A Tail . . . and Two Cities

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Author: the Staff

Editor Kerry Temple:

This saga begins with an email I received from the magazine’s art director at 9:08 a.m. on Wednesday, December 14. It read: “While on my way to work I saw a near frozen cat in the middle of a field too cold to go any further. I picked him up and took him home. Need to run to the store to get litter. Should be in shortly.”

Kerry Prugh is a kind-hearted woman with a history of taking in animals. Stray dogs and foster dogs, a couple of horses, cats of various size, lineage and physical condition. So the rescue — performed during her 19-mile, country-road commute from Elkhart, Indiana, to our Grace Hall offices on a frigidly cold day — was not extraordinary.

The cat who came in from the cold.

Still, it was a major disappointment. We have staff meetings — religiously — at 9:30 each Wednesday and deadlines loomed and our art director Kerry Prugh (who lays out the magazine, gathers the artwork and prepares each issue for production) is the singular channel through which all content flows between us and the printer. The linchpin, the conduit, the bottleneck, so to speak (although she’s not once acted as a bottleneck).

But I do run a tight ship here, and there’s no room for distractions at a time like this. She needs to be here. I’m watching the clock.

Managing editor Carol Schaal:

For seven months of the year, the weekly magazine staff meeting, whose start time tends to be flexible, generally begins with a discussion of fantasy baseball. Other months, we ease into the magazine business of the week with talk from serious to silly. You know, an appetizer to prepare for the heavy lifting ahead; at least, that’s the way we prefer to think of it. And on this December 14, all we can talk about is Kerry Prugh’s great good deed.

We can hardly wait for her to arrive. The email she sent before our Wednesday meeting has set the staff buzzing. “How Kerry,” we agree, recalling the various photos she’s shared with us of animals temporarily in her care. But we want the details. We want to know how the cat is doing, what it looks like, how she spotted it. We have questions only she can answer.

Magazine? Deadline? When Kerry Prugh finally arrives, profusely apologizing for being late, we ignore the file of artwork she dumps on the table and demand she tell us the whole story. The other Kerry, Temple, our boss, is powerless to stem the tsunami of our interest.

Art Director Kerry Prugh:

We had snow last night and the temperature is 5 degrees. How I saw this cat is beyond me. I am making my way to the office. A half a mile down the road I happen to look over to the right at a field next to the church. Out over the pristine white surface I see a gray ball of fur. It’s in the middle of the field. I realize it must be a cat or a raccoon or something, too far away to really make it out but I can see a fresh path of prints in the snow trailing behind it that leads back to the subdivision behind the church. It must have been trying to make its way across the field. And it just stopped. Gave up. Was it alive? I think I see its head move. I can’t tell, but I have to stop.

I pull into a driveway just down the road and quickly turn around. I have no idea how I am going to pull off the road. Too much snow, and traffic is steady. I don’t really care. I stop the car in the road and turn the flashers on. No one is behind me, but as soon as I get out of the car I see a line of cars is already forming. I make eye contact with the driver behind me as I step out of the car. I can see by the look on his face he knows why I stopped. I point out into the field. He nods in approval and gives me a thumbs up. I get a thumbs up! He is just relived he is not the one having to do this.

I shut the door, look both ways and dart across the road. I run out into the field, through the snow. Through the corner of my vision I see the line of cars backing up. The drivers are all watching me as I run through the snow, and I am not graceful.

As I make my way out in the field, I can see that it is a cat. Gray tabby. Huddled into a ball. I see its head drop. It is completely unaware that I am approaching, and I worry that it might be too late. Any normal animal would run away, stray or not. This one doesn’t care. I must be too late.

Meeoooooowwwww.

A deep gravel tone. Meeeooowwwww. All it can do is lift is head and look up at me. It looks relieved to know I am there to rescue him. I waste no time and scoop him up. I am surprised at how light he is. He is so thin. I can feel his hip bones hidden under his fluffed-up fur. He is still warm and offers no resistance. I run back to the car, even less graceful now that I am carrying a cat. The line of traffic is still there, and no one has dared to honk at me. Thank you. I cross back over the road. Grab the car door and jump in, tossing the cat onto the passenger seat.

