The Story of Margo Rose

 

By Jack DeBaun

 

(Preface – This story was written primarily as an object lesson for those who have, at one time or another, developed a genuine affection for a feline companion.  Nonetheless, the lesson to be learned pertains to all those who care deeply for their small canine friends as well.  Those who have never established a loving relationship with a pet (particularly a cat) will likely find the following discourse to be a maudlin display of sappy sentimentality.  I advise the latter to read no further.)       

 

It could be said that I chose Margo Rose on a hunch.  But, to be more precise, I have to admit that she chose me.  During a visit to the local animal shelter, she hunched decisively, pressing her soft head firmly into my outstretched hand to signify that I was being given the opportunity to share my life with her.  Moved by the poignancy of her gesture, a mutual bond was created, and I accepted her gracious offer without hesitation.  Not to belabor a familiar cliché, but it was love at first sight.

 

Margo Rose (a.k.a. Marg for short) was of diminutive stature, even for a cat.  Her somewhat truncated, but generously endowed frame was supported by a set of munchkin legs that, despite their abbreviated length, propelled her quite capably – even up tall cedar trees and through four-foot jumps up to the top of the bathroom cabinets.  Her markings were predominantly that of a red tabby, yet she wore a solid orange-red coat on her back, and her underbelly was covered with downy fur of a creamy hue. Sitting on her favorite rock in the full sun, her crimson coat gleamed with an almost iridescent brilliance. Her fur approached that of a Persian in length, and she sported a distinctive pair of furry jodhpurs on her hind legs.

 

Marg had a two-tone tail.  The upper side was red and the lower side was cream colored, in keeping with her basic color scheme.  When traveling about her domain, she held her tail proudly upright with great aplomb.  Seeing nothing but her tail glide by the window left no doubt about the identity of its owner. When in a more pensive mood, she allowed her tail to drop and set it to wagging demurely.     

 

Marg did not walk so much as she trudged.  The sight of her undulating jodhpurs was enough to elicit a smile every time she strolled into view.  That is not to say that she could not make good time when she wanted to.  She demonstrated this ability on numerous occasions when she would sprint by me on my way up the garden trail. At such times, her back legs would often overtake those in front, sending her into a silly sideways gallop.  This momentary burst of speed was customarily followed by a flop-down waiting period, and, when I would finally catch up to her, a repetition of the same hunch that had captured my heart in the beginning.

 

While her face may not have won any beauty contests, it was cute enough to beguile our other cat, Hastings.  Marg would cajole Hastings into washing her face by staring longingly at him and refusing to budge until he had acquiesced to her demands.  She would often return the favor, a behavior apparently developed during their communal days as shelter mates.  The mutual affection demonstrated by these two buddies was evident in all aspects of their lives.  It was rare to see one without the other following along close by. They continued to play hide-and-seek, apparently oblivious to the fact that they had long past graduated from the age of kittenhood.  That is not to say that Hastings did not sometimes provoke Marg to squeal in protest in response to his chasing and roughhousing.  But as often as not, in the next moment, Marg would be the one who was chasing in hot pursuit.

 

Marg did not vocalize like most cats.  For whatever reason, she lacked the wherewithal to produce a proper cat-like meow.  Instead, she expressed herself vocally by making what can best be described as rather faint squeaks and squeals.  She also lacked a high volume control on her purring apparatus.  Nonetheless, if one held her closely and listened carefully, her purring was unmistakable in those moments when she cared to express her pleasure.  And, with practice, she was getting better at it as time went by. 

 

Like all other feline companions, Marg engaged in those unforgettable acts that hold a special place in their owner’s memories.  She routinely helped me make the bed and squealed with delight as I tugged on the covers, pulling her feet out from under her and causing her to tumble in a heap.  She made it a point to station herself strategically by the laundry tub on house-cleaning day so she could watch as the mop water was poured down the drain.  Squeaking her obvious pleasure at the sight of this mundane event she would roll about on her perch, often extending a paw as if to lend her assistance.  She dutifully accompanied my wife and me on berry picking expeditions in the forested area next to our house, and, when she thought she was lost, called plaintively until we were once again in her sight.  She “helped” us with our outdoor activities, tagging along to keep track of the action and offer her advice – faint though it may have been.  She was uncommonly brave.  We once saw her confront a deer in our backyard and watched with some apprehension as she stood her ground and struck out with her paw at the animal towering over her.  Fortunately, the deer seemed to be as nonplused as we were by the display of audacity from his Lilliputian adversary, and it caused her no harm.  One winter, when the snow that had been shoveled from the roof lay in deep berms around the house, we observed Marg forming a snowball with her front paws.  She then rolled the snowball down the berm, chased it to the bottom, and ran back to the top to repeat the process several times.  Marg also had a propensity for shredding the newspaper with her mouth, perhaps acting out some maternal instinct to manufacture nesting material.  It soon became apparent that, if we wanted to read the news, we would have to provide her with something like the want ad section to keep her from destroying anything of interest.       

 

As endearing as the aforementioned behaviors might have been, one of her most notable skills was playing track ball.  This particular game involved one of those circular scratching pads that is encircled by a trough containing a plastic ball.  The object of this game is to hit the ball and send it careening around the track.  If there had been an Olympic event featuring this test of coordination, Marg would have been a world-class contender.  While our other two cats couldn’t care less for this pastime, Marg would spend much of her spare time whacking the ball around its course.  Her sense of timing was so well developed that she could catch the ball precisely as it passed by and further accelerate it with each swipe of her paw until the it would dissolve into a blur.  When I would try to match her skills, she would run over and sprawl out on the apparatus to save me the humiliation of falling far short of her level of expertise. 

