And in those nineteen years, Trooper lived his nine lives to the fullest. He explored desert flora and fauna around him, befriending kit foxes, jackrabbits, desert tortoises, and other creatures and getting into mischief along the way. Trooper became a “big brother” to stray tabby Little Brother, teaching, guiding, and protecting Brother on the pair’s adventures and misadventures. He became a beloved patient at his local vet, and cherished housemate of Forrest’s wife, Chi. And Trooper even managed to melt the icy heart of a tough guy neighbor. But most of all, throughout his nineteen years, Trooper became Forrest’s best friend, as the two shared each other’s worries and frustrations, musings and rants, joys and laughter.
Harrowing and heartfelt, Trooper: The Bobcat Who Came in from the Wild is for any reader who ever had their heart stolen by their pet.
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My New Friend
"I simply can't resist a cat, particularly a purring one."
Once upon a time, not long ago, I had a most unusual friend. We met in the Mojave Desert near the glittering city of Las Vegas, when he was very young, and I not so young. And we remained close companions for nineteen years. And as all friends need to do, we learned many things from one another.
This friend was a cat. He was not an ordinary feline, but a kitty from the wild — a bobcat, as such creatures are called in many parts of the US; they are wild animals, even when captured very young, are not easily domesticated and seldom make good pets. Keeping a wild critter is illegal in some states; others have strict restrictions or require specific permits for their live possessions.
One question bothered me about my buddy. Is it fair to tame and keep a bobcat as a pet? Or should it be released, returned to the wild once it is strong enough to survive on its own? I had seriously considered all options before deciding to raise this particular feline as a member of my family, to live in my home, which, as it happened, is located at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Our family bobcat (as he became) would always be given freedom to come and go as he pleased. And then decide whether to return to the wild or remain with us.
My considerations also included knowing that genetically the bobcat is closely related to domestic felines. Could our cat eventually behave like a house pet if offered the same environment? Bobcats are loners once they leave their mother's care. Unlike African lions, for example — such as Elsa, forever immortalized in the film Born Free — a bobcat does not belong to a pride, nor does it need any group to help learn survival skills. And then my cat had lost his own mother before he reached the age of two months. Could he remain alive in a desert that provided such limited food and water?
The deciding factor came from alarming statistics supplied by the Nevada Department of Wildlife Conservation. Over 10,200 bobcats had been trapped or killed in the year before I found my kitten. There were mostly shot by hunters or poachers lacking permits and functioning out of hunting season. Beginning in the 1990s, a growing middle class in China and Russia had created the demand for luxury furs, the then favorite being the bobcat's shiny and beautiful pelt.
And so I decided that returning this cat to the wild was tantamount to a death sentence. But how would anyone domesticate a wild creature? Would it be an impossible task undertaken in the effort to save him? I understood that each situation and each animal is different. Like humans, cats possess their own personalities and function at different intelligence levels. To my delighted surprise, I discovered in only a few weeks that my cat possessed a superior brain. This I concluded by judging his response to various situations and his ability to learn and react to verbal instructions.
One of the greatest questions of mankind has been, can animals and humans communicate? In 1978 there was a celebrated experiment with Koko, the gorilla, and his person where each seemed to "know" what the other wanted. The ancient Greeks with a special form of communication they called "telepathy," when a perception or feeling was believed to be transmitted by thought or feeling. And the Japanese relied on an expression called e-shin, den-shin, or messages sent from one mind to another through shared feelings. Did I "talk" to my cat? Not exactly ...
Ask anyone who has ever been owned by a cat and you'll learn that these remarkable animals seem to sense when a person is anxious or depressed or even ill. And then proceed to help as best as a cat can, with warmth and love, cuddling and closeness.
My special friend and I shared much during our time together. That's what I write about here. Soon after we met, I decided to call him Trooper. It is an army name I picked up during my years in the military. It refers to a soldier (or anyone) with an especially tough fighting spirit who overcomes difficulties despite all odds. Just as Trooper did, and taught me to do.CHAPTER 2
"Will He Live?"
