It’s the middle of the night, we have a foot of snow around the house, and it’s 7° outside. Delphine is in Albuquerque for her mom’s funeral and I’m lying in bed, au naturel, trying to sleep. That’s not normally how to start a good story, but it gets better.
Delphine, my partner, tends to take the lead with our critters. I help out, of course, but she’s the pack leader, the one most comfortable with feeding and cleaning and such. Keeping track of two dogs, three cats, a hen house full of chickens, five sugar gliders, and a six foot tank of fish is no mean feat for an amateur like me. Who gets what vitamins when, how much of this, how little of that, scooping poop – all I really have down pat are evenings in front of the wood stove with everyone snuggling on the sofa and an occasional admonition to doggie Kendal when he tries to hump a cat.
Late yesterday I’m letting the dogs out for their final pee of the evening. Suddenly Dolce, our old Maine Coon cat, darts out past my feet. In the warmer months she’s an outdoor cat responsible for the mouse and chipmunk carcasses on our driveway. In the winter we keep her indoors at night lest she freeze solid. Of course she thinks we’re punishing her and makes a prison break every chance she gets. She has a thick gray coat, but it’s twenty-five degrees below freezing out there and sometimes the rules make sense.
I do my best to lure Dolce back into the house. No success. I ask myself what Delphine would do. I try, “Who wants a cookie?” until I’m sure any neighbors within earshot think it’s time to institutionalize me. Nothing works. Around midnight I give up and go to bed.
I can’t sleep. An hour later I get up, go downstairs to the kitchen, and shout out the door “Who wants a cookie?” No results. Back to bed. I repeat the exercise at 2:00 with no effect other than freezing my private parts in the icy air.
I finally drift off only to be awakened 3:00 by a faint whimper from somewhere outside. Dolce usually likes to huddle under the generator shed where the “Cookie?” call can be heard. But it occurs to me that she might be around the back deck waiting for the workshop door to open. I really don’t want to leave my warm bed but a second whimper gets me moving.
I put on my slippers, go downstairs to the kitchen, get the dogs all excited with one more “Who wants a cookie?” (We do! We do!) out the kitchen door, and head for the workshop. Door open, more icy air on private parts, “Cookie? Cookie?”, and no Dolce. On my way back to bed a wave of guilt makes me turn around and repeat everything one last time. Still no Dolce.
Freezing, I head back upstairs to bed where it occurs to me that Dolce might be waiting at the back cellar door. It’s been a long day and I need sleep. There’s no way I’m going to walk down and up two flights of stairs and drag myself twice the length of the house in my birthday suit to let her in through the cellar. She’ll just have to tough it out.
So a few minutes later I open the back cellar door and offer cookies to a different set of neighbors. I see a black blur dash past my feet. Oh no! Not only is Dolce spending the night in the deep freeze, but now Eowyn, one of our young indoor cats, is on the lam.
Eowyn has only been outside three or four times in her whole life. She’s a tiny, black and white, short-haired embodiment of mischief that we rescued from a shelter. She doesn’t have a chance in weather like this. Delphine, hurry home!
Fortunately I’m wearing slippers. Unfortunately, that’s all I’m wearing. I head out into the snowy backyard chanting “Cookie! Cookie!” hoping that no one happens to be looking out a window. At least it’s a dark night and I’m running around in shadows – until the motion detector sees me and two spotlights turn on.
I see Eowyn under the deck. She sees me and darts up under the workshop. “Cookie! Cookie!”
It’s 7° and I’m leaping around naked in the snow shouting “Cookie!” to two cats who want nothing to do with me. Dolce might survive the night, but Eowyn isn’t wearing enough fur. This is my responsibility and I’m blowing it. I try to think about what I’m going to tell Delphine when I pick her up from the airport in a few days. No thought comes.
Defeated, I head back into the cellar, brush snow from my shoulders, lock the door behind me, open it twice more for a feeble “Cookie!” call, and finally go upstairs to the kitchen.
By now doggies Kendal and Chase are confused. They sit, twirl, and otherwise do their tricks waiting for the promised cookies to show up. I send them out the kitchen door with “Go find Eowyn and I’ll give you a cookie!” which they almost certainly hear as “Blah blah blah blah blah cookie!” They look back at me through the kitchen door with expressions that say, “Hey – it’s cold out here. And where are the cookies?”
As I let the dogs back in I see Eowyn dart across the bottom of the porch steps. She’s made it all the way from the cellar door, under the deck, under the workshop, under the kitchen porch, and out the gap in the lattice the dogs use to get to their run. “Cookie! Cookie!” She’s on an adventure and wants no part of me. I step out on to the kitchen porch to entertain a different set of neighbors with my frozen private parts. Eowyn is nowhere to be found.
Back in the kitchen. What to do? Nothing to do. Even fully clothed in good weather there’d be no way I could catch either Dolce or Eowyn in the open if they didn’t want to be caught. I have visions of discovering them as the snow blower shoots frozen cat bits into the air. This is calamity. Where are you Delphine?
I turn off the kitchen light and secure the kiddie gate that keeps the dogs from roaming the house when I see Eowyn outside peeking around the corner at the bottom of the porch steps. Enough with the cookie promises. I need a real cookie and I need it now.
I open the refrigerator and grab the first thing I see – a slice of pepperoni. Out on the porch I hold it out to Eowyn. “Cookie! Cookie! Yummy. Pepperoni.”
She’s undecided, starts to run away and then looks back at the pepperoni. Pepperoni, freedom; freedom, pepperoni. She takes a step in my direction – and then another. Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! I’m holding the pepperoni out and backing up into the house. She’s following. She’s in! I slam the door shut.
The dogs are watching this with great interest. I flip the pepperoni to Eowyn. Kendal and Chase look at me with “Where’s mine?” expressions. I flip them each a pepperoni slice and head to bed.
6:30 I’m up. I head down to the kitchen and look out on the porch. There sits Dolce proudly displaying a stiff little mouse by her side as a trophy for the night’s hunt, waiting to come in for breakfast. I cook up a big pot of oatmeal, fill five bowls for the cats and dogs, and save a little for myself. I’ve earned it.