neighborhood.

Your Saturday Smile: Sparky's Revenge (How To Build Your Own Wildlife Preserve)

Indulge me this morning and take a journey back in time with me.

It is the mid-sixties and my father (who works at a local meat packing plant) is a wise man who knows how to manage his money, providing for his family of six living in a two-bedroom bungalow.

A selfless man, he would occasionally treat himself to a can of Sockeye Salmon, which at the time was a luxury that cost considerably more than the cheaper and more readily accessible pink salmon. Think of it as being the "caviar" of canned fish. At that tender age, I personally did not have much of a taste for it.

One fine autumn day, the neighborhood cat Sparky came by for a visit. Now Sparky was one cool cat who patrolled his territory with both diligence and enthusiasm. In fact as a young boy, I used to enjoy watching him stalk the local wildlife, often times catching a bird in mid take-off only to casually stroll away to enjoy his meal in the quiet and secure confines of his hideout. Even the neighborhood dogs would pay homage to Sparky, especially since he was almost as big as most dogs.

Anyway, honored by Sparky deeming me worthy of his company and the opportunity to service him with a good back scratch, I thought that the moment called for something special . . . but what? A meal perhaps, and not just any meal mind you, but one that was fit for the royal lineage of such a fine feline. You probably see where this story is heading.

Besides birds I reasoned, cats must also like fish. After all, Sylvester on Bugs Bunny seemed to like fish as an alternative when he inevitably failed to catch Tweety.

Looking through the cupboards, there amongst the cans of gelatin chicken, waxed beans and other items that did not meet the culinary interests of a pre-teen, was a can of salmon that seemed to shine like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.

I of course immediately grabbed it from the cupboard, and using the manual can opener - you remember, the ones with the narrow, razor-edged twist handle that left a permanent imprint on your inside index finger with each grist-mill type turn - to reveal the succulent smell of high quality morsels of fish.

Even though I was sure that Sparky would love the entree he was about to receive, I did not want to take any chances relative to poor service etiquette and decided to serve it to him on a dish from my mother's best china. Only the very finest for Sparky!

I excitedly went outside to find HRH casually, and in his inimitable cool cat style grooming himself with his right paw. As he looked up with a "what took you so long, I was about to leave" expression I humbly lowered the dish before him. I can honestly say that this was the first and only time Sparky displayed any kind of emotion, as his eyes seemed to light up.

With a joyous alacrity, he buried his face in the dish polishing off almost the entire $1.89 (in 1960s currency mind you) can in a matter of what seemed like seconds. Taking a line from one of my favorite movies, it was the start of a "beautiful friendship."

In the world of Hollywood movies, this is where the distant music would kick in as both boy and his new found feline friend would walk off into the sunset together. Obviously, the real-life script writers never had a hard-working father, who upon coming home from work would find his wife's best china on the front stoop with little more than the vapours of his anticipated treat for the day emanating skyward. Perhaps the term "happy ending" would be a tad over optimistic.

I will of course not bore you with the details, other than to say that from that moment on, I had to gain prior approval, and then sign for any items I wanted to remove from the pantry. As for the use of my mother's good china, that is for another day.

I tell you this story as a means of sharing with you the following story.

Move ahead to 2009. Picture a father of two young children and a loving wife who has a soft-heart for animals of any kind.

As a means of creating an historical context for the term "soft-heart" for animals, allow me to expand a little.

In the eight plus years Jennifer and I have been together, we have had a cavalcade of "pets" including 2 dogs, 6 Guinea Pigs, 2 hamsters and 4 Beta fish, one of which was named Elvis whose sullen disposition prompted Jennifer to call the pet store to inquire as to how we might go about "cheering him up." The store owner suggested that Elvis was bored and that we should use a straw to play what amounted to an aquatic version of go fetch.

There are of course many colorful anecdotes I could share with you at this point including how at the passing of each Guinea Pig I assumed responsibility for the burial services. A task that was made more difficult by the fact that I was usually out of town at a speaking engagement when the furry little critters departed this world, and where upon my return that evening I would be required to dig under the moonlight.

It took a few of these "night time" sorties, in which I would head out to the back yard with a shovel and flashlight to bury a mysterious package, before I came to understand why the neighbors would cross the street whenever I took a walk. I am certin that even though we have moved away from the old neighborhood, my escapades as an undertaker have inspired many a "scary" story around the proverbial camp fire.

Despite these adventures, and an already "crowded house," Jennifer and my 4 1/2 year old daughter Savannah, have been campaigning for both a bird and a cat on the premise that the current 2 dogs and a hamster are just not enough to fill the void of the departed Guinea Pigs and fish. Pierce who has just turned 2, pretty much goes with the flow in such matters, so he is not much help in terms of balancing out the democratic process.

So you can only imagine my surprise when I went out on our back deck the other day and found the remnants of a can of solid white tuna (which is the equivalent of the 1960s salmon), on a dinner plate. Can you feel my father's broad smile looking down upon me from heaven?

It turns out that the beautiful scenery of the forest behind our house is also the breeding ground for stray and/or wild cats. One of which possesses the aplomb of "my Sparky."

Black, with a tail that is reminiscent of the full plumage of a proud peacock, this latest interloper as decided that he shall winter on our back step. Rather than chase him (or perhaps her) away, the co-conspirators who shall remain nameless, have actually built a comfy home, furnishing it with the softest blankets from the house and stocking-up on cat food to ensure the comfort of this new "guest."

All I can say is this . . . when the time comes, I guess I am going to have to dig a bigger hole. As for my neighborhood walks, I guess I will finally have to invest in a treadmill.

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