"In the desert the line between life and death is sharp and quick."
Frank Herbert, Dune
I had never owned a cat before Trooper. And so, I had imagined felines to be fuzzy little things that hunted birds and mice, preferring to prowl the neighborhood at night. But I always hated to see any animal suffer, certainly including a cat.
"I don't know if you'll live or die," I told my unresponsive bundle as we hustled through the doors of the animal hospital. "But you deserve a chance, and I'm going to see that you get it." And then we both proceeded to the receptionist.
"I have a wounded cat," I told her. "Found him in the desert in a cholla patch."
"Yes, Mr. Johnson," she said, leading the way into an examination room. "Your wife called. Doctor Marg will be in to see you in a moment. She's our resident cat expert." The girl tossed a wide grin at us. "And she can make the meanest cat calm down, using only her voice."
And so I was left alone with the little cat with the big feet. Doctor Marg entered the room within minutes, turning out to be a large woman well beyond the age of fifty. But when she spoke, her voice was soft, very different from her masculine appearance.
"Put the little fellow down on the table so we can look at the damage," she said. And then, with a single gentle motion, removed my T-shirt from the cat.
"Well, now," she exclaimed. "What do we have here? How interesting!"
"He's a neighbor's cat," I said. "Maybe caught by a coyote. There aren't any big dogs in our area to cause this kind of damage."
The doctor was quiet as she examined our patient. "I'm giving him a shot as a relaxant so we can go to work. You're lucky he didn't regain consciousness and claw you to ribbons. This kitty doesn't belong to one of your neighbors. He's not a house cat."
"So where did he come from?"
"From the desert, Mr. Johnson; where you found him. This is a bobcat kitten, not a fully-grown domestic cat. See? His spots are beginning to fade. I'm guessing he's about six weeks old."
"A bobcat! But his ears are not pointed and ... and, well, his tail seems too long."
"He may look like a full-grown cat, but he is only a youngster," Dr. Marg said. "Like people, not all cats are created the same. Some have big ears, others small. Still, they are people — same with bobcats. Some have pointed ears, some have tufts of fur at the top. This particular one has slightly rounded ears. As for the tail, feel here." She guided my hand to the cat's tiny backside.
"Feel the bones," she said. "His tail should have ended here, at the last bone, and should be much shorter."
"But can you save him?"
"Oh, certainly. First we need to get X-rays to check for fractures and look for internal damage." She wrapped the little cat in a fresh white cloth, scooping him up in her arms. Then turned to me. "You understand that this is a wild creature. He has never known human attention or love ..."
"But," I interrupted, "he was purring while I carried him from the desert."
"Even mountain lions purr. Cats purr under stress or if they are content and comfortable." Then she added, like an afterthought, "He may be a hybrid."
"Hybrid. Once in a while a wild cat will mate with a domestic one. It's rare, but it does happen. I must tell you, as well, that this work may get expensive."
I didn't hesitate for a second. "I want you to do everything to save him."
"You may wait in my office if you like. I'll be back shortly to review everything."
She returned in less than fifteen minutes, with a clipboard tucked under her arm. "He'll pull through just fine," she said. "He's a tough kitty — comes from felines who survive in this desert against difficult odds. The x-rays show no broken bones. No damage to organs that we can tell. We cleaned the puncture wounds ... should heal in a week. We're injecting fluids and other medicines into him now. In two or three days he'll be strong enough for vaccines."
She paused, staring at me for a reaction. I swallowed to control my nerves.
"Doctor ..." I hesitated to ask the question, fearing rejection. "May I keep him?"
She was clearly curious about a motive. "You need to know some things before making that decision." And then she listed them: the law in Nevada that governed wild animals; the enormous patience needed to train them; the fact that they may return to the wild, regardless of human love and care.
And then she explained, "You realize that he won't remain a cute little kitty forever. He'll gain maybe twenty or thirty pounds. His claws will also grow, and he'll need lots of things to scratch on. A cat post will help, but he could soon start on your furniture."
"I understand," I said, although the details were becoming a little worrisome.
