Crazy Cat Kid
Lilly Thornton is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives on an acreage just outside Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. She owns four rescued cats and has helped find homes for many more. Her mother belongs to a dragon boat race team and some of the team members have decided to go camping around the island with their families.
Lilly is considered too young to be left at home alone. Since one of Lilly’s cats is diabetic and needs an insulin shot twice a day she has to bring her along. The other three have never been left alone before so Lilly convinces her parents that they have to come, too. It sounds like a simple solution until they begin to drive away from their house and the cats start howling.
While camping the cats try to find ways to get out. They hover at the screen door waiting for it to open. One checks every open door searching for the magic way outside and spends the night pawing at the metal window blinds so she can look out. Are they going to ruin the camping trip or is boredom? The first day there is no one Lilly’s age and by the afternoon she wants to go home. And then she meets Jesse, the fifteen-year-old Metis son of another team member.
Crazy Cat Kid
By Joan Donaldson-Yarmey
Copyright 2016 by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey
Cover art by Michelle Lee Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book
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To all the cats I have been lucky enough to own
“Lilly, we can’t take all four cats with us,” my mom said. “It will only be three weeks. They can stay home.”
“Mom, we have to take Saltry. She needs her insulin shot twice a day. I checked with the cat hotel. It would cost seventeen dollars a night for her to stay there. I can’t afford it for three weeks.”
“We will pay half,” Mom said.
Mom and Dad give me the monthly government child allowance for doing dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and other things around the house plus I’ve earned money by babysitting and helping neighbours with their yard work. Out of that I paid for my cat’s food and litter. Mom and Dad paid for half of the insulin and needles for Saltry.
“But what about the others?” I asked. “We’ve barely lived here a month. They still aren’t used to living on an acreage and having a cat door to go outside anytime they want. What if they think we have left them and they try to find our old home?”
“They won’t do that.”
“Oh yeah? What about Smokey?” I was referring to the story she had told me about a cat her parents had owned when she was young. When he got sick, they drove him to an animal control services office and paid for them to put him to sleep. Two months later he showed up at their home again. Either Smokey had escaped or he had been cured and given to a new home from which he’d run away.
Mom sighed. We’d been having this discussion for two weeks now, ever since some members of Mom’s dragon boat team decided they wanted to go camping together after the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival was over. Mom, being the newest member on the team, thought it would be a great way for her to get to know the rest of the team and for Dad to meet the other spouses and for me to meet the other children.
I personally didn’t like the idea of being thrown together with a bunch of people I didn’t know and I had been trying to find excuses not to go with my parents. I’d already told her I wasn’t going anywhere near the campfires and she had agreed to that. So telling Mom that I had to bring my four cats with me was my last attempt.
“I can stay home with them,” I said. “I’m fourteen, almost fifteen. I’m old enough to be left alone.”
“No,” Mom answered. “We haven’t lived here long enough for me to feel comfortable leaving you by yourself.”
“But you’re willing to leave my cats.”
Mom raised her hands, acknowledging defeat. “Okay, you can bring them all. But you are responsible for them. You have to feed them, clean their litter box, and make sure they don’t escape from the motorhome.”
“I will,” I said, happily. This was my second choice, next to staying home.
I always like to tell people that I’m an only child but the truth is I have a sister. Sandra is six years older than me and has ignored me all my life, stating that she didn’t have time to bother with a pest like me. Luckily, she stayed in Vancouver with her boyfriend when we moved to this acreage in Cedar, a southern area of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
My parents are Bette and Tom Thornton. They lived and worked in Vancouver for many years. Just before last Christmas, Mom was informed that there were cutbacks taking place in the financial institute where she worked and she was being let go. Dad was a teacher at a high school and when Mom was laid off, he decided he wanted to get out of the Vancouver and try to find job in a smaller center. A position came up at the Nanaimo District Secondary School the third week in January. He applied for it and was accepted. Dad moved there and rented an apartment. He began looking for a place to buy. Mom and I stayed in Vancouver so I could finish my school year and she could sell the house.
On one of her visits to see Dad, Mom joined a mixed men and women dragon boat race team, something she’d wanted to do in Vancouver but didn’t have time. She hadn’t gotten to many practices or races before our move but she sure was making up for lost time, going to practice twice a week and signing up for festivals in Victoria, Comox, and Port Alberni. The one in Nanaimo was going to be her first and she was excited.
