Nov. 21—Eight years ago, I fell in love with a cat.
Two cats, actually, but for the sake of this shameful narrative, I'll just focus on the one.
Her name is Michonne and the first time I saw her, behind the glass at the animal shelter, I knew she was coming home with me. I mean, I knew it instantly. Love at first sight, or something. There's just something about this cat, all black and sleek with penetrating eyes and a kindly nature about her. She tapped at the glass as I passed, wanting to play.
For eight years, this cat has been by my side pretty much all day and every day. Some of the most gruesome crime stories I've written were written with the keyboard on my lap because the cat had settled onto my desk and who wants to disturb a sleeping and comfortable cat?
Such a gentle and dignified lady, she is. Such a sweet and peaceful creature.
Until a couple weeks ago, that is, when I had to wrestle her into a crate in order to take her to see a veterinarian.
Sweet? Not that day, cat fans. On that grim October afternoon, my calm and lovely lady expressed her dissatisfaction with this turn of events by releasing her inner jungle beast.
I first tried to trick her into the pet carrier by throwing some bits of food in there. She started in, sensed betrayal, and then fled hissing for safer quarters.
My wife tried to pick up Michonne and got mauled in the process. I then had to wrestle the cat out from under the bed and it was like trying to handle a Tasmanian devil wrapped with barbed wire.
She screamed, did the cat, and twisted and thrashed and hissed. I got her into the crate and she immediately began throwing herself at its sides, causing the carrier to wobble wildly in my hands. When that didn't work, she began attacking the door, causing it to shake and tremble on its fragile hinges. She howled, did Michonne, not in fear or pain but in a consummate rage. It was the sound of fearsome night on the sub-Saharan savanna and it both broke my heart and caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up straight.
The short drive to the vet's office was a horror. Michonne continued to scream and from behind the barred carrier door, she glowered at me. Glowered, I say! This mild and adoring cat, who sometimes sleeps under the covers with me, now seemed to be having lusty thoughts about my jugular vein.
When I got to the vet's office, my nerves jumping like sparking wires, I ran into the office to tell the lady at the desk that I had a very unhappy cat coming in.
"Oh, that's OK," she said. "We're used to that around here."
And yet when I brought Michonne into the building, still shrieking, the lady's eyebrows went up and at once, she found us a back room in which to house the raging house pet.
The door of her prison opened, Michonne continued to glower, her eyes as big and as black as hockey pucks. She growled and arched her back as she surveyed the alien surroundings, perhaps wondering who among us was here to kill her.
"How can you possibly examine a cat this furious?" I asked the young lady who came into the room. "Clearly, you're going to have to sedate her before you can do anything helpful. Dear God, woman, put on some Kevlar!"
The young lady smiled warmly — warmly and in a way that suggested that she'd heard this kind of talk before from nerve jangled pet owners like me. Then she approached Michonne with a blanket, talking sweetly as she moved, and within seconds, she had the jungle beast swaddled and sitting atop an examination table.
No drama, no horror. Just stupefying finesse.
Another lady came in and was able to dig something (I don't think I want to know what) from Michonne's ear while also examining her teeth. This doctor also drew blood from the cat, but by that point, I was staggering out in the lobby in a near faint.
Here's the point I'm taking forever to make. Veterinarians and their various assistants are like magicians to me. It was like that when I used to bring my pets to Dr. Stephen Kinney over in Auburn and it was like that during my more recent visit to the VCA Animal Hospital here in Lewiston.
The deftness with which they handle animals to me is like a superpower. They manage to take complete control over a disturbed creature while also maintaining compassion for both pet and white-faced, swooning pet owner. I admire these people to no end, and from time to time I depend on them because when it comes to manhandling my own cat, I've proven myself to be a complete and utter wuss.
In the end, the valiant veterinary staff found two things ailing my cat: A bad tooth and an ear infection. And here for weeks, I had been preparing myself for the worst, so fearful of dire news from the vet that I actually balked at consulting one for a full year.
But instead of bringing Michonne home in a box to be buried in, I brought her home with two bottles of medication. Of course, my wife had to administer it because as I've admitted so recently, when it comes to handling cats, I ain't got no game. One sad yowl from the afflicted puss and I'm completely undone.
But whatever. Back at home, in spite of the poking and prodding and humiliation of imprisonment, Michonne didn't seem to hold a grudge. Freed from that wretched box, she looked around her familiar surroundings, seemed to think "Well THAT was weird," and more or less went about business as normal. To this day, my jugular vein is intact and no hard feelings seem to be held.
Growing up, we never brought our cats to the vets for things like routine checkups. We had outdoor cats and they lived happy, carousing lives right up until the moment they were run over by cars, and only then did we haul our wounded pets to the animal clinic around the corner to face the merciful end. For years, I had come to view veterinarians as mere agents of death, but I know better now. Vets are wizards of healing, even if the animal in question has no interest at all in submitting to the prescribed treatment.
Michonne fought the good fight when the moment came, but ultimately, the good people of the pet hospital did what they had to do and I still have a cat because of it. I'm grateful. I'm impressed.
I'm writing this column with the keyboard wobbling on my lap because Michonne has settled in on the desktop and what are you going to do, huh?
Mark LaFlamme: Jumping beans, Silly String and other LaVerdiere's treasures available here!