His first square in who knows how long?

He looks at me. I look at him. Now, what to do with him?

I try to get a better look at him now that he is beside me. He is still all fluffed up, making him appear larger and heavier that he actually is. The gray tabby I thought he was is really dirt and grease on a white and brown tabby. Within a couple minutes I am pulling back into my driveway. I hear the dogs barking from inside the house. Banks is loose while the other two are in their crates. I have no idea how I am going to sneak a cat into the house without all hell breaking loose. I pull into the garage, and Banks is at the back door waiting for me, barking.

The tabby doesn’t care. I carry him, and he’s totally relaxed as a 50-pound dog jumps all over me trying to check out what I just brought in. I take him downstairs to the basement bathroom, where I can isolate him from the dogs and our cat, and do a quick evaluation.

Besides the grime, he has a few bumps and scrapes. A couple cuts on his legs, scabs on his face. I get the feeling that he has been on his own for a while. Weeks? Months? Not sure. He is neutered and has his front claws, but they are so short I thought he was declawed. I am surprised by how friendly he is. He is purring but a bit wobbly as he winds around my legs. I secure him in the room and run out the garage to grab a spare litter box. I realize I am out of litter. I am already late for work. Now I am even later.

I email the office:

Sorry going to be a little late…

While on my way to work I saw a near frozen cat in the middle of a field too cold to go any further. I picked him up and took him home. Need to run to the store to get litter. Should be in shortly.

Sent from my iPhone

With the cat securely isolated, I hop in the car and run to the grocery store. In a crazy bit of luck I see Theresa working the cash register. She lives in the neighborhood where I saw the tracks coming from. “Maybe she’ll know!” I think. I grab a bag of litter, make my way to the checkout. I tell her the story and she says she hasn’t seen a stray around the neighborhood. On my way back home I call my husband, Jeff, to let him know we have a house guest for a day . . . or two.

I head into the office, an hour late.

Editor Temple:

I try to convene a meeting, do my best to corral people’s attention, but Kerry Prugh’s storytelling is just too much for everyone. The part where she describes galloping across a field knee-deep in snow is a great visual. But I must say it brings to mind the bad knee she’s been nursing lately and her rehab excursions; maybe the cortisone shots really have helped.

Finally, when the cat fest seems to be nearing its conclusion, she says, “So, anyone want a cat?”

And my eyes catch the upturned face of Rasmus Jorgensen, our Danish intern, whose wife, Abby, is an ND alum and grad student. I do not know if people in Denmark even have pets. But his face lights up in happy expectation.

Danish Intern Rasmus Jorgensen:

We already have enough animals in our house. Not in a Kerry Prugh kind of way, but just this Monday I saw what was probably a mouse, squeezing through a hole I had never noticed at the corner of a door. I fixed the hole before going to work, but the next day Abby spotted a mouse in the kitchen. To my amusement, she is terrified of mice — though, if I laugh I will certainly hear about my “fear” of spiders — so she picked up mousetraps on the way home. Since I am strong man, I got to set them up, which resulted in one out of four getting broken and my fingers getting caught in what can only be described as a freak accident. Mouse 2, Rasmus 0. Before the night is over we are both making the joke: “We should get a cat. That would solve this problem.”

We are not serious, of course. Having been married for almost five months after three years of long distance, we have talked of our shared dream of getting a cat, but mostly dogs. One dog would be small and bear the name Megatron, one would be giant and go by Kitty — we’re funny people. For now, though, my wife might have her work cut out for her by living with a boy. It’s a lot of work.

When I first heard that Kerry Prugh would come in late because she was rescuing a cat, I was, like everyone else, excited to hear the story. Even though I’ve only been here for a few months I am not surprised that she would do something like this. As she tells her story of how skinny and dirty it is, but also how friendly it seemed in the short time she spent with it, I get more excited. It might need a home, right? But then again, I think Kerry might live on a farm. At least she has a horse and some other animals. Maybe she will keep it if she can’t find the owners.

