Flash: A Pinnacle of Dog-hood

I don’t dislike dogs. I enjoy the company of most dogs and I have yet to meet a dog that didn’t like me. I am not fond of small dogs as, in my experience, they tend to be far to prone to barking and whining. I become uncomfortable with their constant shaking. Medium and large-sized dogs are the breeds I prefer, they match my internal bias for what a dog should look like and how a dog should act. I don’t dislike dogs, I just don’t have a desire to add one to my life.

I must have been just entering my teenage years. It was so long ago, age and distance has merged those years of my life together into a single era. There are eighteen years in a childhood but it is impossible to separate my memories of that time into distinct years. I have memories that date all the way back to my daycare days and I find it can be difficult to place those at an age that feels correct. Time and memory can sometimes not connect seamlessly together. I am, however, fairly certain that I had just entered my teenage years when I got my first, on only, dog.

He was a mixed breed dog we had gotten from a neighbour, one of my best friends at the time. His mother was a border collie / blue heeler cross, a medium-sized dog that was fiercely protective of her puppies. She bit me when I went to take what would become my dog from her, the bite was serious enough to draw blood. She was normally a friendly dog but she was not willing to let anyone look at her puppies let alone take them away from her. I would go home with a bloody leg and a new dog.

He was tiny when he came home that first day, about the size of a small cat. He had been well fed and looked like a ball of black and white fuzz with legs, a tail, a nose and a couple of eyes. His feet were white with blackish blue speckles exposing his blue heeler blood, his feet were massive compared to his body. He was destined to be a big dog.

He would dwarf his mother by the time he finished growing. His father had been a scotch collie that had belonged to another of our neighbours. A dog that had never been fixed and was free to roam wherever he wanted, he sired quite a few litters in his day. The only thing my dog inherited from his father was his size, in everything else he took after his mom. He had the size of a scotch collie but the colouring and personality of a border collie.

We learned early in his life just how fast he was. He moved quicker than any of the family could react and seemed to possess and endless supply of energy. As a puppy he would use his speed to get at the cat food as it was put down and before the cats could even get a bite. He earned his name “Flash” as a result.

Flash learned to chase and catch balls and frisbee at an early age. It was almost an innate skill he seemed to pick it up with no effort almost as if he had been born pulling frisbee from the air. The grabbing of flying objects was not only an instinctive response it was also his favourite pastime. He would greet strangers to the property with a frisbee in his mouth, if they threw it for him they were friends and if they didn’t they weren’t to be trusted.

He was a dog of action who tended to be on the move long before he could think about what it was he was doing. One day during an extended family barbecue he ended up getting hit in the mouth with a baseball bat. We had been playing baseball and he attempted to intercept a pitch just as it connected with a swinging bat. He picked himself up, shook his head and prepared to grab the next pitch. We gave up on the game, he was too fast and there was no way to continue without putting his safety at risk.

His reactions were so quick and automatic that he could catch birds in mid-flight. Flash brought me the gift of a grouse at one point. He had been so careful when he caught it that there were no puncture wounds, no crushing from his jaws, not even any ruffled feathers. The bird had died but it was most likely from shock or fear than from any physical injuries. He had a hunter’s instincts.

He was a smart dog although he didn’t always use his intelligence for good. He had hurt one of his front paws on some barbed wire. It had been a pretty serious wound with a lot of blood and a trip to the vet. His paw was bandaged up and he limped around while it healed. He received a lot of attention while he recuperated.

It was this attention that he remembered. After he had recovered he would use the memory to manipulate everyone around him for more attention. He would hold up a paw and limp around whenever he was feeling neglected. The only flaw with his otherwise perfect plan was that he couldn’t remember which paw he had injured. He would switch back and forth between paws, sometimes even in the middle of his current con.

Despite his attempts at trickery he was still this boy’s best friend. We were inseparable from the moment we met. I was what could be called a painfully shy kid, to an extreme. I would have preferred to do just about anything to avoid having to talk to people or, much worse in my mind, to be made the centre of attention. Flash provided an invaluable friendship; I got the companionship and socialization I needed without the awkwardness, embarrassment, and pain that all too often accompanied human interactions.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have or couldn’t make friends, it was just difficult and exhausting to maintain. I had always had an affinity for animals and it was strongest with Flash. We did everything together.

He was an outside dog, his size made it difficult for it to be otherwise. We had an enclosed porch that the large dogs slept in. They had food and water put out for them and dog houses were built so they could sleep on straw and old blankets. It wasn’t heated but was otherwise a rather luxurious shelter. Flash had lived in the house as a puppy and there always seemed to be a part of him that wanted that life back.

Whenever the temperature would drop to a ridiculously frigid level he would get a taste of the indoor life. There were days when the mercury plummeted to the point where no amount of shelter or thick winter fur could keep a dog even remotely close to warm. On these days we brought the outside dogs into the warmth and shelter of the house.

This meant that I would have a couple of guests for a few nights; Flash and Shadow (a small scotch collie youngster who earned his name because everywhere Flash went he followed like a shadow). As I was his boy Flash would claim my bed, a small twin, as his. I would put out a small cot for Shadow to sleep on.

Flash and I would share my twin bed, or at least attempt to. Flash took up at least as much space on the bed as I did, there was essentially two people sharing bed built for one. Flash loved to sleep on the bed, he would jump onto it and stretch himself out on his stomach right down the centre of the bed. I would have to squeeze in between him and the wall or perch myself on the edge of the bed.

He did not make a good bed mate. I could pet him for a bit after we went to bed, but only for a short while. He would let loose a deep, semi-threatening growl when he had had enough and was ready to sleep. It was the same warning he would use anytime I moved or jostled him during the night. Without a doubt the bed was his and he suffered me to share it with him.

