How Her Shedding Became Fur Bedding

When we adopted nine-week-old Josie, she was the quintessential cute kitten: tiny, blond, soft. Because her parents were short-hairs, we just assumed she'd grow into the fair-haired counterpart of Margie, our sleek, tidy tabby. But as this cottony kitten matured to a stately size, her fine-textured fur grew long and unfathomably thick. By her first birthday, Josie's fluffiness was full-fledged.

Unlike all-season Margie, Josie became a veritable fur factory each spring. Clumps of this dandy lioness's winter coat billowed through our home, inevitably drawn into the ductwork. Come March, my husband called from the basement on a weekly basis, "I'm cleaning the furnace filter."

Eyeing our living-room upholstery, I would reply, "Great! I'll vacuum the furniture."

Grooming Josie would have helped, of course. But at the mere sight of a comb, this normally good-natured cat unleashed a feline fury, snarling, hissing, and spitting. If I carried on, undeterred, she'd whack the comb from my hand with a feisty forepaw, then run and hide.

Even when she was out of sight, fur still flew. Like a certain credit card, she was everywhere I was: clinging to my clothes, sticking to my toes, tickling my nose - fairly pelting me with fur.

I doted on Josie. But her hirsuteness wasn't exactly growing on me, despite appearances to the contrary.

Because we live on a busy street and feed birds in our front yard, we've always kept our cats indoors. Had Josie been a rug (and in repose she can pass for one), I could have shaken her from an upstairs window, or hung her out on a windy day. As it was, I just kept vacuuming after her.

One day in early April, discouraged after I'd peeled a gossamer film of fur from the refrigerator's coils, an idea struck. I marched Josie out into the yard on a tether, an agenda hidden in my pocket. As I'd hoped, she immediately began to sniff crocuses and chew on grass stems, thrilled with this rare furlough.

Furtively pulling out a rubber-toothed comb, I began gently stroking her. Immersed in the tastes and smells of spring, she ignored not only the birds chattering in alarm overhead, but my ministrations, too - just as I'd hoped.

Seizing the moment, I raked great gobs of gauze from Josie's hide. When no more fur appeared on the comb, I tucked the wads of wool near some yard debris by the fence. Triumphant, I scooped up a rapturous Josie and carried her up the steps.

Just before I went in the door, I saw a chickadee dart down, snag some fur from the debris pile, and zip back to its nest!

I could barely believe what I'd seen. I glanced down at the cat purring loudly in my arms, hoping to divine whether this split-second episode had registered with her. But she merely blinked.

Turning toward the tree, I saw the daring yet pragmatic chickadee attempting to feather her nest with the cast-off clothing of her potential predator. I found the inherent perfection of this plan almost stunning: Not only would cat fur not clog the nest's ductwork or create cleaning chores; it would both insulate and upholster.

Now, as spring softens into summer, Josie and I observe our grooming rite every week, casting her bouffant bounty to the breeze. Having discovered her niche in nature, I've come to appreciate Josie just as she is. I want to believe that all along our block, from their well-furbished nests, several families of fledglings do, too.

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