One day the house was in quiet urgency. Things were tumbled into bags, people ran back and forth. Liking the quietness of routine and familiarity the cat was worried. She hid inside the closet by the front door. Worry made her tired and eventually she fell asleep on top of a coat which had fallen off the hanger. She was awakened suddenly when the closet door was jerked open. She blinked in the light and looking down, saw a pair of legs and the cat carrier. She bolted.
She ran through the house, this way and that way. She dodged under tables and chairs and scrambled under the bed. Sneezing in the dust she hissed as a broom came toward her. She kept backing up until she emerged from the other side of the bed. “Got her!” she heard as a pair of hands grabbed at her. She twisted and scratched and finally dropping to the floor she streaked down the hall, through the living room and spying the front door standing a few inches open she squeezed through it.
She was free of the hands and not in the carrier but her situation had not improved much. It was raining and the wind was coming in heavy gusts. One blew her off the porch and into the bushes. She didn’t much like that nor landing in a puddle and she hopped back up on the porch just in time to see two people come out the door. “There she is! Hurry!” She ran down the porch, jumped off into the yard and headed for the nearest tree. She clawed her way up and huddled against the trunk, out of the wind and the worst of the rain. The tree creaked ominously.
An argument was going on below the tree. She heard something about needing to leave now and not waiting even for a cat. The argument grew louder and then ended with the sound of crying. A car door slammed, then another. The sound of the engine as the car left was drowned out by the wind.
The cat did not quite know what to do. She had never been outside except when taken to the vet in the carrier. The world was too large, too loud and too wet. She slowly came down the tree and ran across the lawn, trying to dodge the puddles. She huddled up against the front door of the house and mewed. When no one came she jumped up on an overturned chair and reached up to peer in the window. The house was dark and there was no movement.
Just then another gust blew her off the chair and she slid down the porch, trying frantically to gain purchase with her claws. She couldn’t think and panic was taking over. Nothing in her life had prepared her to deal with this.
Acting on instinct, she dropped off the end of the porch to get out of the wind and suddenly noticed a break in the lattice under it. She squeezed through and found herself in a place that was, if not dry, not in the rain. She crawled farther under the porch next to the foundation of the house. There were some boards stacked there and she managed to curl up behind them and so out of the wind and the damp. She was shivering with cold and fright and was too upset to groom herself. She was also hungry. The fear of going out in the rain outweighed any hunger though and she stayed where she was. It wasn’t long before she fell asleep.
What woke her was the feeling of water; lots of it. It was dark and even her excellent eyes could hardly find any light. Lightning flashed and she saw the whole underside of the porch was one pool of water. She backed up against the house. More lightning and she saw the break in the lattice she had used earlier. Something told her that it was better to be out than in and she half ran, half swam through the water and was swept from under the porch.
The world outside was a nightmare. The wind was howling, a sound that terrified her. There was the constant sound of things crashing and banging. There was so much rain there wasn’t much difference between the air and the water. Lightning showed her the overwhelming sight of trees bending like grass in the wind. Before she could make a plan suddenly she realized she was swimming. Water got in her nose and she choked. A board floated by and she frantically grabbed for it but she was too heavy for it and it sank beneath her. This happened another two or three times. She was getting tired and more water was getting in her nose. Suddenly she was flung against a floating tree trunk and she hauled herself onto it. She was so tired that she couldn’t even move, not even to seek better shelter. She coughed up water and shivered. She had lost a few claws and was only now becoming aware of the pain.
She rode the tree for another few hours although she had no sense of time. Frequently waves would wash over her but she had learned that the tree would rise again out of the water so she held on and shut her eyes. She was so tired but there seemed no way to rest. The rain was just as heavy but the gusts of wind seemed to be coming less frequently. Although it was still dark, there began to be just enough light to see around her. It was a world of water and chaos. All kinds of things bobbed in the waves and everything was gray. As the wind dropped slightly she could hear the cries of people and animals. She felt sick with hunger and fatigue and fear.
She was beginning to think she was not going to be able to keep her place on the trunk much longer when she saw that the tree was heading straight for something stable, something not moving in the current. She was confused and didn’t recognize that it was the gable of a house, all but about eight feet of it underwater. Something had punched out the vent in the storm and it was open. The cat eyed it as the tree trunk got closer. All she knew was that it was above the water and looked like a hiding place. As the trunk slid past the gable she gathered all her strength and leapt for the vent. She got her forelegs over the ledge and frantically scrabbled with her back paws, trying not to fall back into the water. Another kick and she was in.
The inside of the attic was dark but dry. With relief she dragged her weary body away from the open vent and fell on a pile of papers. She was asleep almost instantly.
Many hours later she woke. It was still drizzling but the howling and pounding rain had stopped. She was famished. She tiredly prowled around the small attic looking for anything to eat but there was nothing. Hopefully, she climbed back up to the open vent and looked out. Just as she did she saw people.
They were in a red boat and wore orange life-jackets. She recognized none of them but she knew that where there were people, there was food and shelter. She mewed. No one looked at her; they were moving past. Desperately she pulled herself into the frame of the vent, and balancing precariously she cried out. A woman turned, looking for the source of the sound, and saw her. She said something to the men in the boat and they turned and headed for the attic. The cat held on to the frame and watched as the boat bounced up and down on the waves. She suddenly thought better of leaving her stable structure for something so small and wobbly. She turned and looked over her shoulder into the attic. Food there was none and she must eat. Before she could turn back around she felt strong hands around her torso and she was lifted off the ledge.