The bulk of the time that I wasn’t in school was spent with him. We’d throw around balls or frisbee, he’d run alongside me while I biked around the subdivision, he’d accompany me through the local marshes while I hunted frogs and snakes, and we’d have adventures together. We lived on ten acres of mostly wooded land that was nestled behind a large, government-run wildlife preserve. This provided us plenty of opportunity for adventure.

Flash and Shadow (who was never far from Flash) were fearless companions. Between the back end of our acreage and the wildlife preserve was a wide, deep creek, flooded and swollen thanks to a family of beaver that had made it their home. I used fences or fallen trees to cross over the water since it was far to deep to wade through. I was not a strong swimmer and I doubt I would have enjoyed swimming through the disgusting smelling water anyway, so makeshift bridges were the order of the day. The dogs didn’t have this concern they just swam across from one side to the other, even in the dead of winter. The water almost never froze over enough to support their weight. Flash’s loyalty and devotion were so great that he wouldn’t allow something as minor as a dip in freezing water to separate him from me.

Flash took his canine companion duties seriously. He was as faithful a companion as any boy could have asked for and staunchly overprotective. Throwing his body into danger to keep me out of it was as natural as breathing to him. He would be overzealous in carrying out his duties, there was one time he jumped between me and a neighbour, growling and snarling with such ferocity that the neighbour chose to flee rather than risk an attack by the big dog. This boy was someone that Flash saw just about everyday, his only crime was an attempt to dunk me with water from a bucket, an action I had already perpetrated on him.

The protective feelings were mutual.

One of the many children that we fostered over the years decided one day that he was going to take his anger out on me. This was not an unusual occurrence, I had learned from experience to just accept it as defending myself would just get me into trouble. It was better to put up with the bullying than to stand up for myself and wind up with a punishment in addition to the bullying. This time the bully had made the mistake of pushing me in front of Flash. The dog moved faster than either of us could react, there was no warning given, he was on the boy’s back snarling and growling as his front paws grabbed his opponent. To his credit he restrained himself from biting the other boy.

The boy turned to defend himself from the dog, his fist lashed out at Flash’s head. I saw red and threw myself at my bully. My fists connected and the boy cried for help as Flash and I fought with him. We fought well as a team, neither one of us getting in the other’s way. We were pulled off the boy, fairly quickly, I remember in my rage that all I could think was that nobody hit my dog.


I still rage when I think about it.

He lived to be about fourteen, maybe fifteen. He stayed with my mother as I attempted to start my adult life. They had moved from the acreage to a home in the city. Anytime I went by for a visit it was like we had never parted. He would find a frisbee, he always seemed to have an unlimited supply, and I would throw it for him. Even as old age ravaged his body he would still bring me a frisbee, in his mind it was what I enjoyed and he wanted nothing more than to make me happy. He could barely walk at the end so I would place the frisbee in his mouth and he would hand it back to me. That was how we played our game near the end of his life and they were some of the best games of fetch we ever played.

I still feel guilty over not making more time to visit him as he aged. I regret that I was not there to see him off as he left this world.

For years I kept his collar in my pocket everywhere I went. Having his collar with me allowed me to keep his presence close to me, as if we hadn’t parted company. His last canine companion would cry every time I’d visit, she could smell the collar in my pocket but couldn’t find him. Her presence had extended his life and together we would mourn him all over again.

Since I met Flash I had had the most perfect dog. I have never felt the need to replace him, it would feel wrong as no other dog would ever match him.


Panther, True Tales VII

A Secret Learned

Days pass quickly when you’re trapped in a job you hate. Before I knew it October had run its course, November had left and I was smack-dab into December. We had gone through a lot of excitement in those two months.

Prior to adopting Panther I had had the unfortunate luck of having to go through a bed bug infestation, a few to be accurate but like most things in life the first time is the worst one. The first indication that these pests were in the building was a notice that they were going to spray the apartment in a couple weeks. There were no sign of bugs that I could see but I dutifully followed the directions they provided to prepare for the spraying. Less than a week before the spray date the apartment was crawling with bed bugs. One day I was bug free and the next I was living with a nation of them.

Part of the instructions for successfully combating a bed bug infestation is to not change your sleeping habits. Particularly important is not to change where you sleep. Which meant that I had to spend three or four nights sharing my bed with a few hundred tiny ladies whose entire reason for existing was to steal my blood. But if I moved from the bed they might shift their location and escape the pesticide. It is, by far, the hardest part of dealing with bed bugs.

After that first time it seemed as if those little vampires were attempting to move in every couple of months. It felt like there was a period of nearly constant spraying as they fought to evict these insect freeloaders from the apartment complex. It was a fight they didn’t seem to be winning. All of my possessions were boxed and stored in the middle of the dining room as per their instructions. I had been packing and unpacking so often due to the treatments that I just stopped putting anything back, it was just easier to leave everything packed where they were.

The bugs eventually stopped coming back, at least for a time. It would take months before I could relax enough to start returning things to where they belonged. It would never be complete, it always sat in the back of my mind that the bugs would return. They did.

The pesticides they use to fight bed bugs does not quite agree with those of the feline persuasion, it is, in fact, fatal. So after I discovered a pair of the bugs and, with great difficulty, managed to get a spray date set I found myself suddenly needing a place to hole up with the cat for a few days.

I had just the place in mind. A friend of mine had a sweet house geared up for cats, she would house-sit her parents’ cats once in a while and kept some feline amusements there at all times. It was a two floor house with a basement, lots of space, and large windows. A nice place for a cat to play in. A quick text got the okay for Panther and I to crash there for a few days.

The day arrived for our short vacation from the apartment. The treatment wasn’t until the next day but I wasn’t about to let Panther be alone in a strange place so we were both leaving that afternoon for my friend’s place. I spent the morning moving things into the kitchen and away from the walls. I wasn’t sure it was necessary but I pulled everything away from the wall in Panther’s room as well.

