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The Collector

Occasionally you see a news story about Animal Control or SPCA having to rescue dozens of cats or dogs from a person’s house. In animal rescue parlance, that person is “A Collector.” They mean well, thinking they’re saving these strays or ‘unclaimed pets’ from life and death in hardship on the streets. All too often, this well-meaning but confused person becomes an angel of death to their collection, as witnessed in the innumerable scenes of Animal Control and SPCA investigators wearing masks as they wade through piles of trash, feces, and animal carcasses to save the few salvageable lives at the Collector’s home. This is a wordcarving about a rescue of some cats from a Collector, and where my little rescue kitty, Ruth, came from. I named her “Ruth” after the Collector, as ‘proof in your face’ that this kitty survived hell.

She was sitting in that chair
When we arrived;
Sitting in the chair, where
She held vigil over her collection.
She greeted us with a smile, and eyed
Us with suspicion;
Then offered us a chair near where
Her dog was tied.

A coke? A beer?
My partner said yes to the coke;
I swigged the beer which
She cheerfully retrieved
From the cooler at her feet,
Wiping the cap with a sweaty hand.

We commented on the heat.
A breeze would be nice…
The July dusk was heavy and humid.
As if the gods had heard us
A breeze did waft across the panting dog,
Blessing us with a fetid odor.
I found myself squinting my nose
Behind my hand
As I listened,
And watched my partner work her magic.

We had to gain her trust.
We listened to her tragic tale.
My partner reached down
To pick up a lid from a can
Of pet food
Which had been left in the yard.
She was going to throw it away,
But the collector stopped her.

She had many collections.
In her purse was a collection of coupons,
Which she had never used,
To go with her collection of newspapers,
Plastic bags, and assorted items
Piled in her car;
And of course her collection
Of empty pet food cans.

Oh, she was smart, this collector;
And watching her, listening to her,
You could almost believe.
You could almost see
The heads that once turned
To watch her pass,
And the ears that had burned
With her every word
When she was but a lass.

She warmed to us. My partner knew
We had her trust. Well, almost.
She took us to see
Where she kept them hidden from view
From the neighbor who
Wanted to take them;
From the inspectors who
She just knew
Would have them killed.

Our backs were sweaty,
But we were glad to leave the dog’s
Sick and fetid smell.
My partner, so skilled
Kept smiling and talking
As we were walking
To see the collection.

We stopped. “Right here,” she said.
But where? We couldn’t hear
The sound we knew —
It wasn’t there.
It just wasn’t there.

The collector smiled a knowing smile
As she lifted up the tarp,
A heavy plastic sheet
Over a scrap of dirty carpet.

My partner’s smile never faded.
She’d seen this scene before.
I hadn’t, and I caught my heart
In my throat.
Hoping my eyes wouldn’t betray
The imitation smile I displayed.
I didn’t say what I thought,
And fought the urge to turn away.

There they were, quiet and weak
From the sweltering heat.
No wonder they didn’t speak.
No wonder they were quiet.

One caught my eye;
A little calico,
Huddled in the back corner
Of its carrier,
Sitting on the most recent
Layer of newspaper
That the collector
Had put down to cover the feces.

No food, no water,
Just dirty newspaper
And a heavy tarp,
Keeping the dark

She fancied herself an angel
To these cats;
And an angel so she was,
But not, as she thought, of mercy
But rather an angel of hell.

My partner assured her
They would all find good homes,
Though it was clear,
And plain to see that
Some had paid too dear a price
And could not be saved.

We rescued nine cats from The Collector;
We rescued them all from her.
Some were rescued to find good homes;
Some were rescued, but only to go
To a nicer place …
To sleep in pleasant white light.
–©BRW (Wordcarver) 1999 – 2012

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