John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

Amtrak bound for reunion with Laurel Street damncats

By the time these lines are printed and in readers’ hands, I hope to be riding south on  Amtrak to New Orleans.

My wife has prepared me to meet a few new damncats. Those will be in addition to Cookout Kitty, Stella from Pope, Oreo, Scratchy, Splotchy, Lulu and as-yet-unnamed mostly-white kitty.

Cookout Kitty has always been the head damncat at our Laurel Street home, but as he has aged, my wife forces him to spend more time inside. He came with his name and the house when we bought it in 1998. Though someone neutered him, he remained fiercely territorial and broached no unapproved trespass on the part of another damncat.

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That works against him now that he’s 14 or so years old. So my wife regularly snatches him up from standoffs with other damncats who have carelessly strayed into his territory. It saves him face. He can’t help it if she spirited him away before he had to whip some other cat’s all, can he?

Stella from Pope and Oreo are strays that we accumulated and neutered. They are disgustingly-tamed, in-the-house damncats as opposed to Splotchy and Scratchy, two survivors of a feral damncat troop that a lady two doors down used to feed on her front porch before she moved away. Once she moved away, my wife started feeding them. They gradually moved down to our porch. You know how damncats are.

They have now lived there amply fed and never threatened for so long that they are almost tame. Almost.

Lulu and as-yet-unnamed mostly white kitty were, until the arrival of whatever new damncats I have not yet seen, the newcomers. They were the revenge of the bird lady who parked her cockatiel the back porch of Miss Yvonne’s house next door to us. Miss Yvonne evacuated for Katrina and has not returned. When it became apparent that the cockatiel had been mostly abandoned and cool nights threatened the large, white tropical bird, my wife called the humane society.

The arrival of the humane society man to investigate happened to coincide with one of the bird lady’s rare visits. The humane society dressed down the bird lady who, in turn, doubled it all up and dumped it back on my wife with expletives added in her clipped, oh-so uniquely native New Orleans brogue.

And she swore revenge.

As best we can tell, Lulu and as-yet-unnamed white kitty are the revenge. They were mostly abandoned at that house next door. At first my wife fed them by pushing paper plates of food under the fence. Before long, they were coming over the fence on their own, meowing for the supper on the back porch. As-yet-unnamed white kitty has even made a few excursions through the pet door. Cookout Kitty, Stella from Pope and Oreo thoroughly disapproved.

As I prepared early one morning to depart from Laurel Street and return to Batesville, I glanced down the street in the early morning darkness. The streets and sidewalks were wet from a misty rain and shiny from the street light illumination. The silhouette I saw far down the street as it scurried across the sidewalk and into the storm gutter was unmistakable — a large Uptown rat. Fat, Fat, the water rat.

 It had been Miss Yvonne who once told us when we had lamented at the seeming overabundance of damncats, “Better them than the rats.”

We occasionally see a rat nearer our house. When we do, it is either scurrying along the telephone wire or clumsily but tenaciously jumping from limb to limb through tall shrubs.