But still I said, "I saved him. I'm going to pay to patch him up, make sure that he'll have plenty of freedom to come or go."
"Do you have other ... pets?" Dr. Marg asked.
"No. And I was never a cat person. But this fellow is different. I would like to stay in touch with you and your staff, keep you posted on our progress."
"Of course, and thank you. For us and medically speaking, this will be an opportunity to study a wild cat while he is in our care. For you, there is a list of what you need for the new arrival: First, find a strong crate to transport him, one that can hold, say, thirty pounds; never use cardboard since he'll claw that to pieces in seconds."
"OK," I said, nodding. "But by the way, do you have any idea as to how he escaped and ended up in a cactus patch?"
"Most likely a pack of coyotes attacked his family. A grown bobcat can whip a single coyote with ease. But those brutes usually attack in pairs or as a pack. Coyotes possess an excellent hunting system. One or two will distract the largest victim, then the others attack from the sides. It seems that our little cat was shaken by a single coyote, who was trying to kill him that way. But then the attacker lost his bite — his grip. So the cat went flying into the cholla. No doubt the coyote waited for his prey to emerge, then finally gave up. No way would a coyote willingly enter a cholla patch. You know how dangerous those needles can be and so do coyotes."
"I sure do. You can pull the needles out, but the sheaves will remain and cause a great deal of pain."
Then we set the next day for another visit and agreed that he should be neutered during the several days he remained in her care.
Leaving the vet, I knew that a great adventure awaited me. Raising a bobcat would be no normal feat. But driving home, I also realized something else; something much more pressing. How would I tell my wife that I had just adopted a baby bobcat?CHAPTER 3
The Adventure Begins
"You will always be lucky if you know how to make friends with a strange cat."
Early American proverb
"How big will he get?" my wife, Chiaki, inquired with serious concern.
"A little larger than a house cat," I replied.
"How much is a little?" she asked me knowingly.
"Maybe twice as much," I confessed. "But," I added, "I don't think he'll get that big."
"Oh," she said with no emotion.
My wife, who was born in Japan, was unfamiliar with bobcats. She thought it strange that a wild animal would be named "Bob."
I had to explain that "bob" referred to the species' normally truncated tail. Trooper's tail, I noted, was longer than a typical bobcat's, but not as long as one belonging to a house cat.
After a moment of silence she asked, "Suppose he bites someone?"
"Bobcats don't attack people, not even in the wild. They are very shy. Like any cat, he may hunt rats, mice, birds, and rabbits. But if we feed him hearty cat food, maybe he won't need to hunt."
"I can fix him some chicken now and then," she suggested with lukewarm enthusiasm, "and I'll share the fish that I eat."
"I'm sure he'll like that," I replied. "He's really very cute. Big ears, big feet, and fuzzy face. The doctor had to clip his fur to treat the wounds, but it will get thick again just before winter. He purrs and is playful like any other kitten. Of course, he's very curious."
* * *
My wife and I had entirely different upbringings. I was born in Louisville to middle class parents. My mother was from Atlanta and was a university graduate. My father, a high school graduate, grew up in a small town in southern Kentucky.
My early memories center on my strong desire to explore the wooded wilderness of Kentucky, especially its mysterious limestone caves and the animals that inhabit its remote places. This drive to explore was, in part, the result of my parents introducing me to exciting adventure stories: The Last of the Mohicans, King Solomon's Mines, and Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
It was my father who first led me into the dark wilderness. A fanatic on Kentucky history, he instructed me in the art of survival, techniques employed by early explores like Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark. My father once said, "When you are age twelve you must know how to shoot a rifle straight and throw a tomahawk." He was serious. I qualified but fortunately never found it necessary to use the tomahawk for anything but chopping wood.
