Precious Little Hattie Returns Home for Her Sixth Consecutive, but Hopefully Not Last, Christmas
|Hattie and Allan Spurgeon|
"I really love animals and taking care of them. I'm going to feel really bad some year when she doesn't come back."
-- Allan Spurgeon
Christmas long since has come and gone but there always is time for one more yuletide story to warm the heart on a cold February evening. That is especially the case for one whose setting is familiar to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and whose storyline mimics that of Cleveland Amory's much celebrated 1987 book, The Cat Who Came for Christmas.
The protagonist in this touching tale is a fifteen-year-old longhaired white cat named Hattie who for distinguishing marks has a faint gray spot between her ears. Like her mother and great-grandfather she was born on Allan Spurgeon's farm in tiny Hope, Minnesota.
Her first nine years on this earth were unexceptional but about six years ago she began to roam. In particular, she disappears each May and does not show up again until a few days just before Christmas. Spurgeon and his family accordingly have dubbed her "the Christmas Cat."
"It's cool that she comes back before Christmas -- just in case there is a gift for her just like a child would," he told The Leader of Owatonna on December 29th. (See "'Christmas Cat' Returns -- Again -- to Farm Near Hope.")
Last December, for example, she returned on Christmas Eve but did not leave the insulated shed that serves as her home on the farm until four days later. Because of her advanced years, Spurgeon was somewhat surprised that she even returned at all.
That was strictly a case of dejà vu as far as he was concerned because he felt the same way the first time that she disappeared. "I looked in all the buildings and ditches and didn't find her anywhere, thought she was gone," Spurgeon told The Leader. "Then on the morning of Christmas Eve the first year, she returned."
Hattie's comings and goings are every bit as puzzling as they are miraculous in that Spurgeon never has been able to discover where she spends her summers and autumns. "It's a mystery to us," he told The Leader. "She's the only one (of his barn cats) that wanders."
Owatonna veterinarian Stephen Krumm believes that she is living on her own nearby. "She probably is living off the land in the summer and returns home during the winter just like we have summer and winter homes sometimes," he theorized to The Leader.
Spurgeon at first thought that she might be residing at the Hope Campground but since the water there is shut off in early autumn that does not seem likely. He also dismisses the notion that she could be staying with summer residents because he does not know of any in Hope.
Cats are forever a mystery and that makes deciphering their behavior a very dicey proposition. "The wonderful thing about the cat is the way in which, when one of its many mysteries is laid bare, it is only to reveal another," Robert De Laroche wrote in The Secret Life of Cats. "The essential enigma always remains intact, a sphinx within a sphinx within a sphinx."
Nevertheless, it is known that they can tell time more accurately than Breitling and that they possess a keen sense of direction that enables them to find their way home across hundreds and even thousands of miles. (See Cat Defender post of April 27, 2007 entitled "French Cat Mimine Walks Eight-Hundred Kilometers to Track Down Family That Abandoned Her.")
They also have a penchant for place which is attested to by the old proverb that stipulates that dogs belong to people but cats to places. For Example, in late 2010 a black and white shorthaired male named Boomerang was trapped at an apartment complex in Stayton, Oregon, by Shannon Johnson of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon.
He then was placed with a farmer on the outskirts of Sublimity, eight or so miles removed from the apartment complex. He stayed there for a week before bolting back up Highway 213 to his old abode.
Johnson promptly trapped him again and returned him to the farm with the same result. That is when she decided to change tactics.
"Obviously, this cat needs to be an indoor-only cat, which makes it harder to find him a home," she told the Statesman Journal on December 10, 2010. (See "Boomerang the Cat Lives Up to His Name.") "But he's such a gentle little cat. I know he'd make a good family pet."
Not only is imprisoning cats indoors cruel but it is hazardous to their health as well. In this particular instance that expedient would not have been necessary if Johnson had not so badly botched both adoptions.
|Boomerang and Shannon Johnson|
In particular, she instructed the unidentified farmer to crate Boomerang for three days. First of all, cats never should be confined to cages except when traveling.
Second of all, seventy-two hours is too short of an interval in order to expect one to adjust to a new environment. Once that is taken into consideration on top of the trauma of being caged it is not surprising that Boomerang took to his heels at the first opportunity.
A far better alternative would have been to confine him indoors for a month but uncaged. That would have given him sufficient time in order to have adjusted to both his new environment and caretakers.
If he had been fed and treated well during that interim it likely then would have been safe to have given him free rein of the farm. By that time his memories of his hardscrabble life at the apartment complex hopefully would have not only receded but been replaced by new and positive ones associated with his new home.
It therefore is not anything out of the ordinary that Hattie is able to not only find her way home but at precisely Christmastime. Attempting to unravel the mystery surrounding her behavior is an entirely different matter.
Krumm's theory that she is living off the land seems unlikely because winter comes early to southern Minnesota and heavy snows and subfreezing temperatures are not uncommon as early as October. With most wildlife either having migrated or gone into hibernation, there is little for her to eat and even obtaining drinking water in such a frigid environment would be difficult.
The most plausible explanation therefore is that she has been befriended by tourists. Since Spurgeon does not know of any in Hope, it is likely that Hattie has ventured outside the area.
These summer residents very well could be taking her inside and showering her with the love, attention, and treats that she is denied by Spurgeon. After all, there must be some motivating factor behind her abrupt decision to roam.
