In the Early Spring of 1994, Michelle and I were living in a little house in Fairfield, Iowa. My cat Sluggo* was living there too – at least as far as eating and sleeping. The rest of the time he spent doing his job which was being the self-appointed neighborhood patrol officer.
Every evening he would come back home and report what he had seen despite the fact that we, his humans, never seemed to understand. And every time he’d go hunting he would bring back his prize, still alive and wiggling, and lay it at our feet for us to appreciate and share. Instead of showing our gratitude, we’d toss him down the basement steps and close the door. When we’d let him out he’d look around, but the game would be gone. If he thought we were selfishly killing it and eating it ourselves, he didn’t show it.
One day our next-door neighbors, who owned several cats themselves, warned us about Mr. Skivens, the neighborhood cat-hater. They said he had been in trouble with the Law recently for making cats “disappear” and they were afraid of him enough to not let their cats go outside at all.
I decided that I just couldn’t deprive Sluggo of his job based on a rumor, so he continued to patrol the neighborhood and bring home various birds and rodents to help feed the family. Then one evening he didn’t come home. All that night we listened for the flap of his little cat door to open, but it remained unused. Early the next morning, I went out to look for him.
I had started, when he was a kitten, to hoot a little kitty call every time I’d put his food down. It was a bit like a hog-call only with a lot less volume and “kitty, kitty” instead of “Soo-ie, pigpig.” This call became very useful when he’d tried to climb a little fruit tree and couldn’t get down. When I went out to find him and hooted out the kitty-call, he immediately answered with a scared “meow”, and I went over to pull him out of the tree and take him home.
So here I was, a couple of years later, walking around the neighborhood calling “kittykittykit-teeeee.” Then I tried going down the alley and calling. About two-thirds of the way down I heard a familiar, albeit muffled, “meow.” It was coming from the inside of a detached garage. The garage door was only open a few inches and locked in that position, but I found I could pull up one corner enough to get a look inside. There was Sluggo, alive but terrified, caught in a wire trap.
I quickly found a chunk of wood that seemed the right length, pulled up the corner of the door, and propped it open. Then, wriggling on my belly, I crawled underneath the door and got to the trap. As well as my cat, pitifully yawping, there was an empty Starkist tuna can inside. When I sprung the trap gate open Sluggo raced out under the garage door, shot down the alley, and was quickly back home and being comforted by Michelle. I crawled back out under the door and let it down to its previous position. Now that my cat was safe I began to seethe with indignation.
I called the local Police and they were polite but entirely non-sympathetic. They told me they would give Mr. Skivens a call, but that I should either keep my cat indoors or only let him go outside on a leash. This was about as satisfying as a pond-scum sandwich. After thinking through several “Don’t get mad, get even” scenarios I went to see my friend Dr. Harold.
Dr. Harold was a practicing Veterinarian there in Fairfield and had given Sluggo his various shots and flea baths, and had also sold me the salve to cure an infestation of mites in the little guy’s ears. I told him what had happened and then asked him a question.
“Other than driving around the local roads and looking, is there someplace where the Highway Department puts the bodies of dead animals they scrape up. I think I want to find a dead skunk.”
“I want to crawl back under that garage door and stuff the dead skunk into Skivens’ trap. I’m thinking I’ll need some heavy rubber gloves, plastic bags, and maybe a disposable coverall to protect myself.”
He laughed a lot, but then said, “I’d strongly recommend against it. You might be able to wash the smell off yourself eventually, but you’d never get it out of your car.”
I was a little disappointed but also relieved that I had a good reason not to go that route. “The only other thing I can think of,” I said, “is to get some kind of cat-repellant and splash it around his garage inside and out. It would have to have enough odor to overpower the smell of tunafish.”
Telling me to wait, Dr. Harold went into a back room, rummaged around for a bit, then plunked a half- gallon bottle of “Cat-B-Gon” liquid on the counter. I had opened my checkbook and begun to fill it out when he stopped me.
“Because we’re friends I’m gonna save you the twenty-five bucks,” he said as he put the jug under the counter, “Products like this work okay, but there’s something that works a lot better. And it’s free.”
“Human urine. Male human urine to be specific. One sniff of your pee and a cat will turn around and head the other way.”
I thanked him and headed home as I hatched a plan. That afternoon I drank a couple of tall glasses of water and a cup of coffee, then ate a can of Jolly Green Giant Asparagus spears for that extra bouquet. By dusk I was shimmying my full-to-the-brim bladder back under Skivens’ garage door. My heart was thundering with both fear of being caught and determination to go through with it. I went to the little side door and peeked out its window at the small brick house on the other end of a narrow walk. There were no signs of life.
I jumped up and down on the wire trap a few times, making sure it would never trap another cat, then I unzipped my fly and let the waters flow. After soaking down the bent-up trap and the area around it, I managed to stop with half a bladder-full left and crawl back outside. Once the garage door was let down to its original position, I wet it down as well as I could with what I had left and scurried back up the alley to my house.
Afterward, I kept an ear out for any news of Mr. Skivens, but heard nothing, Only that when we moved to Chicago more than a year later, no cats in the neighborhood had been threatened or harmed. I like to think that the fellow had assumed that no human could have gotten into his garage under that door and therefore some large and angry animal had come in, crushed the trap, eaten the tuna, peed all over and left. I hope it was a mystery that haunted him to the end of his days.
* If you’d like to know the story of how I acquired Sluggo, or how he acquired me, go to the Archives on this blog, click February, and scroll down to “Sluggo! Is that You?”