He wasn’t dealing very well with the morning activity. The changes I was making to his environment had shot his anxiety through the roof. I decided to let him roam free until the last minute, he hated being in his carrier and I couldn’t see a point in making his day any worse than it had to be.

I could understand what he was feeling. My own anxiety levels were off the charts. I don’t really like to have people in my apartment when I am home, I can’t even deal with the idea of people being in my apartment when I am not there. I can’t focus on anything else, I have difficulty breathing, my hands shake uncontrollably, I just become a mess. I had no desire to put Panther through that stress so I allowed him the freedom to roam as I prepared the apartment.

He was nowhere to be found when I finished moving everything. I had just received a text that my ride was on the way so it was now time to package the cat up for travel. I checked above the cupboards in the kitchen where he liked to go when the vacuum was running but he wasn’t there.

Panther. Where are you, buddy?”

He normally came when called. He tended to show me that much courtesy, but not today it seemed. I wandered to the bathroom to check the tub, he would sometimes curl up there to sleep off warm afternoons. I pushed the curtains aside and was rewarded with an empty tub.

Where are you hiding, Panther?” I wondered aloud as I checked under the bathroom sink. Perhaps he had gone into his room, he liked to sleep on top of the boxes I kept in there. It was worth a quick look.

There was no cat to be seen on top of the boxes I had pulled away from the wall. No cat behind the boxes. No cat anywhere I could see.

There was a large hole in the wall that was shared with the bathroom.

A big, dark, gaping hole that caused my heartbeat to quicken.

This hole was the access hatch to the water pipes that fed the shower and bath tub. The panel must have been held closed by the boxes that had been in front of it. It must have opened while I was in another room. I could see all the pipes running up and down through the wall but I couldn’t tell if there was room for a cat to slip through.

A closer inspection revealed just how little luck I had, there was enough space between the pipes for a cat of Panther’s size to squeeze through. More important was the alcove that I could make out just beneath the tub that looked large enough to comfortably fit me. I was filled with dread and despair at the two eyes that reflected the light from my cell phone back at me. It had taken no time for Panther to find this hole and get himself into the space beneath the tub.

Panther,” I tried to keep the panic from my voice, “time to come out.”

It was hard to judge if he could make it back through all the pipes but it was worth the attempt to try to coax him out. I couldn’t get my arm far enough in to pull him out. For his part Panther seemed to be enjoying this newly found cave.

I shook a bag of Temptations at the open hole. This sound would normally bring him running but today he just lay down and looked up at me. I offered a whiff of catnip, perhaps the scent would entice him. He just lay down in that hole content to wait me out.

Feeling even more desperate and on the verge of a panic attack I decided to make a phone call to the building’s emergency line.

This line is only for emergencies,” they told me, “you need to contact the building manager.”

Hot water faucet in the bath tub won’t shut off… not an emergency. Cat trapped under bath tub… not an emergency. Just what was an emergency to these people?

The building manager responded lightening fast to my call. This was the first and only time she would ever respond to one of my infrequent requests in less than a week. It was within fifteen minutes that she showed up with a maintenance man and all three of us were surrounding the open hatch. The maintenance man shone a flashlight in the hole to verify the cat’s existence (because I was obviously the type to make this type of thing up) and then they were on the move. They were going to pull down the ceiling in my downstairs neighbour’s bathroom to get to the cat.

I heard a polite meow beside me as I shut the apartment door behind them. At my feet was a very calm, slightly dusty, Panther. He had decided that he wanted to play with the beam of the flashlight and had followed it out of the crawlspace.

I grabbed him, kissed him on his head, and put him in his carrier. I managed to get downstairs in time to stop them from ripping apart my neighbours bathroom and then generously applied duct tape to seal the hatch. That done, we were on our way to my friend’s home for a few days.

The drive down there went about as well as could be expected. Panther voiced his discomfort and disgust at the situation throughout the entire journey. He changed his tune the moment he was released from his carrier into our temporary home.

The majority of the cat related items were in the basement, the litter box in particular. I brought him down and released him from the carrier. I needed to prepare the litter box and figured he could explore while I did. The basement was at least as big as our apartment so he had plenty of space to enjoy. It was a single room with a fridge, a scratching post, a table, some boxes, stairs, and various other items scattered about. There was plenty to keep him occupied while I set up his bathroom.

By the time I was finished he was gone.

It was an unfinished basement so there wasn’t too many places he could have disappeared into. I checked under the stairs and in the boxes, both those areas were clear. I could hear his meows so I was certain he was close by. As it turned out he had managed to get himself into the beams of the ceiling and couldn’t get himself down.

Maybe you don’t need to explore every hole,” I offered as I grabbed a chair so I could reach him. He purred musically as I pulled him free of the beams.

He spent the rest of the evening exploring the house. He particularly enjoyed using the stairs, racing up and down continuously throughout the night. He slept with me on the couch and spent the next day in the basement while I was at work. I only had to work the one day and then we were alone for a couple days before we would return home.

One of the more amazing aspects of Panther’s personality is how quick he adapts to changes in his environment. Like most cats he doesn’t like change but unlike other cats I have known he settled into his new environments with surprising ease. I was more uncomfortable with our circumstances than he was and it was a relief for me to be going home, he didn’t feel the same way. From a cat point of view the house with the stairs, large beds, and numerous surfaces to climb onto was a portrait of luxury. Like all cats he accepted that luxury as a birthright and was unhappy to be leaving it behind.

There were three treatment dates spread over about a month which allowed him to visit his paradise one more time. My friend was home during the second visit and Panther spent the day with her while I was at work. The reports I got from that day involve him happily joining her for a nap and, not quite so happily, respecting her requests to get off her counter tops. He was a perfectly charming house guest.

