Josecius and the Kitten

Photo by Bing Han on

By popular demand (okay, I had trouble of thinking of something else): here is another story involving a cat. Parts of the story will sound familiar but it is nonetheless true. This tai…I mean, tale, also has something to do with writing, believe it or not. Please bear with me.

In 1984 living I was living in a townhouse apartment, the back of which bordered a small woods. My unit was the sixth in a block of eighteen, nondescript from the others and generally quiet.

I was awakened early on a football Saturday morning by my sons, ages six and three, who insisted that I get up immediately. There was a scary noise, they said, outside at the back door. I came stumbling downstairs.  They were right. There was an unusual noise, all right. It was the sound of an animal in panic or pain. Or both. I opened the door and found a small kitten sitting there, making a loud and repetitive cry as it looked up at me. I bent down and saw that it apparently had been dumpster diving for breakfast. A chicken bone had splintered and wedged in its mouth across its canines. I sat down on the stoop, picked the kitten up, and put it on my lap. It continued to cry but displayed no fear of me as I gently opened its mouth and carefully pried the bone off of its teeth.

The kitten, overwhelmed with gratitude, bit me and ran off. I required a series of rabies shots and was sick for several days and never saw it again. But that isn’t what happened. No. It got off of my lap, rubbed figure eights around me, and then promptly ran into my apartment when I went back inside. I gently retrieved the kitten (with the help of my sons and our very jealous beagle) and put it outside. An hour later it presented a dead mouse at the back door. A few hours later a somewhat chewed robin was left at the front door. A series of similar grisly gifts appeared at irregular but frequent intervals over the next couple of days. Fortunately, I had a friend who was looking for a nice kitten. He adopted it. The kitten grew into a cat and lived to the age of nineteen. I would once in awhile stop over to visit. When I did so the cat, upon seeing me, would disappear outside and show up a half hour or so later with tribute in the form of a mouse, chipmunk, or squirrel. It apparently never forgot me.  Nor have I forgotten it.

I wondered for a long time why the kitten showed up at my particular door as opposed to someone else’s. There were any number of residences from which to choose. Why mine? I finally came up with a possible answer. About fifteen years ago I started shaving my head. I decided it was time when my hair became engaged in a follicle race to see whether each one would fall out or turn gray first. I discovered that I had a birthmark shaped like a catspaw on the back of my head. Go figure.

What does this have to do with writing? It’s simple. You are the cat. Your mouth is the story. The chicken bone is that story point that you get stuck on and just can’t get past. Find someone — a person to whom you normally go to in order to ask advice who will give you straight, no-nonsense advice in a gentle way — and ask them what to do. Don’t knock on their door early in the morning, screaming in distress. Wait for a decent hour and approach them. If they are of help to you, leave dead mice at their front door. Or, if you are otherwise inclined, mention them by name in your acknowledgements when you get published. They will tell their friends who will in turn buy your book, or at least read it. Your friends want to help you; sometimes they just need to be asked.

That’s all I got. Tell us, if you will and/or can, a cute animal story where you helped a creature in distress. Include what occurred afterward. In the alternative, please tell us a story about how going to a friend who got your story or novel unstuck and on the right track. Thank you.


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

25 thoughts on “Josecius and the Kitten

  1. Good morning Joe,

    I loved your story about the faithful and forever appreciative cat. It’s sad that humans seem incapable of such gratitude.

    Unfortunately, most of my animal stories end much as your version #1 on the cat story – cat bites and runs off. It might have something to do with me not being an animal person. They seem to know.

    As for a friend story of getting a story unstuck: There have been many authors, editors, beta readers, and legal advisers (yours truly) who have directed me down the straight and narrow writing path. I won’t even try to name the many. I will remain grateful for your legal advice to get a contract back from a small publishing house that was going bankrupt. And I promise not to leave dead animals on your door step…hmm. We do have a raccoon and chipmunk problem in our woods. I live trap them. Would you care for any?

    Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve! I greatly appreciate your continued gratitude as well as the effort you have put into mightily resisting dropping critters, dead and alive, at my doorstep. We have squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, and yes, skunks in abundance here. The feral cats are too lazy to hunt because…well, they just give me a sad-eyed look and I feed them. My own fault, I guess. Good luck with your live trapping and have a great weekend. And thanks, as always, for stopping by.

