A Ringtail Tale

“Diana,” Julie, our receptionist called my desk, “there is a kitten on the rail outside the office. I’m going to bring it in before it falls.”

Ringer

“Sure,” I said and left my desk to see what she was talking about.

We owned a small property management company, and our office was on the second floor of a building in a commercial area of Tucson. The pebble concrete open stairway was the only way up to the landing outside our door. The rail around the landing was the barrier that kept us from falling to the parking lot thirty feet below. A kitten walking on that rail was doing a highwire act with no net.

In Julie came with a small orange ringtail cat. She set him on the floor of the reception area, and he pranced into the main office, a prince coming to assess his kingdom. There was no hesitation. He did not appear frightened or intimidated to be in a foreign place. He held his ringed tail up proudly and acknowledged everyone in the office with a short visit as he toured each nook and cranny. It was obvious he had been cared for, no feral cat he. He was plump and confident. I followed him around to see what he would do. I began talking to him.

“I’m Ringer,” he told me in a telepathic way.

I announced his name to everyone. I asked Julie to take petty cash to the Walgreens down the block and buy a litter box, cat litter, food, and bowls to make our visitor welcome for his short stay with us. We made posters to put up around the building. The only residential parcel on the block was an apartment complex behind our office building. It was sectioned off by a six-foot plus fence at the back of our parking lot. We made a poster for the apartments with Ringer’s picture and details to put up wherever people might see them. Ringer set about making himself at home charming each of our agents and employees.

My husband was out of town but due back the next morning. We had a cat at home, Phoebe (you can read about her in a separate blog post, 9/19). She was a demon cat and I knew she would not be amenable to adding to the family. No one else was immediately willing to take Ringer home. At the end of the day, I said Ringer could stay in my husband’s office for the night and we’d decide what to do with him if we didn’t get any response to the posters. It was a Friday night.

I picked Ken up at the airport and said we needed to make a short detour to the office before going home.

“What’s up?” he asked suspiciously.

“Just something I want you to see.”

When we got to the office I opened the door to his office and out came Ringer. “Where did you get that cat? It’s not staying here.”

I filled him in on Ringer’s backstory as best I could and said we were trying to find his home. Ringer did his part weaving in and out of Ken’s legs, looking up, making clever little meow sounds asking to be his best friend. It worked, Ken succumbed to his spell quickly.

“Ok. He can be here for the time being but we need to find him a home.”

Several weeks later, Ringer had established himself as the official office greeter. Everyone who came in, client, tenant, or applicant was checked out. He ran to the door whenever it was opened to see what new friend he could make. We had a policy with new tenants who had dogs that they had to bring the dogs into the office for an interview before we rented to them. The whole office is animal crazy so it was our way of getting to know lots and lots of dogs. Ringer also liked dogs and would make a quick acquaintance when they dropped by. If the dogs were friendly, he would stand by during the interview in the conference room, if not he would disappear back into the office.  He was never intimidated but he was respectful of others.

Ringer especially liked to hang out in Ken’s office. If Ken left for a minute, Ringer would curl up on his chair. Otherwise, he would stretch out on the desk or snuggle up in the visitor chair. From time to time, he would wander the rest of the office checking on each person. Everyone adored him and enjoyed his company. He loved it when the printer started and would run to the cabinet it was on to stand by to see what came out. He was a great poseur when the camera came out.

Ringer supervising the printing

Ringer as office mate

Ringer stayed in the office every night alone. I took him to the vet that specialized in felines around the corner from our office. He pronounced him fit and healthy and said he was probably four to six months old. He also said he should be castrated. Ouch! I wasn’t sure I knew him well enough to authorize that act but since no one had stepped up to claim him, I did. We took him home after the operation to watch over him. Phoebe let it be known she did not approve. She would walk up and slap him in the face when he was resting on his little bed. Small as she was she packed a powerful punch. She hissed, she spat, she growled – in every way telling him he was an intruder. I spent time with her telling her she was still queen and that he was recovering from surgery and would go back to the office in a few days. I don’t think she bought it. We had to quarantine him to keep him safe.

I took him back to the office after a few days and he was happy to be in his friendly environment. We started taking him home on weekends because we enjoyed his happy personality. He was the yang to Phoebe’s yin. Phoebe adapted, sort of. Ringer learned to stay out of her way. Then we began taking him back and forth every day. Ken always left earlier than I did to go to work so Ringer was my passenger. He liked the car ride to and from the office, especially when I played classical music on the radio. He would get into his carrier instantly when I put it down whether to go home or back to the office. Eventually, he grew to be fifteen pounds and too heavy for me to lug up and down the stairs every day. We made the decision that he was our home cat and Phoebe would just have to like it or lump it. It was a little nerve-wracking to leave them alone the first time without putting him in a separate space. We didn’t know if we would come home to war or peace. They worked it out. Ringer gave Phoebe a wide berth and she pretended he didn’t exist.

Ringer enjoying his martini
Ringer relaxing at home

Phoebe was my all-the-time cat. If I was home, she was with me, beside me, on my lap, sleeping with us. Ringer found his own place and stayed out of the way. Ringer adopted three stuffed pets, a yellow duck, a gray mouse, and a brown teddy bear. Each was two to three inches high. He carried them around with him one by one. Sometimes he would bring one or the other to us – meowing as he walked into the room to let us know he had a gift. He would lay it at our feet to share his special toy with us.

