This is Riker, one of my cats.
And this is his story.
Part I: Catmping
One day in June of 2007, I suddenly got the urge to go camping. I hadn't participated in this activity in seven years, so the desire seemed to come out of nowhere. However, one of my current jobs was making me very unhappy, and I was getting ready to leave it forever. I guess I was in "escape" mode. I wanted to get out of that job and head for the hills... or, rather, the woods....
When I was a wee lass, my family camped in many places, but Ft. Stevens State Park was always a favorite. The campground boasted two playgrounds, a swimming area, a nearby beach complete with the skeleton of an old shipwreck, miles of bike trails, and, I kid you not, the remains of enormous Civil-War-era buildings and bunkers that you could play in and on.
Nostalgic memories going wild, I went online and booked a campsite at Ft. Stevens for approximately 4 days in late June, for myself and my friend GG. Since I made that reservation just a week or two before the trip itself, I didn't have much of a choice in available campsites, but the one I got seemed okay from the online picture.
Okay, so the ground was lumpy and, of course, the Oregon-in-June torrential rains arrived right on schedule, but otherwise, the site was okay. GG and I arrived mid-week, and we nearly had the whole campground to ourselves, except, strangely, for the presence of people in the site directly next to ours.
On either the first or second night, I heard noises outside my tent, as though an animal was out there, getting into something. The next morning, the people in the next-door campsite told us that an animal had indeed broken into their dog's food container, which was like a Rubbermaid container with a lid. They surmised it had been a raccoon.
Later that morning (or perhaps the next day, who knows?) I was sitting in my car, because it was cold and rainy and the tent wasn't a very comfy place. I was reading or writing or something when suddenly I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was the raccoon! It was back! I grabbed my video camera, exited the car, and began to walk toward the creature.
Which is when I realized it wasn't a raccoon at all. It was a cat. He was feasting on spilled dog food.
I approached the cat, cooing sweet nothings, and to my great delight, found that he was a friendly little mammal. I offered him a dish of water and a piece of cheese, which he eagerly accepted.
I had recently been reading the Anne Of Green Gables series, and immediately settled upon the perfect name for this creature: "Walter."
Walter became GG's and my buddy over the next few days. On rainy nights, he hung out with us in the car. On sunnier days, he sat around the campfire with us. When we'd leave the campsite to go elsewhere, Walter would go into the wooded area next to our campsite and hang out among the trees.
We didn't think Walter belonged to any of the other campers, since we and the people next door were the only ones in the vicinity. Perhaps he had been left behind by campers who'd already gone? We didn't know.
So what to do with Walter? I knew if I brought him home (where we already had two cats) I was going to be in big trouble. But I couldn't just leave him there.
On the morning we broke camp, I decided to leave the decision (to leave or to take Walter with us) up to chance, or Providence, and thought, If I call Walter and he comes out of the woods right now, I'll take him with us. If he doesn't come, oh well.
Well, I called... and he came. So into the car he went. GG held him in her lap at first. I wasn't sure where to take him. A vet? An animal shelter? I tried using my primitive cell phone to find a nearby place, but the information I got was either outdated or just plain wrong. So we got a wee bit lost. At last, we happened to pass a farm & feed store. I went in and bought a cat carrier so at least GG wouldn't have to hold Walter the whole way home.
Part II: Home
Back in Portland, I took Walter to our nearby vet and had them check for an ID chip. I also asked if they could tell me his sex. (I didn't know how to tell, then. I was sort of afraid Walter might be a she-cat with kittens who we'd inadvertently left in the woods and would have to return for.) The vet told us that Walter was a male, age unknown but at least three, and that he had no ID chip.
Over the next few weeks, I did everything I could think of to find Walter's owners. I put "lost pet" ads on Craigslist in multiple counties, as well as ads on other Lost/Found Pet web sites. I called and emailed animal shelters. I scoured "found" ads. I even checked ads and newspapers in Washington and California.
My next step was trying to find a new home for Walter. GG couldn't take him because she had a kitty with an illness, and I already had 2 cats. I hoped I could find him a place with people I knew, so that at least I'd still get to see him. If that didn't work out, I supposed I'd take him to the Oregon Humane Society (the place we'd gotten the other two cats.) This broke my heart (even though they're a great, 99.9% no-kill shelter), but if I couldn't keep him, and nobody I knew seemed to want him, what else could I do?
I made a video of Walter and put it on YouTube, hoping to drum up interest in him. Still, it didn't seem that anyone wanted this kitty.
Then my brother and his fiancee came to Portland, saw Walter, fell in love with him, and decided that they would like to adopt him after their upcoming wedding. And so they did!
Walter moved to Eugene, Oregon, was renamed "Riker," and I got to see him often.
My brother and sister-in-law would bring Walter/Riker with them whenever they came to Portland for visits. It took me ages to learn to call him "Riker," but eventually the name stuck.
Riker could be a bit of a sourpuss during his weekend visits. He would act aloof and/or bully the other cats. But I now attribute this attitude to the fact that he didn't much like car travel.
Fastforward three years. My brother and sister-in-law got a dog. Dog and Cat did not get along. Dog is a shepherd dog, and wanted to herd Riker. Riker's response: "See my claws, peasant."
When they asked if we could keep Riker for a while (until the dog had obedience classes or something), we said "yes," of course.
"A while" eventually turned into "forever."
Now Riker is ours. Full circle or something. I couldn't be happier.
Part III: The Patient
One day, not long after we took Riker in for good, he got sick. Very sick. He had some kind of intestinal thing. I took him to the vet, and she told me that Riker would need surgery in order to live.
I had three choices...
1. Good surgery, which would most likely fix the problem completely. Cost: $$$
2. Medium surgery, that might or might not cure him but would at least fix the problem temporarily. Cost: $$
3. Make him comfortable. Cost: Extreme sadness.
Long story short, I was the only one in my family willing and/or able to pay for the surgery. So I did. And he recovered.
A year or two later, Riker was diagnosed with Diabetes. I have to give him shots of insulin twice a day.
Then one of his teeth fell out, and he had to have full-on dental surgery.
He's allergic to corn and gets bad skin rashes.
Two weeks ago, I found fleas.
And so it goes.
Part IV: He's Worth It
Riker, center, in a rare moment of peace with our two other cats, Didi (1998-2014) and Baylie (2000-).
Riker (top) with Baylie, on my mom's lap. They used to hiss at each other, but they've begun to bond in the past year.
Riker loves food. We had to teach him the words "no" and "wait" so he wouldn't beg and/or try to literally take food out of our hands. Yes, he understands. Who says cats can't be trained?
Riker is the only cat I've ever had who doesn't mind wearing clothes. We've had to put clothes on him a few times to keep him from biting hot spots or sore patches, and he's always like, "A shirt? Okay, sure, human. We both know I look ridiculous, but it's kind of cozy, so whatever, carry on."
* * *
Some people say that things happen for a reason.
I believe it. Especially in the case of Riker.
I believe that me disliking one of my jobs led me to want to escape. Escaping led me to camping. Camping on those particular dates in June, 2007, led me to that specific campsite. Camping at that particular campsite led me to Walter/Riker.
Even though, at first, it looked as though Riker and I would only have a short relationship, he ended up becoming a permanent member of our family.
And I couldn't be happier.