A Cat Can Only Take So Much

Nov 29, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Helping Hands, Pets, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance V. Mc Arthur

I took my cat to the Valley Animal Center, a no-kill shelter in Fresno, to get her picture taken with Santa Paws.

Now, wait a minute!

Some of you have already written me off as one of those touchy-feely, cat-loving, reality-impaired wackos, but I’m really a decent guy…and I have the scars to prove it!

It’s not like I dress my cat in costumes…although my wife showed me this cool reindeer-head cap that had a strap to hold it on the cat’s head and…….We didn’t buy it.

Marilyn, Hudgin & Terrance

It isn’t as if I’ve chopped holes through the walls between rooms to make a feline transit system like I saw in this great article in a…I didn’t do that.

It just seemed like a nice idea to go to the Animal Center’s holiday event, to shop in the craft fair, baked goods, and the book sale, to get a Santa Paws photo, and to give my cat a chance to paint.

Paint? A CAT???

OK, that may have been pushing the envelope too far. In fact, that probably put the envelope into a shredder and set fire to the pieces.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the VAC with our cat in her carrier. After parking, I leashed and harnessed her, and we headed down the street, cat on my arm, leash fastened to my hand. People smiled as we walked past them. Were they smirking? I don’t know. Some of the approaching pedestrians were walking dogs, but our cat only gave them passing glances, as if they made no matter in her world. We entered the Center’s gates and saw…

A world of dogs. In the parking lot, in the buildings, dogs in purses, dogs in strollers, dogs walking on leashes, tiny dogs, small dogs, big dogs, really big dogs, and scary-big dogs. It wasn’t a barking lot, though. Most of them were quiet…and the cat watched it all…and she was The Cat. There were no other cats to be seen in the public areas. I thought I saw one, but it turned out to be a rabbit with floppy ears.

I kept the cat in my arms, since I didn’t want her squashed, and her perch made her the center of attention:

“He or she?”

“A she.”

“What’s her name?”



“No, a Hudgin is a mythical creature who wants a bed…preferably yours.”

“How old is she?”




Hudgin looks very youthful, and is often mistaken for being between five and seven years old, but she has managed to survive being an abandoned kitten, fighting for survival among a crowd of ranch cats, and 18 years of living with my family.

At the photo area, we signed Hudgin up for her Santa Paws photo, a chance to get a picture of our pet with a man in a Santa Claus suit. We paid for Package C, which included several prints, and a session at the Pawcasso Studio.

Pawcasso 2011

Pawcasso Studio? I’ll get to that, later.

There was a long waiting time before our appointment, so we went shopping:

“Lovely cat. He or she?”

“She’s 18 1/2.”

“What’s her name?”

“Hudgin, for a mythical beast that wants a bed…preferably yours.”

“Oh! I think I have one of those, too.”

People were coming up to ooh and ahh, pet her fur, and tell us all about their feline friends. A cluster of Girl Scouts seemed to appear around us every five minutes for another round of Admire-the-Feline. Hudgin was taking this all in stride, which surprised my wife, since Hudgin is known for making fierce displays through the window at any dog crossing her domain, and hiding under the nearest couch or bed if anybody enters the house besides my wife, my daughter, or me. She was relaxed, she was enjoying the attention, pats and scritches, and she was becoming a diva.

After over an hour, we checked on Santa Paws, and only half the people that were ahead of us had been served, so I said, “Look, why don’t we do the Pawcasso thing and come back? We have time.”

The Pawcasso thing. The idea of the Pawcasso Studio was: they put a piece of canvas on the floor, dip your pet’s paws into non-toxic paint, and let Momma’s Precious walk, prance, spin, roll around, and slide until an amazing work of art is produced, to be stretched and mounted, suitable for framing. The shelter had done this before with some of the resident animals, auctioning off the paintings as a fundraiser, but this was the first time they offered it to the public. The studio was set up in a room on the cat-adoption side of the Center, where a paint-spattered young woman worked in a paper-covered area. “Paint-spattered” should have alerted me to the inherent danger, but I didn’t listen to my brain, when my heart was saying,

“This is going to be soooooo cute!”

Another family was ahead of us, so I thought I might stroll through the cat areas, letting Hudgin look at other cats. “She might even find a new friend that we could adopt” was the idea flitting through my foolish imagination. I had forgotten about Taz, the cat I inherited from my mother, the cat I welcomed into our home after years of her forced exile to mom’s backyard and neighborhood, the cat who—for the last three happy years of her life—was snubbed, hissed at, and treated to the Waving Ninja Claws of Death whenever Hudgin saw her (except when we returned from overnight trips to find them nestled together like sweet angels…not really, but they lay within six inches of each other).

She was cool with it, at first, riding my arm past the holding rooms—partly because the adoptables were all resting, looking more like puddles of fur than cats—UNTIL…I leaned closer to one window, and a cat raised its head and came nose to nose with Hudgin, sort of like those pop-up ghosts in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, the ones that scare you silly……..Similar reaction.

Our curious, placid feline was suddenly transformed into a growling, spitting imitation of a wood chipper, claws slashing with the same destructive results. She yowled her way back to the Pawcasso Studio, digging into the back of my hand with malicious glee.

