I’m not an animal lover.  I’m not an animal hater either.  I’m more of an animal tolerator.  Jules loves animals.  And I love Jules.  Which is the main reason I tolerate animals.  And we have had a lot of them on the farm over the years:  dogs, chickens, horses, guinea hens and even a goat for a short period. And cats.  Lots of cats.  When we originally bought the farm, it actually came with five cats.  That is life in the country.  This property is teeming with critters – some domestic, some not so much.  Big long black snakes, huge spiders, groundhogs, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, hawks, condors, lots of birds, rabbits – even the occasional bull gets loose in the vineyard periodically.   Every once in awhile a deer comes loping by or a coyote will howl…anyhow you get the picture.  Inside the house, we presently have two dogs and four cats.  We had a house chicken at one point but that is a story for another day.

A little while ago, a litter of feral cats showed up at the winery.  One of the kittens was adorable.  Then again, all kittens are adorable.  They are, I believe, a gateway drug for cats.  By the time they are no longer cute, you realize too late that you have a problem now that you can’t get rid of.  But this little boy kitten was particularly cute.  And, for whatever reason, I really liked him.  Jules and I agreed to keep him but only on the condition that he stay outside on the porch.  And because he was an “outsider” Jules named him Pony Boy.  I really liked Pony Boy as a kitten – again not too hard since, you know… kittens.  But I kept on liking him even when he grew up to be a cat.  He was smallish – not scrawny, just undersized.  He didn’t make any noise really, not at all like our other screeching cats.  He was a bit of a daredevil.  He liked to climb trees but was not very good at getting out of them.  Even though he was fixed, he had an ongoing love affair with our kitchen dish towels.  He would follow us down to the winery sometimes, ambling along next to us like a dog.  Then he would wander around the patio greeting our guests and stroll through the Enoteca, just kind of passing through.  He became a bit of a fixture down there and regular guests got to know his name and greeted him right back.  He was a cat-dog.  And a really gentle, simple little soul.  I think that is why I liked him.

But he was really burning through his nine lives.  As a real young kitten, he climbed the big tree in our back yard.  As he cried to be rescued, Jules and I searched frantically on the ground, under the porch, in gopher holes not realizing he was high up the tree.  Only when we heard a series of branches snapping followed by a small thud on the ground did we find him.  At least two lives used up on that one.  Sometimes he would rumble with some of the other cats – guess they were the rich cats from the nice part of town.  And usually came out the worse for it.  Another life or two down.  And he also spent way too much time near the road…

Once, he was found on our roadside breathing shallow and bleeding from the mouth. We rushed him to St. Francis Vet Hospital in Swedesboro thinking he was a goner this time.  But St. Francis was amazing.  Next time I so much as get a cold, I want to be taken there.  It was beautiful, spotless, happy and the staff treated Pony Boy like he was C. Thomas Howell.  A full team of doctors, nurses, and techs tended to him immediately as Jules and I waited nervously in the spectacular private waiting room, fearing the worst.  The doctor came in and did a full power-point presentation on the jumbotron TV in the waiting room on Pony’s condition, complete with prices.  Treatment was not going to be cheap and it was not certain to succeed.  I heard myself tell the doctor to spare no expense.  Jules just looked at me – shaking her head in amazement.   And Pony pulled through, almost without a scratch.  But at least another four lives down on that one…

Then one day this past January, Pony Boy didn’t show up for breakfast in the morning and I didn’t see him around in the afternoon.  I looked at the other cats suspiciously.  They knew I liked Pony Boy and was nicer to him than I was to them and that I would even let him in the house once in a while.  I became convinced that they treated him like the brother with the coat of many colors and did away with him out of jealousy and spite – two very cat-like traits.  Then another morning and no Pony.  And another evening.  The other cats didn’t look particularly guilty, though they did not look altogether displeased by his absence…but they are cats so it is hard to tell.  I decided that my theory of biblical vengeance was probably not the likely truth.  But in its place, the likely outcome was starting to become more real.

Then, the next morning, Jules found Pony Boy, a brown and white puff of fur on the side of the road in the cold.  She wrapped him up and put him somewhere scavengers couldn’t get him until the ground thawed a little in the January afternoon sun.  As the sun was setting, we dug a little hole at the back of the farm and laid him next to Cheep-Cheep the House Chicken, Philip the Rooster, Froggy the Dehydrated Frog, Pip the Kitten, Pompeii the Kitten, Boxer the Cat, Patches the Cat and Beau our old faithful dog.

But I think I will miss him most of all.  Stay gold, Pony Boy.

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