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A Cat Named Lazarus

by Dorothy Hamm
I once knew a cat named Lazarus. She was a tailless Manx whose black, yellow and brown markings blended to create a tortoise-shell effect.

Lazarus came to live with my family when she was three weeks old. Her first hosts, (I hesitate to use the term owners,) could detect no signs of life in the tiny kitten when she was born and they placed her in the trash can. The next morning they heard mewing and rustling and upon investigation found her moving about in the garbage. They cleaned her up, and because she had seemingly come back from the dead, named her Lazarus.

Only 3 weeks later they decided they did not want any pets, not even one named for a biblical character. Someone said they would take the mother cat, but they did not want the kitten. At the time I thought that was terribly cold-hearted. Later, the thought would cross my mind that maybe they had physic abilities.

I was far too busy to take on the care of a kitten I said. But my son wanted the kitten so much and when I saw the tiny kitten who only measured three inches in length, I was unable to refuse sanctuary. I gave her baby formula with an eyedropper until I could buy a doll's bottle. I’ve since been told that cats should not be given cow's milk but Lazarus survived quite well on it. I could hold up the bottle for her to see and she would run to me to be fed. I would hold her much the same as I hold any baby, in the crook of my arm, looking into her eyes as she lapped formula from the tiny bottle. This kind of bonding may have contributed to some later misunderstandings and problems, for Lazarus apparently believed she was human. She loved us in her own way, of this I have no doubt. But she always knew she was of royal lineage and had been adopted by peasants.

In adulthood she only weighed three and a half pounds. Having no tail made her seem even smaller, but in her own mind she was big as a pit bull. When a full-grown Chow jumped our back fence and started toward me one day, Lazarus positioned herself in front of me. With her back bowed up and her teeth bared she faced down the wooly giant 100 times her size. Fortunately for the dog, his owner called him back to his home yard before Lazarus injured him. After that incident there was no stopping her.

She was a nosy busy body and tried to oversee everything I did. I was unaware, the first time she snuck up the pull-down ladder to the attic when I was getting the Christmas decorations. It was two days before I heard her meowing in every room in the house before I realized where she was. Two days with no food or water was evidently not a biggie for someone who had, after all, been born dead. She learned nothing from the incident, but we did. She had managed to train us to always make sure she had finished her attic investigations before closing the trap door.

For the rest of her life she explored our attic at every opportunity. When opportunity allowed she also explored the garages and attics of our neighbor's houses on each side and across the street. I suspect they were not always pleased, but how does one tell a queen she cannot look over her kingdom?

One day a neighbor told me she had seen a rat in her garage. She opened the door a few inches and Lazarus, with no encouragement whatsoever went in to inspect the premises. She emerged after a time with a rat longer than she was. Well, at least as long. The news of her courage spread and only served to further convince her of her superiority.

When the weather was warm, as it tends to be a lot of the time in north central Texas, Lazarus would sit on a piece of landscaping timber and watch it get dark. No queen in velvet or satin ever looked more regal or more serene. Twilight is a time of day that I find pleasing also and I would sit with her sometimes. Although, I am not sure I ever could enjoy it as much as she did.

Lazarus was jealous-natured and never completely forgave us for eventually adding more stray cats to our household. We tried not to get caught holding one when she could see. If she did see us fussing over another cat she would utter a single meow that sounded more like "weow" and stalk out of the room in a fit of pique. Later, just to make sure I was aware of her displeasure she would come and sit down in front of me…with her back to me. She would continue to ignore me in this fashion for a time and then, when she was ready to forgive, would come and sit beside me on the arm of my chair.

She loved to be petted but would sometimes bite the hand that petted her when she was ready to be left alone. I was ever mindful of this and always tried to gauge her mood and take my hand away before she changed from grateful to hateful. Sometimes I misjudged and had scratches to prove it. I would pretend to cry and she would pretend to be contrite.

Lazarus lived 17 years with us. Not bad for a cat who was born “dead.” It has been several years since she passed on and was buried her in the back yard where once she faced down a towering chow dog. A pile of rocks mark the spot where she rests. I still miss her something awful. I think of her most often at sunset, remembering how she loved to sit and watch the dimming of the day.
© Dorothy Hamm
"Words and Music" Column

December 15, 2005

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