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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

When good intentions turn out badly, or travels with a cat

David Colburn
Posted 9/21/23

Twenty years after the fact, the incident that taught me the meaning of the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is still as vivid and horrifying as ever. My ex-wife …

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When good intentions turn out badly, or travels with a cat


Twenty years after the fact, the incident that taught me the meaning of the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is still as vivid and horrifying as ever.
My ex-wife and I had finally sold the house where we’d lived as a family with our daughter, and the two of them were moving in with her new boyfriend. Kiersten, my daughter, had a dog and two cats, but the boyfriend was only willing to take in the dog and one cat, not two. Emily, a beautiful tortoiseshell Persian, had always been ‘my’ cat, one I adopted from a shelter shortly after we’d moved to St. Peters, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. I welcomed this opportunity to get back ‘my’ cat and drove to St. Peters from my home in Kansas one weekend to pick her up.
The adoption agreement I’d signed when I got Emily mandated she be forever an ‘indoor’ cat, an agreement we’d stuck by all those years. But I thought it would be nice for Emily to do a little exploring outside for once, so before picking her up I stopped at the pet store to buy a harness and a leash. Once I collected Emily, I detoured from the straight route home to go by Cuivre River State Park, near Troy, Mo.
Cuivre River is a beautiful, rugged Missouri park covered with white oak trees where I’d spent many weekends camping, and I knew just the spot to give Emily a little taste of wilderness. I parked the car, put the harness on her snug and tight, clipped on the leash, and off we went into the woods.
That makes it sound a little faster than it really was - Emily was quite curious about every little thing in her path. She sniffed, she pawed, and she even chewed some of the plants. For about 30 minutes, I let her take the lead along a little draw filled with puddles from storms the prior day. She seemed to be enjoying herself just fine. But facing a six-hour drive ahead, 30 minutes was long enough for the excursion. Since she had no idea tugging on the leash meant to stop or change directions, I gathered her up in my arms and started the walk back to the car.
We made it all of about 20 yards.
Maybe it was one of the plants she ate. Maybe it was too much fresh outdoor air. Maybe it was the ‘call of the wild.’ Whatever it was, something suddenly turned my lovely little Emily into the demon cat from Hades! No warning whatsoever - quick as a hiccup, Emily the docile morphed into Emily the crazed! Her eyes were wide and wild, she howled, she lashed out at me - and I had no choice but to drop her. She immediately bolted away, jerked to a sudden halt by the leash. She started furiously rolling back and forth in the leaves ... and then to my horror, she was free! Somehow, she had slipped out of the harness, and she dashed madly back into the woods at top speed, with me frantically giving chase.
Her dash ended 15 feet above the ground, clinging tightly to the trunk of a 40-foot-tall oak. These oaks didn’t branch out until about 20-25 feet up, so the only thing supporting Emily was an ever-so-slight bulge at the point where she stopped. Part of me wanted to dash back to the car to get a blanket to ‘net’ her with when she came down - but I couldn’t risk the chance she’d come down in the interim and get forever lost in the woods. So instead, I leaned my back against a nearby tree and tried coaxing this crazed kitty to come down. I’m sure you can imagine how well that strategy worked.
The forecast that afternoon was for scattered thunderstorms, and about 30 minutes after she scampered up the tree, one scattered our way. The winds came howling in, turning Emily into a reasonable facsimile of a circus acrobat perched atop one of those long, slender, swaying poles. Back and forth she went as the rain quickly followed, both of us getting drenched in the process. It took about 20 minutes for the storm to move through - Emily’s grip never weakened. She stayed put right where she was, soaked and swaying and howling.
Muscles, be they human or feline, get fatigued and cramped if left in the same position of exertion too long, and 15 minutes after the rain quit, Emily needed to shift a bit - and she slipped, plummeting to the ground. I immediately pounced on her, but she easily writhed away from my grasp and bolted for a nearby tree. Before she could get out of reach, I leaped as high as I could and latched on to her tail, ripping her down from the trunk. The only ‘safe’ option to keep from getting ripped to shreds by my crazed little girl was to maintain my grasp on her tail and hold her upside-down at arm’s length, writhing and flailing and snarling, as I headed back to the car. I opened the door, tossed Emily in, slammed it quickly, and crumpled against the car, exhausted and mentally drained.
When I finally got inside the car ten minutes later, I reached toward Emily to give her a comforting pat on the head - but got a snarl and a swipe of her claws in return. She was clearly in no mood for any show of affection from her tormentor. For about 30 miles I drove in absolute fear that she might suddenly decide to attack me, a feeling that was only relieved when she crawled underneath the seat. Drained from the ordeal, I decided we’d spend the night at a hotel in Columbia.
If I’d have been wise, I’d have just let Emily spend the night in the car - but no, the thought of her being all alone out there in the dark just didn’t sit well with me. After getting settled in my room, I went back out for Emily, who was none too eager to be forcibly ripped from her protected space. Once in the room, she wasted little time discovering she could crawl up inside of the recliner in the corner - and that’s where she stayed until the next morning, when I had to drag her out once more to get back in the car. She quickly dove back under the seat and remained there the entire four-hour drive home.
It took well over a week for Emily to get over the trauma and back to being her ‘old self’ - which gave me a week’s worth of guilt for having put her through all of that trauma. I never put her in a harness or on a leash again.
And I’ve never ever forgotten the lesson that good intentions executed with ineptitude can be every bit as problematic as bad intention executed with precision. That’s a lesson I’ve since discovered many folks would do well to learn, or they, too, will need an asbestos jumpsuit when they reach their destination.