Tabor's Long and Winding Road Finally Leads Her Back Home but Leaves Her with a Broken Heart
"I really needed the companionship. I'm homeless. Depression is a big thing out there. The cat was a rainbow in a dark world."
-- Michael King
For both cats and humans alike the game of life pretty much unfolds according to the same script. Beginning when they first open their eyes and gaze out upon the wonders of creation and culminating with the extinguishment of all light and their return to a world of darkness, the intervening years for the both of them are characterized by a long series of hellos and good-byes. Hearty hellos to life and youthful companions followed by the inevitable mournful good-byes to one and all and everything else to boot.
For a four-year-old white and gray cat named Tabor and forty-eight-year-old Michael King their first hellos were exchanged at around midnight during the middle of last September. The rain was coming down in buckets and they found themselves in the unenviable position of being caught out on the forbidding streets of Portland without the benefit of either shelter or friends.
The teeming streets of any metropolitan city can be lively and even beguiling during the daytime but once the nighttime descends upon them they take on an altogether different hue. The salubrious warmth and light so generously provided by Old Sol is soon supplanted by darkness and cold.
The multitudinous and grasping bourgeoisie quickly forsake their counting houses in favor of their opulent suburban estates only to be replaced by a considerably smaller, although by no means less dangerous, contingent of predators who either by choice or circumstances prowl the deserted streets an ungodly hours. Danger lurks around every corner and a haunting loneliness every bit as palpable as the falling precipitation envelops all the familiar landmarks.
It nevertheless was that improbable milieu that furnished the backdrop for the genesis of this tender, albeit tragically brief, love story. The lyrics to Rita Coolidge's "Love Came for Me," which she sang for the 1984 movie, Splash, readily come to mind:
"One fine night
Love let us see
How far we'll go
How good we'll be.
We saw a world
No one ever saw before
It was the world
Love can start
With the beat of a heart."
It is funny how love seems to always turn up at the least opportune times and to bring with it all sorts of unintended consequences. "Love is a fire," actress Joan Crawford once volunteered. "But whether it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell."
As he approached the Tabor Hill Cafe at 3766 Southeast Hawthorne Street on that fateful night, King spotted a frightened and emaciated cat cowering underneath a table. She not only was soaked to the bone but sporting a swollen eye as well. Homeless himself since 2003, the last thing that he seemingly needed in this world was a cat.
"I see cats all the time," he later told the Independent Record of Helena on June 17th. (See "'The Cat Was a Rainbow in a Dark World'.") "I don't pick up cats. I don't want a cat, especially a full-grown one."
Be that as it may, apparently all it took was one look and he had himself a traveling companion. "Something told me to grab her," he added. "I don't know."
Taking on the awesome responsibility of caring for a cat is a daunting task even for those individuals blessed with homes and fat bank accounts but for an unemployed and homeless individual it is pretty much unthinkable. In addition to the obvious problems associated with procuring food and shelter for it, an individual without property does not have any tangible means of either protecting or even retaining possession of it.
Nevertheless, there always has existed a fraternity comprised of homeless individuals and their cats and, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, King elected to take the cat underneath his protective wing. Since he had found her at the restaurant he according named her Tabor.
Although he was not in the market for a cat, King was far from being unacquainted with their personalities, needs, and charms. Earlier, when he was settled into a permanent abode, he had owned several of them including a pair of Himalayans. His own pressing needs sans doute also factored heavily into his decision to befriend Tabor.
"I really needed the companionship," he confessed to the Independent Record. "I'm homeless. Depression is a big thing out there. The cat was a rainbow in a dark world."
Although King's motivation easily can be comprehended, it is considerably more difficult to decipher what Tabor ever saw in him. That is especially the case in light of the fact that most cats are, with perfectly good reason, scared to death of strangers and will not allow them to come anywhere near them.
|Tabor and Michael King|
Press reports fail to clarify whether she took up with him on the spot or if that occurred only after an extended period of feeding and socialization. The latter would seem to be a more likely scenario but, regardless of the logistics, Tabor soon trusted King to such an extent that he not only was able to get close to her but to stuff her into his backpack and make off with her as well.
The first orders of business were to attend to her injured eye and to procure food and water for her. Given that they both were without homes, he also was forced into purchasing a collar, leash, and carrier in order to move her around with him.
