Prairie Living

Feeding Elvis, (plus one)

Greg and I have been in negotiations over getting a dog.  It’s been four years since Elvis, my full-of-personality husky, died, and with my artist-lover’s and my newly settled life together, it seems about time.  But there’s Dottie, Greg’s canine-averse cat to think about.  After six months of living with me, she distinctly refuses to warm to my presence; God knows how she’ll respond to a dog. 
la principessa
Greg insists Dottie is still adjusting, but I think she’s made her point of view clear:   She steps over me—with a snooty air of upper-class annoyance–to get to Greg before settling onto his crotch.  La principessa follows him everywhere—to his studio, outside to the garden, even to the bathroom–and when he’s gone, she complains with a string of loud, desperate yowls.   Is she missing Greg–his hopeless groupie?–or is she homesick for the two of them together and alone?   I’ve tried to get her to, if not love, then accept me, gently urging her to come near, whipping her string toy back and forth for her pleasure, but my attempts inevitably end either in boredom (hers) or in abject begging (mine), as the graceful figure of the black and white cat turns to wink her pink little ass at me, tail flicking the air. 
Dottie pretending to be good
Of course, I’ve tried plying her with food.  There are those tasty “temptations” snacks I buy for her, and bits of chicken and pork from the table—the first she’s ever gotten in her whole life.  “You spoil her,” Greg tells me. My reward?  She “sits pretty”—paws up in the air for cat “temptations”–and begs routinely at dinner, yet steadfastly and stubbornly refuses my lap. 
In the feline world, being spoiled is not returned with dopey or loyal adoration, as it is in the canine world.  I am unused to being so sorely used by an animal. 
Elvis and I had the Greg-Dottie thing, but Elvis was a groupie to the world: He loved everyone, not just me.  And though he was the most temperamental eater, often refusing food for days, there was a brief period of time where he ate regularly and with relish. 
It happened when I was lonely and living in a small port town on the edge of Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee while pursuing a PhD.  Being away from real mountains and wide blue skies and dry western air felt like an amputation.  I was heart-sick.  I didn’t know anyone yet and it was just me and my dog.
In an attempt to make friends with a domesticated landscape for which I felt nothing, I began roasting chicken every Sunday night.  In the Midwest, surrounded by farms and rolling hills full of poultry and potatoes, it’s what you did. 
I’d buy a fat roasting bird and stuff it garlic and thyme, sprinkling it with kosher salt and cracked pepper.  Then into a Le Crueset it went and on top of the stove until the back skin  browned, before I’d deglaze it with a white wine, put the lid on, and roast it until it was golden and falling off the bone.  While the chicken rested, I’d make a sauce from pan drippings laced with lemon, along with Julia Child’s flash boiled green beans (the trick is tons of kosher salt—cook them for four minutes only) and rice Yukon golds I’d boiled with whole bundles of garlic, folding them gently with scandalous amounts of sweet cream butter and sour cream. 
Onto a plate went enough chicken, potatoes, and sauce for two.  By now, Elvis was waiting just outside the kitchen, head on the floor, but blonde ears up, eyes alert.  I’d pour a glass of white wine and walk down the hall, dog trailing behind.  Together we settle onto a divan-like couch in the skinny back-facing room of my two-flat to watch “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The room, perhaps once a closet, was big enough for the couch with just two feet to spare.  My TV was wedged in the corner on the steam heater.  Elvis sat, leaning against my legs, waiting, gold eyes looking up, his fur tickling me as he very daintily took little bites of lemony chicken from my fingers.
We traded bites until the plate was empty and I placed it on the floor for him to lick. 
On nights like this one, I was just a little less homesick.
In my current home back in the West, I’m still hopefully adjusting to prairie living, just as Dottie is (hopefully) adjusting to me.  In the evenings, I make a point to race Greg to her food dish so she is reminded as much as possible that I can be a source of good things, too.  I don’t know if she’s just being a cat (why can’t you wrestle with them?) or if, she’s homesick too. 
But I will keep feeding Dottie, just as I fed Elvis, as an act of communion (and faith), even she ignores me for the rest of her life.


Dottie at Greg’s Apartment in her single days
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0 thoughts on “Feeding Elvis, (plus one)”

  1. Nice story. I'm afraid cats never change. She will always be Greg's cat. Loved your piece in the NY Times on feeding the fox. It really held me spellbound.

  2. Congratulations on your wonderful essay in the NYTimes! Here is the comment I sent in, in case it is not published:

    gw usa Pending Approval

    Beautiful, wonderful essay. Thank you!

    One spring day, after doing yardwork, I laid down on the couch to nap, leaving the door open for fresh breezes. I felt something leap on me and though it was my cat, suddenly realizing it was too heavy. Opened my eyes… was a FOX! He was as shocked as I was and leaped off, but went on to peruse the house, inspecting every room. He was lame and suffered from mange.

    I found a mange treatment online (ivermectin) and dosed chicken legs and boiled eggs, throwing them out in the yard every morning. He'd show up to eat some, dig a hole and cache the rest. But if I left the door open, he would come in and (I swear to god…..I've got the photos) take naps on a flokati blanket on my downstairs couch. This went on for about 6 weeks before he eventually moved on.

    The most remarkable thing, though, is that 6 months later another fox showed up on my doorstep and did the same thing. Had dinner, took a nap and moved on. They are the most polite of house guests.

    Since then I've seen no more foxes. I've learned a lot more about them, though. Foxes have been losing territory to coyotes and their numbers have severely decreased by mange. Foxes help control Lyme's Disease, for their preferred prey is the White-Footed Mouse, a vector for ticks. Coyotes WILL eat your cat or small dog. Foxes will not. PLEASE help foxes any way you can, the most intelligent and beautiful (in my estimation) of any North American mammal.

    Thank you for helping a fox in need, and for getting out the word that foxes can be treated for mange in situ. Without the thick fur of their tail to wrap around them, foxes will freeze to death in winter, if they haven't already itched themselves to death. With their numbers decimated, I do believe foxes look to us for help.

    best to you,


  3. Thanks, Steve. That fox held us spellbound for over two years. I still think about him. As for Dottie, she has staked out her territory in Greg's lap for the last hour, even as I write.

  4. Thank you, Karen. I had wondered if the British mange treatment was as effective as ivermectin. In reading about foxes online, I was very impressed with the British way of accepting their presence. Many urban homeowners have their "garden fox." I wish more people in the US knew that foxes are really quite harmless, and in fact, beneficial:

  5. To get Dottie's friendship you should ignore her. Don't look at her and her curiosity will then demand your attention. She will catch you.

  6. I wonder if that's why my foxes didn't stick around longer. The eggs and chicken legs may have tasted great, but had a discomforting after-effect. If there is a next time, I will try the homeopathic version.

    btw……your essay reminded me to follow up with my state conservation department regarding their trapping limits. With fox populations in decline due to coyote proliferation and sarcoptic mange, and the vital role of foxes in suppressing tick development (and Lyme's disease), trapping limits in some states may need to be reconsidered.

    Another btw! Where wolves are reintroduced in the US, fox populations rebound. It is thought that wolves keep coyote populations in check, which benefits foxes. It's an interesting balance in prey preferences.

  7. I am definitely aware of the population check balances. We had coyote up there and they were the fox's #1 predator. We hear rumors of wolves in Colorado all the time; they're the ghost on the horizon. Happily, I think it's only a matter of time.

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