Velvet Claws

Cynthia M. Pratt

© Copyright 2004 by Cynthia M. Pratt


Photo of Velvet Claws. (c) 2004 by Cynthia M. Pratt.
A tiny defenseless kitten becomes a diminutive tiger, working her way into the hearts of humans and canines alike. Home will never be the same again.

 She was a tiny thing. Limping and favoring one rear leg, the diminutive kitten approached everyone who came near. Her leg seemed deformed or maybe broken, even though she appeared to have no pain. It was Youth Night at the church and the teens loved her. They all wanted to bring her inside to cuddle and play with, but the pastor’s wife insisted she stay outside. It was supposed that she must belong to one of the houses on either side of the church property and, if left alone would return to her home.

That was Monday.

The next night, a meeting involving people from the association of churches in the region, required the presence of the pastor and his wife. Upon their appearance, the kitten scampered to meet and greet the couple. After a little petting and a little discussion of where the kitten belonged, the pastor and his wife entered the church building. As additional people arrived for the meeting, they also commented on the presence of the gray tabby kitten. The pastor or his wife would always respond. “We think it belongs to one of the nearby houses.” The pastor and his wife were last to leave the church after the meeting. The kitten was nowhere to be seen. They considered that it had either returned to its home or gotten into a car with one of the other attendees. They went on home without another thought about the kitten.

That was Tuesday.

The next day brought with it the usual prayer meeting and Bible Study at the church. When the pastor and his wife arrived, they were once again greeted by the little feline, with even more enthusiasm than on previous nights. The pastor asked, “Do you think she’s hungry? She seems to be fat enough.”

His wife replied, “No, I’ve picked her up and she’s really pretty skinny. It’s mostly hair.”

He scooped up the kitten and commented on how small she truly was. All that thick fur was deceiving as to her actual condition. But, they left her under the carport and went on into the church. Others arrived, and they too, seemed to be concerned about the kitten’s continued attendance. After all, it had been three days and she was still hanging around the church. Several lighthearted attempts to persuade someone to adopt the kitten went disregarded or adamantly refused.

After the Bible Study, once again everyone had gone home, except for the pastor and his wife. She determined she would offer the kitten some leftover chicken from her take-home box. The tiny feline lunged into the chicken as if she were a starved tiger. The pastor commented on her appetite, and then said, “Bring her home.”

The wife stared at her husband, disbelief etched on her face. “What?

She knew how unwavering her husband had been when their old cat had died the previous year. He had spoken with fervor, “No more cats.”

With a stoic look on his face, he replied, “She’s hungry. No one is taking care of her. Go ahead and bring her home.”

That was Wednesday.

Two weeks later, the kitten had doubled in size. She favored the bad leg only slightly and became monarch over “her” people and the resident canines. Fearless and bold she curled around the dogs’ legs, purring her contentment.

Until mischief took over, that is. Then she would become a thunderous whirlwind, racing under tables and jumping over chairs, enticing a chase that would end as abruptly as it started, when she would sit to start a grooming frenzy. The dogs looked befuddled. What happened to the game?

That was Autumn.

Christmas was different. The addition of the kitten to the family made the tradition of a 6 ft tall tree impossible. The pastor and his wife decided it would be wiser to just use the top of their usual tree. It would be placed in a holder and would stand on top of the antique treadle sewing machine in the corner of the living room. All was well for several weeks. The kitten was curious, but not overly so and did not cause any damage. The pastor’s wife had also chosen to put only cheaper glass ornaments on the tree and leave the family heirloom decorations in their storage boxes.

This was a wise decision. The couple went away for a few days to visit family in another state, entrusting a neighbor to pet-sit the animals. While there, the wife had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. The trip lengthened into several more days. The neighbor, who loves animals and always cares for the pastor’s pets when they are away, did not mind the additional days of pet watching.

When the couple finally arrived home after the jolting and painful trip (for the wife), the sight that met their eyes was the Christmas tree, sitting on the antique sewing machine, naked. Completely naked. The garland was gone, the ornaments were gone. The topper was gone. The only thing left were the lights and they were not quite as orderly as they were when the couple left, thinking to be gone for a short weekend. The neighbor was very apologetic, but kittens will be kittens. And kittens left alone manage innumerable ways to get into mischief. An unguarded Christmas tree was too much temptation.

A few ornaments were found that evening, but as the wife recuperated from the surgery, more ornaments were found day after day. Had the kitten hidden them? It would seem so. Almost as soon as the glass ornaments were removed from the kitten’s playful possession, she would bring out another one to play with. It seemed as if the kitten was finding even more than were put on the tree to begin with.

