How Three Cats Helped to Define 30 Years in a School Library…

January 2nd. Two days into a brand new year and a brand new decade. The first January in a long time where I wasn’t poised to go back to school after the holidays to impart to students the fact that January was actually the second opportunity in a school year to make a fresh start, September being the first. If their school year was not off on the best footing, here was the opportunity to start fresh and move forward.

Retirement has brought many moments of reflection, but the past few months have been very busy orchestrating and transitioning into this new segment of my life as a photographer and attempting to share my passion with others. Days have been caught up with starting a website, a blog, instagraming, twittering, and Facebooking. Choosing and printing photos, matting and displaying. Searching out farmer’s markets and craft shows to showcase my talents. Keeping records and inventory. Packing, unpacking, and repacking boxes of photos to schlep to and fro. Days full of self talk to counterbalance my feelings of “I can Do this!” against the backdrop of schlepping home almost the same amount of photos I took out the door. I’ve volunteered at the local school several times a week. In short, retirement has been busy. So busy that I even found it difficult to prepare for this Christmas season. Seriously…I had it down pat all the years I worked and raised my family and yet in retirement, this year seemed such a challenge. 

Busy until now. Market has closed till spring, craft sales are non existent. My photos are printed, matted, and packed into their protective sleeves in hopes that online purchases will miraculously transpire. The busyness is in a lull. I didn’t miss going back to school in September. The battle cry of Alice Cooper singing “school’s out forever” ran in an excited loop through my brain. But here now, in January, I do feel a loss. I didn’t expect it. It feels somewhat of a shock. I like being busy. I will find something to fill my hours. But for now I find myself once again reflective. To fill an hour yesterday, in an attempt to declutter my life, I sat and deleted old emails that were no longer relevant. One email was one I wrote to myself recounting a couple of anecdotes from my career that I hadn’t wanted to forget. I wrote it long before a blog was even a possibility and perhaps had not yet been invented. They are anecdotes that will forever be hands-down the best in a long line of anecdotes existing in a 30 year career. I thought today, I would share these with you, my readers.

I’d be willing to bet your craziest day at work never started like this. Coming through the door of my middle school library to the sound of snarling, yowling cats. Okay, maybe I asked for it. Well, at any rate I should have known. Facilitating a school club that fostered the love of animals and responsible pet ownership was a great idea. Allowing kids to bring their beloved pets…not so much. Dog day went very well.  The dog loving members of the club brought their respective pooches, the dogs smelled each other’s butts, ate treats, schmoozed the crowd and went home. Happiness all around. I’m all for fairness and equality and when the cat lovers of the group demanded equal time I was hard pressed to say no, especially when I am a card carrying one of them. I would never submit one of my precious kitties to a day at school and I sat down with the group and explained why they shouldn’t either. Cats are not generally social creatures. You may argue that your cat is the most social cat ever put on the planet and you might be right.  You might also win a lottery. After describing all the pitfalls adherent to bringing cats into a strange place with other cats, my young audience would not be dismayed. I had already allowed dog lovers to show off their beloved fur-friends, equal time was now demanded for their purr babies. I was delusional enough to believe that a strict code of conduct laid out in no uncertain terms would provide a safe, secure environment in which to showcase everyone’s beloved cat. The rules were simple.

1. Recess was at 10:15 and at 10:30 we would gather in the library for Critter Club. No cats were to be in the building prior to recess.  Parents could drop off the cat and pick them up at lunch time, at the end of the double class.  

2. All cats must be secured in a pet carrier. Cats need the security of the enclosure.

3. No cat could be removed from their carrier until permission was given.

4. Only one cat at a time could be out of a carrier. They are NOT social animals.

5. Cats would be removed from their carrier, held by their owner. The owner would talk about the cat and then return it to the carrier. If the cat was amenable, the owner could let other students pet it. 

6. Students MUST be quiet and respectful when a cat was being shown as loud noises could frighten it.

The rules seemed simple enough to follow.  I thought every contingency had been met. What could go wrong? Yup, should have seen it coming.

Fast forward to the day of the great cat gathering. At 8:30 I knew I was in trouble when I opened the library door and the aforementioned sounds of caterwauling could be heard. I could not see the mini-amphitheater which was around the corner. But I had a pretty good idea what I would find and I was not to be surprised.  Four corners of the amphitheater showed four cats squaring off. Backs arched, sounding off and ready to scrap… 

I bellowed “GET THOSE CATS BACK INTO THEIR CARRIERS!” 

“What do you think you’re doing?” 

“Why are they here now?”

“What about the rules?”

“This is exactly what I warned you about!!!!!”

My voice rising ever higher and strangulated with fear. My sheer disappointment that all my most excellent rules had been broken. I had had it covered. There should not have been chaos…just demure little kitties purring at the admiration of their owners and their friends.

UGH!!!!!

These cats did not want to be handled by their owners…they were in the zone…the “I’m going to kill these other offensive fur coated creatures in my strange new territory” zone.

I started barking orders…

”Get your cat in its carrier” to which the inevitable response was heard 

“I don’t have a carrier” 

“WHAT???”

“I have a cardboard box” 

“You can’t keep a cat in a cardboard box for two hours until they are picked up at lunch recess!!!!”

I looked around in desperation, suddenly eyeing my back storage room door.  “Okay, take the cat and put it in the back room.”

I pointed to another little girl, “put your cat in its carrier”. 

“But it’s not my cat.”

“WHAT????”

“It’s hers” and she points to the girl who brought her cat in a box – only it turns out she brought TWO cats in a box. And, both cats had lost their minds. 