If I had been wise, I would have said, “That’s it. You’re going home, little lady,” but, instead, I was thinking, “We’d better get the painting and the photo done quickly. We’ve already paid for them.”
It was time for Cat Painting 101. I removed my heavy jacket and entered the zone of combat. I held Hudgin as the colorful young lady dipped the paws into a paper plate smeared with red watercolor paint, then I lowered my feline artist onto the canvas.

She didn’t move.

I picked her up, and set her on another part of the canvas.

She stood there, but her red-smeared tail began to swing back and forth.

I felt like I was working with the world’s largest rubber stamp set, until Hudgin decided to move.

She ran off the canvas, scurrying under the bench by the window, but the leash is strong, though the cat be fast.

I grabbed Hudgin, and watched as her head swiveled around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, as her mouth opened and expanded into The Cave of Daggers, and as she bit me…twice.

Oddly enough, I kept at this exercise in animal-applied body-piercing through additional coatings of blue and yellow. As we tried to blot the paint off the cat’s fur and the blood off my hands, I heard a voice calling, “Number 32 for Santa Paws? Number 32 for Santa Paws!”

My number was up.

We hotfooted across the Center:


“Her name’s Hudgin, for a creature that wants a bed…yours, and she’s 18 ½.”

I handed my furry assassin to Santa Paws, a nice man in a red suit and a lot of wig, and she got all gentle and big-eyed, while I tried to hide my blood and paint. There wasn’t time to bandage or wash my hands, and there was yellow paint on my knee, red-and-blue on my shirt, and pink on my thigh….How did THAT get there? My curled-up hand masked the blood and the yellow, my Christmas-y Garfield necktie tie hid the shirt’s paint, and the pink was behind Santa’s jacket.

Before we left, we tried to get in one more round of shopping:

“She’s 18 ½, a Hudgin is a monster that wants your bed, and I’d like to look at the…OW!”

That gash across the back of my hand sent me to the first-aid station, where I disinfected much of my exposed flesh.

We had been there for almost two hours, I wanted to go home, and we had to walk past the gourmet tamales booth.

On an outside bench, I handed the leash to Marilyn, letting Hudgin stand and survey the cars while I tried to nibble my share of the succulent pork tamale. That’s when I was reminded that the Valley Animal Center is located near the Fresno Yosemite International airport. There was a rumbling, a disturbance in the Force.


At the roaring sound, the leash went taut as Hudgin dove into the darkness beneath a Ford Mustang nosed up to the curb.

Remember those horror movies where you just see the fishing line jerking back and forth as the monster fish circles under the boat?

The leash was stuttering left, right, left-left-right, and I knelt down to retrieve Hudgin…just as I saw her sliding out of her harness! I lunged, and I drew forth a seething beast who gave me a new set of puncture wounds.

Re-harnessed, she rode my arms past a St. Bernard that could have been used as a mass transit vehicle…with not so much as a look! We made it back to the car two hours after we had parked, Hudgin plunged into the safety of her carrier with no prodding from me, and I drove us home, by way of Costco.

Cat and wife stayed in the car. Not a sound came from the carrier until we were in the house, where we released and de-harnessed her.

Hudgin’s paws were still red with paint, and she was chewing at her toes to remove the offending pigment. I brought out the organic dog-and-cat shampoo we had purchased from the craft fair, told my daughter to put warm water in the big sink, knowing that the vet groomer often tells of how much Hudgin enjoys her baths. She only put an inch or two of water in the tub, so I kind of slid her back and forth, as color bloomed around her paws. She emerged from her bathing like some attacking zombie-mummy, lumpy limbs extending from her wrappings, ending in wicked talons.

I collapsed in bed for a two-hour nap. I woke to the soft pressure of paws on my ankle. A well-trained pet owner, I put a pillow on my stomach to protect me from claws, and gave Hudgin her daily deep massage. I was forgiven, more-or-less.

Note to self—Next year:
• Clip all nails before the VAC Holiday Festival.
• Don’t stay more than ninety minutes.
• Forget the Pawcasso Studio—Been there, done that, got the scratches to prove it.

Nevertheless, this coming weekend, my wife and I are going to the VAC’s Kitty Christmas and Merry Mutts Holiday Open House, Friday, December 2, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. They have appetizers, wine (and non-alcohol options), raffle prizes, and animals to adopt. Admission is a gift for the shelter animals (Money or supplies from their Wish List on their website or call 559-233-8690. They are located at 3934 N.
Hayston–north of Dakota, just east of the bridge over 168.

As for Hudgin, this Friday….I’ll tell her about it when I get home.

Please support your local no-kill animal shelters!

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is currently writing a stage adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the Fresno County Public Library’s next The Big Read. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.


  1. I too was at the Valley Animal Center’s annual event only a few numbers ahead of Terrance and Hudgin in line to see Santa. I must say you have given me the best laugh I’ve had in a while. 🙂
    I almost went for the Pawcaso when paying in advance for the photo session but told my pets let’s check this out first.
    Thankfully I saw Terrance and Hudgin coming from that direction with paint EVERYWHERE. You would never know if you hadn’t read this artical that there was any pain, or blood involved. Thanks for the laugh, hope you’re all healed up!

    • I’m getting better. A few scratches and punctures are still visible.

  2. OMG, I just love cats and this is priceless!
    Thanks for the share.

  3. Come on now, Terrance – I thought you were smarter than that! Cats don’t paint. Cats pose.

  4. Loved your story, love cats. It was a purfect description of what one would expect of a painting and photo session. Thank you, Terrance, for sharing.


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