by Jim Bulls
My first pets were little piglets out on the farm. Mom would rescue the runts rejected by the old sow and raise them in the kitchen. In those days, even the runt piglets were money in the bank when taken to the livestock auction.
There were barn cats too, but they were for rodent control. A few were tame enough to pet, but most were feral. None of them were spayed, neutered or inoculated. Disease and larger predators kept the feline population low. The only special attention those cats ever received, was a taste of fresh milk my Dad would squirt in their direction while he was milking the cows.
During the early part of WWII, the owner of the farm broke the lease and we were forced to move. In those war years, a man could get a military deferment if he was a farmer, but he had to farm his own land not let someone else do it. My Dad was too old to be drafted, but he joined the war effort by going to work at the Pantex Ordinance Plant. To ease the transition from farm life to apartment dwelling on a big military base, my parents let me choose a kitten from the current barn litter.
Following the end of the war, we moved to Reedley so my parents could begin teaching. I had to leave my cat with Grandma Bulls in Texas–driving a cat across country wasn’t anything my Dad would even consider. However, he did promise to get me a new kitten once we were settled in Reedley.
At first we lived with my aunt and uncle, but before long Dad and Mom purchased a house in the new development on Hemlock and Manning. I started looking for a “quality” kitten. To my way of thinking, the Nelsons had the best kittens. They lived on a ranch near the Kings River off LacJac Avenue. They had a large Maine Coon cat who would always have her kittens in the hollow limb of a large tree in the back yard. When the kittens were old enough to get around, mama cat would take them to the kitchen and Mrs. Nelson would make sure they were tame enough to be adopted.
That’s how we got Susie. She was the family cat for nearly 15 years.
When I met Diana, I soon realized that she was a cat person from a long line of cat people. It was clear that cats were going to be a big part of my life from then on. In fact, when Diana and I got married in her parent’s back yard, one of our attendants was a cat! Grandpa Sing, as he was called then because he was approaching 18 years old, evidently approved of our marriage. When we were saying our vows, he vocalized his approval as well.
Diana had a black cat named Tigger and he was soon joined by Howard Kitting, Nicki. We lived out on the Dutcher ranch and the cats could go in and out as they pleased through the cat flap. Needless to say, we sometimes had interesting visitors in the night or early morning: baby bunnies, lizards, mice, and one time a small barn owl.
Around 1977, we moved to Reedley with two kids and three cats. Tigger was getting quite elderly and finally passed away at age 17. Not too long afterwards, the Informal Tuxedo came to live with us. She was a black and white Manx kitten who also lived to a ripe old age.
Tuxedo was very social and always had something to say about everything. She was quite opinionated and didn’t mind expressing that opinion to whoever might be available. She was quite fond of talking to our next door neighbor, a lady who did not like cats and Tuxedo especially liked to “work” in Mrs. Smith’s garden–right alongside her. One day, Mrs. Smith commented to Diana, “Your cat isn’t afraid of brooms.”
“No,” said Diana, “she isn’t. In fact, I use the broom to sweep the cat. She likes it.”
Over the years, Mrs. Smith came to love Tuxedo as much as we did. While we were at work, Tuxedo would visit the neighbor. Mrs. Smith confessed that she left the screen door open for Tuxedo to come in and that Tux had her own special cushion to sleep on, but that she never fed her. A few years later, when Mrs. Smith had to move to a retirement home, she told Diana that the thing she would miss the most was having Tuxedo visit her.
Cats and kittens would come and go, all of them coming “from the street.” Although Diana and I have always firmly believed in spaying and neutering, our cats were allowed to go outdoors when they pleased. Most lived to a ripe old age, but a few were victims of cars and at least two “disappeared.” When our oldest daughter Becki was about 12, she came home from school one day with great excitement. The neighbor boy, about four houses down from us, had found a mother and four kittens in their backyard. Becki exclaimed, “I know they were looking for our house–they just got the wrong backyard!”
When we moved to this old house on D Street, we had Amanda, my Dad, one dog and four cats (three seniors). The cats were now all indoor cats with no more free access, or any access to the outside. In a couple of years, Gretel was the only cat left. For the first time in nearly 30 years we had only one cat! Gretel was the queen of the house, and then Amanda brought home Fred.
Fred had been in the YMCA Pet Parade and his owner was trying to give the kittens away in the park following the parade. Amanda couldn’t resist. His face was half white and half black and he was going to be fluffy. The down side was that Amanda was going away for the summer to work at a pack station and Fred had all kinds of dietary issues because he had been taken away from his mother before he was weaned. Diana nursed him through this whole process and he became her “Baby Fred” for the next 17 years. Gretel, also Diana’s baby, passed away just one month before her 20th birthday.
We’ve added a few more cats here and there. We also have a few who make the front porch their home. Referred to as “the Porch Boys’, these guys came from the neighborhood. One belonged to a neighbor who passed away, another who just appeared and so on. Sometimes we had to work with them several weeks before we could touch them, but all of them made The Trip To The Vet.
On my 71st birthday, I was out cutting down weeds in the alley and came across a kitten that was just a couple of days old. It had been stolen from its litter by a blue jay and had several pecking wounds on its head and body. My daughter and her husband took the kitten in, bottle feeding every three to four hours, washing it and doing everything else that newborn kittens require (which is pretty much everything since they are helpless). Lewie is now a big, seven year old cat.
About five years ago, I went through three months of radiation therapy, on my way to being a cancer survivor. There was one strange side effect to this treatment however, a rare affliction known as A.C.D. or ‘accumulative cat disorder’. For every month of treatment, I picked up one stray cat.
Not too long after that, we got a new Ford. The car was great, except for this noise I kept hearing. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I stopped the car, looked all over, listened, and just couldn’t figure it out. I drove to the church, I drove to the post office, I drove to the credit union. Finally, I called home and asked Diana to send Sean with a jack and a big flashlight. After about an hour, we pulled out a tiny ball of orange fluff from the top of the gas tank. After driving all over Reedley, I had to keep him.
For the last couple of years, our daughter and son-in-law have been fostering kittens for the Cat House on the Kings. This in a wonderful way to get a kitten fix–there is nothing better to lower the blood pressure than watching a kitten explore, pounce and play. We are happy to say that all of the kittens we have fostered have found forever homes. Right now there are three siblings occupying the “kitten kastle” upstairs: Jack, Janet and Krissy, and downstairs we have six month old Bailey who has just returned from The Trip To The Vet.
Diana has placed an arbitrary five cat limit for indoors, although ideally she would like to have about three. Simon, Lizzybelle, Henry, Emily and Kody Jack pretty much do whatever they want downstairs. Upstairs, the kids have Keiko, Lewie and Sofie. The two current Porch Boys are Chairman Meow and Tony.
A new cat has started visiting the porch. Although he is intact, he appears to get along with the resident Porch Boys. We shall call him George. I’m hoping by this time next week, he will have made The Trip To The Vet.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.