As far as it is known, cats do not suffer from mid-life crises and since she has been spayed she obviously is not looking for a mate. Wanderlust, while a distinct possibility, does not seem likely.
Nevertheless, something triggered her roaming and that could have been related to either some new development or newcomer to Spurgeon's farm six years ago. It also is conceivable that she has developed a disdain for all the hustle and bustle that occurs during planting and harvesting.
If she indeed has secured a summer home, it would not be unusual for her caregivers to cruelly abandon her to her own devices at around Christmastime each year. Such revolting behavior, after all, occurs all the time.
For example, back in 2009 Mike and Ann Hirz of Poynette, Wisconsin, hightailed it to Green Valley, Arizona, and in doing so left behind a five-year-old tuxedo named Domino to tough it out on her own in the cold and snow. Even more outrageously, that callous decision was made after feeding her for four years and even adopting one of her kittens. (See Cat Defender posts of May 8, 2009 and February 20, 2010 entitled, respectively, "Domino, Feral and All Alone, Faces an Uncertain Future in Wisconsin Following an Unplanned Trip to Arizona" and "Abandoned and Left to Die in the Cold and Snow of Wisconsin, Domino Was the Most Memorable Cat of 2009.")
The sad and appalling truth of the matter is that few individuals recognize cats as moral equals. Rather, they use and abuse them before eventually either abandoning them or having them killed off by shelters and veterinarians once they have outlived their usefulness to them.
The only thing therefore to be said positive about Hattie's summertime guardians, if they in fact do exist, is that by leaving her behind Spurgeon is still able to have the pleasure of her companionship. Otherwise, he never would have known what became of her.
"I really love animals and taking care of them," he vowed to The Leader. "I'm going to feel really bad some year when she doesn't come back."
In addition to the perils posed by the elements and motorists, there also are predator coyotes, foxes, and owls in the area. Skin cancer is another concern, especially for white cats such as Hattie.
If she is going to left outdoors for long periods of time, sunscreen needs to be applied to her ears, nose, and possibly the area around her eyes. Equipping her with some sort of protective headgear is another option worth exploring. (See Cat Defender post of November 14, 2012 entitled "In Utter Desperation, Victoria Claws Off Her Rotting Ears after She Is Stricken with Cancer and Abandoned to Aimlessly Wander the Forbidding Streets of Newent.")
Even more alarmingly, as a senior cat time is no longer on her side. Like all elderly animals, man included, she needs an easier lifestyle and prompt access to competent medical care.
"She's a tough animal," Spurgeon added insouciantly. "I was worried at first, but she is obviously doing okay."
Her longevity is attributable in no small part to her genes. Her mother, for instance, is sixteen years old and still lives on the farm whereas her great-grandfather lived to the ripe old age of fifteen.
Sadly, she and her mother are the last of the line given that both of them have been sterilized. That makes Spurgeon's apparent indifference to Hattie's well-being all the more appalling.
The care of an outdoor cat is one of the most perplexing and heart-wrenching dilemmas imaginable. Despite the obvious difficulties, Spurgeon should be doing everything in his power in order to preserve and prolong her sojourn on this earth. That is of the utmost importance not only if he truly cares about her but also in order to avoid any later regrets.
While she is safely at home he should be canvassing surrounding towns in an effort to identify summer residents. He then could contact those individuals and inquire about Hattie.
Secondly, either he or his grandsons could trail her once she leaves the farm in May. If that is not feasible, he might want to consider equipping her with a GPS collar.
Should be choose to pursue that latter option, it is imperative that the collar be removed as soon as possible before it causes her any bodily harm. (See Cat Defender posts of May 28, 2008 and June 22, 2010 entitled, respectively, "Collars Turn into Death Traps for Trooper and Que but Both Are Rescued at the Eleventh Hour" and "Hobson Is Forced to Wander Around Yorkshire for Months Trapped in an Elastic Collar That Steadily Was Eating Away at His Shoulder and Leg.")
In that same vein perhaps even a conventional one with a name tag would suffice. If feasible, a brief note could be enclosed in the tag.
The best solution considering her age would be for Spurgeon to bring her inside and attempt to win her over with tons of treats and loads of affection. That way she might be less inclined to leave in May.
Besides, no cat should be forced to live outdoors during Minnesota's rugged winters. Condemning a cat to do so is the epitome of animal cruelty.
Hattie, quite obviously, is a very special cat. Her life is precious and it is imperative that Spurgeon wake up and realize that before it is too late.
The rigors of everyday existence alienate most individuals from the things that are really important in this life. The same can be said for such foolish pursuits as wealth, fame, domination, and hedonistic pleasures.
Consequently, the things that really matter, such as youth, health, friends and family, the animals, and Mother Earth, are relegated to afterthoughts in people's busy lives. At the very top of the list of undervalued treasures that this world has to offer is the companionship and love of a cat.
The sand is fast running out of the hourglass but Hattie's unexpected return on Christmas Eve has bestowed upon Spurgeon a priceless opportunity to atone for his years of neglect and to play a decisive role in not only extending her golden years but in making them as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. Carpe diem!
Photos: Ashley Stewart of The Leader (Hattie and Spurgeon), Timothy J. Gonzalez of the Statesman Journal (Boomerang and Johnson), and the Green Valley News (Domino).