An owl one night dove from the sky, grabbed a little cat named Toulouse, and carried him into the sky with intent to eat him. The attack on the Siamese/gray-tabby mix was in progress before anyone knew it had started. The bird certainly could have found a bigger meal. Toulouse, who lived two doors down from me, probably didn’t weigh 7 pounds. But the owl insisted, like owls do. How Toulouse must have howled! I wasn’t there, but the attack was legend on the block where I lived for a couple of years.
Okay, time-out: Do owls eat cats? As I was writing, I wondered. I searched for articles and images on the web. Yep. Owls eat cats — apparently pretty often. After seeing one photo, that search was over. (My advice: Don’t do that search.) Who knew? Not me. Anyway. Poor Toulouse!
Yet even without protection, Toulouse escaped death this night. The owl lost its grip — it apparently hadn’t gained an adequate hold, grabbing Toulouse only by the tail. Toulouse survived the fall, but half of his tail did not. It was later amputated by a vet, I’m told. (So maybe Toulouse weighed only 6.5 pounds.)
I joke about Toulouse, but his story is remarkably sad. (What makes it more sad is that I have no photos of him — the cat photos here are ones I found on the web that remind me of him.) I believe he’d have wanted me to joke about him. He was a funny cat. If you met Toulouse, you’d remember him for more than his half-tail or mutant coloring — tabby face and paws, Siamese everywhere else. His tiny little (never-ending) meow sounded more like a baby pterodactyl than anything feline. MRAAAAH! MRAAAAH!
His manner was ever deliberate — he pranced as if always toward a destination, never just meandering and exploring. He engaged the world with a mix of hope and street smarts. Toulouse knew there was much to fear — he’d encountered it! — but he was never panicky. Just, well, pragmatic. If strangers approached, he trotted to a safe location until they either passed by or offered to pet him. Then he came back. He knew better than to ever venture into the street.
Toulouse was a lover, and we had a ritual. Several cats in my life (including Toulouse) have learned to recognize the sound of my motorcycle as I approach. Often, I’d hear Toulouse’s little reptilian cry as soon as I parked the bike and shut off the motor.
Toulouse needed so much love. Whether it was an early summer afternoon or late on a cold, clear winter night, Toulouse greeted me with all the insistence his little frame and heart could muster. I petted him and talked to him, and sometimes I sat on the front steps with him for 10 minutes or so. It was heartbreaking to leave him. Sometimes I’d look through the window of the front door a couple of minutes after I’d gone in and see him there on the porch, still meowing.
I eventually came to fear there was more sadness to Toulouse’s story in terms of health. My then-girlfriend and I wondered about him, and whether he was getting proper care and feeding.
Some backstory: Toulouse’s owner — I’ll call her Jane — was as strong-willed as they come. Jane owned her house and had lived there for at least a decade. In addition to Toulouse, she owned a very big dog. I didn’t know her that well, but my girlfriend had lived near her for years and knew her better than I did. Jane was probably in her late 50s, a well-informed, politically active woman who had lost her life partner (also a woman) to cancer several years before. Jane had two adopted teenage children, both a different race than her, a boy and a girl.
Okay, another time-out: I mention these details not because they have any bearing on what happened to Toulouse. Rather, they show that Jane took on extremely difficult things because she believed in them. Like Toulouse, she lived deliberately. She was not, for example, some mean, drunken half-wit who people would have suspected of neglecting or abusing her animals. Quite the contrary.
But neglect, I fear, led to Toulouse’s death. I believe I could have done something more than I did. But what? I need your help, Cat Dandy readers.
My girlfriend and I were puzzled at first by Toulouse’s insistent meowing. Believing he might be hungry, we offered him some kibble, but he ignored it. He seemed to want only more petting. On another night, he took the kibble. My girlfriend later asked Jane whether he was being fed adequately. Jane said she’d been out of town for a night or two, and the cat-sitter had gotten the amount wrong when feeding him. So we offered to be the cat-sitters the next time Jane was out of town. My girlfriend asked on a couple of other occasions after Toulouse’s general health — whether he’d been to a vet — and Jane said (with much confidence) that everything was fine.
Still, we sensed something was out of order. Yet we never had evidence to intervene. Regardless, what would that intervention have looked like? Kidnapping Toulouse? That would have been a crime. Insisting to Jane that she take him to the vet? She said Toulouse had been looked after. What could we do beyond that? Insistence goes only so far. So we continued to provide Toulouse love and affection when we saw him, and we looked out for any sickness or evidence of neglect.
Eventually I left that house and that relationship, but my ex and I still communicate. A couple of months ago, our fears about Toulouse were confirmed.
“Poor Toulouse,” she wrote me. “He had cancer. He died about five months ago. I saw [Jane] tonight for the first time since you moved, and she told me.”
Apparently Jane’s daughter found him in the side yard — “He had just collapsed,” she wrote.
“Maybe there was nothing to be done,” she offered.
I had thought the same thing. Some illnesses are so aggressive, or so fast-moving, that maybe even a vet couldn’t have saved him. Then I thought, “Just the same, maybe if someone had known earlier, maybe he wouldn’t have collapsed in his yard.” Maybe at least he would have been inside, surrounded by the people who loved him, with toys and pillows and blankets and good food during his final days.
Toulouse’s story is a reminder that life is fragile, that we should treat it with utmost care. But looking back, I’m still confounded. What else might I have done here? My mind says, “Something!” But what I don’t know.
What might you have done? Have you ever been in a situation like this? Tell me in the comments.
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is associate editor at Catster and Dogster.