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As the Village Turns

No match for a mountain lion

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Spike, recovering from 10 inches worth of injuries.
  • Spike, recovering from 10 inches worth of injuries.

Last week I found myself lying on my stomach, my head and shoulders wedged under my bed. In my right hand was a 6-ounce can of Bumble Bee tuna. In a soft, singsong, feminine voice I was saying: "Gooood kitty. Does the good kitty want some yummy tuna?"

I was:

A) Rehearsing for a minor role in the town of Calhan's annual production of Cats.

B) Wishing my parents hadn't used lead paint in my room during those formative, windowsill -chewing years. (Fortunately I stopped chewing on the windowsills before I suffered any brain damma ... damajje ... when I was about 34.)

C) Trying to get our cat, Spike, to eat the day after he was savagely mauled by a mountain lion in our back yard.

D) Wishing I hadn't taken the wife to see that stupid Catwoman movie a month ago and that we could go back to the old, regular kind of foreplay that doesn't involve waving cans of seafood around.

The correct answer is C. Spike was attacked by a mountain lion in our Colorado yard and received a tremendous thrashing, pinned against the back door of our home.

Stunningly, Spike escaped from the jaws of the lion, fighting back with the kind of determination and against-all-odds spirit demonstrated by Ralph Nader, who is from Pluto and is trying to screw up a big November election here on our planet.

Because of Spike's refusal to die, and also because of some brilliant and pricey surgical work by our veterinarian, Dr. Jack Uppthebill, I found myself lying on the carpet the day after the attack, crammed under our bed, trying to get our cat to eat as he cowered, glassy-eyed, wallowing in the horrible, seemingly never-ending nightmare that's brought on by the use of morphine.

Uh, you know, from what I hear.

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Spike licked the tuna a few times that day and then would have no more. Looking into his melancholy eyes, I felt a terrible sense of sadness and guilt -- a feeling that was only intensified the following day when my son came home from school and said his tuna sandwich had "tasted, like, weird or something."

I moved to Colorado more than a decade ago, settling in against the foothills that signal the end of our continent's great, grassy plains and beckon us higher, ever higher, to a magical land of towering mountains where the sound of John Denver's voice still haunts the living hell out of us.

Living amid such splendor comes with a price. We have bears. And Ed Bircham. And mountain lions. Although most people in our village like the bears and mountain lions.

The evening before the attack, my wife and I hiked along a ridge a few hundred yards from our home. In the creeping darkness I saw a huge, tan figure move with catlike speed just ahead of us, slinking along the ground and quickly disappearing with a chilling, throaty growl under the low branches of a pine.

Schooled by nearly 40 years in the wild and wise in the ways of the animal, I reached back, put my hand over my startled wife's face and whispered: "Sshhhhh. It's a really short elk. With, uh, a cough."

At 5 the next morning I was startled from my sleep by the exact same sound we'd heard nine hours earlier, the call of the short, sick elk. This was followed by the pained, soft cries of Spike, an indoor cat who had somehow escaped during the evening.

I ran outside with a flashlight and found him under the porch steps. He was lying on his side, unable to get up. Blood was splattered on the stairs and the sidewalk and I felt my heart jump. Then, as I knelt down to comfort our cat, something moved behind me, giving me a chill as it crashed through the scrub oak and moved off into the darkness -- not unlike ordinary guy Pete Coors when he's prowling around at night in his $1,400 pants stealing Ken Salazar signs.

Anyway, I got Spike out from under the stairs and into the kitchen, my pajamas soaked in blood. Twenty minutes later the emergency hospital vet said the bite wounds, including a matching set that had torn through our cat's left and right sides -- a span of some 10 inches -- were almost surely the work of a mountain lion.

Somehow, the vet said, Spike had probably scratched and bitten and fought just enough to make the lion drop him. And then he was able to get under the steps, where the lion couldn't get him.

And so the days go by now and we wait and we hope and we pray for one very tough and brave cat to mend.

And my son, who is young and began on that terrible day to understand how fragile life can be, looks at me each morning with sad eyes and asks the same question:

"Dad, can I have salami instead of tuna?"

-- richt@csindy.com

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