Altogether, Tabor, her food, and accouterment added about twenty pounds to King's backpack. Although that may not sound like an awful lot, even so much as a single additional pound can be readily felt by those who are forced to carry around the sum total of their worldly possessions on their backs.
Not surprisingly, the chronically homeless suffer disproportionately from sciatica and other debilitating maladies that affect the lower back and knees. On the positive side of the equation, Tabor's liabilities were more than compensated for by not only the companionship that she afforded King but also the profound change that her presence precipitated in how others reacted to him.
"She's a big hit on the streets of Portland," King told the Independent Record in the article cited supra. "Very rarely do you see a cat riding on top of someone's backpack."
Curious passerby accordingly would stop and photograph them and that doubtlessly put a few shekels in King's pocket. After all, it is well-known that individuals who normally would not give a poor man so much as a solitary sou quite often are willing to fork over fistfuls of greenbacks to him if he is accompanied by either a cat or some other animal. Regardless of whatever position they may occupy within society's pecking order, the way that people do their sums can only be described as bizarre.
King and Tabor hung around Portland for another three weeks until the weather turned even nastier than it was on the night when they first met. He listed her on craigslist's lost and found bulletin board but when no one came forward to reclaim her he took off with her for a warmer climate.
The details of their itinerary are rather sketchy but the high point of their adventure seems to have been hitchhiking one-thousand-two-hundred-eighty-three kilometers from Portland to Ventura, California. In the spring they returned to Portland after making stops along the way at Yosemite National Park, the Sacramento River, and several unidentified hot springs.
Once back in Portland, they did not stick around for very long before setting out for Montana in order to visit King's brother, John, in Dillon and his foster parent, Walt Ebert, in Helena. Somewhere along the way they witnessed a cattle stampede and King picked up Kyle Brecheen as a traveling companion.
The fact that he not only was able to hang onto Tabor but to keep her safe from harm throughout such an extended amount of travel and under such trying circumstances has to be one of the most stupendous accomplishments of all time. The only remotely comparable feat in recent memory belongs to a German ex-pat named Brigitte who has been living for the past fourteen years with a white Persian named Mumu at the Son Sant Joan Aeropuerto in Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands. (See Cat Defender post of November 3, 2008 entitled "Down and Out in Paradise: Against All Odds, Brigitte and Mumu Strive to Forge New Lives for Themselves at Mallorcan Airport.")
King's and Brigitte's accomplishments put to shame those domiciled owners with money to burn who are either unable or unwilling to take proper care of their resident felines. For example, some of them are so inept that they are incapable of even transporting a cat to the vet without losing it along the way. (See Cat Defender post of March 7, 2008 entitled "Georgia Is Found Safe and Sound After Spending a Harrowing Twenty-Five Days Lost in the Bowels of the New York City Subway System.")
On the other hand, the formidable obstacles faced by the homeless cannot in any way be understated. "Transients flow back and forth across the country, and up and down the coasts. They are of little moment," John D. MacDonald wrote in his 1982 novel, Cinnamon Skin. "They become the unidentified bones in abandoned orchards."
Society in turn treats their cats in an even harsher and more cavalier manner. For instance, even those with automobiles, such as Jeff Young of Olympia, Washington, Henriette Henault of 100 Mile House in British Columbia, and Barbara Morrell of Levittown, Pennsylvania, were unable to hang on to their cats despite their best efforts to the contrary. (See Cat Defender post of March 2, 2012 entitled "Homeless Man in Washington State Pauses in Order to Take a Snooze and It Ends Up Costing Him His Beloved Cat, Herman.")
King was able to avoid these pitfalls by keeping Tabor tethered to a ten-foot leash and, at other times, locking her in a carrier. Most important of all, he never allowed her out of his sight.
In doing so, he has made liars out of all of those who claim that it is nearly impossible to travel with a cat. It is not an easy feat to pull off, but if an individual has the right equipment, the prerequisite savior-faire, and is willing to be diligent, it most assuredly can be done.
|Creto, Tabor, and Ron Buss in Earlier Times|
Best of all as far as Tabor was concerned, she only rarely was forced to break so much as a sweat. "We've traveled thirty-six-hundred miles and the cat's probably got a half mile walking," he told the Independent Record.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end sometime and storybook endings rarely endure for very long in the real world. The beginning of the end came in June when King and Ebert took Tabor to Helena Veterinary Service (HVS) for a routine checkup.