When they bought the acreage, Mom decided to use her severance pay to take a year off from working. She wanted to rotor till some of the ground for a garden next year and plant raspberry bushes and strawberry plants to go with the fruit trees in the yard. She’d been buying all our fruits and vegetables from a store and now she wanted to grow her own organic food. She even talked about getting chickens.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about leaving Vancouver. I’d been born and raised there. I was having an ordinary childhood and I considered myself to be pretty much normal. I was average height for my age; my light brunette hair got blonde highlights in the summer when I spent more time outside. I played on the school volleyball and basketball teams and had what I thought of as an athlete’s body. My boobs were small, stomach was flat and my arms and legs were more muscular than other girls. I did have a cell phone with all the apps but seldom used it. I preferred interaction with people.
My two closest friends were Brenda and Olivia. I missed them and we kept in contact by texting. I also missed the job I had taken on of helping to find homes for rescued cats. I loved cats and that was why I had four of them.
My schoolmates called me the Crazy Cat Kid because I wasn’t old enough to be a Crazy Cat Lady yet. “You’re going to be one of those old ladies sharing their home with hundreds of cats,” they’d tease me.
“There are worse ways to live,” I’d answer back.
I guess I should describe my cats, the source of all the discussion this past two weeks. I think Saltry is the oldest. She was the first cat I owned. One day, when I was nine years old, a woman from the SPCA came to our school and gave a talk about animals. She said that if someone owned a dog, cat, bunny, bird, reptile, or fish, it was their responsibility to look after them. But sometimes people didn’t take their responsibility seriously and mistreated their pets. She pointed to the cat she had in a cage on the table beside her.
“For example, this cat has had three different homes in the past ten months. The last couple only had her for two months then gave her up because she shed too much hair and they were tired of vacuuming after her. Her name is Saltry. Apparently her first owners had had two cats before her which they had called Salt and Salt Two. Her name is Salt Three or shortened to Saltry. They gave her up when they had a baby.”
I was in the front row. I looked at Saltry in the cage. She stared back at me through the bars of the door as if asking me to take her home. I fell in love with the gray and white cat and bugged Mom and Dad until they let me adopt her from the SPCA. I kept her name.
Red was my second cat. It was a year later and we had left Saltry in a cat hotel so we could visit my aunt and uncle in Edmonton, Alberta. It was just after Christmas and the weather was cold. There was also a lot of snow. A neighbour had moved away and left their orange tabby to fend for herself. My aunt and some of the other neighbours were leaving food out for the cat but no one had let her into their house. My cousins didn’t really care about the cat so when I spent my time trying to befriend it, they took off with friends. It took a couple of days but I managed to get the little kitty to trust me enough that I was able to pet her and then pick her up. I carried her into my aunt’s house and after lots of begging, got permission from my parents to take her home with us. No one knew how old she was.
I named her Red because that is my favourite color.
I had those two cats for just over a year. On my twelfth birthday my grandmother took me shopping so I could pick out my present from her. In the Park Royal shopping centre I spotted a number of cats in cages on a table. The SPCA was trying to find homes for them.
“I don’t think your parents will appreciate it if I get you another cat,” Grandma said.
“They can’t say no if it’s a birthday present,” I said, sticking my fingers through the cages to stroke the cats.
“They’ll sure be mad at me for doing it.”
“Can I hold one of the cats?” I asked the man behind the table.
He shook his head. “We can’t let them out of their cages. We’re not sure how they will react to the activity around them.”
One of the cats was a type known as a tortoise shell because her fur colour was many different shades of black and orange.
“How come she’s in the SPCA?” I asked.
“Her mother was brought in wet and cold and pregnant. She gave birth to five kittens and raised them in the shelter. The mother and four of the kittens were adopted. Molly is the only one of the litter left and she has been with us for two years.”
“Two years?” I asked surprised. She was so cute I couldn’t understand why she had never been adopted.
“So she has never been outside?”
“Only when we take her on these exhibits.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” I said. I turned to my grandmother. “I can’t let her go back to the shelter.” I don’t know if Grandma felt the same as me or if it was the tears in my eyes but she agreed.
Molly had already had her shots and was spayed, which Grandma had to reimburse them for, so we were able to take her right then. They even gave us her cage.