 

Sadly, as fate would have it, Marg’s squeals no longer brighten the chore of making of the bed each morning, dumping the mop water is no longer accompanied by her silly antics, and the once familiar sound of the track ball careening around its course is only a faint memory.  Living in the country, we normally bring our cats inside before dark to avoid the dangers that lurk in the night.  Unfortunately, we arrived home after dark one evening to be greeted only by our other two other cats, Lamont and Hastings.  I searched in vain for Marg before going to bed and awoke to look for her several times during the night - every time I thought I heard her stirring outside our bedroom window. When she did not appear at our door the next morning, the ominous realization of her fate began to descend upon me. 

 

I let out the other two cats who immediately headed to the base of a large tree in our backyard.  With tails bushed out in a display of feigned ferocity, they nervously sniffed the ground and glanced warily about. There, at the base of the tree, I found a few tufts of soft cream-colored and orange-red fur intermixed with some strands of course, off-white fur.  The two cats then proceeded about 30 feet to an adjacent grove of trees where I found more of the distinctive fur that left no doubt of its origin.  Noticing what appeared to be a patch of mud, I tested it with my finger.  To my horror, but not my surprise, my finger emerged covered with the unmistakable tinge of blood.  Any reasonable hope I might have had of finding Marg alive vanished forever at that moment.

 

In addition to her other attributes, Marg was an accomplished huntress.  She made a habit of delivering her prize catches (primarily gophers and mice) to us so that we would not doubt her prowess in this regard.  I have watched her intently stalk prey, seemingly oblivious to all that was going on around her.  It is likely that her powers of concentration did not work to her advantage on that fateful night.  The evidence indicates that, instead of acting as a predator, the roles were reversed, and Marg became prey to that superb nocturnal killing machine, the coyote.  The fact that virtually nothing remained of her, except for a few pitiful strands of underbelly fur and some tufts of that lustrous fur that once gleamed so intensely in the sunshine is characteristic of the coyote’s modus operandi.  When this stealthy predator takes a cat, it normally devours the entire animal.  If the other cats had not led me directly to the locations where the attack took place, I would most likely have never found any of her remains.  The course, off-white fur found at the scene of the crime is also indicative of this scenario.  Apparently, Marg had at least been able to mount some kind of futile scratching defense that dislodged some coyote fur.  From what I have read, coyote attacks on small animals normally result in a quick death.  I can only hope that was true for Marg.

 

Marg, like most cats I have known, was a remarkable friend and companion. Now Hastings mopes about at the loss off his best friend, and those who took her on a hunch have experienced a profound void in their lives.  After just three years of gracing us with her presence, Marg has become just another statistic in the annals of cats that have been taken by coyotes.  It is tempting to demonize the coyote as a wanton killer that indiscriminately snuffs out the lives of our beloved feline friends.  In actuality, humans have, in many cases, infringed on the coyotes’ territory, and these animals are only expressing their natural instincts to ensure their survival.  It would be of some consolation for me if I could place the blame for this nightmare squarely on the coyote.  But I cannot.  In truth, it is owners like me who have failed to adequately protect their cats by removing them from the hidden dangers of the night, who must bear most of the blame.

 

We have lived in the same semi-suburban area in Northern Idaho for some sixteen years and often hear the mournful call of the coyote in the dead of night.  (Although we live roughly a quarter mile from a Walmart and Home Depot, deer, bear, racoons, and moose still frequent our back yard.)  We have also had several cats during this period, none of whom had ever been harmed by wild animals.  As mentioned earlier, we make a concerted effort to round up the cats at night and bring them into the house.  At various times in the past, for one reason or another, we have not been successful in that endeavor.  Because we had not experienced any problems related to wild animals during those sixteen years, we had become lulled into a false sense of security.  Unfortunately, it took what happened to Marg to jolt us out of our complacency.        

 

If we could go back in time and change things, we would make certain that all our cats would have been harbored safely inside our house on the night the coyote hunted our property.  Since such a thing is possible only in the realm of science fiction, we can only grieve over our mistake and urge other cat (and other small pet) owners to learn from our misfortune.  Coyotes are not just opportunistic hunters of cats.  They also find small dogs to be easy prey and have been known to inflict serious injuries on larger dogs as well.  Coyotes are widely distributed in this country in suburban as well as many urban environments.  They hunt almost exclusively at night.  So please, if you truly care for your small pets and live in coyote country, ensure that they are not allowed outside between dusk and dawn.  If even just one other cherished pet is spared Marg’s fate by the telling of her story, her loss will not have been in vain.

 

We placed the few stands of Marg’s fur that I could gather from the attack sites under the rock that was one of her favorite sunning spots in our front yard.  It serves as a stark but poignant reminder of the stocky little pixy, with the comical jodhpurs and beautiful red coat, who once brought such joy to our lives.  We have suffered through the trauma of losing pets before, but the untimely and violent death of this special friend has been particularly difficult to reconcile.  Nonetheless, as the sayings go, “Time heals all wounds.” and, “This too shall pass away.”  We just wish there was some way to make it pass a bit more quickly in times such as these.