Sometime between the first and second treatments I learned a valuable secret kept by my feline roommate. It happened one morning that I was a little slower getting out the door than normal. Panther had been closed up into his room while I was temporarily flummoxed about which jacket I should wear, this choice delayed my exit by a minute or two. A flash of black burst out the door as I opened it to leave. Panther had somehow escaped from his room!

I had thought my roommate had figured out a system that allowed him to exit the apartment while Panther was loose. What was actually happening was that Panther had figured out that if he pressed his weight against the centre of the folding door it would open and he would be released from his cell. He had figured it out the first day I had closed him in the room, it had taken me considerably longer to figure it out.

It was also during this time that I accepted what would be my first promotion. I hated the job but I am something of a responsibility junkie so when they offered me the promotion I couldn’t refuse. The raise that came with it was essentially nonexistent and the included potential for a bonus was little more than a joke. The tiny increase in money didn’t come close to covering the increase in work load and daily abuse.

We settled on trading some treats for my freedom to leave. Most mornings I had to hold him in my arms, exit the apartment, and slip him back into our home while I closed the door.

We headed into Christmas having made some adjustments to our lives.

Panther, True Tales VI

A Familiar Routine

We followed our usual routine of waking up the next morning, if you consider three AM to be morning. Not that I am complaining, I disliked a lot about my job but having the same schedule every day was one of the few positives it had. There is something peaceful about the world at that time of day, the journey between bed and work was often the best part of my day.

Until Panther entered my world, that is. All of the best parts of my days revolved around my new feline roommate. Whether it was the morning ritual of chin rubs and licks peppered by his musical purrs or the return home ritual of chin rubs and licks accompanied by some sing-song purring my heart and mind always dreamed of us being together. When we were apart I was constantly distracted by thoughts of him; I worried about his day, I wondered if he had enough to keep him from becoming bored.

Not that everything was perfect between us.

I hated having to close him up in his tiny room before I left for work in the morning but the idea of chasing him through the building’s hallways was not appealing. In the short time he had been with me he had made an attempt to bolt out the front door every single time it had been opened. He was determined to have access to the corridor and obsessed with getting beyond every closed door he encountered. Which meant he had to be closed up so I could make it out to my cab and pay our rent.

I knew my human roommate would allow him out for a bit prior to going to work so the cat wouldn’t be completely cut off from the bulk of the apartment. Still, a perfect world would have him free to roam the apartment when he was home alone. We don’t live in a perfect world but it was my intention to get our apartment as close to the perfect ideal as possible.

The work day dragged on, I wanted to be home with Panther and not at work slaving away for the benefit of a heartless corporation and uncaring customers. My job was primarily to unpack poorly stacked skids of pet supplies to fill our chronically empty shelves. These shelves were empty because we were only ever sent product that didn’t sell and only rarely the product customers wanted. To the customers and head office this was always the fault of the early morning stockers and not the distribution division. By the time my shift was over I was always relieved to go home.

I was tired and distracted when I arrived at my apartment building. My day had been spent worrying about my newest roommate and cataloguing my options for the future. I had been doing the pet supply thing for around three months at this point and I had still not managed to attach myself to the job. I am the type of man who feels very much that what I do is important to who I am. My identity is not defined by my job but being passionate about what I do is important to my well being. I didn’t have that where I currently worked and it seemed unlikely that it would ever develop.

The first indication I received about where I was was the black streak that exploded out of the apartment as I opened the door. My roommate had left Panther out again, I was really going to have to ask my roommate how he was managing to exit the apartment while the cat was running free.

The fire doors at both ends of the hall were, thankfully, closed which kept Panther contained and reduced the potential for his escape. I just needed to scoop him up and carry him back to our home. Easier said than done.

Panther had escaped from his prison and was determined not to go back. Back and forth he ran, expertly dodging my attempts to grab him as he bounced between doors. He seemed intent on catching one of the doors open but luck didn’t seem to want to favour him. Sure he had managed to escape through the cell door but he was still trapped in the prison building and the guard was right behind him. It was a valiant attempt to regain his freedom but ultimately it would not succeed.

After a handful of failed attempts I managed to scoop the wily black cat up into my arms. I held him close and stroked his back with one hand, my heart was pumping from the chase and the fear of losing him.

That was a poor choice, buddy,” I whispered to him.

I kissed the top of his head to take some of the sting out of my words. He offered purrs, chin rubs and licks as an apology. All was forgiven and peace achieved between man and cat as we returned to our shared home.

We settled on a routine for us on my return home from work early on in our relationship. He would attempt to escape when I opened the door and I would snatch him up and hold him as we greeted each other with pats and kisses. I would then give him a small can of wet food, Fancy Feast was his preference, that he would obsessively devour. There would be about half an hour of chasing the bat symbol up and down the walls, far too short a period for Panther but more than long enough for me. There would be some bird or squirrel watching and cuddling together at the window and then we’d separate and do our own thing. There would be some getting together for treats and cuddles but mostly we’d do our own thing until bedtime where he’d curl up at my feet to sleep until morning.

A second escape attempt would be made when our roommate returned from work. This normally took place around ten PM just as I was drifting off to sleep. I tried to keep an eye and an ear on the door as I waited on the couch. I would watch him for any sign of excitement, he seemed to know long before I did when my roommate was in the building. As soon as he ran to the door I would grab him, if I was home he would never make it out the door.

He had his own process with his other human roommate. Panther would sit all prim and proper at the entrance to the kitchen. He would sit patiently watching our roommate prepare dinner and quietly keep him company. When my roommate was finished in the kitchen he’d reach down and briefly tussle the top of Panther’s head with his fingers. The cat seemed to love it, he’d push his head up against the fingers with what seemed like a massive grin on his face. They would part ways after that, the human would go to his room while the feline would settle in for the night at my feet. We would drift off to sleep and awake together to relive the cycle all over again the next day.

