Phil Hugo: Walking the estate with Miss Maisie

By Phil Hugo - Guest Columnist

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in mid-June and I am out and about in the backyard of our rather small, by some standards, estate. A quick perusal of the scene assures me little has changed since I put myself and Saturday night to bed on June 13.

Like most mornings I am not alone as I venture out after a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and the medications I wash down with water. My companion is Miss Maisie, a pretty little feline on a leash. Yes, you read me right. On a leash; a short one at that — all of six feet.

Maisie heads out the door of the screened porch, white paws gently touching the patio, then to the yard, nose to the ground: sniff, sniff, sniffing whatever odors trigger her olfactory senses. A trespassing cat? Essence of short-tailed shrew? Some pauses are longer than others. Perhaps I should get down on all fours and join her, but I suspect I would come up smelling only the good earth rather than specific odors associated with the earth.

In the process she takes time to nibble on blades of grass, appearing to ingest little or nothing. I’m told that folks who study feline behavior have some ideas related to the activity, like maybe cats do it if they have a need to vomit, but in the end they have no sound reason for such behavior.

Ever the curious one, Maisie is always looking up, peering into small trees and shrubs and especially looking high into the branches of our large white oak. It could be a Carolina wren singing its cheery song or a squirrel that catches her eyes. Who knows? When I look I see nothing. But wait, Hugo, take a closer look. Aha! There is a squirrel scurrying about in the foliage. Even if she sees nothing, she is ever the predator on the move.

It’s happenstance that Miss Maisie is even strolling in our yard. I find it interesting how people come by the animals that become pets and by extension, beloved members of households. Some stories are more interesting than others. The coming together of a cat or dog with a new household might go unheralded or it could become newsworthy. Folks go to animal shelters or breeders and sometimes the animal shows up at your doorstep. Or, someone from a veterinary hospital may call on an owner whose pet recently died.

My wife Karen and I have been together nearly 30 years and three cats have been part of our lives during that time. When I met Karen her live-in companion was a mostly black cat with a stub tail named Clouseau. I had always been a dog person so I wasn’t sure how things would go. However, it was a given that if things worked out with Karen and me, it would be a package deal. In the end I got the lady and her cat.

Shortly after Clouseau died we got a call from the folks at Baker Animal Hospital wondering if we would be interested in adopting Mittens, the office cat. After Karen and I discussed it we said yes and Mittens, who sported a tuxedo-like pelage, became a member of our household for 14 years until she died of cancer.

While we didn’t rule out having another cat in our lives, a major kitchen remodel that began about the same time Mittens died put such a notion on the back burner. The project wrapped up and a sense of normalcy returned to our home.

One of my springtime projects is to get the water garden in order and ready for fish. The running water adds a sense of tranquility to the place.

I invited Karen to run an errand with me, telling her we would stop at Pete’s Ice Cream before heading to Dot’s Pet Store. I selected the fish and as I headed to the register, Karen informed me there was a pretty cat in one of the kennels. Hey folks, guess what? Karen picked a name for the rescue cat and Miss Maisie went home with us the next day.

What did I say earlier about how people come by their pets? Was the new cat in our lives a case of serendipity? What if I had not invited Karen to ride along with me? Friend and pet lover Marilyn Huffman said: “Maisie found you.”

What matters is that for a little over a year now Miss Maisie continues to grace our lives with her personality and antics. About those walks. While she has her claws and a collar with an ID tag, we are not sure yet how far she might ramble so we like to play it safe. Sometimes I follow her off-leash. Like when she heads for the long vining hydrangeas — what I call her botanical jungle gym. It was off-limits when the robins built a nest there. Or when she climbs the ladder of the tree house and walks on the railing. A cat’s sense of balance continues to amaze me.

Back on leash she climbed up the trunk of a large honeysuckle alongside the garage, perching on a branch. As she eyed her next move onto the roof, I made a preemptive strike and placed Maisie on terra firma.

An advantage to walking with Maisie on a leash is that it slows us down, forcing Karen and me to take a closer look at what she is doing. Sometimes the predator nails the fly in the grass; most times she comes up empty-pawed. One day she was near a short section of a former tree trunk in a flower bed. I found myself watching ants carry crumbs of wood out of a hole and drop them to the ground where other ants located the crumbs and deposited them a few inches away from the trunk.

Clouseau and Mittens never took to a leash, so when we put them out to explore we no doubt missed out on some of that activity, even when nearby. Not so with Maisie, the pretty tiger with beautiful white and tawny markings and a nice look about her face.

What’s not to like about taking Maisie for a walk around the estate, forcing us to slow down and be a part of her world? It works for the three of us.

“What are you looking at, Maisie?”

By Phil Hugo

Guest Columnist

Phil Hugo lives in Lima.

Phil Hugo lives in Lima.

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