The woman wrapped the sodden, shaking cat in a blanket and held her firmly. The cat didn’t much like this but only gave a token struggle before giving up. She almost didn’t care what happened anymore. She could see a little bit out of the blanket as the boat moved on through the flood waters. She had no idea where she was. Every now and then they would pass an unmoving animal in the water, and sometimes worse.
The boat with the cat chugged on through the debris in the water, picking up two children off a roof, a man holding on to the top of a tree and another cat. The boat was almost swamped and they turned back, heading for dry land. One of the children was crying, the other silent. Neither cat made a sound.
They arrived at an area where many people were busy and boats were coming and going. The children and the man were led away. The two cats were released into separate cages in the back of a van. A man pushed a bowl of dry food into each cage and shut the van doors. Suddenly it was quiet. The cat tried to eat but she was too tired. She swallowed a bit of food and tried to groom herself before falling asleep. She was still asleep when the engine started and the van drove off.
When she awoke the sun was shining. She immediately ate half the bowl of food and then realized she needed to find a litter box. There seemed to be several animals in the van although she couldn’t see them all. The van stopped and people started unloading the cages. She was taken inside a building and into a room that was all white. Hands lifted her out of the cage and put her on a table yet didn’t release her. Another person started gently feeling along her legs and neck. “She doesn’t have a collar, or if she did it’s gone. She’s wet and missing some claws but surprisingly not injured. Give her some antibiotics since she was in that horrible water and make sure she’s rehydrated.”
The hands lifted her back off the table and she was carried to a wall of cages. Inside there was a dry towel, some food and water, and a small litter box. She used the litter box and drank some water but she was too tired to eat. She lay down on the towel and went back to sleep. She woke and ate, slept, woke, ate…she didn’t care about anything else. A person would come at intervals and force some bitter liquid down her throat. She didn’t fight. She was in a place where no one could reach her. When she wasn’t sleeping she lay in her cage, staring at nothing.
After a few days she was taken out of her cage and carried to a room full of the sounds of cats meowing. She didn’t see any cats but she did see a lot of boxes. The person carrying her hesitated. “Don’t we have any more large cat boxes? This is the only one I see left and it’s for a kitten.” There was a little discussion and she found herself being put in a box only a tiny bit bigger than she was. She wiggled uncomfortably and mewed. She pushed her nose up to one of the few small holes in the box. She felt everything tilt and realized she was being carried. There was the sudden view of sunlight and the smell of grass and then she was back in a van.
The van hadn’t been going very long when she felt sick. She had eaten shortly before they had put her in the box and now her stomach was churning. She pushed against the walls of the box, trying to escape and felt panic as she realized just how small a space she was in. The panic didn’t help her stomach and she threw up. She rode this way for six hours.
The van stopped at a building and all the boxes were unloaded. When her box was opened she was too stiff to jump out. She heard a nice voice say, “Look at this poor cat! Why, she’s in a box just as big as herself! What were they thinking?” She was carefully lifted out and checked over by the person with the nice voice. She was bathed and while normally she would have panicked at the water, she let them do whatever they wanted to do without protest. She was dried and put into a cage very similar to the one she had come from. The only difference was this one had a glass window on the side opposite the bars. She didn’t care.
Over the next two weeks she was treated gently. She began to recover physically, but emotionally she was frozen. Kind people would take her out of her cage and she would lie on their laps as they worked at desks. They would pet her occasionally and gradually she started to look forward to this. One day, she was looking out of her cage and saw the nice woman coming. She put up one paw and mewed. The woman stopped, delighted, and took her out of the cage. The cat relaxed against her. “Look! She’s finally coming out of the shock!” the woman said to another woman as she entered the office. The cat dared to hop off the woman’s lap and walk across her desk, sniffing at items on it. People kept coming in and smiling at her.
She was put back in her cage after a while. She took a nap. When she woke up she heard voices on the other side of her window. A woman was looking in. The cat stretched and then sat up and put her paw on the window.
“Look, honey! Come look at my cat!”
“Your cat? We came to look for a dog, remember?” After a minute a woman came in and took the cat from her cage and carried her to a room. The woman who had looked at her through the window was there and also a man and several children. The woman stroked the cat.
“Where is she from?”
“She’s from New Orleans. They found her somewhere after hurricane Katrina hit and she was brought up here because the shelters all around there were too full. We don’t know what happened to her, but she was in shock when she got here. Poor thing, she came in a box no bigger than herself.”
The cat liked the way the woman was petting her. She permitted the woman to pick her up. She did it the right way, the cat noticed with approval, supporting her back legs. Suddenly little hands were everywhere, stroking her. “Carefully…we don’t know if she’s used to this many people.”
“You could take her today since she’s already had her shots and she was already spayed at some point in the past.” Even the man was petting her now, scratching her behind the ears and under her chin. The cat purred.
“We’d love to! What do we need to do?”
The cat was put into a kennel but it was considerably larger than the cardboard box she had been in last. Little fingers came poking in until the man stopped them. Lots of discussion went on and the cat was bored. She wanted to be back out where she could be petted. For the first time since the storm she was interested in something.
“Oh, I forgot to ask – what is her name?”
“We gave her a French name since she came from New Orleans. Her name is Genevieve, but you could change it if you like.”
“No, Genevieve is a beautiful name. And we’ll always remember her as our ‘Katrina cat’.”