It is a fact well-known to the feline community that the Carlyle Hotel, one of New York’s finest, offers an elegant cat café at Christmas time for all those cats lucky enough to be living on the ritzy Upper East Side.   In an alley behind the hotel, waiters set out porcelain platters of fresh tuna and salmon as well as bowls of the best-quality dry food.

A young gray cat named Rocky didn’t live in that neighborhood, but she was told about the café by her Aunt Vanessa, who shared the Park Avenue apartment of an elderly Russian lady.  Three days before Christmas, Rocky trotted into the alley, and while she was helping herself to salmon, Vanessa appeared at her side.  She wasn’t there to eat, because her diet was ample, but to tell Rocky about a situation that involved a lost cat.  She couldn’t do the searching herself, since Mrs. Oblonsky needed too much of her attention, but perhaps Rocky could?

With a series of head-and-tail moves, Vanessa let Rocky know that there was a homeless man living at the church of St. Jean the Baptist who had lost his feline companion.  The church, which was only a few blocks away on Lexington Avenue, had a broad porch, and people surviving on the street often made their homes there.  The man she was worried about, a middle-aged man named Tom, was a cheerful soul, friendly to everybody, but he wasn’t quite the same since his beloved cat disappeared.

With a few swipes of her whiskers, Rocky let her aunt know that she was on the job.  After a few bites of tuna, washed down by water from a crystal bowl, she said goodbye to her aunt and trotted over to Lexington Avenue.  At the top of the steps and just inside the porch, a man was sitting on a pile of newspapers, watching the traffic go by.  As soon as he saw Rocky, he held out his fingers so she could sniff them, as he said, “Well, hello, sweetheart.  Boy, am I glad to see you.”

As Rocky dashed to his side, sure that a man so sensitive to feline etiquette could only be Tom, he let her sniff to her heart’s content and then stroked her back.   “I used to have a cat of my own,” he told her.  “Leastways, he adopted me a couple of months ago when I first started coming to this church. He was a black cat with a white face and two little black marks like a paintbrush moustache under his nose. 

“It was the same kind of moustache you see on Japanese men, so I called him the Japanese Gentleman.  I couldn’t pet him like you.  He liked to keep his distance, but only in a dignified way.  Very Japanese.   We’d share some shrimp, whenever I got me some shrimp tempura, which I do when my check comes in.  We was friends.”  Tom sighed.  “I wish I knew if he was all right.  I miss the Gentleman!”

Rocky stroked his wrist with her paw.  She was telling him, “Trust me.”  Before she darted back down the steps, she turned to give him a reassuring look.  Then she headed off to the Italian deli down the street, where two tabbies, Gusto and Brio, lived.  They would be most likely to know about everything feline in the neighborhood, and as Rocky knew, nothing beats local knowledge.

The front of the deli was wide open, and shoppers were hurrying out, laden with parcels.  Rocky dodged between them and the poinsettias for sale that were artistically arranged on a two-tier stand.  She paused to avoid a woman with stiletto heels who was coming toward her, but as soon as the coast was clear, she started through the doorway.  Then she backed up.

Across the threshold two tabbies came racing.  Seeing Rocky, they jumped on their brakes, laid back their ears and snarled.  They flung at her the kind of yowl that is meant to paralyze the enemy, so they could move in for the kill. 

Realizing she was outnumbered, Rocky decided to fall back on a trick her mother had taught her.  She lowered her head, crouched down until her belly touched the ground, and gulped for breath like a cat having a heart attack. 

 This pathetic pose encouraged Gusto and Brio to ramp up their arrogance.  Claws extended, the bullies lunged forward.  They intended to land smack on top of her, but to their surprise, Rocky wasn’t where they thought she would be.  She was lunging at them! 

GROWOWOWRRRRCH!  She fired a yowl like a bullet, and it exploded like a rocket that shattered the sunlight.  Getting the full impact, the two tabbies shot straight up in the air.  Not waiting to see what else she could do, they turned tail and streaked off across the street.

As customers who had been discouraged from coming in during this drama surged forward, Rocky headed off in a leisurely way down Lexington.  The attack had shaken loose a piece of information she had forgotten.  The church just below St. Jean’s was St. Vincent Ferrer, and it  was famous for making space in its chapels for any animals who didn’t have a home in cold weather.   It was just possible the Japanese Gentleman had taken refuge there.

With no possibility of a nap now, Rocky was beginning to feel irritated.  But the traffic was light, and she got to 66th St. in about ten minutes.  Climbing up the steps of St. Vincent’s, she slipped through a flap in the front door and followed a big yellow dog with a chewed ear into the nave, where a sign said, “DOGmatics to the right, and CATechetics to the left.”

Rocky could see that the dog was the kind of mutt that cats call a “Heinz,” meaning he has 57 canine varieties in his DNA.  Heinz, in his hurry to get settled, stepped on Rocky’s paw, but she could tell from the droop of his tail that he was too down and out to notice.  Crossing right in front of the little cat, he jogged over to the Holy Name chapel on the right.  The chapel was well lit and the wrought iron gates had been left open.  Heinz found the bowl of water that had been placed underneath the rack of candles. 

Slurp, slurp, slurp. . . .  Listening to him filling up after a dry day, Rocky said a little prayer that Heinz would be adopted.  She could see that he was a dog who was really only half a dog without a human.

Peering into the next chapel, Rocky saw a double row of cat baskets set out on a blue carpet.  On the other side were a dozen litter boxes positioned on thick white paper.   And under the stained glass windows were food and water bowls, not as elegant as the Carlyle’s, but very serviceable.

Going over to the first inhabited basket, Rocky stood up on her hind legs and took a careful sniff.   The sleeper, who had been twitching nervously, woke up, and lifted his black and white head with its paint brush moustache.  It was the Japanese Gentleman!

In a few low mews, Rocky told him how Tom missed him and wondered why he didn’t come around anymore.  In even lower mews, the Gentleman explained he was afraid to.  He said no more, but Rocky suddenly got it!  He was afraid of Gusto and Brio.  When she said their names, the Gentleman visibly shivered.  It was obvious that to him those two were terrorist tabbies. 

With a quiet fierceness in her mew, Rocky let him know that she would be his ally from now on.  She would even teach him all the skills he needed –paw swipes, footwork, yowls and hisses – to be able to knock those cowards right on their tails.  After all, nothing should be allowed to separate him from Tom, who loved him dearly.

Rocky could see he wasn’t completely convinced, but he was definitely heartened.  She would have to work on him a little more, and maybe, if she had a nap, a long one, in that very comfortable basket next to the Gentleman’s. . . she could start his lessons this evening.

Climbing into the basket, which was made of beautifully woven wicker and lined with heavy flannel, Rocky felt an enormous yawn come over her.  But before she fell asleep, a picture of Heinz flashed across her mind.  Maybe Tom could take him too.  That might be a better solution than training the Gentleman to fight, since he looked like a born scaredy-cat.    But how could she get the dog to follow her up to St. Jean’s?  Could her Aunt Vanessa think of a way? 

Suddenly, all the confidence her mother had instilled her from kittenhood came flooding into her heart.  Of course, she could do it, if she could just find the trick. And then she realized just what it was that might work.  But she would have to practice first.  Grateful that almost no one was around to hear her, she made a soft, gruff sound.  “Woof,” she coughed.  Then again but more audibly, “WOOF.”  She made half a dozen more woofs until she produced one that sounded like the real thing. 

Now, she could fall peacefully asleep, knowing Heinz would follow her up to St. Jean’s with no question.  After all, what dog will say no to a cat who can bark?   

Lynn Schiffhorst






Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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