By Michael Brannon
HERNANDO — He appeared one day in our garage and took refuge behind boxes over in the corner. As hard as I tried to get him out, the old gray cat would only show his eyes and make a whimpering sound. So began the process of winning trust from a stranger who suddenly appeared and in need of help. I named the old tomcat Wiley, the middle name of my father, who passed away in the 1978, and whose picture sits above my desk. I thought maybe if I honored him with my father’s name, he would have that same resilience. Plus, my father’s kind heart towards his pets lives within me to this day. With glimpses of Wiley eating while I watched through the laundry room door, I could tell of the terrible state he was in. His scalp was gone between the ears and down the neck, his tail looked like a roadmap of South America, broken and torn in several places, and almost down to skin and bones. Picking Wiley up and taking him to the vet wasn’t an option, and at that moment I let common sense overcome compassion. I explained to my friend at the County Seat Animal Clinic of my situation, and Dr. Pattberg listened intently and smiled as he always has since my daughter and I started our ritual of picking up strays and bringing them in for a dose of his kindness. He gave me a bottle of antibiotics with a small dropper to administer the medication. I was so happy to learn that I didn’t have to put it in his mouth, but to simply add to his food. Wiley’s strength gradually came back as did beautiful coat, his tail straightened out as if I sent it to the local cleaners, and his walk was like that of an only rooster in the hen yard. The next chore was to win his trust. Twice a day, when feeding time came around, he would allow me to get a little closer, and a kind voice softened his heart. Wiley would sit at the storm door when it wasn’t feeding time and just stare inside, but, would not consider coming in. It was if he was asking me to come back out. After about six months, I was allowed to rub his healed head and back. Trust is a wonderful thing, and like respect it has to be earned. Wiley didn’t easily give it up since it was probably taken away a long time prior. We finally got to a point he would sit in my lap and let me brush him for what seemed an eternity, but for him it was only a few seconds. Enough was never enough. If you left too soon, he would try to mark your ankle with a left hook that would challenge Rocky Marciano’s (the older generation knows the name). Most cats and dogs will run for cover when you start an engine or move things around in the garage. Not Wiley. I would crank the blower and simply blow leaves from around him as he gave me the hurry-up-and finish look. So, for three years, we bonded, went through our rituals, and I always loved how he would look inside and wonder what was going through his mind. Wiley gave me laughter, helped me improve my footwork, and taught me, like other pets, that their value to our life is underestimated. So, on March 8, I remember him sitting there, looking at me on the back steps to my office off the garage, and having the traveling salesman look in his eyes. From time to time, he would go off for a day or so, but we both always enjoyed his return. Wiley apparently lived by the old country song “How Can You Miss Me if I Never Go Away.” After he failed to return home for three days, I began to walk over to the barn next door and call, drive through the neighborhood looking and calling, but with no response. I know my neighbors must have thought I lost my mind was looking for my father. How important it becomes when we lose someone we love, and here lies a hard lesson. Never take for granted that the next minute will come. I have this poem taped to my monitor: “The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power To tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own, Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time, for the clock may soon be still.” – Anonymous On my way home, I would call Gee and ask if he was in the garage or in the middle of the night, get up and flick on the light to see if he was on his cushion, which I placed on my wooden tennis bench. But, silence overwhelmed the scene. I simply could not give up not knowing where Wiley was, and could not stand the thought of his leaving and not coming home. So, while watching a tennis match in Hernando last night, I got a text from Gee. “He’s back! He’s bunged up but in the closed garage and eating.” I turned my back to my friends so they could not see the tears. Sweet relief from a worried father…. Hurrying home and into Wiley’s safe haven in the garage, there he was. Tail bent again, could barely walk on three legs, face and head cut up. His skin was sagging and bones protruding and I knew he had not eaten since he left. What did not disappear was his trust and our love. Wiley’s head was too sore to rub, but his boney back was like a feather cushion to my hands. My only statement to him was that I sure hoped she was worth it. As I age, I love deeper and longer. Not only family and friends but my four-legged friends that are also my friends and family. Not all pet stories have a happy ending, but, this morning, my heart is a little lighter. God must have seen us both suffering, and answered our prayers. Wiley is home.
Eupora native Michael Brannon of Hernando may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.