By nature, I have always been a squeamish person. I don't like needles, or blood, or seeing things suffer. I feel bad for the worm that goes on the end of a hook, and feel bad taking my screaming cat to the vet, even though it's for her own good.
Because I'm such a softie, every cat I've ever had has been spoiled silly. Growing up, we always had a cat, usually a Tom cat. As I had no younger siblings, the cats were my confidants and my friends. If they did not object, I dressed them up in doll clothes and pushed them around in my buggy. I encouraged them to sleep on my bed and curled up with them when they did. Purring motor and soft fur, together we were safe and happy.
And so, I was a very distressed five year old when Toby was missing. A striped Tom, it wasn't unusual for him to be out hunting or carousing for a couple of days. But he had been gone for ten. My mother, father and brothers had given up, but I could not stop thinking about him. It was winter in Minnesota, snow two feet deep covered the ground and temperatures dipped into the single digits, not including the wind chill. Still, every evening after supper, despite my mothers objections, she helped me into my boots and snowsuit and I searched our frozen yard for Toby, going as far as I could in the knee deep snow. I called his name and stood still in the night, the moon reflecting off the snow. It was dark and silent, nothing moved in the cold and icy air. "Tooobbeee...." I could see my breath.
I shuddered to think what might have happened to him. Maybe he found another home and was curled up on a neighbor's hearth rug fast asleep. Or maybe he was lost, or worse yet hit by a car. Poor Toby, I hoped he was alright, and wondered if he missed me as much as I missed him.
On the tenth night the icy wind was blowing and my eyelashes had tiny bits of ice on them. I called his name and waited. Then, it happened. Over by the fence I heard something. My heart leapt and I tromped through the snow towards the noise. I could make out a shadow on the white, picket fence. He let out a strangled meow and in one lightning moment I knew that something was wrong. My heart was racing. The snow was up to my knees and I almost lost a boot but I made it back to the house as fast as I could. "It's Toby! It's Toby!" I shouted.
In the next few confused moments, my father had brought Toby into the house. He was growling and hissing and was in a very bad mood, I can tell you that. I wanted to rush to him, to give him my love, but my mother restrained me.
"His foot's in a trap," my father said urgently. He instructed us to all stay back.
I thought of his poor little paw stuck in the fierce steel jaws. It was a raccoon trap. I heard the heavy clank of the trap as it hit the floor. Toby must have been down by the lake, which was about a half mile away, and he had dragged the painful trap behind him all the way home through the deep, frigid snow. He had tried to jump the fence but the trap got caught between the posts. I don't know how long he had been hanging there, but the thought of it still makes me cringe.
My father and brother worked a miracle, and he only lost two toes. We marveled that cats really must have nine lives, and I was very glad that Toby had eight more.
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