Cat, bird make odd-couple refugees

Published: March 26, 2006 | 3868th good news item since 2003

Alfie is still a storm refugee in Virginia. So is Oscar. One is a parrot. The other meows.

Before Katrina set our lives topsy-turvy, Alfie and Oscar were neighbors.

Alfie had the run of his large daytime cage that sat by a window overlooking the back yard, with its wealth of shrubs, big oaks, squirrels and occasional guinea hens checking out the dregs of the bird feeders.

Oscar would pay a daily visit to the patio in front of Alfie’s window, staring at the ball of feathers as cats do. The two never met officially, which is a good thing.

Then came The House Destroyer, Katrina. Before the storm, Oscar and Alfie’s humans evacuated them, and as fate would have it, to the same laundry room in a safe place in Biloxi. A window no longer separated them, only pet carriers.

Imagine the mind talk between these two natural enemies.

“What are you doing here?” Oscar’s curiosity gets the best of him.

“What are you doing here?” the brash Alfie snips backs.

“Are you a bird? I’ve watched you a lot, but you’re, well, different. And very loud. And very bossy.”

“Are you a cat? I had a calico not long ago myself. Her name was Sister and we were great friends. She never tried to eat me. She died of old age. Somehow, I don’t think you and I can be friends like that. I don’t like the gleam in your eye as you watch those wild birds at the feeder.”

“And I’ve watched you watch me,” Oscar admits before his cat chat is distracted. “Hey, what do you think all that outside ruckus is?”

It was Katrina, destroying 65,000 houses along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including what had been Oscar and Alfie’s neighborhood. Both of their humans lost everything, which means they lost their pampered pet status.

Alfie is my little squawky parrot with shades of blue and turquoise to match his disposition. Oscar is my neighbor Doris’ golden striped cat, a stray who’d convinced her years ago he was worthy of her affection.

To shorten the story, a last-minute change of plans after I volunteered for pre-Katrina newsroom duties caused Alfie and Oscar to be evacuated to the same location.

They haven’t been apart since Aug. 28. When neither Doris nor I had homes to return to, my little sister Estelle and her husband agreed to take them, which is quite a commitment. They are not bird people and already have two cats, two dogs and two horses and a betta to tend to.

Alfie now sits in a big cage by a window overlooking the woods of Barboursville, Va. Oscar has the run of a big basement, with a window view of the same woods, but he doesn’t get let out because of foxes and coyotes. They would eat an untrained Mississippi cat, Estelle insists.

So the silent animal mind language wafts up and down the staircases.

“Hey, you, Mr. Turquoise Feathers. Have you noticed that the squirrels here don’t look the same?”

“Yeah, but did you see that big thing with antlers? What was that?”

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, work progresses at a snail’s pace on repairing a duplex so that Doris and I can move back to our old Biloxi neighborhood. Having our own space again and our pets still seems a dream away. I miss that little bird more than the things Katrina swept out to sea.

For the past seven months, I’ve lived in “my little dorm room” in the Gulfport home of another longtime friend named Doris, or Saint Doris as I call her for putting up with my katrinaed, missing-Alfie personality.

The other Doris, aka Oscar’s human, lives temporarily in an Air Force retirement village in Texas. We’ve all become a circle of connecting dots: Gulfport, Biloxi, Barboursville, San Antonio.

If it’s frustrating to us, imagine how it is for the hapless Oscar and Alfie – and all of the other thousands of Katrina displaced pets. At least Oscar and Alfie have a safe zone to retreat to – until I bring them back. And I will. Soon.

Published in Animals, Hurricane Katrina
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