I blinked, then looked again. Classic double-take. On this muggy and slightly overcast day on the Buffalo River, the last thing I expected to see was a fat cat on harness and leash, happily playing in the water. But there he was. Intrigued, I sent the dogs on ahead with my husband and set out to learn more about this River Cat.
Rescue kitten to parent figure
It was a low expectations sort of day, late summer fading into early autumn with drab skies. We were paying a last visit to the river before heading back to Kansas City. But as I talked with Shelley and Roy about their cat, the day brightened with the joy of the unexpected, the affirmation of a life well-lived, and well loved.
Fat Cat is an unlikely hero, an orange tabby of undistinguished appearance, saving for his fat cheeks, from which he takes his name. As a kitten, he came into Shelley’s life a throwaway. He quickly established himself as a member of the family. He has been with Shelley and Roy for 5 years. “He raised three dogs from puppies,” Shelley says,”And all of them are pits.” According to Shelley, he has trained the dogs to groom themselves like a cat. “And he wags his tail like a dog,” she says.
Today, he is not wagging his tail like a dog, although this is something I would love to see. He is out on his leash, exploring the river. Like us, the family is taking advantage of the warm weather to spend time outdoors. “You should have seen him earlier,” says Shelley. He was out there where those little rapids are.” She points to the low-running river, where ripples play, about six inches deep. She picks up Fat Cat, who is staring at me dispassionately, and carried him over to the water. He heads out a bit unenthusiastically. I can understand his dilemma. As much as he enjoys the water, it’s a hard thing for any cat to perform on demand, especially for a stranger. I catch a few seconds of video.
When my dog comes running over, Fat Cat stands his ground without drama. He’s a mountain of calm, this cat. “He’s brave,” Shelley says. Fat Cat once caught and killed a rat twice his size. It is clear that no dog of any size has ever intimidated this feline. They look each other over. The border collie is aquiver with interest, but Fat Cat is not looking for company today.
“Fat Cat saved my life,” Roy tells me. He does not elaborate, except to say, “I spend a lot of time in the house alone, because of Shelley’s work schedule. I have probably talked more to that cat in the past year than to anybody else.”
As a committed dog person, and sometimes disparager of cats, I am struck and humbled by this simple story of one cat, who makes such a difference in the lives of these two people. Even tough Fat Cat has not warmed to me (he IS a cat, after all, and I don’t expect to feel the love), he has lifted my spirits and given me a glance into the richness and diversity of the human-animal bond. This cat, this simple tabby, has saved someone’s life. He makes every day better for a family and their other pets. And somehow, somehow, he is magic.