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The Sad Story of Ray
updated: Dec 08, 2013, 10:32 AM

By Amanda Frost

People asked about the intruder Ray. He has a sad story.

Our favorite neighbor in our village of fifty people in Provence was an eighty- nine-year-old, four-foot tall widow (with a malicious tongue but a good heart) whom we politely called Madame B. She had a soft spot for abandoned cats and fed any who came to her door. One day a striped tom cat (le chat rayƩ [the striped cat] = Ray) showed up, limping and starving. Madame took him in because he reminded her of her mother's cat in Algeria. He was "intact," so we tricked him into a carrier one day and took him to our vet for "altering." He cordially hated me ever after.

When Madame reached her early nineties, she began to get forgetful so her niece in Paris swept into town one day and spirited Madame away to the north, with no warning to friends or relatives. The niece promised to bring Madame back if she was unhappy. That never happened. Before long we neighbors realized that Madame's plants and cats were basically abandoned. The houseplants were sitting in the dark house, the garden was dying. A friend had been commissioned to leave food for her two cats once a week! They and the strays ate all the kibbles in one day and there were starving cats for the rest of the week. It was pathetic.

Calls to Paris weren't very productive. The niece finally suggested that I give all the plants away. I offered to feed the cats if she would reimburse me. (Madame, with her wartime mentality, lived like a pauper but she had three or four bank accounts she'd told me about.) Ray and Madame's other longtime cat, Carpette, were now living in the damp and cold cellar, after years of enjoying Madame's overheated house. So I bought them heated beds (it was winter) and starting feeding them daily. Someone else in the village put out food, so the strays migrated there (thank God). Another neighbor offered to feed the cats when I was in Santa Barbara.

There were rewards. Ray decided that I wasn't the representative of the Evil Vet with the scalpel, and Carpette, formerly a stand-offish cat, started to beg to be patted and brushed. But no good deed goes unpunished: Ray followed me home. I chased him off our terrace a hundred times (kindly, at first). Then we'd find him in our house, howling, at least one night a week. And our cats were horrified. Worse, when we left for S.B., Ray invaded, eating all the food and leaving "deposits" on the rugs and stone floors (despite the cat boxes we'd added to try to keep him clean). The smell when we returned was infernal, despite the cat-sitter's best efforts. After two years, we had reached the point of talking about having Ray put to sleep.

Then Ray got hurt. He started to limp. Before long he couldn't use his right hind leg. I was afraid he'd been hit by a car. Evil Ray became Poor Ray. Finally I gave up and took him to the vet, who discovered an abscess. Guilt struck: for I had found something sharp in the wound just before I took him to the vet, and I now realized that he'd probably got stuck by a thorn from the climbing rose when he fled our house late one night, with us in hot pursuit. So eighty euros later he was home and had to have antibiotics poked down his throat twice a day. To my surprise he let me do it! A couple of days later he was walking gingerly on the bad leg and a week later he was climbing the rose again. Argh!

Happily, there followed the discovery of the electronic door. Poor Ray can't get in our house any more and, so far, he hasn't found a way to circumvent the system. One Edhat responder to my original story said his raccoons learned to follow on the cats' heels. We are hoping Poor Ray is not that smart.


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