I was a college student when I met him. We were in sage country, near the town of Moses Lake. My Mom and I went on a walk one sunny afternoon, at a wilderness area. It was a beautiful day. The red-winged blackbirds were warbling in the cattails surrounding a little stream. We’d eaten at a restaurant before the walk, celebrating my birthday, and I still had a crab enchilada, packed in Styrofoam, in the back of her Toyota Echo.
At first everything seemed normal when we returned, but.somehow I sensed we weren’t alone. Then I saw something furry and black in the back of the car, apparently trying to get into the take out container. It turned out to be a long leggedy, black kitten! His big, golden eyes blinked at me as I tried to figure out where he’d come from. He had no collar, and he was half grown and obviously hungry. With no idea where he came from, the only thing we could do was take him back to town, both of us secretly hoping the animal shelter was closed. It was, since it was a Saturday. We couldn’t bear to leave this bright-eyed little guy at the shelter, anyway. My Mom bought litter, a carrier, and food for him. She’s always a soft touch when it comes to cats. He ended up traveling back over the mountains with me.
My new friend was a funny boy. He used to sneak up on me and tap me on the shoulder to startle me, accompanied by a “brrt” that sounded suspiciously like “boo.” He also learned to give hugs. He’d walk on a leash. Once, my Mom visited me and we took him on a trail walk together. He made it nearly a mile before asking to be carried. When it was a little more possible to do, Orion liked car rides too. When I went to work, he always knew when I was going to come home, looking for me when I was gone. My friend told me that Orion would be looking in the correct direction. If I was east of the mountains, for example, he’d be looking for me in the east.
Orion behaved as if he’d always be safe if I was near. When I took him to the vet for the first time, he lay in my arms, calm and quiet, and I was able to give him to the vet tech without any fuss. He was always like that for me, even with the dreaded vet! Once I took him to PetSmart, and he walked on his leash, or rode in my arms, all through the store. He didn’t freak out. He had to be one of the most mellow cats I’ve ever known, though he could be stubborn with other people.
Orion was my Halloween kitty, my miniature panther, enforcer to the other cats who sometimes lived there, and my “little husband” because he’d tell me when to go to bed every night, then escort me up the stairs. I’d wake up in the morning with him stretched out next to me, his head on my pillow, golden eyes looking into mine. He was very good at nudging me in my sleep so I’d move to the edge of the queen sized mattress, leaving him, a little ball of black fur, in the very middle.
He learned to jump into my arms on command. Then he’d hug me by wrapping his paws around my neck. He’d also lie in my arms, utterly limp, and let me do anything with him. I could play with his toes, whatever, and he’d always just smile at me. My partner would marvel at how boneless Orion could be.
The Kitten Cometh
Everything changed for the better one warm summer evening. I was sitting in the living room with my partner. She’d just returned from a trip and we were enjoying our reunion. Our conversation stopped when we heard a distinctive sound, a kitten crying piteously.
I’m not sure who was faster to go outside, myself or my partner. We tracked down the high pitched meows. Out there in the dark was a tiny kitten, yowling pitifully, calling to us for help but obstinately not letting us near. We tried for quite some time to capture her but she retreated every time we got close, at the same time calling to us. All we could see was a little ball of fluff. Loud fluff. The yowling continued. Eventually we had to give up but she stayed near, mewing all night under my partner’s window.
First thing next morning, I went out and looked for her. Eventually I found the kitten hiding under our overgrown jungle of tea roses. She was way in the back, protected from paws or hands. I went off and found the garden loppers and worked my way in, snipping branches until I freed her. She was skinny, her fur was matted and thin. Later we found deep bite marks on her that looked like they had come from a cat. What fur she had was long, and she had patches of black and orange on a white base. Quite honestly, she was rather homely at that time, with a funny mark on her mouth that looked like half a mustache. Still, her big greenish yellow eyes looked into mine, and she quieted her squeaking when I held her.
There was something wrong with her back leg. Later we realized it was broken, and she was having trouble walking. It would be a long time before she could walk well or jump. There was only one thing to be done. I took the box the TV had just come in, put bedding and a water dish in the bottom, and waited for my partner to get home so I could go buy kitten chow. I was reminded of when I’d found Orion, years ago. I was instinctively responding to need and a cat’s request for help.
We figured out that this flea infested little waif had left her mother and litter-mates, or possibly been driven away by a neighborhood tom. The place where she’d come from was a crack house, and we knew her mother was also neglected, but had recently birthed a litter. Our kitten, for she’d certainly chosen us to be her family, had left her brothers and sisters and crossed two yards with mean dogs in them, all to reach the one house in the neighborhood that might help her. It was as if she knew she’d be safe in our territory, if nowhere else. She’d been right. We marveled at her bravery.
As our foundling grew stronger, we held her and carried her practically around the clock until she could maintain her own body temperature. One of us would get home from work, take the kitten and hold her while we gave the one who’d been at home a welcome break. We rid her of the fleas, fed her soft food and kitten chow, cared for her leg till it healed. We named her Cassiopeia, though we usually called her “Mouse” because of the improbable squeaks she made.
Cassiopeia grew up, becoming a beautiful long haired calico girl with lime gold eyes and an incredibly photogenic face. She wasn’t homely at all anymore, and was instead one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever known. Her coat grew thick and luxurious, her tail long and plumy. She revealed that she was a curly-tailed cat. She often held her tail in a spiral in order to avoid brushing it against things. She would often reach out and touch things with it, and sometimes flicked it against people as a greeting.
Pictures of Cassiopeia as a kitten can be found at this article, The Bravest Kitten
Images and text on this article copyright Rohvannyn Shaw of Mindflight