Art Director Prugh:

The cat is an instant celebrity. Facebook comments are pouring in. The post I made on my lunch hour announcing finding the cat is being shared all around the area.

12:09 p.m.: “Wow, he looks a little rough; (Please call in a report to the shelter. Any vet will scan for a microchip for free.”
12:10 p.m.: “Bless you taking this kitty in. It is too cold out there for man or beast. Poor baby.”
12:12 p.m.: “Bless you taking this kitty in. It is too cold out there for man or beast. Poor baby.”
12:16 p.m.: “Thank you for helping this little guy”
2:17 p.m.: “Can’t wait to see pics of him later when he’s fat and sassy. ;)”
2:18 p.m.: “Awww poor kitty.”

Intern Jorgensen:

I believe the meeting has actually started, but my mind keeps going back to the cat. I need to make sure if Kerry Prugh really means it — that the cat needs a home. At least for a short while. I let it be known that we might be interested. And I need to tell her I’ll get in touch with Abby as soon as I can.

Obviously, Abby doesn’t know anything about this yet, so I can’t commit. She did joke about getting a cat last night, but that wasn’t serious, and at this point I’m not even sure how serious I am about this. But I am excited.

Kerry is going to take him to the vet to see if he has a chip.

I text Abby, explaining the situation.

Art Director Prugh:

Our celebrity kitty is capturing the hearts of many this day, even the magazine’s intern. But to make sure the cat is truly homeless, I know I should leave work and run the cat to a vet and have him scanned for a microchip to determine ownership.

“Wow, he looks like he has been on his own for a while,” the vet tech says when I take the cat out of the carrier. “I’ll be surprised if he has a chip,” she says, “most don’t.” She passes the scanner across the back of his neck.

He’s chipped.

So the vet tech calls the microchip company, secures the information and calls the owner. No answer, but she leaves a message. The microchip company will do the same. They will also email and send text messages over the next four days. Since he’s been scanned at the vet, HIPAA prevents me from learning the owner’s information. The microchip company is allowed to give me only a last name and the city. But the owner is given my contact information so they can reach me. I expect to hear back pretty quickly from a very relieved cat owner who is desperately looking for their beloved pet.

Intern Jorgensen:

Home for Christmas?

My biggest worry at this point — maybe I am getting ahead of myself — is what we will do with the cat over Christmas. We are going to visit Abby’s family in Minnesota, and her brother is allergic to cats so we can’t bring it. Abby is worried about the same thing, but in a matter of minutes one of her officemates who will stay in town and used to have a cat says she is willing to come and feed and play with it for the five days we will be away. It’s not optimal that we’ll be gone so shortly after, but I guess it will be in a better situation than it was just hours ago.

Art Director Prugh:

Drive home. No calls. A couple hours pass. Nothing. Maybe, I think, the owners have a different phone number, or they moved. I begin to doubt the accuracy of the current information on file.

My daughter, being the tech savvy teenager as most teenagers are, starts doing her detective work. Grabbing her laptop, fingers flying across the keys, surfing, deducting and cross-referencing posts like an episode out of Masterpiece’s Sherlock. Within minutes she has it narrowed down to three suspects. (Now, this should make anyone concerned if you value your privacy. This is not rocket science.)

Step 2: Cruise through the photos. Suspect one? No luck. Suspect two? Nothing.

Suspect 3? Bingo! Photos of the cat. The face shape. The long back. That crazy-long lemur tail! No doubt it is him. A fatter, cleaner version of him. The photos are from more than a year ago. Wow, has he really been on his own that long?

Owner ID’ed.

Now I just have to wait for the call.

Intern Jorgensen:

While Kerry waits for the owner to call and reclaim the cat, Abby and I are happy to think he just might be living with us for a short while, having us as foster parents. We agree not to get our hopes up that he will stay with us for long. But who is strong enough to resist the urge to come up with a cat name? Not us!