The good news was that Tabor's health could not have been better. "The cat was in awesome shape," veterinary technician Maddie Parker told the Independent Record. "He had taken good care of it."
The bad news was that Old Parker Bird, either of her own volition or acting upon instructions from King, scanned Tabor and located an implanted microchip. That led to the revelation that she and her brother, Creto, had been owned by Ronald A. Buss of 2232 Southeast 37th Avenue in Portland ever since he had rescued them from a neighbor's porch after they had been cruelly abandoned as two-week-old kittens.
That not only explains Tabor's friendly demeanor but her love of the open road as well. "We were a team," Buss said of them in an interview with The Oregonian of Portland on June 17th. (See "After Ten Months, Thirty-Five-Hundred Miles, Cat Coming Home to Portland.") "We'd go everywhere together. They loved to travel."
As it now turns out Tabor, whom Buss refers to as Mata Hairi in honor of a character from the 1970's television show, "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp," as opposed to the famous World War I German spy, Mata Hari, had mysteriously disappeared from his home on September 1st. It has not been spelled out in media reports what steps he took in order to secure her return other than that he quite obviously neglected to consult craigslist.
Locating a lost cat is nearly an impossible task even under the best of circumstances so it is difficult to fault Buss too much without knowing all the facts. Nevertheless, it is odd that no one apparently ever reported seeing Tabor even though she was living only a nine-minute walk from Buss's house for at least a fortnight. If he had blanketed the neighborhood with Lost Cat posters, he conceivably might have located her almost immediately.
His apparent lack of due diligence possibly could be attributed to the fact that this marked the second time that Tabor had done a runner and some owners simply are unwilling to chase down cats that will not stay at home. That, for example, more than likely explains New York City Police Officer Jimmy Helliessen's nonchalant reaction the second time that his cat, Disaster, vanished from his home in Woodmere, Long Island.
That assumption is buttressed by his decision to put him up for adoption immediately after his dramatic Easter morning rescue in Manhattan's Times Square. (See Cat Defender post of May 30, 2013 entitled "Stone-Broke, Homeless, and All Alone at the Crossroads of the World, Disaster Is Snatched from Harm's Way by a Representative of the Walking Dead.")
In Tabor's case, she earlier had unwittingly committed the rather common feline mistake of getting trapped inside the trunk of a neighbor's automobile and as a result had wound up thirteen kilometers from home in Vancouver, Washington. (See Cat Defender post of November 6, 2006 entitled "Trapped in a Moving Van for Five Days, Texas Cat Named Neo Is Finally Freed in Colorado.")
She compounded that initial mistake by fleeing into the woods once the trunk was unlocked and thus was forced to rough it for six months until she was rescued by an unidentified individual and turned over to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW) in Vancouver. As the HVS later would do again, the HSSW found Tabor's implanted microchip and she promptly was returned to Buss.
Just as things eventually turned out for him in Vancouver, it is conceivable that Buss once again was relying upon technology to do his legwork for him. "That was so uncanny that she was found the first time but the second -- two in a million," he exclaimed to The Oregonian. "It's quite an insurance policy."
By that he is referring to the $90 that the chip initially cost him plus its $18 annual service charge. Despite all the miraculous reunions and incredible stories that implanted microchips have been responsible for relying upon them in order to protect cats is not only foolhardy but irresponsible as well.
That is because they are totally useless when it comes to safeguarding them from individuals and other predators who are intent upon doing them harm. (See Cat Defender post of May 25, 2006 entitled "Plato's Misadventures Expose the Pitfalls of RFID Technology as Applied to Cats.")
They additionally have been linked to cancer. (See Cat Defender posts of September 21, 2007 and November 6, 2010 entitled, respectively, "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs" and "Bulkin Contracts Cancer from an Implanted Microchip and Now It Is Time for Digital Angel and Merck to Answer for Their Crimes in a Court of Law.")
|Sky and Woody|
Implanted microchips suffer from a third fatal flaw in that most veterinarians charge a princely sum in order to scan and read them and in King's case that initially was not feasible. "If I had money, I'd of done it ten months ago," he pledged to the Independent Record.
All of those negatives pale in comparison, however, with the disastrous consequences associated with allowing veterinarians and shelters to scan all cats that are brought into their surgeries and death houses. Although it is not known if this practice is mandatory across the board, it never-theless constitutes yet still another simply outrageous encroachment upon the liberties of cats and their guardians.