  2. Love the cat story. My story involves a dog, a four pound Maltese that was cruelly dropped over the back fence of an animal shelter in late December. It nearly froze to death before being discovered. We had just lost an older dog, so we were looking and found this one. We adopted her and my wife called her Merry Christmas.
    She was about 10 years old, and had been a puppy mill breeder that had outlived her usefulness. She became really attached to me and stayed with me constantly. She had a bed next to my computer and kept me company as I wrote.
    I was meeting with a writers group in my home and she would sit in various member’s laps during the meeting. As we all read our work for the meeting, she would occasionally let out a low growl. The reader would joke and say, “What, you don’t like that?” Then we would all discuss it and almost always found a better way to express the lines. Merry became our group’s resident critic.
    She graced our life for five years, during which time she lost her sight, and her health failed. Finally we had to let her go and I held her in my arms while the vet administered the final shot. Rips my heart out now just remembering it. Dogs and cats can hold a special place in our lives.

  3. Dave, thanks for sharing your story about your very lucky dog. It’s wonderful that you were able to provide her with a wonderful and loving life in her final few years. There is a special place waiting for you in heaven for that. Thanks as always for stopping by.

  4. If we are the person a writer comes to for advice and they don’t like our advice, should we get rabies shots just in case? 😎 😎 😎

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the biggest obstacle to me getting myself unstuck is stubbornness. I want to figure it out myself! Part of the fun of writing is solving all the puzzles that come along with it. But sometimes wisdom is seeking out help.

  5. I have a “thing” about needles, so I would probably just chain myself to a tree and hope for the best, BK! As far as being stubborn goes, if you look the word up in the dictionary you’ll see my picture next to it. I often fail to follow my own best advice. Thanks for the reminder and for stopping by.

  6. It was a dark and stormy night (no, it really was) in November six years ago, just before Thanksgiving, when a yowl outside the front door alerted our cat. I opened the door and saw a black shape scamper off to hide under a bush. A bowl of milk and cat food left just inside the door coaxed the black, malnourished kitten to come inside. Turned out she was feral. We think our cat, Meadow, made her feel safer with us than other homes. We kept her and spent three months socializing her. Now Lila is bonded to me but still skittish when anyone else comes to the house. Lila and Meadow both are loyal companions as I work in my home office. Best of all, they insist that I take breaks throughout the day. The queen and princess must be attended to, after all. Oh, and since they are indoor cats, they bring me socks and stray papers which they scatter throughout the house as if to remind me that they would hunt if only I’d let them.

    Thanks for your story, Joe. I enjoyed it and like how you turned it into a metaphor for writing.

    • Thank you, Jakoda, for your kind comments and for sharing your story. That’s one lucky cat. I guess two lucky cats, actually. BTW, when they hang out in your home office, do they help you with editing, paying special attention to the delete and backspace keys?

      • Oh, they’re even more creative than that, preferring to type their own stories over mine–not that these are legible or understandable by anyone other than a cat. Fortunately, I’ve learned the habit of frequently hitting the ‘save’ key.

  7. Great cat story. I have a dog who likes to lick my knees. But for the life of me I can’t think of a writing analogy for that. Oh well, at least I have a dog who loves me or does he just like to mess with me?

