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As Long as We Remember...

May 24, 2013

Gone To Earth

Joe Charlebois

My wife and I are both dog lovers. Some 17-plus years ago, and a little more than a year into our marriage, we drove over to the Frederick County Animal Control Shelter in the hopes of adopting.


We carefully walked by cage after cage looking for just the right one. Some were too loud, some were too big, some were too old, and some were too wild. We found what we were looking for – we adopted a cat.


Why would two dog lovers bring home a cat when there were dozens of canines actively competing for our affections? Our lifestyle as DINKs (Double Income No Kids) would have been punishing on a dog. Being young travelers and living in a townhome provided too little house, too little yard and too many weekends away from home. It would not have been fair.


We chose to adopt Kylie because she had the perfect temperament. She was quiet, but not aloof. She wanted attention, but didn’t scream for it. She had “personality,” if a cat can have such.


When we adopted Kylie, we were told that she was approximately two years old. She was a domestic short hair who had her full set of claws, tiger striping and white paws and a white belly much like the cat depicted in the riding boot of Edmund Caldwell’s classic 19th Century painting “Gone to Earth.” We would soon realize that her cute snow white fur would hide an unsuspecting surprise.


As “dog people” we know that all dogs love their belly to be scratched. But, unbeknownst to us, Kylie and the shelter withheld a secret that we would soon come to regret.


After trying to rub her belly both my wife and I experienced firsthand the pain associated with claw and teeth punctures to our hands. What we discovered were some noticeable bumps on her belly that seemed to irritate her. Very concerned that something may be wrong, we discovered that just prior to adoption Kylie had given birth to kittens. She had been nursing recently and was very protective of her belly. Even though our wounds would heal, her memory of sensitivity would never change.


Kylie wasn’t her first moniker. She was "Cat” for a few days, then “Headbutt.” The name Kylie would come next, but it was her propensity for driving the crown of her head into our hands, arms or shoulders to get our attention that would earn her the nickname "Headbutt." This silent form of communication would forever endear her to us.


Maybe it is because we are dog people, or the way we treated her, but I would often ask “Is she really a cat? She acts just like a dog.”


Kylie wasn’t interested in many cat toys. The only one she ever held interest in was the simple bouncing sponge balls. After tossing one of these pink, blue or yellow balls her way, she would chase it down, fetch it, carry it in her teeth and drop it in front of us to throw it again. Even better was the fact that she would swat a bouncing ball back to us while standing on her hind legs – volleyball style – or if she was being lazy she would lie on her side and roll the ball back to us.


One of the most memorable moments was the week that we were expecting our first child. The hospital bag was packed and ready to go and the brand new infant car carrier which was barely out of the box sat idle next to the front door. Instinctively Kylie determined that since she was our only “child,” this must be her new bed. Much to her dismay two days after Christmas the car carrier was moved from the entrance of our home to the back seat of our car.


To say that Kylie was the jealous type may be an understatement. Introducing the baby to Kylie was not a pleasant moment for her. The new smells and diverted attention were too much. Just days after arriving home, the new baby’s mother was carrying her up the winding townhouse stairs to put her down for her nap when Kylie reached through banister spindles and swiped her leg drawing blood. Some three years later at our new home, when my wife was carrying two of the triplets upstairs, Kylie again showed her disapproval in the same manner.


She wasn’t much for dogs either. She was decidedly against bringing a dog into the house. When we brought home our first shelter dog Detrick, he was met by the jealous claws. He learned quickly that the true boss in the house was a cat. Freckles our second shelter dog also felt the pain of getting too close to Kylie. She was left smarting as well.


Kylie ruled the house by herself once again after Detrick and Freckles left us too soon. Years had passed before Kylie would have to deal with yet another dog. This time it was Charlie, our tri-color English springer spaniel who came home with us just before Christmas 2011. Kylie received Charlie much more hospitably than his predecessors. She would even go outside with him or lay down next to him to share the warmth of the fireplace. Maybe she was just a bit older, or maybe she was resigned to the fact that she was going to have to make it work this time. Either way they treated each other with respect – outside of eating each other’s food.


Kylie, who for the longest time was strictly a house cat, began to enjoy her surroundings in the backyard. It opened her senses to the sounds and scents of “the wild.” In our backyard there are dozens of trees and bushes as well as a small fish pond. All sorts of wildlife find their way into our fenced in paradise, and Kylie would sit on the deck rail to take it all in. What we didn’t expect her to take in was an assortment of birds and rabbits.


At 17 she even treed a squirrel. She was a good hunter, but an even better friend. She was always there to provide comfort to anyone in the house who needed it. She was a beautiful creature who in spite of her faults was a blessing to our house.


Kylie left us Monday morning to be with the rest of God’s creatures.


She will be missed terribly.


(Note: A print of Gone To Earth given to him by his Uncle Paul hangs in the front hallway of the Charlebois home.)


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