Sometimes, the pastor’s wife would pick up the little round ornament and put it out of reach on the bookcase or put it inside a cup instead of putting it away with the other Christmas decorations. Consistently, when no one was looking, the kitten would seek out the ornament to resume her batting and chasing, twisting and tossing the forbidden plaything across the floor. She found them even when the wife was sure her placement of the ornaments had not been observed. Was this little feline part bloodhound? Could she find them by scent?

The couple decided that to preserve their curios and collectables, more new toys had to be found for this miniature tiger/bloodhound. She had already used up her Christmas gifts. A trip to the local discount store resulted in stuffed toy mice with real fur on them, jingling balls to roll everywhere without breaking, and catnip filled enticements to make her feel good. The new playthings were received with bouncing excitement.

As the newest mouse or ball was given to the kitten, the pastor and his wife would shake their heads. Where was this little bundle of energy keeping her toys? Packages of nine mice and six balls were missing-in-action in less than two weeks. New toys would be doled out as others disappeared. Where could she be hiding them? Once in a while, one would surface again after its disappearance but mostly, once a toy was gone, it was never seen again. If the package was not shut away in a drawer, out of sight, the tiny hunter would be on the scent and they would be found, packages opened and the toys strewn all over the floor.

That was Winter.

The easy laid-back life of Shadow, the Cocker Spaniel, was altered. The kitten became a companion who drinks from his bowl of water and jumps on his back when he scurries through the house on his way to exercise outside. Shadow’s bedtime climb upstairs to join his people in their bedroom becomes a tortuous venture. The not-so-little-anymore, feline catches his flowing leg fringe or wraps her front paws around a leg as he climbs. He may stumble, he may yelp as a claw manages to reach through his thick hair, and he will hurry a little faster to escape his assailant. He can’t resist the temptation, though, to visit the kitten’s covered boudoir, just in case a choice morsel has escaped the litter box. Then, a sigh of relief can almost be heard when he finally gets into the bedroom and the door closes, keeping the fiery kitten out. Come tomorrow,though, the two will be found curled next to each other, snoozing in the sun, when the humans come through the door at the end of a workday.

Highway, the big dog, is her special playmate. She teases, entices, and lures him to chase, then dives under a piece of furniture, perceptive that he is too big to follow. Behind the sofa and under the dining room table are desired hide-a-ways. The stairway is also a wonderful playground, the kitten racing up the steps leaving Highway standing at the bottom. He is wondering if the attempt to dash up the stairs to catch her is worth the possible tumble she could cause, when she streaks through his legs to make her return.

The pastor’s wife fears for her collectables; they may have to be retired until the kitten mellows and the furniture may have to be replaced by the time the baby finally grows up. The legs of the dogs or people are fair game when they pass her hiding place. Another favorite game is to reach out a deceptively soft paw, with claws unsheathed, from her perch on the back of a chair, to pat the arm and get the attention, of a passer-by. Tiny scratches, born by the humans, testify to her accuracy.

That was Spring

The couple’s granddaughter brought her dog, Bridget, over for a visit and to have Grandma trim Bridget’s hair. The kitten may love her own dogs, but a strange dog in the house was not accepted. One look at Bridget and the kitten soared; two seconds later found the kitten at the top of the dining room windows. Her eyes were huge as an owl’s nocturnal orbs. Gentle prying, released the kitten from her roost, but she transferred her claw-grip tightly to the rescuer. The dog was banned to another room, the kitten loosed to thunder up the stairs to a secure hideaway. Poor kitty, it took a week to recover from Bridget’s visit.

That was Summer.

The kitten is nearly grown now. The leg that once caused a decided limp is as strong as her other three. The skinny little body has become sinewy and lithe. When she came to live with the pastor and his wife, it had taken over a week to select a name for the once cuddly kitten. She was called Velvet.

The plush gentleness for which she was named is an attribute long absent. Her big green eyes are enticing. Her delicate face is full of expression. Her gray, tiger-striped fur is still soft and smooth; especially her black-tipped ears and agile paws, but looks and touch are deceiving. The hidden tiger lurks, ready to ambush. The ancestral wildness is always present, awaiting expression. The home of the pastor and his wife will never be the same. This was articulated perfectly when tales of Velvet’s misadventures were related to a friend. She told the pastor’s wife, “Good luck with your Velvet Claws!”

I'm known as Cyndi to most people and I think I live a pretty normal life but just maybe I wear more hats than most. Pastor's wife, mom, grandma, bookkeeper, Sunday School teacher, youth group co-leader, missions group leader, cancer survivor, vacation Bible school director, and aspiring author. Oh yeah, and director of a clown troupe. Is that all? Probably not, but I'm out of breath.

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