the all-seeingeye A Cat Named Dumpster, 1993-June 27, 2009

Dumpster's preferred drinking method is dipping.

We're cat people. It's seldom that fewer than two cats are in residence with us, and it's been as high as nine counting a litter of kittens. The average cat is, well, a cat. That in itself is usually enough. Then there are the remarkable ones. Dumpster is one of those.

Her name bears some explaining. It is shortened from "the dumpster cat". It was in the dumpster behind my old studio that she first appeared. She was small, young, thin, and clearly pregnant. At first she was standoffish in that way cats have of being at once fiercely independent-maybe even a bit wild-and at the same time curious. Nancy in particular has always been a sucker for a fuzzy muzzle. So, the cat was fed on the back porch, but continued to live rough even as her middle section swelled ominously.

I suppose her maternal imperative kicked in at last. One day I was sitting on the couch near the back door. I heard the sound of claws on the screen door. I looked up to see her on her hind legs, very carefully slitting the screen with one of her claws.When it was big enough, she hopped through it and proceeded to examine our entire apartment. Then she hopped back out. This continued for several weeks-with the opening getting larger to accommodate her mid section. By this time it was clear that she had adopted us-with the caveat that she could walk out any time she felt like it. She eventually had her kittens in a warm corner of our furnace room. Despite being her first litter, she took to the role of mother, being more attentive and active in kitten care than other cats I've known.

That was to be her only litter, as we've always fixed our cats. By this time she'd developed what I will politely call a healthy appetite. So much so that when we took her to the vet for the first time, and she climbed out of her carrier, the vet said "aren't you a pudgy little thing".

So, what makes her remarkable? Mostly it's the clear presence of an intelligence behind her eyes. On a fall afternoon a few years back I had this demonstrated to me. The leaves were falling and the setting sun was casting their shadows on the wall. Dumpster was attracted by the movement. She stalked up to the wall and struck at one of the moving shadows, then another. I swear to you there was a look of puzzlement on that cat's face. Then she sat down and watched the shadows-including her own-for a few moments. Then she turned, looked at the window, jumped up onto the ledge and stared out at the falling leaves. She rapidly swiveled her head between the falling leaves outside and the shadows inside. After a moment, she sat down, seemed to shrug her shoulders, and lost interest. To this day, no shadow against a wall can excite her-though a laser pointer will.

We now live in an older home, and bats sometimes find their way inside. Bats are interesting creatures which I'd had plenty of experience with when I was about 11 and lived in an enormously drafty Victorian-era house. When an upset bat starts to scream at three in the morning, you know what it is immediately. I woke up and ran into the foyer to find dumpster sitting in the middle of the floor with her tail wrapped around her feet watching a bat face-down on the floor in front of her. Each time the bat moved, she carefully extended a paw and held the bat down for a moment-which set it screaming again. The bat was unharmed, and the cat seemed to bear it no ill will-she was simply curious. I gathered the bat up in a towel and released it outside. What I couldn't quite figure out was how she'd bagged it in the first place.

I found out a month later, when a bat flew in through an open upstairs window. This time we were all awake to watch it. The bat flew around the house about 6 or 7 feet off the floor. The cat ran along behind the bat, watching it carefully. As the bat flew past a hall table the cat leapt onto the table and launched herself into the air in a single motion. As she flew past the bat she knocked him to the floor with a swipe of her paw. The stunned bat hit the floor and the cat landed next to it. What made the feat more impressive is that in general outline the cat resembles a fuzzy gray bowling ball.

There is another behavior of hers that is intriguing-and I'll readily admit that the odds are good that I've read more into it than is there. We had a particularly bad patch last year in which we lost two cats in a matter of weeks-one to cancer and the other simply to old age. At the end, both had to be put down by the vet. When the first one's time had come, I got up early and dug a hole in the side yard. Then out came the cat carrier and we made that last trip to the vet's office. After the cat was buried, Dumpster investigated the freshly turned earth, hackles raised and clearly distressed. The entire scene was repeated a few weeks later when the second cat became too ill to walk. So far, her behavior can be interpreted in terms of scent signals and the like. Then, a week or so later, I got out a shovel and dug a hole for another purpose. The act of digging a hole made Dumpster incredibly anxious-something that had never happened when I did any gardening before having to bury those two cats. Did she come to associate shovels and holes with dead cats? I'm not sure whether I'd like to think so or not.