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Archie the Garden Cat

Archie Da Garden Qat

Gardening is sometimes hard work, and if it’s a solitary pursuit like mine, it can get, well, boring. Water the weeds, feed the bugs. Wait, wait, wait. Wonder what else should be done. But mostly, it’s work-work-work.

If you have a companion to share the load with, everything gets easier. After all, the vegetables aren’t great conversationalists, and they aren’t nearly as mobile as you might wish. The plants work hard, and if you get great veggies from them you’re grateful for their efforts. They don’t feed themselves, though, and they’re often in need of your help. More compost. Blossom set spray. Potassium this week, phosphorus the next, and when did the Neem Py last get put on?

Sometimes you just want to sit and watch. But it takes a large heap of watching to tell if the plants have grown. Rather like watching chrome rust, or paint flake.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend, even a small, furry one, to share gardening time with?

I’ve learned my lesson with dogs, though. They love to dig, and when there’s no plant around they’ll get right in there and help. It’s not very disciplined assistance, but it can be amusing. After that, though, it’s a pain. I’ve had to resort to an electrified fence to keep the pups away from the growing space in past years. (That didn’t help with the bunnies, though.)

Enter Archie. He’s been around for a couple of years. Out-of-doors in our neighborhood isn’t safe for small mammals. Everything from coyotes to cars provide hazards that can make a cat’s life expectancy drop like a politician’s approval rating without a parachute. So Archie’s a purely indoor kitty, as the other feline denizens of the Round Rock White House are.

Archie GuardsHe wants to go out, though. Man, does he want out! He’s even learned to ring the bells. The ones Sonia the Red Golden uses to let us know she needs to powder her muzzle. He’s very observant, and he quickly learned that Sonia gets to go outside if she makes the bells sound. So he does too! But with considerably less success than the dogski.

Doesn’t keep him from trying, though. And hoping.

Several times he’s darted out whenever some unsuspecting visitor held the door open a moment too long. Or we got distracted. Or the wind played tricks on us all and held the door for him.

Yes, he really, really wants to be an outside cat. Or so he thinks.

That’s when the brainstorm hit: Why not take him out to the garden? Solve two problems in one go! Brilliant. (As I usually am.) So I visited the pet store and got him a nice harness and PJ added a name tag. Archie was all set for the Great Unknown.

Just one small problem, hardly worth mentioning. Archie hates his new duds. Actually, “hates” is way too small a word. He would lie around like a stunned quadriplegic. Sometimes throwing a massive hissy fit. (Get it? Hiss-y fit? I should quit my day job and take my act on the road, I tell you.) Couldn’t even drag himself to the food bowl. (That’s a first.) Just made piteous, mewling sounds for days. Even rejected Pounce treats. Needless to say, Archie didn’t see the harness as the handsome garb we thought it was. If he had his way he’d pull it off and burn it.

It wasn’t until I started taking him outside that he learned the value of the harness. As long as he had it on, I would take him with me to go on Weed Patrol. He doesn’t much care for the fact that the harness gives me handles should he choose to bolt out of the garden. As long as he stays inside the bunny fence, though, and doesn’t mash down the pepper plants (yes, he did that, once, when spooked by a low-flying mockingbird) he can do pretty much as he likes.

Which was wonderful, in his estimation.

He chases bugs, tastes tomatillo leaves, sneaks under the Cayennes and jumps out and tags me on the ankle. He also sees himself as the reincarnation of the Crocodile Hunter, but now aiming to trap butterflies. I feed him his favorite treats, and he’s learned to be a great garden citizen. He sees me attacking nutgrass and other weeds with my trusty stirrup hoe, so he goes after the morning mushrooms with gay abandon. He doesn’t eat them, simply leaves their chewed carcasses scattered under the Serranos. Often he races the length of the tomato rows (six whole plants!), getting exercise in his own way. He sits on the visitor’s chair or the bordering cinder blocks and surveys his demesne with a satisfied look, like he’d done all the heavy lifting himself. And after he’s run around a bit, I ask him if he wants to go in and he wanders over, deigning to let me pick him up and transport him closer to his food (which, curiously, is still indoors).

He’s a bit of a monster about all this now. The other morning, about 4 A.M., he rang the bell as I sleep-walked through making the morning coffee. I ignored him, hoping he’d see that it was dark outside and that we weren’t going out to the garden in the gloom. No dice. He rang and rang. I went into my office and began to work. Then I heard the most god-awful noises in the living room! In full alarm I bolted toward the back door, worried that we had an intruder.

Nope. It was Archie. He was summarily pushing everything off the side table that stands near the door. Magazines, books, PJ’s sewing supplies, all got the same, gravity-assisted treatment. As I approached Archie he froze, fixing his stare on my face. Once I stopped moving and stared back, he casually, carelessly, pushed one more article onto the floor with a practiced flick of a nail. Daring me to say something.

Well, I said something, and Archie hid for a few hours after that. Until well after sunup, and beyond my low-caffeine threshold’s repair. He was somewhat contrite, it appeared, and once I had the mess cleared up, he sat on the table and lightly rang the bells again, watching me.

It was time to see how much taller the tomatoes were anyway. I picked him up to effusive purring and we headed out for the next chapter of the Grand Garden Adventure…

Enjoy the (Summer Sun, With Garden Cat) Heat!

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