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The Whitehurst Diaries: Latest Chapter - Life & Times of Willis

Hobbling Home: It is a month today since Willis went missing. 'We scold Willis and remind him of the trouble he has caused. We tell him that his recent escapade may have permanently impaired his agility, taken a few cat years off his life. We note when a damp morning chill seems to stiffen his hip joint; we see him carefully calculating a leap that until a month ago would have been smoothly automatic. Mostly we are relieved and happy to have Willis back home, nosing into our business, over-seeing our work, providing companionship, secure in his job as head cat and farm manager.' - SHARON WHITEHURST
Click on headline for full facts on famed feline Willis the Cat's latest saga.

By Sharon Whitehurst

Hobbling Home

It is a month today since Willis went missing.

I was mildly surprised, but not concerned when Willis was not on the front doorstep when I came downstairs. I've sometimes wondered if he has an internal clock which has him waiting for me each morning, or if perhaps he hears my measured tread on the 14 stairs to the main floor and hurries from one of the blanket-lined 'beds' on the side porch to pose on the doormat, face up-tilted to the window in a beguiling reminder that he needs his breakfast served before any other concern can claim my attention.


It was a sunny morning, but with a hint of chilly wind. We needed to leave shortly after nine, but took turns poking our heads out the door to call, "Willis, Willis!" He might have noticed something behind the stable or down at the curve of the lane, some matter that required his urgent supervision, causing him a delay in appearing for breakfast.

We were home shortly after 1 p.m.--and no tweedy-coated cat came to meet the car when we drove in. No Willis strolling up from the shop or rounding the corner by the side porch. The wind had picked up, moving clouds across the sun. We dressed warmly and went out to search, quartering the dooryard, plodding along the lane, shouting his name into the windy afternoon. Jim looked in the shop--Willis might have whisked through the door when Jim was shutting up the night before. I prowled through the stable, back around the garden. Willis was nowhere to be found.

Late on the previous afternoon a battered pickup had trundled up the lane, bringing two men who were interested in one of Jim's restored tractors. They decided early on to buy the tractor but stayed endlessly [as men do] sharing fond memories of the tractors they had known, stories of crops planted and harvested in years gone by. Passing the pantry window I looked out to see Willis taking it all in, listening and observing from his post on a stack of lumber. Now, I turned to Jim and asked, already dreading his reply, "Did you see Willis after the men left?"

It had been nearly dark when the men finally drove off, the headlights of their elderly pickup receding slowly down the lane. "No," Jim reflected. "He was there underfoot the whole time we were talking, but, come to think of it, I didn't see him when I turned off the shop lights."

We realized, with heavy hearts, what had likely happened. Willis, from kittenhood, has had a fascination with vehicles. We have many times had to extract him from a visitor's car or truck. He once slipped into our van when Jim was loading building supplies, hunkered down, invisible and unnoticed beneath a length of insulation batting, then popped out between the front seats after he had ridden with us several miles down the road. He stowed away in the tool compartment when an acquaintance came by to install a water purifying system. He was discovered at the next stop in Columbia and returned home by the kindly man and his sons in time for supper.

Jim was to deliver the purchased tractor on Monday. When he phoned to confirm the details he inquired if, by chance, the men had found a cat in the back of their truck. Of course they had not.

I visualized several scenarios in grim detail. Willis had vaulted from the pickup bed at a busy intersection, only to be flattened as he darted wildly between moving vehicles. He had been thrown from the truck on a lonely stretch of road, lost, hungry, cold.

The weather had turned dismal by Sunday morning, bursts of icy rain slanted in on a harsh wind, the temperature plummeted. I couldn't choose between the two endings I had devised--a quick death beneath the wheels of a car, or the slow sad misery of cold and hunger. We told ourselves we would never know for certain what had happened to Willis.

I didn't share the news of Willis's disappearance with our daughter until the third day of his absence. Her response was one of grief for the loss of 'the greatest blue-grey bear cat in Kentucky."

I told myself sternly that the era of Willis was over, but a dozen times a day I found myself looking for him--in the snug basket on the back porch, on the lumber stack by the shop door.

Wednesday morning was grey and unpromising. I plodded down the stairs accompanied by a retinue of the cats who have house privileges. Unthinkingly reverting to habit, I stopped to peer out the glass of the front door before continuing into the kitchen.