To her I replied, “Okay…take the second cat and put it into the back room”. 

To the others “Get the other two into their carriers, and turn the carriers so they cannot see each other”. 

The owner of the two cats was trying to put one cat back in the box for the time being and her friend grabbed the other cat and took it to the back room. I am still trying to orchestrate the removal of cats like a demented conductor when I hear screams of terror and pain emanating from the back room and this time it is of the human variety. I race to the storage room to find the young girl down on the floor with a cat literally pinned to her head. The terrified animal did not want to be put down on the floor of the storage room and was holding on for dear life. My appearance must have distracted the feline long enough for me to wrestle the young girl away.  Her light brown hair was very fine and I could immediately see long red scratches running down her scalp oozing blood and great splats of blood dripping from her ear. I grabbed wildly at the tissue box on my desk and pressed a wad to her ear, all the while hearing repeatedly in a thin terrified voice “I’m all right Ms. Corr, right?” 

“Oh yes, dear, you’ll be fine” (how the look of sheer horror that most certainly was on my face didn’t give it away, I’ll never know). “We’ll just go the office shall we?” 

“GET…THOSE CATS IN THEIR CARRIERS…NOW!!!!” Was my parting shot as the injured student and I headed for help.

Until that moment I (as well as admin) didn’t realize that in the school incident report there is no mention of library. It might be thought that when the incident reports were drawn up, that the library was likely to be the safest part of the school and the most damage likely to happen would be a paper cut at the hands of an avid reader who has turned a page too quickly. In the report checklist, to indicate where the incident took place, there was: playground, hallway, classroom, gym, science lab…but no library.  I believe there is now.

The end result of this freak occurrence was three stitches in the ear of the victim and an unwillingness to wash her hair for quite some time. Her mother was, thankfully, very gracious about the whole ordeal. My admin, who just happened to be celebrating 25 years in the biz that very day, said that in 25 years he had never had a student attacked by an animal nor had he ventured to think it was within the realm of possibility for it to happen…at least not IN the school, especially in the library. The owner of the cats was told to take them directly home, however, her parents could not be reached. I was then directed to take the child home with her cats. I was not really wanting to speak with this child who could clearly not follow rules. And I certainly could feel my professionalism draining and did not trust that I could even be polite at this point. However, as I drove, rather far into the country I might add, the silence was strained. Attempting to be the bigger person in the situation, I thought perhaps I should try and make some sort of conversation. 

“So, tell me, what is your cat’s name?” 

“Nasty” 

“WHAT IN GOD’S NAME WOULD INDUCE YOU YOU TO BRING A CAT TO SCHOOL WHOSE NAME IS NASTY!!!!!” 

I am proud to say that no other children were harmed in this event, owing only to great restraint on my part.

Critter Club continued to exist and I am proud to say contributed much to the welfare of animals in our community.  The list of rules compiled for the cat visit was quickly whittled down to only one rule. NO PETS ALLOWED. A rule that was non-negotiable and any challenges to the rule countered with a retelling of this anecdote.

Another anxiety producing event happened as a result of another visiting cat. But not to critter club. This cat was coming for show and tell in a classroom. It was correctly described as a loving, docile creature and the only difficulty was that the parent of the student could not pick up the cat until lunch time. I was asked might the cat stay in the back room of the library after show and tell? I really needed to learn the word no.

Garfield turned out to be a gorgeous long haired, jet black cat with copper eyes. He was every bit as laid back and docile as promised. He was also quite large, however, in hindsight this might have been mostly fur. He spent his time being showed in the classroom…purring and letting everyone have a cuddle. Then it was off to my back storage room to await his pick up at noon. We put a small box with some litter and left the cat to roam. At recess his owner showed up with a couple of friends to visit the cat. My only admonition was to keep the door closed. I had kept a close eye on the door all morning and was surprised when the owner came out of the back room and asked “where is my cat?”. 

“He has to be in there, go look again.” 

Mentally I thought back over every minute trying to decipher if there was a moment when the cat could have escaped. I was absolutely sure he was secured in the room. I went to help find the cat. The storage room is not very large and is L-shaped. Various shelves align its walls, holding boxes of novel studies, library displays, and supplies. Lots of nooks and crannies but Garfield was a big cat and should be easily located. He was not there. Panic started to push itself into my consciousness. We looked throughout the library. The owner and friends scoured the school while I kept looking in the storage room. Where oh where is this cat? It had to be there. The owner returned sans cat and was getting very upset. He had to go back to class and I promised him I would find Garfield. But where? I thought I had looked everywhere and, like in most cases when you think you’ve looked everywhere, you start to look in seemingly ridiculous places. As I stood looking around the L corner of the space I looked down onto the bottom shelf of a shelving unit.  There on the shelf were a dozen huge volumes of “Books in Print”. They seemingly took up every inch of shelf space, at least from that angle. But, when you got down on the floor at eye level you could see no less than three solid inches of space between the top of the books and the shelf above it. Well, you could see three inches of space where there wasn’t long black fur and two copper eyes staring out! Once I recovered from the initial shock of the eyes looking out at me, Garfield (who, by the way, was totally nonplussed about the whole ordeal and whose attitude was more of the “why are you disturbing a purr-fectly fine nap” variety) yawned and crept out to my great relief.

I have gotten used to being thought of as a crazy cat lady…although people who love me usually leave out the crazy part, but I think it is still intended, just not said out loud.

Happy New Year everyone! May 2020 be a year of great vision! (yes, I said it)

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