The View from Faraway Farm: Bentley making great strides one year on
About a year ago we adopted an adorable gray and white kitten from my daughter and son-in-law's farm. My grandsons socialized him and named him Bentley. He was born with an uphill battle before him and my daughter seemed to know that I would relate to him immediately. Understatement of the decade. Bentley was born with one of his hind legs deformed. It gives him a pronounced limp, and the crooked, stiffened leg splays outward, occasionally catching on furniture and door jambs. One common solution is surgical amputation. We chose to give it a year to see how Bentley would adapt to his errant leg.
We already had a perfect cat. Six-year-old Gracie is a gray and white female that is physically beautiful. She is the consummate hunter, leaving all sorts of vermin like moles and mice at our doorstep. We never worry about her because she always comes home every night when she's had enough of the hunt. She signals me by rubbing on the slider window to our bedroom with her paw pads. Bentley is her younger cousin. By the hissing, growling reception she gave him when we brought him home you wouldn't know it.
This went on for several months. We wondered if this poor kitten would ever be accepted. However, he clung to me, taking long naps on my chest and staying close at all times. We were truly bonded, but he longed to be with his species. He never gave up on Gracie and whenever the opportunity presented itself he would pounce on her and attempt to play. No dice.
I don't know what happened but one day a switch flicked on in Gracie and suddenly they were buddies. It started with mutual grooming and progressed to roughhousing. Bentley learned to effectively use his stiffened leg like a pinball machine paddle, flicking people and cats away from him with deftly accurate leverage. We started calling it his secret weapon. It was one of the things that convinced us to start allowing him to go outside. That was a huge deal for me. Where we live there are several predators able to snap up a small cat for an easy lunch. These include hawks and owls. Bentley was initially small enough when he went outside for a perfect raptor snack.
The thing was that he cried to go outside. He was so determined to simply be a cat. How could we deny him that? Out he went, and he became somewhat defiant about coming back in. One thing about Bentley we've learned is that he is highly food motivated, so I started buying cat treats in bulk. It has turned into a daily training regimen. When he comes in through the pet door and into the house he gets a snack. If he's being a brat at dusk and does not want to come in, we get a nearly empty container of treats, take it outside, shake it, and he comes running.
Whenever I'm outside when he is out there he comes and wraps himself around my legs. He is always happy to see me in his chosen environment. His cousin Gracie chases him across the lawn and they tackle each other and become one ball of fur in their wrestling glee. She can outrun him, but not by much. His ability to hunt is basic at this point, but he is slowly learning. The one night that he eluded us he ended up hunting with his cousin and they both came into the house at 2:30 a.m. with a live mouse. It was Gracie's but he was sharing in the glory when they dragged it squeaking and struggling to our bedside.
That night was a bit of a breakthrough for Bentley. He has been coming when called, hasn't paced to get out, and is usually completely spent when his long day is done. As for a solution for his deformed leg? His grit and determination have been the solution. Left to his own devices he has been able to do everything any other cat does. Maybe it takes him a little longer, but eventually, he gets there. Just don't stand in his way.
The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett can be heard Monday through Saturday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3 and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 and 100.7. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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