Of all things… a cat

Robert Stanger Contributing writer

I had no connection with any of the 9/11 victims, but my most poignant memory of the 2001 attacks by terrorists that killed almost 3,000 has to do with of all things … a cat.

My wife, Judith, and I had left Youngstown for our Allegheny River cabin in early September before the savage aerial attacks. On our way out of town, we stopped at our bank in order to have a little ready cash.

But as I opened the door to get out, “Dumpling” apparently decided she’d rather not join us on that trip and tried to get out. Unfortunately, I caught her between the closing door and the car’s body, blocking her escape but undoubtedly causing her considerable pain.

Thus bearing a grudge, the 15-month-old feline bolted from the car as soon as we arrived at the cabin, heading for the nearby forest. She remained AWOL for days, despite Judith’s frequent sorties from the cabin calling for her. But Judith had to return to Youngstown for a teaching assignment. So I drove her back, and then returned to the river on the eve of 9/11 to look for the wayward cat.

Judith had prepared a few pictures of her for me to post on trees in our cabin area, hoping someone had perhaps seen her during my absence. I didn’t need to post the photos, however, as “Dumpling” meowed to get inside the cabin late in the night the same day I arrived, seemingly none the worse for her days in the wild. We are without a TV at the cabin, and Judith called me the next morning, describing the terrible events then taking place as result of the attacks.

As the day wore on, I interspersed getting updates from Judith, listening to reports by Peter Jennings on radio station WRRN and paddling my canoe out on the river.

The contrast between what was occurring in New York City, in Washington at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field near Shanksville with the beauty of that late summer day on the river was an impression that has remained strong with me despite the intervening 17 years.

Catastrophic events can leave us unscathed and even blasé as they occur, but the effects on our lives can be momentous. And 9/11 was certainly a game changer… not so much for me due to my age, but certainly for the young men sent to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, now our longest war.

And 9/11 should certainly underscore for us how circumstances and attitudes among those very sentient peoples living thousands of miles away can so affect our wellbeing.

“Dumpling,” now 18, is still with us (although a tad unsure of herself when she attempts feline maneuvers such as jumping from the kitchen floor onto the dinner table), having endured many a trip up to our river cabin during the past 17 years.

She was one of a litter of four females born in the window well outside my son’s office at Youngstown State where James worked in administration (and still does).

One of the kittens got caught in a downspout, and after a custodian freed her the mother cat carried them all across the main street to another hiding place. However, the women in the office somehow had them brought back. After all the commotion, the mother cat then abandoned her offspring.

James then gave in to the pleas from co-workers to care for the newborns, taking them home every evening and bringing them back each work day. He was able to raise them through weaning with the help of a nursing kit obtained at a pet supplies store.

Not surprisingly, he couldn’t find any takers for the four kittens. So we compromised … we took three and he kept one, a black one James called “Buckeye.”

But this didn’t work out too well given Jamie’s busy schedule, and soon we had all four, which put a new dimension on our trips to the cabin, as cats hate car travel.

The manhandling I had to do to get the obstinate cats into their carriers did not bode well for what later happened to a cat Judith dubbed “Woofie.”

However, all the cats did seem to enjoy living at the cabin after arrival (the place is, after all, “Chipmunk City”) and “Woofie” in particular loved spending nights outside when the moon illuminated the river.

(“Allegheny Moon” by Patti Page was a popular song some years ago.)

Of the four, “Buckeye” died first at age 9. Judith thinks that having had to spend so much time alone at Jamie’s apartment made her depressed, which possibly contributed to her early death.

Next to pass on was on “Woofie.” (Jamie had called her “Wolfie” because of her coloration, but Judith shortened the name.)

“Woofie” may have been the most “precocious” (as Jamie claimed) but she was also very neurotic, given to constant grooming of her fur. (I told Judith that perhaps she was frustrated at having been spayed, and thus unable to have kittens.)

Over time, due to her excessive grooming, soon the only fur left on “Woofie” was what she couldn’t reach by grooming… that on her head and shoulders, plus a long “Mohawk” down her back.

Trips to the vet were of no avail, so I fashioned a plastic hoop of a collar which when put around her neck would severely restrict her movements, but would still allow her to eat and drink.

However, it was about 3 a.m. following the evening during which I had put on the collar on her that “Woofie” let out a scream. I went downstairs to the kitchen, I found that in trying to cope with the collar, the cat had severed a blood vessel in her neck, and was bleeding to death.

Thus she joined other deceased pets in the plot just off our tomato garden. I think I placed her below where the roots from the vines could reach her. But we have had a very good tomato crop this year, and sometimes I wonder if “Woofie” could have contributed to it. (I do seem to have developed quite a taste for canned tuna!)

In addition to “Dumpling,” we are left now left with “Patches,” aka “Dinky,” as she was the smallest of the litter.

She was the most venturesome of the foursome, and when young she would go “feral” for a week or more, hanging out in a nearby field and perhaps mooching from neighbors.

Perhaps her active youth contributed to her present good health in old age.

(Judith Stanger helped write this article.)

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.