Mom and Dad were ticked at Grandma for getting me the cat but Mom likes cats almost as much as I do. The best thing I could say about Dad is that he is growing fonder of them. They, too, felt sorry that Molly had been locked inside for two years. I took the cage to our back yard. It was time Molly felt grass. I opened the door. She hung at the back. I called and coaxed her. She refused to budge. I reached in and pulled on her front paw. She hissed and fought back scratching the back of my hand.
I conceded defeat and carried her to my bedroom. I left the cage door open so she could come out when she wanted. Saltry and Red came over and peeked inside. She growled at them and they sauntered away.
Eventually, Molly had to go to the bathroom. She came out and used the box of cat litter I had set beside her cage. She also had a drink of water and sniffed the food before going back inside. During the night she ate some of the food and it wasn’t long before she accepted my house as her home and Saltry and Red as her sisters. I didn’t like the name Molly so I changed it to Daisy. One day I took her outside and set her on the grass. She didn’t know what to do when her paws touched the blades and she tentatively walked around sniffing at it. Soon she was exploring the yard.
Saltry, Red, and Daisy got along well. I let them out our back door each day so they could get some fresh air. We had a tall wooden fence that acted as a deterrent for them leaving the yard. I couldn’t watch them all the time they were out so occasionally one would scale the fence and jump into the neighbour’s yard or head out to the street. I would have to go and bring her back.
There was never any fighting nor a hierarchy system among the three girls until Purple arrived.
One morning, after a heavy rain, I happened to look out our back window. In our yard, huddled against our fence, I saw a skinny, bedraggled orange and white cat. Her long fur was caked with mud and stuck out at all angles. I didn’t want to scare her by dashing out to pick her up. Instead, I got a bowl of cat food and quietly opened the door. I walked out onto the deck and pursed my lips to make smooching noises. The cat hunched down further and looked at me. I shook the bowl of food then set in on the bottom step of the deck. I backed into the house and closed the door.
I watched the cat out the window. It stared at the bowl then looked around as if suspecting a trap. When no one jumped out of the bushes at it, it began to slink across the lawn. Every time it heard a noise it stopped and dropped lower onto its stomach. Eventually, it reached the bowl and began to gobble the morsels of food. I resisted the temptation to rush and grab it. It would be gone before I was even half way across the deck, maybe never to return. I didn’t like the thought that it might die of starvation somewhere.
When it had its fill, it went back to the fence but instead of jumping over, it began to clean itself, trying to get off some of the mud. Over the next few days, I moved the bowl to the top step of the deck, then to the middle of the deck and finally set it beside the door to the house. I didn’t know where the cat spent its time when it wasn’t eating but I was always glad to see that the food was disappearing. My cats helped themselves to the food when I let them out but the new kitty was also getting some.
I always looked out the door window before opening it and one day saw the cat sleeping on one of our deck chairs. I smiled. It was beginning to think of this as home.
I slowly opened the door. The cat jumped up but didn’t run away. I talked to it as I moved towards it. It let me pet it. I had another cat, much to my parent’s annoyance.
“No more,” my Dad said, emphatically. “No more.”
I decided that I had one orange tabby named Red so I named my second orange cat Purple. Purple tried to keep herself clean but the fur around her neck under her chin was so long that it caught on her tongue and she couldn’t tilt her head back far enough to remove it. I trimmed that fur and combed the rest of her which she seemed to like. Once she was all combed, her fur fluffed out around her and her tail was really bushy.
For some reason, once there were four cats Saltry decided that someone had to be in charge of the motley band of misfits and she appointed herself as boss. It took a few swipes of the paw to get the other three to agree but soon they settled into the routine. However, Red, Daisy, and Purple decided among themselves that they would all get along.
Purple was the last cat I kept for myself. I found homes for a black and white short-haired male that would sleep under our deck, a six-month old dark gray female that the neighbour could no longer look after, and one all black male that had been hit by a car. Luckily, it wasn’t hurt badly and the person who hit it took it home.
It’s amazing how many stray cats wander the streets of Vancouver. Maybe some of them have homes, but the ones I have come across are either skinny, or scared like they have been abused, or dirty like they have been scrounging through garbage for food.
Now that we lived on the acreage, I liked the idea of having lots of yard space for my cats. I didn’t have to worry about them leaving the yard and making a neighbour mad by using their garden as a bathroom or getting run over by a car or being attacked by a dog.