Friday, December 18, 2009

Bait and Switch

Not long after Dolby’s first eye-opening exposure to human food, we loaded him into his cat carrier for an eight-hour trip to visit Dan’s parents. It was Christmas time and we would be spending a part of our generous college-scheduled break in Dalton, Minnesota, a tiny, rural town not far from Fergus Falls. Dan’s father, Wes, was a pastor at the time and he and his wife, Mary, lived in the parsonage less than a block from the church.

We’d been married just over two years and in many respects, Dolby was our first born. Dan’s parents received him open arms and teased us about how we coddled him: a hot water bottle wrapped in a soft towel to keep him warm on the trip up, special treats, kitty toys, portable litter box. The car was so loaded with paraphernalia one might have thought we actually had a human child.

Dolby explored the parsonage with his usual enthusiasm, dropping to his belly and slinking around every corner, into every nook and cranny, under every piece of furniture. He was oblivious to the less-than-warm welcome he got from the resident feline, Caterina. I think it annoyed her even more that he seemed to care not one whit what she thought about his invasion of her territory. He was a kitten. He was busy being cute and curious. Brat.

He managed to get into a fair amount of trouble—attempting to climb the Christmas tree, disappearing into the small storage along the rear of the house under the roof. We were pretty careful to keep an eye on him, not knowing what he might get into in this new environment. Much of the time we kept him in our room with the door closed to protect him but often we left him to explore on his own, so long as we were in the house to keep an ear out for mischief.

One night of our stay, Mary made spaghetti for supper, with her famous meat sauce. As we sat in the dining room sipping our wine and enjoying the conversation, suddenly there was a crash in the kitchen. Dan, who was closest, jumped up. “Dolby!” he exclaimed, and dashed into the kitchen to see what the rascal had destroyed now.

He couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds when out of nowhere, a pair of pointy ears and a tiny black and white paw appeared over the edge of the table. In a flash, Dolby snatched a claw-full of pasta and meat, crammed it into his mouth, and took of like a shot.

Wes and Mary and I stared in disbelief, honestly too surprised to have even reacted. A moment later, Dan came back into the dining room shaking his head. He had been unable to determine what Dolby had knocked over in the kitchen. He stopped short on the threshold and looked at us.

“What?” he asked.

“You are not going to believe what just happened,” said Mary. She began recounting the fast-as-lightening theft right from Dan’s plate. By the end of her story, she was having a difficult time talking through her laughter.

Dan was incredulous, but one glance at the sauce on his chair proved the tale. He stared at me. “You don’t think he deliberately created a diversion so I’d get up and go to the kitchen so he could steal my spaghetti?”

“That’s exactly what he did, the little criminal,” I responded with a ridiculous grin.

With this, only the second in a long, long history of devilishly clever food thefts, Dolby was honing his burglary skills. He was smart as a whip and devious to boot. No food would be safe in our house. He actually even ate green beans once!

He’s damn lucky he was cute.

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