“CATMAN JOHN!”

Abby doesn’t get it. Neither does anyone in the office. “Scatman” must have been a bigger hit in Europe than in the States.

“James C. Kirk. C is for cat,” ticks in. That’s pretty good. James is a strong name — for presidents and starship commanders, but maybe also one that should be reserved for a future son who might become either.

Vulcat and Radak are among other Star Trek inspired names. Abby recently introduced me to the original series, which I like, but everybody knows Star Wars is superior, so I suggest Chewbacca and Lando Catrissian. But neither of us feels like we’re really hitting gold yet. As I suggest naming it after Jeremy Clarkson, the motor-journalist, and the wife doesn’t like it, things escalate.

“This will be our biggest fight.”

“THIS CAT IS TEARING US APART!!!”

“Shadowfax?” Abby suggests, perhaps trying to make me good again by referencing another universe that I love. But I can’t even think, and I don’t realize that she is talking about Gandalf’s horse in The Lord of the Rings.

“How did it come to this?” I ask, hoping that my making another reference from that universe will redeem me.

Art Director Prugh:

Still waiting for the owner to call.

Intern Jorgensen:

The cat won’t arrive until tomorrow at least. Fortunately that leaves us time to go to Petco to get cat food, a cat bed, litter and litter box. And, of course, a toy and some treats.

Curiosity.

As we drive there, straight from the office, I notice Abby tearing up. The thought of the cat being alone, starving in the cold, is too much to bear for my wife, who is the kindest person I have ever met. The fact that the cat is safe and warm now isn’t enough to comfort her, so we bring out the name list, which she, being the organized one, has made. We discuss our favorites and add some more.

Professor Bubbles

Fuzz Lightyear

Amadeus (which I quickly shoot down because of my irrational frustration with the fact that people think that was Mozart’s middle name)

Wolfgang (better)

We arrive at Petco, but we are rookies. The cats I had as a kid lived in the stable, and most of Abby’s pet-experience comes from having a pet coconut (they can do tricks like rolling over, and they are exceptionally good at playing dead, I am told). Luckily, the staff is nice and helpful, although there seems to be a trend that you pay more than what it says at the shelf. That’s OK, though — we still get a good deal. So we go home.

Finally, we come up with a name we both think is great: Father Edward Cuddlemonster, C.A.T. That means he’s named after Father Sorin, but also that Abby can call him Cuddles for short, while I will refer to him by his hip-hop name, Notorious C.A.T. Perfect!

Art Director Prugh:

We know where they live — the owners — because of my daughter’s sleuthing. But no call yet.

Intern Jorgensen:

After a night of cat-dreams I go back to the office, and I am so excited to hear how Edward has been — and to see what the others think of the name we came up with. I’m still a bit upset that no one liked Catman John. . . .

At the first sight of Kerry Prugh not being completely submerged in work I sprint to her desk. It turns out he’s been so nice, even when she gave him a bath to get all the dirt off. Maybe he realizes that Kerry is his savior, or, dare I say it, he could be the nicest cat ever!

Calm down! We still can’t get our hopes up. Kerry reminds me she’s still waiting for a call from the owner. I’m nervous. I tell Abby, and the feeling is now mewtual (we can still have fun). But there’s nothing to do but wait. The cat will arrive at his at-least-short-term home tonight around 8, because we’re having people over late in the afternoon, including small children, and it will be better to wait until they’ve left.

Going home, tonight is going to be a lot of fun. I’m making a Danish dish (hakkebøf) the way my mother does it back home. I also get to beat Abby and the 2- and 4-year-old at hide and seek, which, and I’m quoting the older one here, “Mr. Rasmus is very good at.” Before singing the first three verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as an ending to the fun visit, we also get to play "Ring Around the Rosie” upwards of 20 times, although it is rare that we get much longer than “wosie” before we all fall down. Gets me every time.