When Phoebe died, I had a talk with Ringer and told him he was now my support animal. He understood and from that day he came to sit on my lap, he slept with us at night and he hung around both of us all the time. He would bring his three buddies to bed at night, putting them at the foot of the bed. Then during the day he would take them one by one from the bed and play with them or leave them in other rooms. But always he would tuck them into bed each night. He enjoyed a cocktail at cocktail hour – a martini glass of water with a dash of water added. He liked being a part of the party.

Ringer was an indoor/outdoor cat who the entire neighborhood got to know. He was always friendly and curious. When he died, we heard from neighbors how much he would be missed. All the office staff mourned his passing too. Of course, no one misses him as much as we do. He is buried in our backyard with his three pets – mouse, teddy and duck, but at a great distance from Phoebe.

Phoebe – Colossus in a Tom Thumb body

She was a rescue. She took her second chance very seriously. She grabbed ahold of life and shook everything she could from it. She was determined to make the most of her escape from premature death. Phoebe had been found in the desert by hikers. Only a few days old, she was bare without fur in the hot sun, covered in ringworm, and abandoned. Someone had decided she was a lost cause and not worthy of care. The hikers covered her gently and took her to a no-kill shelter where loving hands restored her. Within a few weeks, a thick luxurious coat of black and white revealed her tuxedo style. She became the rabble-rouser of the cat shelter with energy that rivaled a free proton released in a small nucleus. She could not remain in the “kitten room” having terrorized the kittens with her high-octane behavior, so she resided with the adult cat population; free to roam through the big old house that was dedicated to the comfort and safety of all felines, large and small, old or young. They had special rooms and accommodations for sick cats.

When my husband and I went to the shelter to find a cat companion, I was intent on an older adult feline who needed a forever home, preferably male; someone calm, content and grateful to be loved.  A tiny black and white energy ball flew from room to room, bouncing off walls and scattering sedentary cats that tried to avoid her relentless path of destruction. Knocking into and overturning toys and small cat furniture, she was a blur of activity.

“What is that? I asked.

“Oh, that is Phoebe. She’s not what you’re looking for at all. She is a kitten and very unmanageable,” the shelter volunteer sighed. “We don’t think we’ll ever find a home for her. She is a lot to handle.”

“But she is so small,” I said.

“Yes, only about five pounds but she thinks she’s a tiger. She never stops and we are always on alert because she can be under your feet in seconds even when you just saw her in another room.”

The volunteer filled us in on her history saying it was a miracle she survived and was cured so quickly from ringworm. They guessed her age at four or five months.

“I’d like to see her closer,” said I, always up for a challenge. The volunteer corralled Phoebe and handed her to me. Phoebe squirmed then looked me directly in the eye as if to say, you can’t hold me for long.

I released her and off she zoomed. We continued looking through the rooms at adult cats, petting, holding, and trying to find a connection with one. Then it was dinner time and the attendants set out large dishes of food. Cats scurried in from all over to find a dish they preferred. In the kitchen, an extra-large pizza pan filled with kibble was set in the center of the floor. Cats of all sizes and colors arranged themselves around the perimeter of the pan and began eating in orderly fashion. In came the little black and white demon. She muscled between two larger cats and started eating. The cat to her left was the biggest cat in the house. His name was Liberty, he was pure white, close to twenty pounds, and definitely a dominant male. He looked down at the brash intruder and took a swipe at her with his large paw. She looked up, giving him an insulant stare then continued to eat. Again, he knocked her sending her back from the dish. She retreated, walked to the opposite side of the dish, and pushed between two other cats. But she did not stop. She walked into the center of the pizza pan, directly in front of Liberty, and started eating. Liberty’s head jerked up. In complete disgust, he turned and walked away from the pan and stood by the doorway. His annoyance was evident and every cat that passed by him as they left the kitchen was given a swipe of his paw.

My husband looked at me and in a sorrowful tone said, “You’ve found your cat, haven’t you?”

“Are you sure? queried the volunteer in charge of adoptions. “She is really wild. We’ve had an awful time with her in the few weeks she’s been out of quarantine. “

“Yes,” I said, “she is my soul sister. I understand her and we will be just fine.”

“If you change your mind, we’ll understand, and please bring her back. We don’t want any other abandoned cats, even Phoebe.”

We had Phoebe for thirteen years, an indoor/outdoor cat; something that is discouraged in the predator-filled southern Arizona environment. Her character was too big to be contained in the house. She was very desert-wise. She was unpredictable. She had confrontations with rattlers, bigger cats, and assorted potential destroyers that she bested and lived to brag about.  She provided a plethora of mice, geckos, and birds as gifts to us. She would bring them through the cat window and release them into the house fully alive for our enjoyment.

I have so many Phoebe tales, they could fill volumes. She once called 911 on our landline. I answered a ring at the door to find two handsome policemen asking if I was all right.  It took some time before I pieced together what she did – a phone receiver off the hook upstairs told the story.

She hosted a mouse for weeks, catching and releasing it in our house until we finally caught and freed it to its desert home. She would race through the upstairs and people downstairs would say, “Do you have an elephant up there?” “No,” we replied, “just Phoebe.”  Although she never grew to be more than seven pounds, her thudding footfalls as she raced around sounded like something much much larger was roaming the hallways. She bullied and intimidated human guests, fiercely defending her territory. My friends named her the cat from hell, but she was always the sweetest, most cuddly little girl to us. Her antics made us laugh.

After a mighty struggle with an incurable blood illness, Phoebe finally gave up. She is buried in our backyard and visited daily. After more than a decade I still miss her giant presence. Several treasured cats later (we now have three), none have filled that space.