When I reached college age, I had to put aside exploring and concentrate on learning how to survive in a business world. I graduated from the University of Louisville, paying tuition by working at the YMCA in the evenings and lifeguarding at a local country club during the summers. I had dreamed of going on to medical school, but had neither the necessary funds nor grades required for admission. So after graduation I went to work in the laboratory of a local industrial coatings manufacturer. Both the company and I soon learned that I was a poor chemist; my career was going nowhere fast. Then the US Army stepped in and changed my life for the next few years. I began to experience a quantity of wilderness life. The army has always been able to uncover remote places to practice. I started with the rank of private, commissioned a lieutenant a year later, and finished with the rank of captain. I returned to my old industrial company, only this time in the field of sales, which was a much better fit for me.
I was assigned the Iowa sales territory, and later transferred to Chicago where I survived long, very cold winters. But my marriage did not do well as the executive life of travel and entertainment required me to spend much time away from my three children. The balance between family and job was one I did not maintain well at all. Divorce ultimately separated us. My ex-wife and children moved to Phoenix and I, too, longed to relocate to a desert, any desert, just so long as it was warmer than Chicago. But I had to remain in the north for a few more years as that executive income was required to support both myself and my separated family until the children became adults. The army had trained me in desert survival and I developed a love for such an environment. So, one day I decided to become an "executive drop out," turned in the company car, and gave up a nice salary and expense account living and drove an old truck to Las Vegas. Las Vegas was then a small town of only 150,000 people at the time (now it is over 2.6 million) and sits in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Gambling, shows, night club life — nothing would distract me from my new goal, creating a desert scenic tour business. While discussing my ideas with members of an established tour company, I was introduced to a single (also divorced) lady my age. Thus, my relationship with Chiaki Keiko began.
Her given name was Chieko but I called her by her stage name, Chiaki, and often a nickname I gave her, "Chi." She had, like the cat we would soon own, had earned the title "trooper." She survived a number of changes in her life, each time emerging a little stronger for the experience.
Chiaki grew up in the city of Sapporo, Japan, during the last days of World War II, survived the Allied bombings, and later attended a Catholic high school run by German nuns who spoke English and Japanese, as well as German. In those days, Japanese civilians had very little to eat, as the Imperial army had taken most everything from the people, including food, for the war effort. At the end of the war, her first encounter with Americans occurred when several soldiers entered her family's home, apparently searching for someone. She and her siblings were terrified. During the war, the Imperial army had announced by radio that American soldiers rape and murder all women and eat children. Yet, she discovered that the GIs were professional, friendly, and harmless. She remembered one odd thing: the barbarians, as the Americans were called, did not remove their shoes when they entered the home.
Perhaps Americans were barbarians but she soon learned that they had created beautiful music like swing, ballads, and jazz. Chiaki began to sing some of the American songs even though, at the time, she did not understand the meaning of each word. The nuns at her school discovered that Chiaki had a beautiful singing voice and encouraged her to enter a contest sponsored by a local radio station. She won handily, singing Nat King Cole's classic ballad, "Too Young." This earned her a trip to Tokyo, where she won more contests by singing American classics in the original English. This was an unusual accomplishment at the time. Very few Japanese singers could sing in English with any quality. Soon Chiaki became one of Japan's top recording artists of the 1960s.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Trooper"
Copyright © 2018 Forrest Bryant Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 My New Friend 1
Chapter 2 "Will He Live?" 4
Chapter 3 The Adventure Begins 8
Chapter 4 How to Domesticate a Wild Kitten 19
Chapter 5 Getting to Know You 27
Chapter 6 Games We Cats Play 34
Chapter 7 Tough Guy 44
Chapter 8 We Move 52
Chapter 9 New Territory, New Friends 65
Chapter 10 Disappearing 76
Chapter 11 The Fox and the Black Cats 85
Chapter 12 The Fox Knows 94
Chapter 13 Vanished! 103
Chapter 14 Rescue! 112
Chapter 15 The Night Visitor 122
Chapter 16 The Bodyguard 131
Chapter 17 Little Brother 137
Chapter 18 Mystery Solved 147
Chapter 19 The Legend of Fat Face 156
Chapter 20 Peace Is Shattered 166
Chapter 21 The War 186
Chapter 22 Introducing Brother to the Desert 196
Chapter 23 The Touching of Heads 207
Chapter 24 Gone 218