  8. Thank you, Brian. Re: your dog, I think it is obvious that he loves you, messes with you, and, um, kneeds you.

  9. An excerpt from a fictional cat story I’ve written, based on an actual experience of mine as a vacation feline caretaker for my family’s cats:
    “The human family (except the two children, the cats’ primary caretakers and chief lobbyists) and the caretaker wanted the basement door cat opening closed, fearing the fearless felines would catch vermin, as was their wont, and bring them upstairs as trophies, leave them around dead or alive to scare the hell out of the caretaker by making a live appearance or, once dead, start to smell. So the humans taped cardboard over the opening. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time to the genius human masters, but not to Maude and Smokey, who, with the basement off limits, couldn’t keep their instincts sharp, perform volunteer extermination services, and bolster their self-esteem.
    When normal paths and appetites are blocked, or if their curiosity is sparked, felines figure out how to overcome obstacles, as though they were humans who can’t stand a closed door with a sign reading PRIVATE, NO ADMITTANCE. Smokey, being the more aggressive of the duo, loved to run at those closed doors. With the hint of a devious smile, he would bound at any offending door with his front paws extended and, if unlatched, it would rocket open. With prison guards gone, Maude, schemer that she was, informed Smokey by twitches of her tail that his gymnastics might open the way to their basement rec room. Smokey’s first try failed to push the larger stiff piece of cardboard through the smaller opening. Then he got serious and backed up as far as he could into an adjoining room. This gave him a longer charging distance, but he was disadvantaged by having to charge the cardboard at an angle. He took off like a jet and gave the barrier a good jolt, both paws connecting together. As luck or design would have it, the cardboard careened away, hanging to one side by a strand of tape.
    Even had they been so inclined, it was too late for Smokey and Maude to worry about being fingered as culprits when the misdeed was discovered. No choice but to head down to the basement and check whether any creatures had been bold or stupid enough to invade their erstwhile haunt. On the stairs, the hunters noticed an unfamiliar fresh breeze. It put them on alert, signaling dangerous interlopers, new prey, and maybe even the chance for a jailbreak…”
    A story of a writer friend who helped my novel get unstuck: I asked her to look at the first thirty pages or so. My premise was a college-age protagonist and friends fighting the New Jersey mob, based on idealist adoption of Jesuit ideals of social justice and the inspiration of the waterfront priest from On the Waterfront. Personal animus was added by the mob’s mistreatment of the protagonist’s grandfather, a now-deceased former longshoreman. I knew something was missing, maybe a lot of things.
    When we met, she said she wanted to see more of the grandfather. I said he’s dead, but his memory still inspires the protagonists.
    She said: “No, no, no, no! He’s got to be alive, even if crippled, and get a new life joining the protagonist in his conflict with the mob, eager to get even after all these years.” My eyes were opened, I was unstuck, and a myriad of new possibilities for the story emerged.

  10. David, thank you so much for dropping by and for sharing both stories, particularly the second involving the help of your friend. As for the first…it is amazing that cats can figure out how to open a closed door when they lack opposable thumbs yet honestly and truly believe that a food bowl with the barest patch of the bottom visible is empty and needs a refill. Like beagles, they are clever but not smart.

  11. I have a giant soft spot for animals, even animals I don’t like. I could fill multiple columns with just the stories I could remember. I rescued a couple of abandoned pet bunnies off the street several weeks back. They were cute, but within 24 hours I figured out that rabbits are total messmakers and that I never want to own any so long as live. Thankfully I found a much better rescue situation for them. But since we all know I’m a cat person…

    Several years ago, on a hot May day, I was working in one of my front flower beds. I kept hearing this bird sound. While the sound itself wasn’t so unusual its location was. It was emanating from the bottom of my garage. I ignored it for a while, but then curiosity got the better of me and I had to check it out. It was a little tiny baby kitten, not more than about 2 1/2 – 3 weeks old, ears folded and still blind. I went straight into rescue mode, brought her in the house, sent my mother off to buy some KMR and bottles, and bottle fed her and protected her from the Big Cats already resident in my house.

    I knew there were more kittens. It took me two days to find them. (I suspect feral Mama Kitty was moving her babies when I came out to do yard work and interrupted her.) At that point I put the kitten back with the rest of her litter as mother’s milk beats KMR any day. I kept my eye on them, and made sure I knew where Mama was moving them. Oh, and I started feeding Mama. Sucker. After the kittens started getting mobile – but not too mobile – I kidnapped the entire litter. I hated to do it to Mama Kitty, but I had to get them young enough to tame and re-home. I had them tame within six hours. I did work with a rescue organization. But at the end my mother pestered me and pestered me and pestered me and I finally gave in and we kept three of them. Including my bottle baby. And let me tell you something about bottle babies: they bond to you in a way other cats don’t.

