REMEMBERING: Animals and Active Duty

As adults, my daughter Dee and her brother P.J. both remained in the Richmond, Virginia area when I moved to Las Vegas in 2008 for a job with the FBI.  I had planned on retiring and staying there in my newly built home enjoying the 55+ community life. But I missed my friends and family.  In the meantime, Dee and P.J. both gave me beautiful grandchildren and I wanted to spend time with them, getting to know them, and them knowing me.  I made the decision to move back ‘home,’ actually buying back the house I sold to move out there ten years before, which just happened to be on the market. As a single mother, this is the home my kids both lived in at one time or another and we shared many memories inside its walls.

During a recent visit, my daughter Dee and I started talking about all the pets that lived here with us.  After going through the list she said, “You forgot one. Remember Kit-Kit?”

“Oh my gosh! The cat!” I recalled.

“You found her in my closet and went a bit crazy.” And with that, it all started coming back.

****

          My beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter was a senior in high school when I was activated in October 2001 after the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center.  I was a reservist assigned to Security Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, the unit I drilled with since 1996 as an IMA (Individual Mobilization Augmentee).  My job was to assist the active-duty military police allowing me to drive the seventy-four miles back and forth, up and down I-95, to and from my home in Mechanicsville on weekends.  Dee was independent and trustworthy enough that I didn’t worry, too much, about her living alone and she had a car to get back and forth to school and to her part-time job at one of the local veterinary clinics.  I was on a leave of absence from my position as a patrol officer with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and the sheriff allowed me to keep my patrol vehicle in the driveway during my first year of active duty.  Although I couldn’t use it to drive back and forth to Quantico, the car was my peace of mind, sort of a ‘watchdog’ since my daughter was spending so much time along.  When time permitted from my duties at Quantico, I would sometimes drive home at night to be with her.

“I remember driving home from Quantico late one night during the week. You weren’t expecting me. It didn’t appear that there were any lights on in your bedroom so I figured you were already asleep, but Rusty and Muffin were outside.”

Rusty and Muffin, our pet Lhasa apsos, were always in the bedroom with Dee.  I entered the house and tiptoed up the stairs tapping lightly on the door and opening it to a nearly dark room.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

“Ah, ha,” was the groggy response.

“Why are Rusty and Muffin outside?” I asked.

She began to sit up in bed as she searched for a believable answer to my question. “Oh, they ate some chocolate and I was afraid they were going to get sick.”

“Well, you can’t leave those dogs outside all night. You know that. They’re both old and sick.” I explained.  Something she already knew.

These poor old critters were nearly thirteen years old and had never spent a night outside. Rusty was blind and Muffin had developed arthritis so bad that sometimes she could barely walk.

“I’ll get them,” she said as she moved around under the blanket making an effort to look like she was trying to get up.

“No, you get your sleep. I’ll go let them in.”  And with that, I turned to close the door and head back downstairs when I noticed a sliver of light coming from her nearly closed closet door. Making my way through the dark bedroom trying not to trip over shoes or schoolbooks, I opened the closet door and reached for the light switch. Glancing down at the floor, there under her hanging clothes was a strange plastic tray filled with some sort of grainy material resembling small pebbles. I flicked off the light, figuring this must be some sort of photography project. Dee had recently taken up photography as an elective at school. She must be learning how to develop photos. Was she using her closet as some sort of darkroom?

“Goodnight, Honey,” I whispered not bothering to ask her, then turned and headed out into the hall closing the door behind me.

As I started back down the stairs to retrieve the two mop-heads from the back yard it hit me!  ‘That pan didn’t have anything to do with photography! You don’t develop pictures in a closet. That was a CAT litter pan!’

I made an immediate U-turn stomping back up the stairs and into the room without knocking this time. Flipping on the bedroom lights, Dee sat upright in bed with a devilish smile on her face holding a full-grown tiger-striped furball whose head was peeking out from under the blanket.

“Where the hell did that come from?” I asked although I knew the answer. She worked in a vet’s office.

“Somebody dropped it off and we didn’t know who the owner was or where it came from, and there was a note saying the owner was allergic and the vet asked if I could bring it home.”  She tried to explain hoping her answer would tug at my heart producing a positive response.

My daughter knew I had all sorts of pets in my lifetime—cats, dogs, horses, fish, a duck, turtles, and birds. I even tried raising frogs from tadpoles once. I loved animals!  And things my parents wouldn’t let me have, like a tarantula among other things, my kids were allowed to have.  But this was a stressful time in my life learning how to be a full-time Marine again with all its many duties, plus being a single parent worried about my daughter who was living alone and getting ready to go off to college.

I cut her off before she could say another word, “You have two sickly dogs and a tarantula! You are not keeping that cat!  What do you expect, both the dogs to live outside from now on?”

“They’ll get used to each other.” She pleaded.

