May 6, 2012
Dr. John Jones“Tell Watson ‘Hi' for me.” That was the last thing I said to Fred as he drifted off to sleep.It had been a long time since we first met. Although I can't remember the year, I do remember the moment. One morning during chores, there on a ledge by a horse stall where the usual cats ate, was a stranger — a scruffy, half-grown tiger. When he saw me see him, he scurried away.Over the next couple of weeks, there were multiple sightings of the skittish cat. Then one day I spied him on the ledge not looking so good, even for him. Listless, his hair coat a mess, he was not putting weight on one of his front paws. As I approached, he didn't run and actually let me touch him. His paw was huge, reddened, obviously painful, and infected. Surprisingly, he accepted my help and antibiotic treatment, and seemed to enjoy being petted. Within a few days, the paw was much improved, and I had a new little barn buddy. Just like that, “Fred the Fraidy Cat” became “Fred the Friendly Dude.” I don't know if the paw injury was the result of a cat bite, and Fred learned a valuable lesson, or if he truly was the proverbial lion with the thorn. But, for the rest of his life, he got along exceedingly well with every cat he encountered — no conflicts, no confrontations, no drama.Perhaps his biggest claim to fame is that he was the best friend of Watson, “the greatest cat that ever lived,” a well-deserved title bestowed upon him by his rodentophobic owner. Though the two cats were similar physically — Watson was an orange tiger, Fred a dark brown; Watson never weighed more than six pounds, Fred no more than seven — they had widely divergent philosophies of life, specifically, rodent life.Watson was a killer, Fred, a pacifist. Watson never met a mouse he wouldn't eat. Fred never met a mouse he would. Maybe that's why they were pals. They didn't compete for prey. Heck, Fred didn't even participate.I mix my sheep feed by hand in five-gallon buckets. Occasionally, a mouse will climb into an empty bucket, then not be able to get out. Watson, the perfect size to drop into the bucket, always emerged with a mouse in his mouth — on rare occasions, sometimes two. Fred, on the other hand, would jump out faster than I imagine even I would, and I'm a pretty jumpy rodentophobe.In spite of these jitters, however, a couple of times after a Fred bailout, and I'd like to think because of his influence, I tipped the bucket over and let the mouse escape. Fred was right. Some of them are kind of cute.An incident that occurred in our hay mow one afternoon further illustrates their opposing ways. Fred was close by when I lifted a bale of straw. I don't know who was more surprised, me or the mouse, but my girlie scream alerted Watson who was down on the barn floor. The poor frightened mouse crawled underneath Fred, who never moved. Within seconds, Watson somehow ricocheted off some boards, scaled a wire panel, hoisted himself over the lipped edge of the mow, pushed Fred aside, and did what we could not.It wasn't a proud moment for either of us. Watson didn't care, though. He accepted both Fred and me for our rodent foibles. In turn, Fred never judged him for his murderous passion. I guess that's what friends do.Watson passed away several years ago beside a rose bush behind our garage and was buried on the spot. Five months ago, we diagnosed Fred with kidney failure, a common condition of older cats. For the last few weeks of his life, Fred spent a great deal of time around the grave. It became his new, favorite hangout. Four weeks ago, Fred joined Watson on the other side of the bush.Best friends in life, they are together again beneath the rose, and, I hope, wherever kitty heaven is. Dr. John H. Jones operates a mixed animal practice in Delphos with his wife, Dr. Bonnie Jones. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and he raises Southdown sheep. Questions about animal care may be sent to: Dr. John H. Jones, Delphos Animal Hospital, 1825 E. Fifth St., Delphos, OH 45833.