    • Catfriend, that’s a REAL friend. Thanks so much for sharing that story. It’s a standard we all can live up to. I understand your feeling about rabbits as pets. It’s amazing how an ounce of food can be transformed into what seems like thirty pounds of waste. On the other hand, if not for rabbits, we wouldn’t be able to make chocolate chip cookies, would we? Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I grew up in a country town. We would occasionally get wildlife wandering in our backyard. When I was about 4 years old, I made friends with a bobcat. He would come almost every day and I started leaving him food on the big rock a few yards from our front yard. In a few days, he would get closer and closer, all the time watching me. One day he just came up to me, nudged my hand with his head and started purring. I couldn’t believe how loud that purr was. I started petting him and he purred louder. Then he licked my hand. It was unfortunate that at this time my mother came to the door to check on me. Her face drained of blood, she was as white as I’d ever seen her. She chased off that scared bobcat. I never saw him again. All my life, animals have just come up to me. I don’t know why. I guess they know I am not a threat to them. I love all animals, but I am partial to cats. Thanks for the cat story. I think it’s about time for me to rescue one or two from the local shelter. 🙂

    • Rebecca, that is a terrific story. It’s touching and god-awful frightening at the same time, for the same reasons. I’m glad that it was your mom and not the bobcat’s mother in the vicinity.

      As far as going to the shelter goes…I just can’t do it. I would wind up wanting to take everything home. Seriously. I adopt strays for the most part.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story.

  13. Thanks Joe, I loved your story!
    A couple of years ago we gained a new neighbour, a lovely lady with two kids and a dog. Not long after she moved in, I was out the front and saw the dog in her front garden. I’d noticed her leave the house earlier, so went over to catch the dog for her, but it ran off down the road. So I chased it down, caught it and brought it back home, leaving it in the back yard. I checked the gate and fences, but couldn’t see where it had gotten out, so just hoped it would stay there until she got home. The next day I saw her and mentioned the incident – she burst into laughter and said she’d wondered how the strange dog had gotten in to her yard. Her dog was at her ex’s for a few days. It turned out that people down the road were looking for their dog that had escaped their yard and couldn’t imagine where it had been for all that time…. my neighbour and I still laugh about this today.

  14. Thank you Linda, for your kind words as well as for sharing your own story, which was hilarious while also demonstrating your own kind-heartedness. I’m glad to hear that everyone got back to where they were supposed to be. Thanks for stopping by.

  15. SQUEAMISH ALERT: The following story about getting unstuck is not pretty.

    An unknown vicious person had thrown our neighbors’ sweet cat into a cactus patch. Kitty limped to our house with balls of cactus stuck all over its body. Our neighbors were gone for the weekend and there were no emergency vets in those days. I gingerly held Kitty while my husband tried to pull the cactus out with pliers. But the pain was too bad and Kitty ran off. However, my husband had held onto the cactus ball with the pliers, so at least there was one less clump in Kitty.

    We didn’t expect the cat to come back…but it did. We repeated the process, grip another clump, let Kitty run and pull itself free. That poor cat returned six or seven times, allowing us to remove most of the cactus. A vet finished the job on Monday and Kitty remained our friend forever.

    We were only sorry we never identified the perpetrator b/c we would have recycled those cactus balls. Maybe could’ve even found another use for the pliers too. Now THAT would have been a story to tell!

    • Debbie, thank you for sharing that horrible story with the — thanks to you and your husband — happy ending. If you ever find that guy please email me. I’d like a crack at him as well. Those cactus balls would go where the sun doesn’t shine.

  16. Sorry to be late to the game. You have gotten the chicken bones out of my mouth more often than I can count, and I would leave dead mice on your doorstep everyday if we lived closer.

    On a more personal and special message, HAPPY, HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE I HAVE EVER HAD THE PLEASURE OF KNOWING. And, yes, I am screaming in case your hearing has not completely returned.👂🏼

    • C.J., you are never late at The Kill Zone, because, like CSI:Miami, We. Never. Close. You are welcome, but give yourself proper kudos for doing the heavy lifting and not giving up.

      I can’t lose the image of you bringing mice to my door. You should use that in a story.

      And thanks so much for the early birthday wishes. Much appreciated!

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