At the risk of being rude to our very nice friends, I must admit that all the fun couldn’t keep me from being very excited about Edward coming home. Kerry volunteered to bring him from Elkhart to South Bend where we live, so I text her that our visitors have left. She will be here in half an hour.

Longest 30 minutes of my life. When will he come? We miss him!

The doorbell rings, and we run to the door to let Kerry and her daughter, who is holding a cat carrier, inside. She puts it on the floor, and we all go quiet as she opens the door. Edward’s head comes out, he’s looking curious but not afraid. He is a looong cat! More and more of him keeps coming out of the carrier. He goes towards the kitchen. Maybe he likes Danish food.

The new way of things.

Meeoooooowwwww.

We’re completely in love. He’s walking around, slowly, to discover as much of the house as possible and see if it’s safe. Maybe also to see if there’s food. For now his food, water, bed and litter box are all in our upstairs bathroom, so after a while of letting him walk around the first floor I grab him to show him where he’s staying for the night. He is so skinny, I can feel a lot of bones, and he’s very light despite how big he is.

Kerry and her daughter need to get going, and since Edward seems satisfied, they don’t seem worried about leaving him in the home of a young, married couple. We say goodbye, and after cleaning up a bit more from having guests we go to the couch to see if any of our shows are on. Edward’s been at the top of the stairs ever since I showed him his food. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if he’d watch TV with us? Maybe he doesn’t realize that’s an option, so I help him downstairs — he doesn’t appear to mind.

Is he really an Edward, though? It’s Friday morning, and Abby texts me.

“What about Anakin? Anakat Snowalker?” she writes. It’s funny because, like Anakin, the cat changes name when he gets a new master. But Anakin turns to the dark side. . . . We can’t have that. We don’t want a bad kitty.

“We’re going to make him fat. So how about Jabba?” another text says. I’m so proud of my wife. We only just watched the Star Wars movies, which she had never seen before, and already she’s using names from there.

“Jabba the Cat,” I reply. “Or C(at)-3PO.” If we ever get a girl cat, there’s a big chance she’ll go by Patme. “Get it?”

“Maybe we should wait a bit to make the final decision,” I write.

Then it hits me. He’s really long and skinny. He’s handsome and charming, and he has a deep voice, if cats have voices. Also, Abby is a huge fan of the TV series Sherlock, and I liked Smaug in The Hobbit. So, here goes:

“Benedict Cumbercat.”

“Oh my heart.”

“I LOVE that.”

“Benedict totally suits him.”

“Oh my heart.”

Art Director Prugh:

No call from the owner. Time’s up.

Intern Jorgensen:

And that’s the story of how we got a cat named Benedict, or Benny for short. Benedict Grace Cumbercat when he is a rebel — it’s important to have a middle name in such situations, and Grace is my wife’s.

He has lived with us for about two months now. Although he’s nice all time, he’s a different cat from when we got him. In the beginning he had no energy, and though he would cuddle us it would only be for a few minutes at a time. Now he’s on the prowl most of the time. He runs around the house at warp speed, he loves to play, and he particularly loves cuddles. He just can’t get enough, so he follows us around all the time, meaning that he is basically a dog that doesn’t bark, jump or need to go for walks.

A Jorgensen family selfie.

He’s at fault for my wife and me referring to each other by “mommy” and “daddy” so he doesn’t get confused. He also provides me with fun projects like flea-shower-time and building a scratching post that we’ve put right next to our couch so he can sit close to us when he’s on it. Most importantly, he’s so much bigger now, and he really needed that. We love him, and both he and we are so thankful that Kerry Prugh stopped that cold day to rescue him.

Editor Temple:

I, too, am glad things worked out so nicely: one of our strongest issues in recent memory, first-rate artwork, deadlines met, everything right on schedule, everyone happy. I’m looking forward to this week’s meeting; back to normal efficiencies. And Kerry Prugh should be back from the press check in Milwaukee.

Unless she spots another furry refugee along the way.


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