course. Tortoiseshell cats are extremely famous for their "tortitude," a unique personality that includes a most vocal set of lungs. My boyfriend began whistling equally loudly as we helped them unpack, and no one seemed to notice. However, I could already see her black tail darting amongst the bushes, so we managed to pull our landlord Steve* away from his family and broke the news. That was when Mango decided to make her grand entrance. Being incredibly adorable won her some favors, and we agreed to amend our contract, as long as Mango remained an outdoors cat. On Oahu, that's not much of a hardship. When we discovered that Mango had no microchip and no one was looking for her, we officially adopted her.

Mango decided to celebrate by fracturing her leg. 

When I wasn't woken up at 6:00 am by Mango's unceasing cries of "Feed me! Feed me!", a bad feeling settled over me. It only grew worse as two nights passed, and there was no sign of our adopted stray. We searched the neighborhood and put up signs, while all the while trying to fight off the grim feeling that we had found something wonderful only to lose it too soon. I carry memories from childhood of cats going missing and staying that way, so I had a sinking feeling of how this was all going to end. The situation was made even odder by our landlady, who came home early from work one day to find a man poking around the bushes of our yard. He asked if she had seen a "black cat." I have to give our landlady credit; she bravely said, "No! Black cat is mine!" and chased him off. Now we didn't know what to think; was Mango in another house somewhere? 

Two weeks later, I heard a soft, plaintive cry at two in the morning. I flung open the door and there was Mango, limping out of the bushes. She couldn't put any weight on her back leg, but pulled herself so purposefully toward us, confident that the two recent college graduates with student debt and entry level jobs could save her. Thanks, cat. 

We were going to do exactly that. 

The vet gave us the good and the bad news: thankfully, she hadn't broken her leg. She'd fractured it. Because of her young age, there was a good chance that the bone would heal fully. She wouldn't need surgery. She would, however, need to wear a splint and stay in a quiet, dry place for the next two months.

Yeah. You try making a kitten sit still. To give you a visual, we have a little furnished "shed" attached to the studio that was allotted to be her "house." However, Mango refused to remain passively indoors. She learned how to walk on that bright purple cast frighteningly fast; give her an inch, and she'd be off, loping at an odd gait because one leg was higher than the other. The first time she pulled that, our landlord and his daughter chased after her as she made her escape through their backyard; she evaded both of them and disappeared. 

"She'll come back when she's hungry," we told ourselves. "Preferably with the cast on." In fact, the cast was still on when she came back, whining desperately for food, but the bandages were a disaster. The look on the vet's face when we brought her back said it all, and we got another stern lecture about how we needed to keep her "secluded." Only one-and-a-half more months to go. Mango would claw her way to the top shelves of the shed and meow, her face pressed against the top window. I felt like a cruel prison warden. Of course, she'd always "done her business" outside. There's no time like teaching a cat how to use a litter box like when she has a huge clunky cast on. 

She never gave us any trouble when we took her to the vet. Her trust was refreshing. Soon, she stopped trying to escape. The x-rays were promising. When we finally saw the last x-ray two months later, we all breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of new, whole bone, not a fracture in sight. We could take the splint off. Now she just had to wear one of those big white cones to keep her from licking the matted fur of her back leg until it healed, as well as undergo daily massages to regain her muscle strengthbut she was free! Ordeal over, bank account lighter, family happy.

Now I'm pleased to say that Mango has filled out and has a beautiful glossy coat that reminds me of a sun bear's. She's still loud, but has learned that there is a time and a place for that (not at six in the morning). She also sticks by her territory. No more roaming. The craziness seems to be toned down, too: no more wandering on the neighbor's rooftop, although she does like to scare me by waltzing along our thin stone wall, nine feet up in the air. And no more attacking dogsshe picked up a bad habit of stalking passerby walking their dogs, waited until they got close, and then exploded from the bushes in a hissing mass of black fur. (Pomeranians, beware!) Now she spends her days lounging in our backyard, content with chasing geckos and playing with anything that wiggles funny. We're so thankful she came back to us. In honor of such a unique and funny personality, I decided to give Mango her own blog post.

*Names have been changed for the sake of privacy. 
Disclaimer: The above is depicted as fiction, not fact. 

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