This is because numerous cats and other animals rescued from the streets and fields should not under any circumstances be returned to their lawful owners. In this case, the fact that Buss carelessly has allowed Tabor to go AWOL on at least two separate occasions constitutes a prima facie case that he is not a suitable guardian for her.
The case is even stronger where farm and laboratory animals are involved and the concerns extend well beyond implanted microchips to other types of tracking and snooping devices as well. Whereas property law dictates that they must be returned to their lawful owners, doing so is not only patently immoral but contrary to, at least, the spirit and intent of the anti-cruelty statutes.
It additionally is simply reprehensible to condemn animals whose lives the Fates have intervened in order to spare to additional suffering and repeated trips to the slaughterhouse. For example on May 21st, the Jersey City Police rescued a diminutive brown female goat named Sky from the Pulaski Skyway who, owing to a USDA tag stapled to one of her ears, it is believed earlier had escaped from her executioners while en route to the slaughterhouse.
"If it can survive roaming around the Pulaski Skyway for two hours and then winds up in a slaughterhouse, it's kind of sad," Stan Eason, a spokesman for Jersey City, told The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 22nd. (See "Escaped Goat Snarls Commute on Busy Highway.") "But if someone claims her, she is private property so there's not much we can do."
It has not been disclosed whether or not her owner attempted to reclaim her but at last word Sky, mercifully, had been relocated to a farm in Wantage, northern New Jersey, where she almost immediately was befriended by a thirty-one-year-old horse named Woody. (See The Jersey Journal of Jersey City, May 22, 2013, "Goat That Caused Traffic Mayhem on Pulaski Skyway Enjoying Farm Life.")
That is a good first step and hopefully Sky will be allowed to live out her life there free of abuse and exploitation. In the meantime, Jersey City needs to urgently rethink how it deals with animals such as Sky. In particular, the city should immediately implement an enlightened and humane policy that explicitly prohibits any of its employees from returning animals that are destined to be either abused or killed. The only consideration that animal abusers and killers are entitled to under such circumstances is a short refrain of "finders keepers, losers weepers."
Should worse come to worst, the city has plenty of money and therefore easily could ransom the lives of such horribly abused animals from the cutthroat capitalist that own them. It is reprehensible enough that slaughterhouses and animal research laboratories are allowed to operate in the first place but for public employees to aid and abet them in the commission of their diabolical crimes is every bit just as indefensible.
Returning to Tabor, King's unparalleled devotion and care of her are eclipsed only by his mind-boggling decision to relinquish custody of her to Buss without so much as putting up a fight. "She is going to go back home where she belongs," he told the Independent Record. "I didn't want a cat in the first place. I just thought I was saving someone's cat. And that's what I've done."
His decision to take her to Ebert's home in Helena and then on to HVS tends to lend credence to the suspicion that he had made up his mind sometime ago to get rid of her. Besides, if he really cared about her he would have settled down with her long ago.
Although it may not have been feasible for him to have provided her with a conventional home, he most assuredly could have lived with her in either a tent or a ramshackle hut in the woods. Based upon his past history, however, that would not have been in keeping with either his lifestyle or aspirations.
King appears to be a wanderer who is searching for something that is not easily afforded by conventional society. Back in 2003 after another companion of his had died and he had lost both his job and pad, he simply threw in the towel and joined the ranks of the obdachlos. "I packed two backpacks and just walked away from everything," he revealed to the Independent Record.
He now has Brecheen for a companion and no longer either needs or wants Tabor. Even if he had felt differently, it is by no means certain that he would have been able to prevail if Buss had elected to challenge his ownership of her in a court of law.
Nevertheless, perhaps on some cold and rainy night in the not too distant future after Brecheen has left him and he is sleeping underneath a bridge he may come to terribly regret his decision to let her go. At that moment he also belatedly may come to feel about Tabor as Janis Joplin once said of Bobby McGee:
"I'd trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday
To be holding Bobby's body next to mine."
He also is getting on in years and life on the road is preeminently a younger man's game. If he has not arrived at that conclusion already, the point will be rudely driven home to him in another ten years or so.
