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Cletus Comes Home


The Day Cletus Came Home
By
Barbie Perkins-Cooper

The crisp coolness of November felt good on my skin as I raked leaves in the backyard. For weeks, I sat around the house feeling guilty over the loss of Cletus. As a foster mom for animals, I took pride in how I cared for them. Never had I lost one until Cletus ran away.

After his escape, my husband and I placed flyers all over the neighborhood hoping someone would read them and recognize Cletus. Several people phoned to say they saw him, chased after him, only to have him run away. A teenager new to the area said he was a fast little guy.

“He’s skittish. Horrified someone might hurt him. That’s why he runs. He’s afraid everyone will brutalize him like the puppy mill owners did before he was rescued. Please, if you see him again, call me. Don’t scare him.”

The boy’s voice cracked. “I’m sorry I scared him.”

“He scares so easily. Maybe we will find him soon.” I thanked the boy, hung up, realizing I did not get his name. How selfish of me.

Later that afternoon, I leashed Shakespeare and Sandy Bear, hoping a brisk walk might refresh my depression and exercise these boys. I carried a brown paper bag of dog food and treats, placing them by St. Andrews Episcopal Church parking lot. When I spoke with an animal communicator a few weeks ago, she suggested leaving food in areas he might be hiding in, so every time I walked, I carried the foods Cletus knew so well. Here, Cleet…Cleet…Little Buddy…Your food is right over here… Here Cleet…Cleet…

I was hopeful he might be nearby and hear me.

Arriving home, I rushed to the front door, placed more dog food in the bowl and refreshed the water bowl. No doubt something was coming by late at night to eat the food. Last night, after another night of insomnia, I checked the front porch at 11:00. The bowl was untouched. At 1:00 the bowl contained a little bit of food. At 3:00 a.m., the bowl was empty. “Please God; let it be Cletus eating the food. Please help me find him.”

I sat in the den, surfing channels on the television watching the sun rise. Shakespeare patted his paw at my foot. So like him to follow me. Never has he cared to be alone in the dark of night. I scooped him up, fluffing the afghan around both of us. “It’s OK, little buddy. Mommy’s all right.”

Moments later, I listened to the roar of Shakespeare snoring in my left ear. In the early dawn of morning, I brewed coffee, turning the light on the front porch on; I prayed Cletus would be asleep there.

Opening the refrigerator, I noticed the calendar. Three weeks ago Cletus ran away. “I probably should post more flyers today, and I’ll phone all of the animal shelters again. Maybe I’ll update them. I doubt we’ll ever find him. He’s probably starved to death by now, unless…” The phone interrupted my thoughts.

Phil wanted to know how I felt. “I’m OK,” I said, tears spilling down my face.

“Let’s do an early movie today. I think you need to get out for a bit.”

After Cletus ran away, I got sick again with acute bronchial asthma. Every day was difficult, without energy, so all I did was rest with the exception of raking the leaves and walking the dogs. My breathing was so short; it took me an hour just to walk the dogs. How I found the energy to do all that I was doing with my body so ill was a question everyone wanted to know.

“I’m a stubborn woman,” I said. “Regardless how I feel, I care for others before caring for myself. All of my life, I’ve cared for others, especially animals and my precious dad. When he died in July 1999, I fell apart. Therapy helped me to realize I must take care of myself first. Easier said than done.

That afternoon, Phil came home early. The wrinkles on his face showed me how worried he was about me. “I’m not taking my phone,” I said, my voice raspier than normally.

“Good,” he said. “You need to stop worrying and relax.”

“Relax? I will relax when I find Cletus. I know he’s out there somewhere, and I cannot find him no matter what I do. It just isn’t fair. I promised to be a responsible foster. Instead, I let him down, so he ran away.”

“He didn’t run away from you. He wanted his freedom, just like the animal communicator said. He wanted to see the world.”

“I know…It’s just easier for me to take the blame.”

Phil gathered his keys, locked the door and off we went to enjoy an early movie. I cannot remember what movie we saw, or what we had for dinner. My thoughts were with Cletus – wherever he was. Arriving home, my neighbor rushed to the car.

“Did you get my message?” She squealed. “Cletus was found. We have him on our porch.”

I burst into tears. “Are you kidding me?”

“No,” she said. “Come with me.”

Neighbors stood around the front porch. “He’s growling. He won’t let anyone touch him.”

I opened the gate of the crate, placing my hands slowly inside while whispering, “Cleet…Cleet…Hey, Little Buddy.”

Cletus moved his paw to touch my hand. I smiled, moving my hand closer to him.

“Look at that,” my neighbor said. “He let you touch him. Every time I tried, he acted like he wanted to bite me.”

“He doesn’t bite…He’s frightened.” I curled my arms around his body, moving him from the crate. He snuggled closer to me, staring at me – as if to say, I’m home.

Carrying him tightly in my arms, we walked inside the house. Sandy Bear rushed to greet us. “Look who’s back.” I said. “Cleet…Cleet…Our Little Buddy is home.”

I placed Cletus on the floor. “Welcome Home, little Buddy,” I whispered. Cletus walked away, dropping his exhausted body on the pillow he slept in before he ran away. At feeding time, he sniffed his bowl, turned away, only to rush back, eating every bite.

“Welcome Home, Little Buddy,” I said, rubbing his ears. “You’re home and safe now. “ Welcome Home.”

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