The summer we were in upstate New York at the string camp, we needed someone to take care of our pets at home while we were away. We had two dogs and a cat. One dog, Lady, was a big German Shepherd-Collie mix who stayed outside most of the time running around and keeping the rabbit population in check. Hercules, or Herky, was Cyndi’s small Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix who stayed inside most of the time, but could run around our 1.5 acre yard if he wanted to pretend he was as fierce and mighty as the German Shepherd for a few minutes. Mostly, he didn’t want to. He’d rather stay inside and rest on a pillow with our cat, Poppy. Poppy was mine. He was a Siamese, formally named Papasan. He was an indoor cat and we never let him outside.
My parents arranged for a couple to come housesit while we were gone. They were a youth pastor and his wife from a church in Tulsa (we lived outside of Sapulpa, 13 miles from Tulsa) and they agreed to live at our house while we were gone to take care of our pets and keep away burglars. During the arrangements, they asked about bringing their own cat, but my parents said that wouldn’t work with all of our animals. We didn’t know how they would get along and we didn’t want to stress ours, especially Poppy, by bringing in a strange cat. They said someone else could take care of their cat for them so they agreed to come anyway.
It was all arranged and they moved in soon after we left for New York. I missed Poppy terribly while we were gone, and on our return trip, I could barely contain my excitement at the anticipation of holding my dear kitty again. I could almost feel him in my arms, which ached for him. As we neared the house, I was literally on the edge of my seat in the backseat of the car, sitting forward clutching my dad’s seatback. I was grinning, imagining the moment when I would hold and snuggle and kiss Poppy again.
When we crunched to a stop in our gravel driveway, I bounded out fast, leaving everything behind in the car to dash into the house as soon as my dad got the front door unlocked. I ran in, calling for Poppy. He didn’t come right away, so I searched the house for him. The house looked like it had been burglarized again, with clothes and stuff strewn everywhere. The first thing I saw when I went into the entryway was a pair of pants on the floor that were stretched out like they were doing the splits, one leg extended into the living room and the other into the dining room, reaching toward the bedrooms. The kitchen was trashed with dirty dishes and dried food and containers over the counters. The couple was nowhere around, but their belongings were everywhere, as was their mess. There was a huge orange stain in the middle of my parents’ bedroom, obliterating the baby blue and white carpet. Before we’d left, my mom had said to make themselves at home, but she asked one thing, that they please not eat or take food or drink into the master bedroom. Guess they’d forgotten that part.
I went to the basement to see if Poppy was sleeping down in my bedroom, but he wasn’t there either. Then I heard him in the craft/furnace room. Why was he locked up in there? I wondered. I opened the door to let him out and was greeted with a mean meow. But it wasn’t Poppy. It was a different cat. And the room was a disaster. The insulation that had been around the water heater was shredded with pieces of it all over the room. Claw slashes were visible in what little was left of the foil that wrapped around and held the pink fibrous insulation in place. I ran upstairs to tell my parents what I’d found. They were trying to call the couple, who’d known we were due home but were apparently out for the evening. I said I’d go looking for Poppy outside, in case they’d let him out, since their stupid cat was in our house.
Walking up and down the hills of our country roads, I called over and over. I clipped out a rapid “kittykittykitty” with my tongue, a sound I’d learned long before from my mom to beckon cats. Poppy always came to that. Still he didn’t appear and it grew dark. Then I saw car headlights turn into our driveway two hilltops over. I broke into a run, certain it was the couple. They’d be able to tell me where Poppy was. I couldn’t get to them fast enough.
When I reached our house, the couple was standing in the dark driveway talking to my parents, lit only by the porch light. As I walked up to them, they all fell silent. My dad put out his arms and said, “I’m sorry, Pixie,” and I suddenly knew what had not even crossed my mind before. I fell into his arms sobbing. He took me to my bedroom and sat with me while I cried. He told me about when his dog Laddie had died when he was a boy. I just wanted to cry. His story didn’t help me much, and eventually he gave me time alone with my tears.
We learned that the couple had decided they were going to have their cat with them anyway, and they put my cat outside because the two felines didn’t get along. Out in the country like that, there were plenty of predators, including scorpions and snakes. Something probably had bitten and poisoned Poppy, as he had no obvious wounds or injuries. They said that they found him on the front porch, but he wasn’t alone. Our dog Herky was by his side, licking him and probably wondering why his buddy wasn’t getting up.
We also found out why there was a big orange stain in the middle of my parents’ bedroom floor. One of them was serving the other breakfast in bed and spilled a pitcher of Tang. My parents had to hire a carpet company to come in and cut out that section and re-lay the carpet.
The couple said they’d buried Poppy beneath some trees along the edge of our yard. I found the grave some time later when I was outside playing. They’d done a very poor job of it and either rain or another animal had disturbed his shallow final resting place. It was a pretty traumatic moment for me to find his grave that way. Needless to say, we didn’t ask them for any more favors. I’d say all in all, the whole arrangement with that couple was a pretty big fail.
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