24 July 2011


There were several more important things that happened to us, or that we did, in El Monte - such as the birth of our daughter Kathleen - but I thought I would write here about one of the lesser matters - lesser in fundamental importance, but a matter of some poignancy to us.


I don't really remember how we discovered the possibility of having a wild cat as a pet.  Perhaps I had already been interested in the subject.  I do recall getting to know quite a lot about ocelots and margays.  But Judy was a jaguarundi.

We got a bank loan to buy Judy - I think it might have been $120 - or even $180? - quite a lot of money, anyway, for a young couple on a single, rather junior, salary in 1963 - and probably not that sensible.  But we did.  We bought her from a pet shop that specialised in wild pets - cougars, monkeys, all sorts.  It is no longer legal, I understand, to have wild animals as pets in California, which is understandable.  In many such cases the animal - especially exotic animals, like jaguarundis - has been seriously victimised in order to become someone's pet.

Judy's situation was certainly an example.  We were told that typically, these small cats (maybe twice the weight, and 50% greater in length, of a house cat) were trapped in something like the following fashion: a trapper, perhaps in Mexico, finds a female with kittens, kills the female, and takes the kittens.  He may go around looking for several such litters before returning to sell them.  During that time, the kittens, perhaps taken from their mother's milk quite early, are fed on whatever he is able to supply them.  This is a recipe for serious dietary deficiencies.

Judy suffered badly from rickets, a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D - or both.  She couldn't walk properly.  Her joints were in bad shape.

Edna and I had to feed her, daily - or perhaps several times a day? - from an eyedropper, medicine containing supplements of these nutrients.

Judy's bones and joints were not in good shape - but her muscles were just fine.  It took both of us to feed her.  I held her wrapped in a towel between my legs, whilst Edna fed her the medicine.  The towel was to be wrapped around her forelegs, to keep her from scratching.

The towel did not always stay wrapped.  I was scratched repeatedly.  Eventually I developed a rash, that was not limited to the places she had scratched, so I went to the doctor.  He said it was "cat-claw disease."  At the time I thought this was his way of saying that he didn't know what caused it, but that he thought it was certainly related to being scratched all the time!  I turned out to be wrong.  Wikipedia has an article on "cat-scratch disease."  He gave me medicine - presumably antibiotics - and it cleared up.

When, in May, 1964, we left El Monte and flew to Hawai'i - with the idea that I might go into farming with my father - it never occurred to us that there were any laws about bringing cats into the state - and neither did I stop to think that Judy might be considered different from any other cat.  We flew on PanAm - part of the American past, that company, which disappeared in 1991.  We had Judy carefully put into a cage, with instructions.  PanAm said they could certainly fly the cat safely there.  We flew to Honolulu, then transplaned to fly to Hilo, were driven up the coast to Pa'auilo, and up to the house that my parents then rented - my father not yet having built a house on his farm.

There, at the house up Pa'auilo mauka (Hawai'ian for "up the mountain"), the next day, we had a telephone call from an agitated man at PanAm freight.  Our own agitation was the greater because at the time we had had no experience of Hawai'ian English.  The PanAm man said that this cat had been brought in - "dirty-kine cat!" - 'dirty' because they had opened the cage to feed it and the cat - Judy! - had escaped under some of the various benches in their freight room and was using the location as its toilet - that this cat had been brought in, and what were they to do with it?  Cats being imported had to be quarantined for 120 days, he said, because there was no rabies in Hawai'i, and they didn't want any.

"Fine," we said, "then quarantine her."

"No can!"  Wild animals cannot be imported into Hawai'i without a permit - and we had no permit.  What were they to do.

We were heartbroken.  Offer it to the zoo?  After a day, the zoo said they didn't want it.  Judy would have to be destroyed.

End of story - not quite.  In 1966 we moved to Honolulu, from California - more on this later! - and I began flying weekly to Moloka'i to work in the Peace Corps training programme on Yapese language.  Edna took me to the airport each time.  One of those times we were walking through the airport, to come upon a display of "animals that people had attempted, illegally, to bring into Hawai'i."  They had snakes, coconut crabs - and Judy.  She had been mounted, stuffed, with her lips pulled back in a snarl - on a branch, stalking a bird, as I recall.

We - and particularly Edna - were outraged!  Edna 'phoned them and demanded the return of our cat.  "Yes, you can have it, when we have finished with it."  When might that be?  "Oh, about twenty years."

Somewhere here I have some old 8mm movie films we made that have pictures of Judy in action.  One day I may try to get them into an video file.  Until then, she lives only in our memory.

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