Cat Extraordinaire, a Memoir
by Anita H. Lenssen
In our era of politics gone awry, a clear and distinctive voice sounding through the chaos would be a relief. For the feline population, Senator Bollweevil’s memoir is that voice. Genuinely concerned for his constituents, Senator addresses problems with transparency and determination to incite change. He expected to live peacefully with his mother and brother until a family tragedy, for which he blamed himself, sent him fleeing into the woods. Hunger, thirst, and a resounding whack with a broom by a woman who liked birds more than cats, quickly initiated him into the outside world.
Finally, he discovered a woman planting flowers. Much to his relief, Maggie, the lady, offered him food and fresh water and invited him to stay the night. He thanked her so profusely for breakfast the next morning, that she named him Senator because “the most talkative politicians . . . are senators when they’re filibustering.”
He soon discovered other cats living with Maggie, some with medical or behavioral problems. Along with Draya, her friend and neighbor, Maggie attends adoption events seeking cats rejected by people wanting a kitten or the “perfect cat.” Senator has always enjoyed their friendship and listened attentively, filing away their stories for his memoir. Being young and adventurous, Senator explored the neighborhood and met Miss G. Since she had no cats, required his gardening assistance, and thoroughly enjoyed his evening visits,
Senator moved in. Between assisting her and visiting his friends at Maggie’s house, he seemed to be “always looking for a home.” Miss G’s husband, therefore, added “Bollweevil” to his name (1).
Though told through the perspective of Senator and his feline friends, his tone is never childish, sentimental, nor condescending. Instead, he penned a no-nonsense primer with information crucial for experienced cat aficionados and, even more so, for people considering their first cat.
Rabies may seem a ho-hum topic by now, but how many people know that the two types of rabies—furious and dumb—are among the most dangerous viruses worldwide? And how many realize that a healthy-looking animal may be carrying the virus without showing obvious signs? As Maggie discovers, a few darling raccoons, the most common carriers, can rapidly explode into a destructive gang that is very expensive to have professionally removed. She also learned that a tender-hearted person caught relocating raccoons from an urban to a rural area will be heavily fined. No exceptions! Senator Bollweevil recalls his friends’ often-distressing stories not for a sensational tabloid effect, but to call attention to the cruelty cats suffer. Maggie discovered feral Miss Kitty living behind a restaurant and fed her for two-and-a-half years before finally trapping her. Because she was not equipped to work with feral cats, Draya took her in. After months of antics that only a true cat devotee would tolerate, Miss Kitty rubbed her head against Draya’s hand and settled in. “It was nothing short of a miracle.” Tony and Gidget, “tripod cats” because they had each lost a leg, initially jolted Senator, but he was soon awed by their spunk and adaptability. And then there is Vivianna, a strikingly beautiful and affectionate Persian who lost an eye to a scissors-wielding toddler. By the time Maggie discovered her at an adoption event months later, Vivianna required rehabilitation for her justifiable “unsocial demeanor.” Thanks to Maggie’s patient kindness, Vivianna gradually learned to trust again.
Annie and Shadow serve as Senator’s poster girls for his anti-declawing campaign. Front-paw declawing, in his opinion, is torture pure and simple, but Annie and Shadow were declawed on all four paws and then abandoned outdoors. Once again, Maggie to the rescue.
Senator is a prime example of the ongoing debate about whether cats should live indoors, outdoors, or both. Maggie realized that he would never be content living indoors, so granted him freedom. As his hearing, mobility, and reflexes decreased years later, Draya and Maggie agreed that Senator must move indoors. He begrudgingly admits that he enjoys the amenities and the protection of Draya’s home.
Lest he follow the example of his filibustering namesakes, Senator discusses in a single chapter dangers unknown to many people, such as antifreeze, toilet bowl cleaners, and numerous plants.
Senator Bollweevil, age 22, continues to live with Draya, whose cats are the topic of his next book. Ever mindful of all of his constituents, Senator’s next book will build a case for adopting senior cats. His points are valid. Senior cats are usually litter trained; calmer because they are past the rambunctious kitten stage; established in looks, size, and personality; and appreciative of a safe environment. Finally, their nature fits well with elderly people, and their presence mitigates loneliness and boredom.
From earliest memory Anita Lenssen, a native North Carolinian, has devoted her time and resources to rescuing animals. After several years of living on a cattle ranch in Florida, she returned to Asheville and purchased a farm that quickly became a dumping ground for unwanted animals. Through her efforts to assist them, Anita “. . . learned much about caring for abandoned animals and teaching them to trust again, and she learned to recognize injuries and illnesses.” She has helped dogs, cats, horses, cows, rabbits, chickens, pigs, and goats. Among her most unique cases was finding a veterinarian to set the broken leg of a boy’s pet quail.
As president of the North Carolina Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NCSPCA) for twenty years, Anita has rescued countless animals from abusive situations or provided financial assistance for medical treatment. Drastic cutbacks in donations and funding reduced the NCSPCA’s services, but Anita and her peers still respond to calls. Since area veterinarians respect her knowledge and judgement, they willingly cooperate.
Anita’s specialty is cats considered “social outcasts because they are blind, deaf, three-legged, otherwise impaired, or feral cats with no social graces whatsoever” and would otherwise be euthanized. She hopes to give each cat “another chance for additional years,” but she is realistic when consulting a veterinarian about chances for a quality life.
Her cats arrive from many sources. A veterinarian may ask her to administer long-term medical care. Foster programs often need her to socialize or re-socialize a cat for adoption. She might acquire a cat from an NCSPCA call, from a friend-of-a-friend situation, alongside a road, or an abandoned building. Anita’s cattery is her home with a cat door leading directly into a courtyard of cat fencing that safely confines the cats and deters predators, animal and human. The number of cats living with Anita constantly varies, but her permanent residents are accustomed to sharing their quarters with transient guests and patients.Over the years she has witnessed horrible cruelty to cats; fifteen-year-old Frankie is a prime example. His elderly owner unable to care for him, a son moved in and eventually surrendered Frankie to a rescue facility. Frankie’s obvious medical problems included blindness, pancreatitis, and cancer of the small intestine. Shaving for an ultrasound revealed massive bruising and hematomas caused by kicking or slamming against hard surfaces. Thanks to Anita and a dedicated veterinary team, Frankie can see, his pancreatitis is cured, and the cancer seems to be in permanent remission.
As the self-appointed guardian of his domain, Frankie tolerates no bullying. If a peer protests during grooming or medical treatment, Frankie gently nips Anita on the leg to remind her that bullying is forbidden in his home.
Such cases inspired Senator’s memoir, but Anita’s intention was not a “book about a place in time, but a state of heart and mind.” If Senator succeeds in making his readers aware of cat abuse, she will be grateful. But if Senator inspires them to advocate for cats, especially senior and special-needs cats, Anita will be ecstatic.
1.“The Boll Weevil Song.” Brook Benton. 1961.