Beautiful Ernie

I began working as a volunteer at SHAID (Shelter for Helpless Animals In Distress near Bridgewater on Nova Scotia's south shore) in November, 1998. While a lifelong cat lover, I had lost the last of my fur-guys to natural causes, after long lives, in November, 1997 and had become a "catless person" until I met Ernie. Ernie came to SHAID pretty much at the same time I did. He was found in the woods by a hunter. He had a lot of blood on his fur and was assumed by everybody to be injured in some way. Close examination showed no injury. Apparently he had killed some prey or other and likely ate it, getting bloodied in the process. He seemed a placid, easy-going cat while at the shelter. Imagine my surprise, on getting him home to discover him to be the noisiest critter I have ever known. He never shuts up!

He was neutered Feb. 15. I felt like a heel when I shoe-horned him into the cage to take him for the procedure. He sure didn't wann'a go! He just wanted his breakfast. Do you suppose he thought I was taking him back to the shelter where he had just spent 3 months in a tiny cage? Despite his reluctance, he returned in great shape and hungry as all get out after his pre-surgery fast. It was as if nothing had ever happened!

Ernie quickly discovered a dark secret I had denied for quite some time. The house has mice! My old cats, slowed by the infirmities of age, were wildly dysfunctional in the rodent catching department. While he has not yet caught any, Ernie has heard them and they are keeping their heads down rather than brazenly strolling through the living room as one did before my very nose! Ernie is getting some respect from them . . . I sure never did! One of the silly things actually ran over my slipper a while back!

Ernie changed a lot in the few weeks after I brought him home. Regardless of how well we all try to treat the critters at the shelter, it is stressful for many of them and perhaps most of them undergo personality changes as a result of being continually caged. Ernie has turned into a big pussycat now . . . a lap cat and a bed cat too. He has also learned how to play which he just didn't seem to understand at all for the first little while. Forget the expensive toys at the pet stores. His favourites are a little cardboard box from a roll of 35mm film and a paper bag. Ping-pong balls aren't bad either and the tops to ballpoint pens are always popular as are tie-tabs. Unfortunately he also seems to think ripping my post-it notes down is fun too (sigh) and ALL small items (and some not so small!) are to be "stored" on the floor, not tucked away on shelves. It is the cat way.

Clicking on Ernie's picture will take you to the SHAID home page, should you wish to visit. There are always cats there needing patient people willing to share their homes and lives with a four-footer. Dogs too!

Ernie and the Squirrel

On February 11, 1999 I brought Ernie home from the local shelter. There were things I hoped to accomplish with him. One wish was that he would NOT get up on the kitchen counter. I began to lose that battle before it even began. I did not appreciate why. I knew an occasional mouse was known within the rather cavernous abode that I call home. I also knew there were lots of squirrels outside, the logical result of years of bird feeding. What I did NOT know was that Ernie quickly discovered there was life in the immediate vicinity of those counters I so wished him to stay off of. I discovered this fact, ruefully I might add, when I saw a squirrel cheekily regarding me from the top of the kitchen cabinets up near the ceiling. How did it get in? I could find no hole, not in the interior or the exterior of the wall. Ernie was now a permanent fixture on the counter. . . to be worked around while meals were prepared. The following is from an email I sent one morning to my sister. . .

