A Cat’s Tale
“Leaving the security of food and shelter behind, the little black cat set out in the dark of night. She was seen crossing the bridge over the Greenbrier River in Seebert, intent on making her way back up the mountain to the only home she had ever known.” Sage of Seebert*
If you do not like cats or even appreciate their sense of independence, read no further. Although undomesticated cats wreak havoc on wildlife, I found a grudging respect for this particular cat that truly beat the odds.
The average lifespan of a domestic cat is 12 to 17 years. The average lifespan of a feral cat is two to three years. There is a reason for this!
This is a true story, with minimal poetic license, about a cat named Tanner.
Seventeen years ago, a black kitten was adopted from the Pocahontas County Animal Shelter for the sole purpose of conducting the duties of a “barn” cat.
Tanner would patrol a lone edifice on a hilltop above Seebert called the helicopter building. The backstory on this structure would in itself rate an article, but we’ll save that one for another edition of The Pocahontas Times – when we discuss black helicopters and CIA spooks.
Like most uninhabited structures, the helicopter building and surrounding acreage were infested with mice, moles, voles and snakes. All of which were unwanted by the owners. For a barn cat, though, such a place offers endless sport and food aplenty.
Tanner was definitely up to the task.
She immediately took to the place and decided she would turn this gig into a lifetime career. She would lay her claim to this property as dogs and cats are wont to do. She would be part and parcel of the helicopter building and the great meadow attached to it.
Now, you may be wondering who adopted this cat in the first place?
The delightful older couple is adamant that their names not be used in this article, yet insisted that Tanner is worthy of public acknowledgment.
That’s where I come in; documenting a feline life well-lived.
I have known this couple for some years and consider them friends. I would describe them as a couple of “salts,” in the nautical sense.
That is, they built a successful boat yard on the coast of North Carolina many decades ago. Additionally, they lived on any number of boats over the years, most of which they built and sailed far and wide. They enjoyed an adventurous life few will ever know.
The only part of their story that raised my eyebrows a bit was that at some point in their life they decided that it was time to leave their sea legs behind and move onto terra firma.
One Seebertonian, who is a walking encyclopedia on the history of the area, claims that their plan was thus: The seafarers would each carry an oar, complete with oarlock, over one shoulder and walk inland from the Carolina coast until someone of sufficient curiosity inquired about the strange contraptions resting upon their shoulders.
The sun-worn sailors figured that when they encountered someone who did not know what an oar was, they would be far enough from the sea to permanently drop anchor and begin their new lives as landlubbers.
This significant event took place on the Greenbrier River Trail near the bridge in Seebert. And, true to their word, this is where they live to this very day.
So, in 2005, the captain and his first mate tote the little black cat in a small crate up the steep gravel road to the helicopter building and release Tanner to do what cats do best –kill little furry creatures that scurry about and are generally referred to as vermin.
From 2005 until 2014, Tanner performed her job in an efficient and effective manner. Between the saltwater couple and a gentleman – I’ll call the “Sage of Seebert,” Tanner had several guardian angels looking out for her welfare.
The couple spent winters in the southern coastal states. During such time, the Sage of Seebert became Tanner’s guardian.
He rigged up a rope and pulley to a bucket of cat food that could be pulled up out of the reach of the raccoons, fox and opossums that frequented the area each night.
This fact was established when the Sage set up a game camera focused on the feeding site. Until actually viewing these videos, one would not believe there was so much wildlife hanging out around the helicopter building.
Nor, is it likely that Tanner could escape being savaged by the wildlife.
And, it was not like the cat was up for petting or any other house-cat nonsense. She pretty much avoided humans and possessed the skills to obtain her own meals whether someone fed her or not. Tanner was, by all measures, a self-reliant animal.
Some would call her “feral,” meaning wild or untamed. Her connections to humans were tenuous at best. Yet, as we shall see, there was a strong attachment to the saltwater couple. One that would later save her life.
Then two women from Texas, weary of sagebrush and Stetsons, bought the helicopter building and the acreage and mountain view that came with it. They replaced the helicopter building with an attractive home where they live from the arrival of the morels in the spring until the fall colors begin to fade.
After selling their property to the Texans, the captain and his first mate rounded up their skittish and self-reliant cat, transporting her down to a small cabin they owned on the river, dubbed the “bunkhouse.”
They thought that Tanner could simply change workplaces with a minimal adjustment period. But she liked her home base up on the mountain, the bunkhouse simply would not do.
Being an independent sort, Tanner had her own plans and these did not jive with those of the original caretakers.
Waiting long into the night when she knew the couple was fast asleep, Tanner walked right down Pyles Road and crossed the bridge into Seebert. Avoiding any unfriendly dogs, she proceeded straight up the steep gravel road that led to her old haunt.
The Texas women would just have to accept her presence. After all, Tanner had squatter’s rights under an old West Virginia law known by all cats and several dogs.
And, as it turned out, the new owners took it upon themselves to keep an eye on Tanner and make sure there was always a bowl of food out for her.
Tanner was not averse to feeding on commercial cat food. It was a welcome break from dining on food that came with fur and bones – sustenance that is likely hard on her digestive system. Think you have acid reflux now, imagine tucking into a hair, bone and pepperoni pizza!
When the Texans return home in the fall, the Sage of Seebert promptly resumes his feeding duties. Much like the credo of the postal service; neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this dedicated man from the swift completion of his appointed feeding schedule.
There has been an uninterrupted concern and care for Tanner throughout her 17 years. But for that entire time, she was quite capable of feeding and caring for herself. Those who knew her would readily admit that.
That is, until June 15, 2022.
The Texans were the first to notice the gaping wound on Tanner’s front right quarter. Additionally, her back was covered in saliva. Clearly, she had been attacked by another animal.
Their first action was to call the original caretakers, who didn’t waste a moment in driving up the mountain to check on their old friend.
Before departing their home, the couple thought to bring along the original cat carrier whose only use was 17 years ago when they picked up Tanner from the Pocahontas County Humane Shelter. How improbable that this dusty old crate still had the original blanket in it as well.
Even seriously injured, it took some prodding to get Tanner into the crate. In fact, the key to luring her to step into the enclosure required the nautical couple to sit on overturned five-gallon plastic buckets and alternately “meow” at the injured cat. (That image must surely bring a smile to your face, eh?)
It worked. After about 15 minutes of continuous meowing, Tanner entered the crate and was rushed off to the veterinarian. The area around the wound was shaved, the puncture wound cleaned, and Tanner was released to the care of her old friends.
It is important to note here that Tanner, in all her 17 years of life, had heretofore never been inside a house, nor had she ever seen a kitty-litter box. Despite this, the wounded cat soon made herself at home, even using the litter box on her own volition.
Tanner has spent her entire life outdoors in the worst weather the mountains could throw at her. Weeks would pass when she would not be seen and was often presumed dead by those who cared to notice.
A friend who has spent many years rescuing dogs from dreadful conditions once told me that it is not unusual for an animal in distress, or one that has been abused, to readily accept help from a human.
She said that some even seem to display a kind of gratitude for their rescue.
I believe that there is still much we do not know about our animal friends. They have much to teach us.
Tanner has returned to those who have extended loving hands to her for almost two decades. May she be safe and warm in her remaining years. She really beat the odds.
The cast of characters:
Sage of Seebert – Mac Gray.
Texans – Margot Marshall and Laura Evans.
Nautical Couple – my lips are sealed.
Tanner – herself.