Janice K. Payne
She was a wild little kitten. She could stay out all night and sleep all day. She was free to climb trees, roll in the grass and chase birds. She didn't need to rely on humans to take care of her...or did she?
Her name is now Pinto. As her owners, we were not permitted to touch her for the first four months of her life. The first time I picked her up, she clearly let me know that she wasn't going to put up with that. She was born under an apartment building and was promptly abandoned by her wayward mother. A large older male cat named Slug took her under his wing and showed her where the best eating-places were, how to stay dry in the rain and where to hide from those humans.
One of the best eating-places was at the top of the staircase leading to an apartment my husband and I were renting. I had just lost two older cats and I had begun to feed several strays in the neighborhood. One night we discovered we were also feeding the neighborhood possums.
"If we don't have any cats, why are we still buying cat food?" my husband would ask with a twinkle in his eye. My neighbors would also leave bags of cat food on my doorstep. I became the neighborhood cat lady. Each day when I returned home from work, six stray cats would greet me in the driveway to let me know it was dinnertime.
Every night Pinto would bounce up the staircase with Slug to see what was for dinner. Eventually Pinto mustered up the courage to venture into the apartment where she discovered the soft furry afghan that I had draped inside a cardboard box. Of course the afghan was for her. She would jump into the box and fall asleep immediately. One night I couldn't bear to wake her from an evening nap to send her out the door so I decided it was time to buy a litter box and allow her to sleep over. After sleeping over many nights, we felt it was our duty to get her vaccinated and spayed. She became ours at that moment.
Two months later my husband and I moved back on to our 31-foot sailboat and decided to move Pinto with us. Her life has never been the same.
I showered her with cat toys to keep her entertained and her favorite toy of all was a large rubber eyedropper bulb. We would throw the rubber bulb the length of the boat and as it bounced wildly about, she would chase after it. Pinto is very intelligent and she quickly figured out that for the game to continue she would need to return the rubber bulb to us so that we could throw it again. She merely picked up the bulb in her mouth, ran back to us and dropped it in front of us. When the game is her idea, she merely finds the toy and brings it to us. Indeed I have never seen a cat play fetch.
Pinto has adjusted to life on the boat quite well. She has investigated every inch of the boat from the anchor locker in the bow to the engine compartment in the stern. She uses her claws to open all of our lockers. Oftentimes when my husband returns from work, the locker where we keep Pinto's food is wide open with the contents spilled onto the berth. Pinto has been digging for her dinner.
On the boat, Pinto is able to play outdoors without risk of encountering cars, fleas or other animals. She watches birds, rolls in the sun, chases bees and has even captured a few crabs. We believe the lifestyle agrees with her.
After a few months of having her onboard, my husband decided that Pinto should experience a ride in our dinghy. "But cats don't like water," I kept telling him.
"She needs to get used to riding in a dinghy. What if we are at anchor and have to take her ashore to the vet. She might like the dinghy," he said.
"Yeah sure," I mumbled under my breath.
I agreed and the first day the three of us rode around in the dinghy. Pinto was crouched under the seat only peaking out occasionally to see how she could escape from this ride of terror. The next day my husband decided that Pinto needed another dinghy ride. I chose to stay behind on the boat to do some chores. The only problem was that Pinto could see that I was staying behind. I'm sure she was wondering why she had to suffer through this dinghy ride if I was permitted to stay behind. My husband motored about twenty feet away from our dock and as I watched I could tell Pinto was going to jump. I signaled for my husband to come back and sure enough as he was heading for the dock, Pinto dove out of the dinghy. I jumped to the dock and stood in horror as Pinto swam to the dock. Indeed I had never seen a cat swim. As she reached the dock, I pulled her out of the water by the scruff of the neck. We then gave her a bath, dried her off and all was well. She now had eight lives remaining.
Pinto has always been very curious and she developed a tendency to go exploring. We knew having her wander the docks was unacceptable so we trained her to stay aboard the boat by aiming a squirt bottle of water at her when she jumped off. We also put a harness on her and occasionally attached her harness to a leash we had secured on deck. With the leash, she had about 10 feet of line to wander around the boat. One day my husband and I were down below and we noticed things on deck seemed quiet. Then we heard a dull thump. I decided to poke my head out the hatch and check on Pinto. She was nowhere. All I could see was her leash going over the side of the boat. I jumped out into the cockpit and looked overboard and there she was in the water paddling away. I couldn't reach her so all I was left to do was reel her in by the leash. Only Pinto knows what really happened that day. Perhaps she was chasing a sea gull and misjudged the edge of the boat. She was down to seven lives and counting.
On another occasion my husband and I were traveling up the coast of California and we stopped for a few days in a marina. Pinto went outside to investigate and unbeknownst to us, she made a jump over to our neighbor's boat. A few minutes later we began looking for her and couldn't find her anywhere. I finally heard a tiny meow and saw her big black eyes inside the porthole next door. I panicked when I realized my neighbor's boat was all locked up and I had no way to get to Pinto. How were we going to explain to our neighbor that our cat was now locked inside his boat? I climbed inside our dinghy and pushed myself over to the porthole where she was. It was now time to coax her out. I had her favorite toy and a jar of baby food I was using to entice her.
Just at that moment our other neighbors came down to their boat. They gave me a sideways look trying to figure out what I was doing standing in our dinghy.
"Oh, you must be cleaning today too," the woman said. "We have a full day of cleaning to do ourselves."
"Yes, I'm just cleaning," I said. At that moment I was wondering if they noticed I had absolutely no cleaning supplies with me in the dinghy. My husband wandered over to talk to the neighbors and I went back to my coaxing. I finally got Pinto's head far enough out the porthole for me to grab her by the scruff of the neck. I quickly put her back on our boat and she ran around and greeted my husband. He was quite surprised and relieved to see her.
One final episode I will report about Pinto was perhaps the scariest for all of us. It was a Saturday afternoon and Pinto had gone outside on deck. She was not leashed, but we were checking on her every couple of minutes. At one point she had vanished. My husband and I began searching the docks horrified that she had gotten into someone else's boat or perhaps had fallen overboard. There was no sign of her for over two hours. My husband was riding around in our dinghy searching for her in the water. I was walking the dock calling for her. We imagined her in someone else's boat as they cast off to head for Hawaii. What an adventure that would be. I finally remembered a story that my husband had told me about cats getting on top of the fiberglass floats under the docks. I laid down on the dock by our boat and with my head almost in the water, I looked up under the dock. I began calling Pinto's name and at first I thought I heard a tiny meow. I didn't believe it so I continued calling. Pinto's meow got louder as she realized we were looking for her. I traced her meow down the dock a little ways and there she was sitting on top of the float under the dock. She was drenched and shaking like a leaf. I ran to get my husband and the two of us laid on the dock. We had to grab her and dunk her back in the water to pull her out around the dock. When she realized we were there to help she got very still and allowed us to give her a bath and take her home. Once again, only Pinto knows what really happened that day.
We've had Pinto for four years now and we've cherished every moment. She is a very dear sweet animal with lots of energy. I'm not sure how many lives she has left but we've all learned a lot about life aboard with a cat.
Janice Payne is a research scientist for a biotech company in San Diego. She and her husband live aboard a 31 foot sailboat.
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