Life not only becomes increasingly difficult with the ebbing of youthful vitality but this wretched society is constantly changing and it definitely is not for the better. All of those considerations serve only to make the special kind of love that only a cat can offer all the more precious.
|Bob with James Bowen's Book|
Tabor provided King with unconditional love, unstinting loyalty, companionship, and a raison d'être. He therefore should have look upon her as anything but a burden.
Tabor and King were scheduled to have said their final good-byes in Portland sometime during the third week of June. In a denouement that was destined to be filled with every bit as much melancholy as Larry McMurtry's 1985 novel, Lonesome Dove, Buss was planning on inviting his family and friends to a homecoming celebration where Tabor was to be served a special treat consisting of ground-up raw chicken, egg yolks, and vitamins.
Although King has been somewhat sang-froid about relinquishing custody of her, he at least has admitted that he is going to miss her. "There's going to be six or seven men crying the day I give her away," he told the Independent Record. "My pack will be twenty pounds lighter but a big hole, a big hole."
He has not announced any immediate plans but more than likely he and Brecheen by now are back out on the road. Since his and Tabor's story has gone viral on the web, there accordingly is the distinct possibility of future radio and television appearances and even a book deal might not be totally out of the question.
That is precisely how things eventually turned out for thirty-four-year-old James Bowen of London who was not only homeless but a heroin addict and a petty criminal to boot before a stray ginger tom named Bob came into his life in 2007. The moral support and companionship provided by Bob not only has enabled him to kick his drug habit but also to get his life back together.
"I believe it came down to this little man," Bowen told the London Evening Standard on March 15, 2012. (See "Bob the Busking Cat.") "He came and asked me for help, and he needed me more than I needed to abuse my own body."
At last report, Bob was doing well and Bowen was still entertaining promenaders at Covent Garden in the West End as well as hawking the Big Issue, a magazine produced and sold by the homeless. Most amazing of all, his book, A Street Cat Named Bob, was published last year by Hodder. (See Daily Mail, March 29, 2012, "One Man and His Cat on the Road to Recovery.")
Critics maintain, however, that he is merely exploiting Bob as a profitable panhandling prop in much the same fashion as Rebecca Lemon and Nick Tsiomos are doing with Cheddar on the Las Vegas Strip. (See the Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 14, 2012, "Daytime Ban Against Animals on Strip Elicts a Cat's Yawn.")
As for Tabor, her future does not look anywhere near as rosy as Bob's. During his prior guardianship of her, Buss turned her loose to roam the streets of Portland all day while he was away, presumably at work, and that is what precipitated her two disappearances. Now that she is back home, he is contemplating a radical change in policy.
"I'm thinking of keeping her inside," he told The Oregonian in the article cited supra. "She likes to ramble."
Tabor is not about to cotton to being either grounded or ignored for lengthy periods of time. This is a cat who, after all, has grown accustomed to spending all of her time alongside King.
Even when she and King were staying with Ebert in Helena she not only would constantly stare at her guardian but meow as well whenever he so much as left the room. She also would lick his face and tug at his beard in order to awaken him each morning.
It would not be surprising therefore if her little heart has not been broken into a million pieces as the result of King's cruel abandonment of her. Once he walked out of Buss's house and closed the door behind him, her little heart surely must have skipped a beat or two.
Once that panic attack had subsided, it likely was replaced by both a mind-numbing depression and the cold, hard realization that he would not be coming back. To have known and lost such a devoted caretaker must be making it extremely difficult for her to even cope.
Contrary to what King and all others like him think, cats have feelings just like humans and other animals. Caring for them accordingly consists of a good deal more than simply providing them with shelter and food and an occasional friendly pat on the head.
So, in the end, Buss has gotten back the cat that he always has treated pretty much like a fifth wheel and King now has his freedom to drift all over the West unencumbered with Brecheen. Both of them have used and deserted Tabor without so much as a second thought as to her needs and desires.
While it would not be either compassionate, prudent, or helpful to endorse PETA's call for the abolition of pet ownership, there can be little disputing that the extreme selfishness, dereliction of moral responsibility, and uncaring attitudes exhibited by both King and Buss toward Tabor have given the practice a simply God-awful reputation.
Photos: Dylan Stone of the Independent Record (Tabor by herself and with King), Ron Buss (Tabor, Creto, and himself), The Jersey Journal (Sky and Woody), and the London Evening Standard (Bob with Bowen's book).