To Catch a Mouse

Krista on Table

Although I write fiction, and the people, places and events in my books are all fictitious, there’s a character in my upcoming book (The Hyperion Web) that’s based on a real cat. Krista is so unusual in her intelligence, vocalizations and mannerisms that we don’t think of her as just a cat. This is the story of how she became a part of our lives:

In February of 2007, my father came to live with us on the north coast of Oregon. Not related, but around the same time, we started noticing an influx of mice from a large field adjacent to our property. After trapping a dozen or so of the creatures, my wife Debbie and I decided we needed a better deterrent, so we loaded my father into the car and drove 75 miles to the Cat Adoption Team in Sherwood to look for a mouser.

They had about 250 cats to choose from, separated into ten rooms where you could meet and interact with the cats, which were free to approach or avoid you as their personalities dictated. We made our way through the first nine rooms in a little over an hour, undeterred by an assortment of comments from my father along the lines of “who the hell would want to take home any of these pitiful creatures?” Thanks, dad.

We had seen a few cats in the first nine rooms that we could’ve taken home with us, but none that we were really excited about having. While my father and I sanitized our hands in the hallway, Debbie, who was by now tired of looking at cats, entered the tenth room. A tan and gray tabby sidled up to her for pets and would not let any of the other cats in the room near her.

“I think we’re going to wind up leaving with this one,” she said to me, as my father and I entered the room. “The tag says her name is Krista.”

Krista padded over to me and rubbed her head against my hand. We bonded instantly and it became clear to me: she was coming home with us.

“I guess that’s settled, then” I said.

The staff at the Cat Adoption Team sealed the deal by assuring us that Krista would also be a good mouser. Feeling exceedingly fortunate, we filled out the adoption paperwork, bought some supplies and drove back to the coast with Krista travelling in a cardboard carrier next to my father. Those mice were in trouble.

When we got back to the house, we heeded the advice we’d been given and opened the carrier in a confined space: our laundry room. Krista looked around, jumped onto the washing machine and then jumped down and hid in the space behind it. My wife and I looked at each other. The boldest, most outgoing cat I’d ever met was hiding behind our washing machine? Had we made a mistake? How could we have been so wrong in our assessment?

We left Krista in the laundry room with food, water and a cat box and closed the door for the night. When we awoke in the morning, we checked and she was still hiding behind the washing machine. Scratching our heads, we closed the door again and went about our usual routine for the rest of our day.

At about seven p.m., we opened the door to the laundry room and Krista was sitting in the middle of the floor in front of the washer. She walked out in the hall to sniff the air, took a few pets from us and then moved to the kitchen to investigate. She then proceeded to take a tour of the rest of the house like it had always been hers. Debbie and I were puzzled at the change in behavior, but happy that Krista was out of the laundry room.

Of course, we had predetermined rules for what the cat would not be allowed to do. No cat on couches. That lasted twenty minutes. No cat on tables. That lasted an hour. No cat on the bed. Krista slept between us the first night.

But it was worth it to get a good mouser, we thought. The number of mice we saw went way down, but probably because they could smell the presence of a cat. At the same time, we noticed that Krista didn’t hunt mice and, on the rare occasions that she saw one, she didn’t chase it. We would need to get her some staff.

About four months into the cat experiment, we adopted two semi-feral kittens, both gray tabbies, which were about six weeks old. We named them Pax and Baggins. When we gave them to Krista on the first day they came home, she knocked them down, licked them and then carried them into a quiet room, where she kept them for the next four weeks or so to train. She taught them how to use a litter box and, oddly enough, she taught them how to hunt. As they grew, they both turned into terrific mousers. Krista, on the other hand, was never destined to become a huntress.