He was there! Willis was sitting on the shabby doormat, face tilted up in greeting. I opened the door, scooped him up, burying my face in his stripy fur. I felt the first tentative stirrings of his purr. By the time I was halfway up the stairs with him clutched against my sweatshirt, the purr was approaching full throttle.

Jim was only half awake when I dumped Willis on his pillow. "See who has come home!" Jim, startled, rolled over to find himself nose to nose with Willis who was fairly vibrating with enthusiastic purring and excited meows.

It wasn't until he had eaten, washed his face and settled his whiskers that we noticed the injury to his right hind leg. Willis started off the porch on three legs: hop-hop-rest. Hop, hop, rest. We felt carefully for broken bones. There were none. No cuts, no visible swelling, but a very definite limp as though his hip was slightly out of place.

We think we've reconstructed the 'rest of the story.' Willis, overcome by curiosity, jumped into the back of the visiting men's truck, sniffed about, poked through the assortment of things I recall being there, curled up comfortably for a snooze and rode off into the sunset. We suspect that he was awake and rather alarmed by the time the truck stopped at the junction of Sanders Ridge Road and Rt 206. Looking for a way out of the truck bed he likely was pitched abruptly onto the blacktop landing heavily and wrenching his hip. His homing device was working well, but it took him 4 slow and painful days and nights to hobble home. Did he shelter in a shed or under a porch, burrow into a leafy ditch while the rain pelted down?

The details we'll never know. Willis stayed close to the front porch during those first days at home. He ate well, hopped along the drive, stretched on the sun-warmed concrete of the south porch floor. He managed limited patrol duties bouncing along with the injured leg tucked up. By his second week at home he was putting all four feet on the ground, but using only three legs when he wanted to put on speed. The first few attempts at leaping to sit on the retaining wall ended in an undignified fumble.

With his adventure now a month behind him, Willis is almost back to normal. His gait is slower than in the past, but his balance is good, he can land fairly gracefully on the garden wall to supervise and get in the way as I prod at emerging perennials. He ambles behind me down the lane to wait crouching at the bend, camouflaged in his tweed coat, popping out of a tangle of dried weeds and dusty leaves with his familiar "Aha! Gotcha!"

Mindful that this painful experience was unlikely to teach Willis what he ought to know, we are more diligent than ever to locate his where-abouts when a vehicle leaves the dooryard. The UPS truck is suspect, as is a neighbor's vehicle left unattended with the window down or the door partly open. When one of Jim's tractor customers rolls in I round up Willis and shut him into the back entry where he lurks with flattened ears showing his annoyance.

We scold Willis and remind him of the trouble he has caused.

We tell him that his recent escapade may have permanently impaired his agility, taken a few cat years off his life. We note when a damp morning chill seems to stiffen his hip joint; we see him carefully calculating a leap that until a month ago would have been smoothly automatic.

Mostly we are relieved and happy to have Willis back home, nosing into our business, over-seeing our work, providing companionship, secure in his job as head cat and farm manager.


This story was posted on 2017-03-05 07:41:55
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Wed 1 March 2017: Willis returned after going missing



2017-03-05 - Pellyton, Adair County, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst (c).
Willis had disappeared and Sharon Whitehurst had given up hope. But Wednesday morning, the world righted itself, she knew, "Unthinkingly reverting to habit, I stopped to peer out the glass of the front door before continuing into the kitchen. He was there! Willis was sitting on the shabby doormat, face tilted up in greeting. I opened the door, scooped him up, burying my face in his stripy fur. I felt the first tentative stirrings of his purr. By the time I was halfway up the stairs with him clutched against my sweatshirt, the purr was approaching full throttle," she writes.

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Whitehurst Diaries: Willis the Cat is almost back to normal



2017-03-05 - Pellyton, Adair County, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
With his adventure now a month behind him, Willis is almost back to normal. His gait is slower than in the past, but his balance is good, he can land fairly gracefully on the garden wall to supervise and get in the way as I prod at emerging perennials. He ambles behind me down the lane to wait crouching at the bend, camouflaged in his tweed coat, popping out of a tangle of dried weeds and dusty leaves with his familiar "Aha! Gotcha!" - SHARON WHITEHURST

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Willis, in familiar spot, enjoying well-earned rest



2017-03-05 - Pellyton, Adair County, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst (c).
Following his long travels, travail, and return, Willis is enjoying well deserved rest. He's almost back to normal, can walk on four legs, but still uses just three legs when he's running at speed.

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