Rusty Rustbelt Paprika – an adventurer who always comes home

April 24, 2022
I decided I needed a new pet when we moved back to Milton in 2016, after losing my two Himalayan cats a few years earlier. I had perused those SPCA pet adoption ads in the Cape Gazette for a few months, untypically trying not to rush into things. My mother typically once said I was too immature to have a pet; I was 54 at the time! Loving to instruct, she had conducted a mock school for the black-and-white Milton cats on her back porch.
"I deserve a pet," I said. After all, I had raised my Afghan hound, Mr. Diamond, from a puppy, and my Himalayans lived to be 18 years old, not to mention the three children I helped raise to successful adulthood. I spotted Rusty in one of those adopt-a pet ads. He was a typical orange tabby; you see them everywhere in ads, selling cat food on TV. He had a white abdomen with an orange belt marking in the middle, hence the nickname "Rustbelt." Part of my attraction was the memory of a cat I adopted upstate, an orange tabby I named Paprika, which I used as Rusty's last name. So when I saw Rusty in the newspaper, I decided to adopt an orange cat in need of a home.
He really seemed to have a humorous personality, posing with a towel half over his head! Was he missing an ear? Maybe he was a Van Gogh cat? They really set things up when I went to meet him. Believe it or not, there was a piano covered with a quilt that was set up as a kind of red carpet runway.  A kind old crone of a woman sat at the end of this runway as he ran toward me. "Isn't he cute?" she said.
He was huge! My husband Jeff said, "Don't you think he's too big?" "No!" said I. "I want something I can see!" "You can see him for sure," he answered. So we brought Rusty home. He had not seen such a big area to play in and romp through since he was found in a litter in Pot-Nets.  He dashed through the house and landed in my pile of bags of found objects under my art table like a kid in those piles of balls at McDonald’s.
I tried to keep him inside for a while, but he laid on the end of the pool table looking mournful and yowling. If I tried to go out the door, he almost knocked me over and got out several times, staying out all night and seeing the moon for the first time. I'd love to be a camera on his forehead and see all the things he must view on his nocturnal journeys.
He goes to his "cat club" by sliding under a hole in a high fence next door, and I have seen him sitting in the yard with his lady friend at sunset. Once a hawk flew overhead, and I feared that what happened to the first Paprika (who was wounded by a hawk) might befall Rusty as well, so I purchased one of those life-size plastic owls and perched it on a pole in the backyard to frighten the hawk. And it worked!
I know that a lot of people don't believe in letting their cats outside, but if I were a cat I would want to be free. It's really up to the owner, however. Rusty has an impressive flea collar, since the drops and regular collars didn't work on him. His is extra strong and has reflective gems on it which help make him visible in the dark. Whoever sees him will know someone loves him. For six years now, he has always returned from his adventures!
I have also found that it is very hard to find a vet here. I had to call three or four before I found one in Selbyville. I'm glad that it wasn't an emergency, because I read the sad letter recently about the couple who had such trouble finding a vet. I'm also glad that a low-cost care facility is being planned for Sussex by the Delaware Humane Society and the SPCA. There is a clarion call for people to adopt pets, so there should be care available, as well as help for those who need reasonably priced veterinary care for their pets. However, I also know vets have expenses that need to be met. The last few years, I have visited The Tractor Store for vaccinations for Rusty. The Cat Snippers in Milton have helped to cut down on the feral cat population here in town. "Long, short, and tall, we clip them all," is their motto.
After catching him, which is an ordeal in itself (he once broke through the bars of his kennel like Supercat), I stand in line with pit bulls and other pet lovers at The Tractor Store. Rusty has never seen the likes of pit bulls and other big dogs barking and straining on leashes. But the line is filled with fellow animal lovers and we talk about our love for our pets.
Finally, it's Rusty's turn. "Big strong boy," the vet says. He can't be pulled out of the kennel. She has to put on huge protective gloves, but to no avail. He's taken to the back room, the equivalent of the principal's office. All done for another year, a sigh of relief, and the trip home past cornfields. Back in Milton, I open the door to the cage and he flees to his club under the fence next door – but he'll return after forgiving me once again.
  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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