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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy photo From feral kitten to occasional lap sitter, Smeagol reaped his share of destruction.

A cat has absolute emotional honesty; human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.

-- Ernest Hemingway

I love cats, but I didn't like this one. If you are expecting a warm and loving narrative about a beloved family pet, I advise you to stop reading. This story contains graphic violence, screaming baby rabbits and wholesale animal slaughter. You've been warned.

For those readers still with me, a little back story: My mother was an animal lover, and I grew up in a house filled with cats, dogs, hamsters, chickens, even a pet quail. When I was 6 years old, she let me keep a stray kitten that I found cowering by the front door of our local grocery store. I named her Sugar, and when I would come home from school, she would never leave my side. I was hooked. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of getting to know some fabulous cats who provided ambient companionship along with the occasional love and affection. I've had smart cats, sweet cats, lazy cats and, yes, some stupid cats, too. Regardless, we always understood each other. I knew where I stood, and they did, too. Did I mention I love cats, but didn't love this one? Let me explain.

Go back 14 years. My daughter and I find a feral kitten in our garage, that at first, I mistook for a baby skunk. (An omen? But I digress.) Although it was only about 7 weeks old, the kitten was a miniature Tasmanian devil in action. After getting scratched profusely, I finally corralled the little hellion with two oven mitts and placed him in my collie's travel carrier. Although he would eagerly consume the milk and kitten food every day, there was no cessation in its violent behavior. Over the coming months, all my cat smarts were exhausted in trying to tame this little but growing fellow. My daughter cleverly named him Smeagol for the Lord of the Rings character who had a split personality. He would seem normal until you tried to pet him. Then swat -- blood on my hands and arms.

As he grew, I let him out, and he moved into the backyard, coming in only at night through the cat door to eat, then disappearing again. I would rarely see him. Soon dead birds began piling up outside my backdoor. Then dead bunnies started showing up outside as well. My collie located one lone survivor I ran outside to rescue. Just as I was literally cupping the frighten bunny in my hands, Smeagol appeared on a dead run and snatched it away, jumping over the 6-foot fence in a single leap. (That bunny's scream haunts me still today.) Then occasionally, my other cats would show up with fresh scratch or bite marks from this wild cat. In desperation, I caught him and had him declawed -- at least the animal slaughter stopped.

After 10 years living unseen, Smeagol finally started coming in the house to visit about once a week. He occasionally would come lay on the floor or sit next to me while I watched television or read. But true to his nature, sometimes out of the blue, he would jump on my other cats completely unprovoked. His moment of Zen came this Christmas. He crawled up into the engine of my daughter's car for a nap while she was visiting. When she started her car later to leave, we both heard this terrible banging. I thought her engine had thrown a rod until I saw Smeagol streak by. After being gone a day, he finally reappeared, missing some hair, covered with black grease, but miraculously unharmed.

Now every night, he will find my lap and curl up awhile. I like to think he has finally come to terms with those inner demons from long ago, but then again, he is a cat. Yes, he still will give me a nip for old-time sake every now and then, but now we finally have an understanding.

"I love cats" wrote the director Jean Cocteau, "because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul."

Did I mention I love cats?

NAN Our Town on 02/01/2018

Print Headline: Kitten, dead bird and Zen

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