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ILLUSTRATION BY WENTING LI

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Dare we get a cat?” My husband asked.

“Have you gone completely mad? No way! I hate cats!”

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We’d tried everything – peppermint oil, food in airtight containers, electronic rodent deterrents, humane catch and release traps. Finally, our tender hearts admitted this dilemma required the brutal snap mouse traps that would make us murderers. With a heavy sigh, we went to the hardware store and stocked up.

Much to our dismay, when we checked the traps the next morning the peanut butter was eaten but the vermin had escaped the spine-crushing-to-death part. Secretly, I was relieved. However, our mouse problem still needed solving.

We marched purposefully into the Humane Society asking for the meanest cat on site. The lady guided us to a cat at the back, in its own separate room with an “enter at own risk” sign on the door. As we looked through the glass, she explained that it was a stray, age unknown. It was male, a “Barn Buddy with Catitude” and the $165 adult cat fee was waived. Its long hair was matted, sparse and speckled with dander. It was skinny, mangy and exuded meanness that was palpable. The woman left abruptly, seemingly wanting nothing more to do with this cat.

After some courage-summoning moments, we entered vigilantly. It growled a warning, flicked its tail then hissed as we neared. I kept my distance. Its green eyes fixated on me with slits for pupils. A chill went up my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and goosebumps covered my arms. Roy spoke softly to it and moved in close, the fool. Then, there was blood.

“We’ll take him!” I said.

“I can’t believe we got a cat” my husband said as we drove home with the pitch-black mini panther, pacing in his tiny kennel prison as we sat in silent disbelief.

“Desperate times …” I finally responded, envisioning the continual reappearing mound of mouse turds behind the piano.

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I declared to all that I would not love it. We were dog people. As a matter of fact, we were quite polarized in our love for dogs versus cats. We would provide room and board, and it would kill mice. That would be the extent of this relationship.

Our pup Lynkin was curious about this creature in the kennel, tail a waggin’, big grin and floppy tongued as he peeked in the air holes - until he heard the demonic growl followed by a hiss and a lurch forward. Lynkin’s tail went down swiftly and he scuttled away, wanting nothing further to do with this stinky, dark beast. From a safe distance, Lynky gave us a wide-eyed glare, as if to say: “A cat? Really? Have you gone mad?”

“We’re not going to love it,” I reiterated. Lynky seemed to appreciate that.

“It’s going back” I told Roy. At every opportunity the cat, who we named Liam, pummelled poor Lynkin for no reason other than malice. Roy insisted we give it a few more days, reminding me of the mouse turds behind the piano.

Liam would gobble up his food, then run and hide, swatting Lynkin on the way. That is, until Lynkin had enough. With an uncharacteristic snarl, growl and a triple nip, the shocked feline was taken aback by Lynkin’s shadow self.

Shortly thereafter, we began to notice his metamorphosis. The meanness of spirit transformed into an unpredictable sweetness and adorability that one had to see to believe.

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His fur fluffed up as if he’d just flown in from a shampoo and blow dry from a beauty salon in France. He became submissive toward Lynkin, following him around like a shadowy little brother. From then on, they were side by side. Liam started laying on the back of the couch, legs up in the air dead bug style. He slept with us in the family bed. He would come running when called, leaping into our laps where he would lull himself to sleep. How calming it is to have a contented, purring cat resonating near one’s vibrations of the heart.

It is amazing what love can do.

“I have met several Zen masters," says Eckhart Tolle “all of them cats.”

Late one night a few weeks in, I awoke to Liam tracking a mouse that ran under the bed. He chased it and after some run around, the mouse found a hiding spot at the base of the lamp on the nightstand. Liam looked in all other directions, then sat under the nightstand. I shook my head, realizing that he would not be holding up his end of the bargain. Yet, we’d fallen in love with him. What would we do now?

Boom. In a flash Liam’s black paw darted up and pierced the mouse with his needle-like claws and dragged it into his lair under the table. I screamed. My scream made my husband scream and then the dog barked at all the commotion.

Courteously, Liam left the room with his prey, sparing us from the gruesome scene that would follow. In the morning, my husband found the gift at the entrance of his office.

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Word got out in the mouse community, and thanks to Liam, the mice don’t come around here any more – and our family is perfectly squared with love.

Jacqueline Lamb Jackson lives in Edmonton, Alta.

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