Well, the squirrel situation remains unsolved but great progress has been made. Did you see the movie "Mouse Hunt"? The movie has nothing on what "real life" witnessed here yesterday. A careful examination of the exterior of the house showed a hole partially hidden behind the casing of the kitchen window. This is about 10 feet from where I saw the critter and the entire route is behind kitchen cabinets. The miscreant was seen behind the stove, chewing his way happily through the base of the cabinets. The truth is I fear he just might actually be trapped and unable to get back to his exterior hole. Anyhow I locked Ernie in the bathroom, (He was NOT happy to miss the fun . . . figured I was hogging it I think.) opened both outside doors and pulled the stove out from its alcove. The idea was that the beastie would, if properly "herded" choose to escape to the safety of the great outdoors. Nothing could be further from the truth! I succeeded in blocking his exit but he showed no interest in the open door, gaping invitingly just 5 feet away. Oh, no, Not straight right up the wall! I hadn't counted on THAT! I couldn't reach him as the blasted stove was now wedged in the way. I used a bread knife, the closet thing at hand, to try and flick him off the wall toward the door. It didn't work and he bolted back behind the cupboard. OK, failure. I'll try the easy route . . . patience. I left the doors open and Ernie in the slammer and went about my business. A couple of hours later, and a house now full of ravenous mosquitoes (hey! Even I kill THOSE with callousness.), there was only silence. Well, almost silence. Actually there were disgruntled, muffled mews of protestation emanating from the upstairs, bathroom, but we'll ignore that. I thought, "Well, just maybe the squirrel, frightened, decided to avail himself of the open doors.” Little did I know then how wrong I was. I released a thoroughly ticked-off cat from his confinement. Down the stairs he comes and heads for the sunroom. Then . . . BEDLAM! The squirrel had sneaked out into the sunroom and you-know-who is on top of him. I have no stomach for watching the kill . . . it resembles the seamier side of sensational nature documentaries. Not in MY sunroom please! The squeakings of the squirrel are pathetic. I can't stand it and haul the great hunter off the prey! Back into the slammer. The terrified squirrel retreats behind some (immovable) furniture. Ernie is now thoroughly annoyed at my stupidity. "What now?" I think for a while and open the doors again. I can no longer find the squirrel. This isn't working well at all! I NEED Ernie's help. I close the doors and release the feral killer to do the deed. He finds the squirrel immediately but the little sod is fast! Out of the sunroom, through the living room and back into the kitchen cat and squirrel go in a streak, me coming up behind with a sheet, hopefully to throw over the thing and throw him outside. Oh no! The dratted phone cord is wrapped around my foot! I rip the slipper off before tripping or tearing the cord from the wall. Out toward the sound of battle I trail, one foot shod, the other stockinged, wielding my weapon, the sheet. Ernie has the quarry trapped behind the open exterior door and the wall (the screen door is closed to prevent Ernie from going out). I approach and try to get the critter with the sheet. He is squeaking pitifully. He bolts passed Ernie and heads for the kitchen range. We pursue with me yelling, "Get him, Ernie! Get him!" Too late, the squirrel is now INSIDE the blasted range! Up inside it somewhere, I know not where. I resist the temptation to "fire" all burners and oven up and retire from the field of battle, disheartened, so obviously ill-equipped am I to participate effectively. I left Ernie and the squirrel to work this out. They did so. The squirrel is behind the cabinets chewing happily as I write this the next morning. The house is an ungodly mess, even by my low housekeeping standards. There is little incentive to put things back in order as the situation is still as it was and a further engagement is likely at any moment.. As much as I am reluctant to mete out more terror to this inoffensive little animal, I am ready to use a flame thrower on him now. I should never have pulled Ernie off him in the first place. He HAD the thing! I will never forget the look of total incredulity in Ernie's eyes as I pulled him off the prey: "WHAT is your PROBLEM?!", his expression clearly said. Ernie is now on duty in the range alcove. The range remains ensconced out in the middle of the room. Stay tuned . . .

(Perhaps two hours pass before the following updated email is sent . . .)

Well, it is over. Ernie has done his job. It is not the way I would have chosen for it to end. I went out to cut the grass. When I returned, a dead squirrel was lying on the carpet in the sunroom entrance. I have no idea how he got it and am grateful only that the thing is dead rather than writhing in fear and agony. I praised Ernie lavishly for his hunting prowess and removed the poor little guy. . .his only "sin" was trying to find a safe home after all. Such is the way it is. I have blocked up the hole with coarse steel wool as a stopgap until I am able to get at it with metal screening and stucco. Hopefully the squirrels will choose more wisely next time. Ernie, I am afraid to say, seems a natural born killer. You’d never think it from his picture.

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