Rescuing Moe

Spring Fundraiser 2015, Day Seven

Today is the final day of our quarterly fundraiser. This week has left me exhausted but gratified, what with new first-time donors checking in from exotic locales that include Utah, British Columbia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Australia. Sometime tomorrow I’ll post the wrap-up.

Tip jarFor readers who don’t know the drill, or weren’t paying attention during the first six days of this Fundraiser Octave, this is what Dymphna and I do to keep this website alive. And it’s not just the two of us — Gates of Vienna is a collective enterprise. Most of my time is spent in editing and administration, rather than writing posts. Our site depends on the contributions of numerous people to provide a broad range of material. Our collaborators send tips, translations, articles, essays, and images. The videographers and video editors, most notably Vlad Tepes, extend our reach into the all-important video field.

And we depend on the kindness of stranger to finance the whole shebang. Every quarter we make the pitch, and every quarter you all step up with your generous responses. For that we owe all of our readers a profound debt of gratitude.

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The theme of this week’s fundraiser has been “Stories”, and this morning’s tale features Moe, a large black and white cat who shared our living quarters for a number of years back in the early 2000s. Longtime readers will remember the role Moe played in “Dymphna and the Fig Tree of Doom”, when his plaintive meowing alerted me to the fact that Dymphna had fallen off a ladder while picking figs and couldn’t get up.

I posted an initial report the day it happened, and the follow-up is here. It’s hard to believe, but all of this happened almost ten years ago. So only really longtime readers — maybe Bill, HJH, and a handful of others — will remember it.

Dymphna and the future Baron had found Moe at a country crossroads when he was a half-grown stray. It was in the middle of a sleet storm, and the poor cat had a broken leg, so they brought him home. The future Baron bonded with him instantly, and named him Moe. The official name on his Social Security card was Moseley Moecat.

Moe was probably the sweetest cat we’ve ever owned. He was large and not very bright, but he was tractable, affectionate, and easygoing. He was prone to sudden bursts of funny antics and silliness, playing with shadows (or hallucinations) that no one else could see.

After he was neutered he developed an endocrine disorder, as so many male cats do after being fixed. He just kept getting bigger and bigger, despite Dymphna’s efforts to provide him with special food. With his black spots and huge girth, more than one person said he looked like a Gateway box. And that clove-shaped mark on his nose made him look especially goofy. But lovable — he was a lovable cat.

The following story took place more than a year before Dymphna’s fateful altercation with the fig tree, just after our annual summer party in June 2004. The crowd of visitors had driven Moe into hiding over the weekend, as was usually the case. But this time he didn’t return after all the alarming strangers had departed.

After four days had gone by, the future Baron and I went out looking for Moe. We checked his usual haunts — the collapsed chicken house at the edge of the woods was one of his favorite hiding places, but he wasn’t there. So we walked further into the woods.

Fifty yards or so in there was an abandoned well. It was hand-dug, about four feet across and maybe thirty feet deep. It was on the next-door property, not on ours, so I couldn’t fill it up, even if I had had earth-moving equipment. No one lived on the property, and the owner was far away, in another state. When the fB was little, his brothers and I had hauled a lot of junk wood out there and covered the mouth of the well thoroughly so that no one could fall in.

But we didn’t reckon on Moe.

As the future Baron and I approached the old well we could hear a faint mewing. Both of us felt an awful sense of foreboding — we knew where Moe must be. At first we hoped he had only got himself entangled in the debris at the top of the shaft, as opposed to falling all the way in. But as we called to him, and he responded, it became clear that he was all the way down at the bottom of the well. He had found a little gap in the pile of wood, and, thinking it would make a good hiding place, wriggled his way into the void. Now he was thirty feet down, meowing at us. Fortunately for him, that old well was usually dry in the summer.

By that time it was getting dark. “Dad, what are we going to do?” asked the fB in alarm. “He’s going to die down there!”

“I’ll call the fire department,” I said.

The fire department in our remote rural area is an all-volunteer affair, with two big trucks and one smaller antique model. As it happened, one of the leaders of the VFD was Wayne, the same man whose son had been killed in a car wreck, and for whom I had helped design the gravestone (see Thursday’s fundraising post). I phoned him and explained our predicament. He immediately called two other firemen, and they brought the antique fire truck to our house, because it was the only one small enough to fit down our driveway.

I took them back in the woods and showed them the problem. They hauled a battery-powered floodlight and a lot of equipment to the scene on foot.

The first task was tricky: we had to pull the pieces of wood off the top of the well. No matter how carefully we removed them, fragments fell down the shaft — we could hear them clattering downwards, and then there was a dreadful muffled WHOOMP when each one hit bottom. At first Moe kept mewing, but then we didn’t hear him anymore.

Finally the mouth of the well was clear. The firemen shone the light down the shaft, but there was no sign of Moe at the bottom.

We discussed what could be done. With them they had a harness designed to lower people from burning buildings, and a length of extra-strong rope necessary to hold them. But someone had to go down the well. And all three of those guys were really big, whereas I was a weedy little geek (and still am).