“Oh no, they won’t! You have twenty-four hours to get rid of it!  You’re going off to college in a few months and then I’m stuck with the dogs, a tarantula, AND a cat!” I stomped back out of the room slamming the door behind me.

 

Reminiscing, we now laughed together as we discussed this pivotal moment in the history of cats in my life.  She then went on,  “You slammed the door then came back to my room a few minutes later and threw the yellow pages on the bed and told me to start making calls in the morning to find it a home.”

“Did I really?” I asked.

“And the next morning you left for Quantico without coming back to my room to say goodbye,” she confided.

Apparently, a few days at Quantico calmed me down and I ended up joking with my fellow Marines about the cat I discovered living in my daughter’s closet. By the time I drove back home that weekend I expected that the cat would be gone, back to the vets or wherever.  But it was still there and now had a run of the house and a name, ‘Kit-Kit.’

“See, the dogs were OK with Kit-Kit,” Dee assured me.  By then I had other things on my mind than trying to order her to get rid of this cat who immediately curled up on my lap the first time I sat down to watch TV.  OK, so it was staying, for now.

 

                       

“KIt-Kit”

   

“Buddy”

****

            In the fall of 2002, Dee went off to Coastal Carolina University with Buddy, the tarantula, in tow.  The poor old dust mops had both developed severe physical problems over the last few years and had to be put to sleep.  (It had nothing to do with eating chocolate.  That never happened.)

          During my second year of active duty, Dee had come home from college for Christmas break and received a corn snake as a present—which she assured me she was taking back to college in a few weeks.

Driving home from Quantico one weekend I discovered Dee wasn’t there but there was an empty terrarium on her bedroom floor.  She left a note, ‘On my way to a Dave Mathews concert for the weekend.  The snake got out!  Would you please try to find it and put it back in the cage?  There are mice embryos in the freezer!  Love,  Dee. “

My weekend was spent looking everywhere upstairs I thought it could possibly be hiding. Sunday evening I gave up and had to start preparing for the return trip to Quantico. Time to do the laundry.  ‘Oh gosh, I sure hope that thing didn’t make it to the laundry,’ I thought while getting ready to put in the second load. I started shaking every piece of clothing out to make sure.  Could it have made it down the stairs, through the hallway to the back of the house and into the laundry room, the farthest point there was from her bedroom?

And then I saw it–slithering out from under the washing machine! ‘At least it wasn’t in the first load now in the dryer.’ I thought.  I gently picked it up and took it back upstairs to its cage where it guzzled water while I retrieved a frozen mouse embryo from the frig.  But the poor thing wouldn’t eat and never made it to college.

No, my mother never let me have a snake either, but this was the last time there would be one at this house, as long as I’m living here.  Dee, on the other hand, now has another corn snake who eats, drinks, and sheds—at HER house!

Back to the cats.

****

With Dee at college and with the dogs and spider gone, I felt sorry that Kit-Kit was alone.  It was time to find her a good home.  My friend’s daughter was looking for a cat and fell in love with Kit-Kit as soon as they met.

Now I was driving down I-95 to an empty house.  I missed my daughter, the dogs, and even the cat.  Knowing my tour of active duty was coming to an end in October 2003 and I would be retiring, I needed to fill my empty nest. That fall, I happened into a PetSmart where I met and adopted a rescue cat, a Russian Blue-gray shorthaired cat with green eyes that I names Molly (Marine). Worrying that she would be lonely when I wasn’t home, I then rescued Gracie to keep Molly company.  But they hated each other and Molly soon became the upstairs cat while Gracie lived downstairs.

By 2007, Molly went to live with Dee in her apartment and I adopted Heidi, a beautiful calico with one black toe, another PetSmart rescue. She and Gracie became vast friends and moved to Las Vegas with me in 2008.

Rescue cats often come with health problems, which all these cats had. Molly too, suffering from health problems, came to Vegas to live out her final days in my bedroom, away from the other two. Over the ten years I was there, Molly, Gracie, and Heidi all crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But my love of cats went on and the voids in my heart were filled each time the bridge was crossed.  I returned to Virginia in 2018 with Lily, a rescue someone had locked in a foreclosed house, and Lucy, my first registered ragdoll.  Both are vast friends who are happy in their new now forever home.

                                                           

Molly                                                                                Gracie and Heidi                                            Buddy (the tortoise), Lily (beside Buddy) and Lucy

****

My best friend now calls me ‘The Cat Lady,’ although I’ve never had more than two at a time. But I often wonder what would have happened had Dee found a home for Kit-Kit during that twenty-four-hour ultimatum.

P.S. –And on a sadder note:  Buddy, the tarantula, recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge after nearly twenty-five years. He was one of the best pets ever.  No walking, skooping litter, brushing, and her cage only had to be cleaned out once a year with a diet of crickets once a month.  Could not be any easier!

 

 

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