Sylvester, True Tales III

A Short Exile…

He was relaxed today, the young cat who went by the name Sylvester. He had settled in with his new family over the last few weeks. Food was plentiful and left out so he could eat when he chose. The human provided scrumptious, crunchy treats almost every time the black cat demanded. Toys were available when the black cat or human weren’t willing to play. The place was filled with caves and high spots decked out for cat comfort. There were almost no places he couldn’t explore.

The first few days had been exciting. After the initial nervousness had passed the larger black cat, whose name was Panther, turned out to be rather cool. Panther was willing to wrestle, he always approached each session as if it was an epic life-and-death struggle and yet, despite the displays of teeth and claw, always managed to have a feather-light touch. Panther was also willing to give his all when it came to racing through the apartment making each chase a heart-pounding event.

It hadn’t taken him long to determine the power structure within his new community. It would have been fairly obvious even to the most oblivious of observers; Panther would enter a room, issue a demand, and the human would rush to fill it. Treats, canned food, human food, all of it flowed when the black cat demanded it and Sylvester benefited just by being nearby. The human cleaned up after them, provided toys and entertainment, and made sure there were comfortable spots for napping. The human was obviously the servant which made Panther the one to befriend.

This turned out to be simple enough to do. From the first moment he had been brought into the home, before he’d even been allowed out of the carrier, the older black cat had been fascinated by him. Initially this interest was a shock but after Sylvester had gotten his initial read of his environment this turned into a blessing. They developed a near instant, inseparable connection to each other. They did almost everything together. Panther even took him under his wing and taught him how to properly use a litter box. The only thing Panther wouldn’t do was allow him to curl up beside him to nap. The human seemed to enjoy Sylvester napping on him so that became their thing.

Then one day, a couple weeks after he had arrived, he found himself packed into the carrier he had originally arrived in. Sylvester found himself shipped back to the house of cats where he then spent a night in abject misery. He did not like being separated from Panther and the human. He was unsure what he had done to be sent away from the place he called home. The night of exile felt cold and long.

The next day saw him packed into the crate and delivered to the sterile smelling room once again. He could hear the wailing of other cats and the whimpering of dogs all around him. He could see nothing through the gate of his prison but the sounds unnerved him and put him on edge. Aside from a few cries when the panic overwhelmed him, Sylvester kept quiet and hunkered down to await his fate.

He didn’t like this place and was tired of finding himself here. Between the unnatural smell and the horrific sounds his nerves were raw. His instincts told him to bolt but he was trapped in the box with no means of escape. He wanted to lash out and fight but there was no enemy to sink his teeth into. All he could do was wait, he was not good at waiting.

He waited with as much calmness and patience as he could summon. Eventually the strange people came, as they always did when he was trapped in this place, and poked him with their strange claw. He immediately started to feel sick in his stomach. He closed his eyes as he felt the crate start to move. He stayed as still as he could manage, the entirety of his focus was on not vomiting during the journey. It was a battle he would not win.

He heard a familiar voice after the bumpy movement ceased. There was a gentle soothing tone to the speech, almost calming in its familiarity. Sylvester opened his eyes to see the face of his human peering at him through the bars of the gate. Some more gentle noises were uttered by the human and then his face withdrew. Sylvester felt the crate start to move again and he allowed himself to relax; he was home again!

He didn’t know what he had done wrong or why he had been sent away but now that he was back things were going to be different. This human seemed to have a concern for him, maybe even an affection. He couldn’t understand any of the human’s noises but the human was willing to share a home with him and that was something worth keeping.

Sylvester dragged himself out of the carrier as soon as the gate was opened. Despite the sickness and the excruciating pain he felt he was not about to stay in that portable cell one second longer than he had too. He had had enough of that travelling box for a while.

Panther pressed his nose against Sylvester as the little cat pulled himself clear of the box. There was a warmth and tenderness to the action. The older cat was happy at the return of his friend but was concerned by the youngster’s lethargy. Sylvester was gladdened by the display of concern. He was back among his family and had missed them greatly. The larger cat backed off after performing this check to give Sylvester a chance to rest. Panther would repeat this check throughout the evening, it would only end after the kitten’s energy levels had returned and they could play again.

He had decided that he was going to pay more attention to the human. Sylvester hoped that that would prevent a reoccurrence of this banishment. Temporary though it had been he had no desire to experience it again. He dragged himself over to where the human sat on the couch and curled up at his feet. The cat would have preferred to be on the couch with the human but the jump was beyond him at that time. He slept as much as he could that evening his only action taken was to keep himself within paws’ reach of the human. He followed the human around the apartment as best as his body would allow. He was determined not to let the human out of his sight again.

From that day forward Sylvester spent more time with the human. His preference was still to spend his days chasing Panther through the apartment or wrestling together like ancient Greek demigods, but he now spent the periods Panther was napping either sleeping or playing with the human.

He would curl his front legs onto the human’s thigh, rest his head on his paws, and stare lazily into the human’s eyes. The human would respond by stroking his fur from the top of his head to the tip of his tail. The little cat would always break into a purr, no matter how hard he tried to resist it would always happen. He would then find himself unable to keep his eyes open and would slowly drift off to sleep secure in this human’s presence.

Panther, True Tales V

A Batman Villain Emerges

I took a slow and relaxed pace to waking up the next morning. I had turned my alarm off before I had gone to bed the previous night with the goal of allowing my body to awaken at its own pace. Its own pace, as it turned out, was about five minutes before my alarm would normally ring. This was normal for me, the typical morning involved hitting the snooze button a few times while I prepared myself mentally to go to a job I really didn’t want. My regular morning process was broken that morning by a fuzzy black face putting me through what had become our mutual morning routine.