Since I was the smallest one on the scene, it seemed obvious that there was only one possible course of action. I said I would go down the well, and asked them to explain what I had to do. They fitted the harness on me, attached the cord, and showed me how everything worked. Then they ran the cord around two nearby trees and anchored it to a third, leaving thirty feet of slack to work with. I sat at the lip of the well while the two biggest guys pulled on the cord until it tightened behind me. Then they gave me a big flashlight and started to lower me slowly down.

That was probably the longest two minutes of my life. As I descended, pushing with my feet at the sides of the well to keep from scraping, I watched the circle of light above me get smaller and smaller. By the time I felt my feet touch bottom, it seemed to be about the size of a quarter, and impossibly far above.

I shone the light on the floor. I could see leaves, loam, and pieces of rotted wood, but no Moe.

“Moe, are you here?” I said.


I knew with awful certainty that I would find his dead body down there under the debris. But I had to bring him up so that the future Baron and I could give him a decent burial in the backyard with the other departed kitties.

I felt around the dirt and leaves, patting gently here and there. Was that something soft? Yes… and it was moving! Brushing away the loam and pieces of wood, I reached down and put my hands around the familiar heft of Moe. But he wasn’t as hefty as usual — he’d been down there for four days without food or water. Nevertheless, he looked intact, and he meowed at me plaintively as I brushed him off.

The firemen had lowered a second cord with a basket attached, which could be used to pull Moe up. In it I had arranged a plastic bag so that he could be confined and then bound in place for the ride up the shaft — better than having him claw me to pieces while I rode up holding him. I arranged him in the basket, secured the rope, and yelled up to Wayne to haul him up.

I watched Moe’s basket ascend the shaft, silhouetted against the bright light. When he got to the top, I saw two hands reach over and pull him to safety.

Now it was my turn to make the ascent. My going up was not as easy for them as the trip down — they had to work extra hard pulling on the rope, and they wore a deep groove in the bark of the pine tree nearest the shaft.

I watched the quarter turn into a half dollar, and then a silver dollar, and then strong hands were reaching out to pull me over the edge onto solid ground. Back into the upper world!

I carried Moe, still in the plastic bag and meowing, back to the house where Dymphna and the fB were waiting. They untied the rope and pulled off the tape, and out sprang Moe, filthy and emaciated. The future Baron picked him up and hugged him, heedless of the dirt.

We checked him over, and he seemed to be unharmed. He had one small scratch next to his nose, but otherwise bore no discernible injuries. After he’d had a long drink, a big meal — for once allowed to eat as much as he wanted — and a good night’s sleep, he was basically back to normal. I don’t know how many of his nine lives he used up down in that well, but he came out of it just fine.

It’s hard to explain the emotional penumbra surrounding the rescue of Moe. After the dread and horror of finding him at the bottom of the well, there was the joy of seeing him intact and happy when he returned home.

But there was a lot more to it than that. In archetypal terms, I had descended to the underworld on a quest, to bring back a beloved companion from the land of the dead. In the deep strata below the level of consciousness, all the mythical elements were roiling together — Orpheus, Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Odysseus were down there with me. We journeyed into the Pit, and then returned to the world of light.

Another analogue, of course, is the Harrowing of Hell…

Anyway, Moe came back. It seemed impossible, but there he was, happy in the future Baron’s arms. In a day or two he was his old self, and we were all glad to see him.

The fB and I went out into the woods a few days afterwards, making several trips carrying better wood — large sheets of pressure-treated plywood — to cover the well again. A couple of years later the property next door changed hands. I talked to the new owner about the well, and he used his front-end loader to fill it in.

Moe’s well is no more.

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The generosity of our Day Six donors flowed in from:

Stateside: California, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia

Near Abroad: Canada

Far Abroad: Australia, the Netherlands, and the UK

I’ll see y’all tomorrow for the wrap-up.

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19 thoughts on “Rescuing Moe

      • Thank you for that. It gave me a chuckle.

        In the same vein, I have been using Plantskypp as D recommended in my garden. It is dried pigs blood that you mix with water and sprinkle on plants to keep the deer away.
        It has worked beautifully. I have concluded that “my herd” is Muslim and the buck is named Mohammed!

        • Oh, I’m so glad it worked!

          I believe the Plantskydd is a Swedish name. They created it and used it widely in newly planted forests. Wish I had thought to do so with my cypress AS SOON AS THEY WENT IN THE GROUND. Two are stunted and won’t ever grow. Done by deer using them for antler massage.

          I saved most of my azaleas this year.

  1. What an adorable cat, and a happy ending to what could have been a very sad tale. I have a soft spot for cats, having grown up around them all my life, so this story was much appreciated.

    Glad to see so many donors coming in! I do hope mine went through. Even though Paypal is pretty reliable, I still worry something might go wrong.

