I told you a couple weeks ago how I got my very first pet, Caesar. She was so special to me and was the best cat a little girl could ever ask for. She wasn’t my only pet though — considering I have two cats right now, I suppose that’s obvious.
Anyway, like most girls, I was fascinated by horses. When I lived in Belgium, there was a barn just down the road from us, and a friend of mine Kiersten Grashofer — I can’t believe I remember that name! — owned a horse named Melody that I got to see every once in awhile. Unfortunately, my French wasn’t good enough to take lessons at first, and by the time it was good enough and a new session was starting, we were moving back to the States.
I immediately started riding after we moved and loved it more than I could have imagined, much to my mom’s chagrin — and that of her pocketbook! That was third grade, and I kept riding until I was pregnant with Little Miss. I’d still be doing it if I could find the time and justify the expense.
The summer after fourth grade, I had the opportunity to choose what camp I wanted to go to. Whoo! What a responsibility for an nine year old. Ok, so it wasn’t so hard. My mom handed me the catalogue of Girl Scout camps, and I found the one that was horseback riding.
Oh, what a joy those two weeks were. I had so much fun riding and grooming and just hanging out around the horses. The other girls did, too, although they were less interested in the horses than I was.
Their favorite game was Stick ‘Em.
Like every barn — or almost every barn — they had barn cats. It helps to keep the mouse population down, which reduces disease et al. And when you have barn cats, there are constant litters of kittens since barn cats are rarely spayed and less often neutered. And they tend to not live that long, so the new kittens keep the population stable, sadly. (I just realized I made a pun!)
This barn had six kittens. They were only a few weeks old, and oh! were they cuddly and soft and cute. Many of the Girl Scouts liked to pick up the kittens and toss them at haybales to see if they’d stick. Yep, that was their favorite game.
I was appalled. When I found what they were doing, I cried. And for whatever reason, the counselors did nothing about it. After awhile, my resolve grew.
When my mom arrived to pick me up at the end of the two weeks, I told her that I was taking two kittens home and was going to save them from this life of misery. My mom isn’t exactly an animal person, and we already had a dog and a cat at home.
I begged. I pleaded. I told her of the torture these cats were going through, of how the girls laughed at the poor mewing kittens flying through the air before thrusting out their claws in a panic on the haybales to keep from falling four to six feet to the ground.
My mom finally relented and allowed me to take one kitten home. It was really hard to choose only one to save, but one finally called out to me. Luckily, one of the counselors knew how to tell boy from girl — my mom had obviously learned from our last encounter.
The poor little kitten was gently placed into our car, and we began the drive home. She hid underneath the seat the whole way, mewing softly but never moving.
By the time we arrived home, I had found a name for her. I named her Copper Top because she never stopped. And yes, this was in the days prior to the Energizer Bunny or that may have been her name. Considering her blaze orange coloring, many people assumed I named her Copper because she was copper. Sadly, no.
We took her to the vet to be spayed and get her shots. That’s when we discovered she had fleas. Lots and lots of fleas. Oops. Sorry, Mom. I swear I didn’t know. Fortunately, we quickly rid ourselves of the fleas, and life was happy.
While Caesar didn’t love Copper, they tolerated each other pretty well, and all was good. After Caesar died, you could tell that she missed having someone around. My mom wasn’t about to gete another pet though, and I lived in a college dorm, so she was stuck.
When I finally moved to an apartment off campus, I brought Copper with me. I lived alone, so she was a great companion and was so happy to have me around all the time again.
Even at the age of eleven when I brought her to Chicago, she was still head shy. Eleven years of a gentle and loving home with me and my family, and the poor cat still flinched anytime someone approached her too quickly from the front with a hand out. She never got over being picked up and thrown at haybales over and over again.
I sometimes think about the other five kittens that I couldn’t take with me. I wonder how many of them stayed at the barn. I wonder if the Stick ‘Em game persisted with other groups of Girl Scouts. I wonder if any of them ever had a family to love them….
Knowing that I was at least able to save one kitten who had a long and happy eighteen years with me before she passed away one afternoon has to be enough. At the age of nine, I didn’t have the power to do more. The injustice and wrongness of it still burns in me though.