Today’s morning greeting was an extended one. There were no pressing matters to attend to so I allowed Panther to determine when the wake-up procedure was complete and the day could begin. Panther was content to stretch out our morning ritual for half-an-hour, his eyes all but closed and a continuous purring rumbled from his chest as he focused on not missing a millimetre of my face with his chin. Once he was satisfied he hoped to the floor and I got up, our day had begun.

I filled his kibble bowl and topped off his water bowl. I left him crunching on his kibble and went to make some coffee and a breakfast. We were to have an entire day to get to know each other better. I had picked up some toys, some treats, and was eager to see what he liked. I was prepared to make my home into his home. I was going to watch him, learn where he liked to sleep, and rearrange the detritus of my life to suit his habits.

First on the agenda were the toys. I had picked up a package of realistic looking toy mice. I had also grabbed a wand with exchangeable ends; feathers, strings, stuff like that. There was also a variety of small balls I thought he might enjoy chasing around.

No interest was shown toward the small rubber balls. I rolled some toward him. I rolled some away from him. I rolled some across the front of him. They couldn’t grab his interest. He sat and watched them absently but made no move to chase or swat at them. Rubber balls didn’t appear to be his thing.

I unpacked one of the toy mice. These were some of the most realistic looking toys I had ever seen. The little fake rodents were covered in fur of natural colours and were an accurate size. They were infused with catnip to help entice feline interest. These seemed promising, they come in a pack of six which made them cheap enough that he could tear them apart as he willed it.

I tossed a mouse in his direction. My imagination had him pouncing on it, throwing it around, and chasing it all over the apartment. My imaginings couldn’t have been further from the reality. The mouse dropped to the carpet within paws’ reach in front of him. There was almost a look of disgust on his face as he glanced down at the toy now at his feet. He gently swiped at it before looking up at my face. The look on his face spoke volumes. “I am not a kitten,” he seemed to say, “I don’t play with toys.” He backed away from the toy and lay down on his side. His eyes never left mine.

Okay,” I said to him. “You have no interest in fake mice or rolling balls. What about feathers?”

I picked up the clump of feathers and attached the short chain to the wand. In this way I could dangle a collection of three feathers above him like a fishing lure. This allowed him to either chase it or jump at it depending on the height it was held at.

I dangled it above him, bouncing it up and down to make it seem more bird-like. Panther took a few halfhearted swings at it when it dropped down near him but wasn’t interested enough in it to rise up from his side. It looked like all the toys were a fail as far as he was concerned.

Do you want to try your treats?” We were on the floor at the edge of the kitchen, the treats were just a hop and a skip away. I had picked up some soft meaty treats and some Temptations. I already knew he liked Temptations, it was the soft treats I was curious about. They were of a higher quality, and a higher price, than the Temptations were. I was looking to spoil this cat with all the best options available for the modern feline in toys, treats, food and litter. The litter and the kibble had been successful, the toys a flop, but I was sure the treats would be a hit. The softness made them seem more like a piece of meat than kibble.

Panther tends to be rather set in his ways, stubborn really. He likes his treats to be of the crunchy variety. He has no hesitation about demanding treats when he feels he has earned them. He won’t accept anything he doesn’t like just to be polite. Raw, brutal honesty was what this cat believed in.

I placed four pieces of the treat on the floor in front of him. Panther took one sniff at the offering, turned his back to it and started miming the kicking of litter over it. Point taken, this was the type of stuff you buried in a litter box not the type of stuff you ate. By contrast the Temptations I gave him as a replacement disappeared almost as fast as they hit the floor.

We spent the afternoon exploring the high and low places within his domain. It was my desire to determine where he wanted to nap and make sure we had everything setup so he could do so easily.

My kitchen table is mostly just a storage platform. I had a handful of board games and various books that made the top of the table a permanent home. Panther found the stack of game boxes to fit his curled up body perfectly so I added some soft blankets to the top for his comfort. He could now lie on the stack and keep me company while I worked in the kitchen.

I have a case of cubbyholes standing up against a wall perpendicular to a window which overlooks the building’s parking lot. Panther discovered that he could sit atop the case at the end by the window and watch all the birds, rabbits and squirrels that played in the alley. There was a smaller curio shelf atop the cubbyhole case which was the perfect length and width for his to stretch out on. There was a raised lip at the front of the shelves that combined with the wall created almost a box-like setting. This allowed him to watch the going-ons outside while leisurely lying down if he chose. He would chitter away while he watched his prey, announcing to the apartment that he could most definitely catch them all if he was out there.

I had a glass topped coffee table with a mechanical dragon as its base in the living room. The top was a large enough oval surface that he could lie on his stomach and comfortably stretch his front and back legs out while still having plenty of space to shuffle around in. The glass surface was cool to the touch and made a wonderful surface to relax on.

In his room he found the wall of comic book boxes to be the right height for another bed. This bed was made out of the gym bag of laundry that I kept on top of the boxes. The bag of laundry was easily his favourite napping spot.

My roommate returned home that evening bearing a gift for the newest member of our household. He had brought home a mini-flashlight that displayed the bat signal. It was without a doubt the best toy Panther had ever seen in his life. He chased the symbol back and forth down the hallway, the speed and accuracy of his pouncing brought to mind doubts about his brain damage. Curious about how serious he was about catching the bat I flicked it onto a wall. He didn’t even slow he just hit the wall at a gallop and jumped to where the signal was displayed. The higher I moved it, the higher he jumped. He could jump from the floor to my shoulders. He showed no sign of tiring and let loose a grunt of annoyance when I turned the flashlight off for the night.

He was aggressively dedicated to his pursuit of the bat symbol. I realized as I drifted off to sleep that night that this fan of Batman had managed to adopt a Batman villain: the Panther.