  2. The fur people are part of the family. Glad Moe was returned from the Gates of Death. Some cats are cats, and some are people souls in a cat suit. Moe’s photo looks like he is a dude in a cat suit. I have been a cat person for my entire life, so I can realize how much he means to you.

    • A great statement, revjen, that fur people are part of the family. I love to read the stories about dogs and cats that are permitted to live in some of the more enlightened nursing homes. The residents are healthier, more involved, and finally have a friend to see them through.

  3. It has been remarked, that dogs have owners, and cats, servants. After a story like this, who’d be so mean as to resent being a servant?

    • I love both – they say that dogs really domesticated man and cats find humans useful. But I notice both are ‘contact’ animals – i.e., mammals. Dogs figure out who the head dude is, cats figure out how to use us to get what they need.

      We can no longer really afford to have an animal: the vet visits are pricey but also the fact that deer bring ticks and fleas into the yard and then the animals bring them into the house. That was not the case a dozen years ago, but the cute deer grow ever more numerous and aggressive about sharing our yard space.

      For our last cat, not even those expensive once-a-month flea and tick meds worked. I’m *still* on flea patrol.What’s left of my endocrine system can’t afford contact with poisons so I’m beginning a program of “pest management” that will interfere with the life cycle of ticks and fleas outside.

      Mainly, though, it’s the B. He’s already got enough on his shoulders with driving me places. I wouldn’t add to that for anything.

      A friend of ours has a Maine Coon cat.

      One would have to seriously consider the food bill for them, not to mention grooming costs. But what a wonderful cat!

      • There are moves afoot to reintroduce the European Lynx, exinct in Britain for 1,000 years, to control the deer (the Lynx being “apex predators”). Is there a Virginia equivalent?

        • We have bobcats, which may be similar to the lynx — bigger than domestic cats, smaller than the “great cats”. There are occasional reports of panthers or mountain lions in the Appalachians, but if they exist they are escaped from captivity, and not part of any native stock.

        • they can’t seem to stop interfering. Virginia deer (the kind here when America was settled by Europeans) was smaller than this white-tailed version of venison they brought in more than forty years ago. And now there’s A while ago they introduced coyotes again to bring down the deer population. Now our country provides $3,000.00 a year for bounty payments at 50.00 a kill because the pastures of sheep, cows, chickens, aren’t safe. And every year, the whole allotment is paid out.

          They could just make deer hunting a much longer season but no…that would be too easy. Most hunters would gladly pay a higher license fee…I think our deer may be eventually infected with whatever western deer are suffering from, thousands of miles away. They already have cycles of some blood disease…

          a year late, but numbers are indicative of the problem.

          Whatever they manage to do, nature will outfox them, so to speak. The last figures I read for the total populations of deer is about one for every three people. But that was several years ago and Virginia is gaining in people population too.

          People die from some determined deer’s Bambi-cide. Everyone has their own story about a deer coming at their car, crashing into the windshield. A woman in our county office bldg where I worked was killed in one of those some years ago.

          Like the coyote eradication situation, it would pay to have deer hunters on the county payroll to save lives, property, and so on. I am always alert during twilight, when they run out on the road, usually in scattered groups.

      • Lifelong cat lover here, too. Currently my 23rd, 24th, and 25th cats are living with me (having multiples jacks the count *way* up, as did adopting a pregnant queen back in college).

        re. flea tsouris: have you tried diatomaceous earth? The type that’s used for gardening and sold in pet places, *not* the swimming pool kind. It’s non-toxic–but beware of wind-carried dust–and suffocates fleas by blocking their spirales (sp?) so they can’t breathe.

        Will look for a link to a decent-sized package…just a second 🙂

        Ah, here’s one:

        And an associated article on how it works:

        I have a part Maine Coon Cat. He’s orange and white and weighs approx. 14 lb, not really BIG like MCCs can be. But he has the “snowshoes” on his paws, the lynx-like tufts on his ears, a visible mane around his neck, and an extra-long and extra-fluffy tail. Just beautiful. The big eater around here is actually my female calico….

  4. So glad! I’ve been a cat lover all my life, we’ve had two great cats, the last one a blue eyed black faced Siamese cross who died 14 years ago aged 20–we both miss him terribly, but decided no cat could replace him, so we’re alone…….

  5. Notice to cat lovers: I rec’d a free version of this book:

    Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

    It was so good I almost put it on the sidebar.

    I noticed that there are several editions and some used versions for a penny (plus postage, of course). I’d say wait for a thrift shop version to show up, but I have a feeling it’s a book people pass around rather than drop in their discards.

  6. An exciting cat story. Very sweet. Thank you.

    We have 1/3 of a cat. We love it much but it disappears for long periods. Through neighborhood fliers and mailbox notices we have found that two other families believe the cat is their cat too. So now we are all calm about her disappearances and we compete to see who can give her the most delicious food. She has outfoxed us. Oh sorry, wrong word.

  7. Moe looks like a cat I used to look after in 1998 while his servants were away.

    Glad you rescued Moe.

    People tell me I prefer cats to people. I do not argue.

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