Panther, True Tales IV

Getting to Know Each Other…

I awoke the next morning to a screeching alarm clock and a purring cat. Panther had found himself a comfortable spot by my feet to curl up for the night. As soon as he felt me stir he pounced onto my chest and repeated the pre-sleep scene from the previous night. This was to become our thing, our ritual; every night, every morning I was rewarded with chin rubs, face licks, and head butts all accompanied by purring.

This cat seemed to know just what I needed to be able to relax about our new arrangement and was more than willing to provide it. He was a year and a half old and had been a stray for most of it. He had some minor brain damage but that was all I knew of his past. He had a knack for endearing himself to people, he had an almost supernatural ability to know just how to behave for everyone he met and, as a result, everyone who worked at the store had fallen under his sway.

He hung around me as I prepared for work, ate a quick breakfast, and made sure he had a bowl of kibble and water for his day alone. I was planning on coming straight home from work but that still left him by himself in a strange place for about nine hours. I was hoping there was enough in the apartment to keep him occupied but in the back of my mind was the worry that he might get anxious about being left alone.

We spent a few minutes together bonding; me rubbing his exposed and inviting belly, him ripping my hand to shreds showing me just what his claws were all about. The entire time he watched me carefully with his sharp predatory eyes.

I patched up my wounded hand and called a cab. Even though I didn’t want to leave, work did beckon. One more shift and we would have a day together, I reminded myself. I dropped a handful of Temptations on the kitchen floor for him and gave him a quick pat on the head. I had barely opened the apartment door when a flash of black fur raced out of the apartment.

He was ridiculously fast.

Come here, Panther,” I called gently. I followed him out into the hallway worried both about him getting out of the building and the cab coming and going while I chased him down. I couldn’t be late for work, but I couldn’t leave him to wander the complex either.

He had no inclination to make it easy on me, though. He hadn’t gone very far but every time I got within arm’s reach of him he’d bolt a couple more steps away. He was having a great deal of fun playing this game of keep-away. I was on the verge of panic as I chased after him with visions of the cab driving away without me in my head. No amount of pleading with him seemed to get him to end his game.

I got lucky as he turned the corner and ran into the fire doors. It was the first time I had ever found the doors closed in all the years I’d lived in the building. It was remarkable luck which allowed me to scoop up and take him back to the apartment.

That wasn’t funny,” I informed him. The only response I got from him was a deep, silent rumble. He had enjoyed his game and was now content.

I’m sorry to have to do this, buddy,” I apologized to him, “but I have to get to work.” I placed him in his room, patted him on the back, and closed the closet door. I made it to the front of the building just as the cab pulled up and was off to work.

I spent the day fighting feeling of guilt. I had to be able to leave the apartment but I really wanted him to have free reign of his home as well. I felt torn by that morning’s solution to the issue. I believe that living with a cat should involve a lot of give-and-take, compromise. The choice I made that morning was the opposite if that. It was on my mind the entirety of the work day. I couldn’t come up with a workable solution.

I arrived back home to be greeted by him as I opened the door. I scooped him up as I wondered how my roommate had managed to get out of the apartment while Panther was loose. It was a pleasant surprise and I would have to find out how he had managed the feat. In the meantime I would just enjoy the mutual face rubs, chin licks, and head butts being showered on me. Being locked in his closet didn’t seem to reduce his affection for me.

I put him down after about ten minutes of this cuddling. It had slowed down a little and I was hungry. I didn’t like packing a lunch so I tended not to eat at work. Instead I would eat the moment I arrived home.

I was going to have Alphagetti that day. I am a child at heart and Alphagettis are delicious and easy to prepare. A can opener and a spoon are all you really need to enjoy them.

Panther was just losing his mind as I turned the can opener. He recognized the sound and was making sure I knew he wanted whatever was in the can. He cried loudly at me while he bounced anxiously from foot to foot. He couldn’t be as complete a stray as I was led to believe he was far too excited by the can opener.

Alright, alright,” I acknowledged his demands. I grabbed a small plate and scooped a couple spoonfuls of sauce onto it. “I don’t know if you’ll like it, buddy,” I said as I placed the plate in front of him. He lapped up the tomato-based sauce like he hadn’t eaten in days. A love of Alphagettis, another thing we had in common.

He had rolled over onto his back after finishing his share of our lunch. His legs were sprawled off to his sides and he had left his underbelly enticingly undefended. I hadn’t quite learned my lesson from the morning so I dropped down to my knees and reached out to rub his stomach. He was more than happy to spring his trap and he sank his claws into my hand and arm. He grabbed my hand with his teeth and started kicking with his back feet. The wrestling match was on!

It was to be a short match. He was careful with his biting but not so much with his claws. Sharp and dangerous, he raked his claws through the skin of my arm. I rolled over onto my side and cried out in pain. He had won and I was eager for the match to end.

He let go of my arm, his supremacy proven. He was the alpha male of the apartment but he wasn’t finished proving this point.

He had sat back onto his hind legs, his tail thrashing back and forth behind him. His front paws were in the air, the toes splayed wide and his claws sharp and gleaming. His mouth was partially open with his pointed teeth on display. He looked every bit like a miniature version of his namesake.

I rolled back onto my knees and raised my hands up, my fingers curled to mimic his pose. He immediately launched himself at my head, it was like I was another cat and we were engaging in some rough and tumble play. We were equals. He threw himself bodily at my head a few times more before he settled himself down for a nap. Despite the fierceness of his display neither the claws nor the teeth made contact with my head.

I excitedly described the afternoon to my roommate after he returned home from work. I loved the idea of being treated as an equal by this feline, there was a feeling of honor to it. I was overwhelmed by the experience of the afternoon and wanted my roommate to understand how I felt.

Uh-huh,” my roommate replied. He was unconvinced that the calm, quiet feline hanging with us could show that level of aggression.

I went to sleep that night accompanied by chin rubs, face nips, a bit of licking, and a lot of purring. Our relationship was developing nicely, we were equals and that arrangement worked for me.

Sylvester, True Tales II

From One House to Another…

It didn’t take long before the humans noticed the addition of a new cat to the household. This surprised him. There were five other cats and a couple dogs already living there when he snuck in. He was the smallest of them all so he had felt certain he would escape notice. The humans were more attentive than he had guessed and it hadn’t even been a day before the first one found him.

It didn’t end up being a bad thing. He still got the food, water, and shelter he had wanted. Their knowledge of his existence added petting, carrying, and cuddling to his day. He got to play with the other cats, except for the mean one with the squished-in face but nobody played with her. The dogs were friendly and happy to play as well, one was gigantic and the other was smaller than the big gray cat he had seen the other day. The humans would also play with him but mostly they existed for food and pettings.

The humans also provided him with one more thing: a name, Sylvester.

Sylvester. It had a nice ring to it. He could live with it.

The human colony didn’t strike him as being very stable. There was a core group of four but overall a larger number seemed to come and go on a constant basis. Some were kind, some were too rough, but none of them stayed around for long.

One of the transient humans was of particular interest to him. It was a male human whose face was covered in a short, dark fur. He’d come over a few times to use the loud machines in the basement and each time he would allow Sylvester to explore the insides. That was what the little cat enjoyed the most, the examination of these loud devices. Any loud thing actually, natural or unnatural, held a fascination for him.

The human would pick him up and hold him close. He would chatter on while he stroked the relaxed kitten. Sylvester was relaxed, the warmth of the man’s arms and the gentle rubbing of his back would have him purring louder than the machines. He could close his eyes and feel safe as the human continued to talk softly to him. When he was finished relaxing they would wrestle, Sylvester would lay on his back while the human rubbed his belly. The young cat would bite and gnaw at the hand while the rubbing never stopped. It was great fun and the human had no issues with how hard Sylvester bit.

It always came to an end. The human would leave and Sylvester would be left with the cats, the dogs, and the core people.

His life was idyllic. He had shelter from the elements, warmth and safety at night. Food and water were readily available. He had companionship and playmates as often as he desired.

He still missed his mother. He couldn’t remember much about his siblings but there were still some memories of his mother hanging around. They were mere impressions, the details had long fled from his memory. He remembered the comfort brought on by nursing, kneading his mother with his tiny paws, the world filled by purring and delicious milk. The warmth of his litter-mates beside him and the overwhelming sound of purring made it feel like time was standing still. Those times were lost to him now but the memories were still there.

This respite from the hardship of life alone was broken without warning. One day he found himself locked in a box, the world moving oddly beneath him as he was brought to a strange place with foreign smells and strange people. The strange people did something to him that made him fall asleep. When he woke up he was still in the cage except now there was a pain on his stomach. He could hear other cats yowling nearby and even some nervous barking from dogs. He yowled a few times in pain and frustration before settling down to wait.

There was a barred opening at one end of the box that provided his only view of the outside world. The strange smell and the frightful crying of the other animals was unnerving. He didn’t know what was going on and the view from the box didn’t make anything clearer. There was not anything he could do at the moment so he settled in and prepared to wait.

He had no way to determine how long it was that he waited, it felt like an eternity before the box started to move. He was brought into a device where the box was put down once again. A loud rumble erupted and it felt like the world was being moved around him again. He cried out loud, sounding his discomfort. The motion made him feel sick and he just wanted it to stop.

It did stop and he found himself looking through the barred opening and into the scruffy face of the friendly human. Sylvester could hear him chattering as they looked at each other but the little cat was too confused by his situation. Outside of the human nothing he could see out of the box seemed familiar. What was happening to him? He lost sight of the human and the box started moving toward a large building.

He felt the box rest on the floor and heard a door click shut behind him. He could smell another cat in the room, one he wasn’t familiar with. There didn’t seem to be any other animals he could detect. This day had been odd and traumatic. He was sore and a bit sick. His nerves were raw and he felt an edge.

He watched the gate to the box open in front of him. It seemed that he was going to be allowed to wander. Time to get out of this crate. He slowly crawled toward the opening, he was unsure of what was out there but was positive he wanted to be free of the cage. Freedom was just a few cautious steps away. He was almost there.

A giant, solid black cat’s head popped into the carrier just millimetres in front of his face. This unexpected appearance broke what little bit of calm he had and reacted out of pure instinct. He hissed, he spit, he hoped to make himself seem more dangerous than his small frame looked. It worked, the cat’s head vanished and left the box opening clear.

Sylvester slowly crawled free of the plastic prison. His display of aggression had him feeling bolder. The black cat had backed off and he was now free of his cage. He gave a little growl of warning as the black cat made a step in his direction and relaxed as the larger cat backed away and let him proceed with his exploration.

He was feeling calmer now. The other cat had shown a willingness to respect his boundaries and just watched him attentively with bright yellow eyes. The human was around but he wasn’t trying to force them together. He had found the litter box and food rather easily and he had tested what was on offer. It was good stuff, he approved.

He was no ready to meet this new feline.

He approached the black cat and was surprised when he pulled away from him. The older cat seemed a little skittish now, had he been too ferocious when they first met?

Sylvester raised his tail pointing it toward the roof, pressed his nose forward and moved toward the other cat. He was trying to present as friendly a pose as possible and it seemed to have worked. The other cat moved to investigate him, the eagerness before was dimmed but the curiosity was alive. It wasn’t long before they were sniffing each other. He seemed very friendly.

The day had taken another turn and it seemed like things had become good again.

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