Table of Contents
Are you a cat person? I am! From Smoky, the stray who wandered into my home when I was three years old, to Mittens, my most recent feline friend, I have loved them my whole life.
So does Sunita. Since her mother doesn’t want a cat at home, Sunita adopts Socrates at Dr. Mac’s Place as her pet. Socrates leads Sunita to a secret world filled with cats. Wait until you see what happens!
The research for this book was heartwarming and heartbreaking. Stray cats who don’t have someone to love them make me sad. I met some wonderful volunteers who are trying to make the lives of stray cats healthier and happier. I hope you like the story they inspired me to write.
Find a sunny place and curl up with Sunita and her adventure story right now!
Laurie Halse Anderson
THE VET VOLUNTEER BOOKS
Fight for Life
Thanks to Kimberly Michels, D.V.M., and
Judith Tamas, D.V.M., for their consultation and
review of veterinary procedures and practices.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group,
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by Pleasant Company Publications, 2000
Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2007
Copyright © Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000, 2007
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-17667-2
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any
responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
To Sarah and Liz Morrison.
May you always be wild at heart!
still think you need a cat, Sunita,” Zoe tells me as we bounce along in the school bus. We’re going to Dr. Mac’s Place, the veterinary clinic where we volunteer. It’s the perfect way to start the weekend.
“Forget about it,” I say. “It’s useless. My mother won’t let me. End of story.”
“You’re giving up too easily.” Zoe fixes the butterfly clips in her hair. “You like cats more than anyone I know.”
She has a point. I’ve always loved cats. Long-haired, short-haired, tabby, Siamese, or stray. I adore them all. I can watch cats for hours—the graceful way they move, that mysterious look in their eyes, the twitching tail, the cute whiskers—everything about them fascinates me.
My mother, however, doesn’t like them. I think they scare her, though she won’t admit it. Instead, she gives reasons like “They shed” or “They’ll ruin the furniture with their claws.” She has made up her mind. No cats in the Patel house.
“You just haven’t asked the right way,” Zoe continues. “Parents expect you to ask a million times so they know you really, really, really want something. You’ve probably only asked, like, a thousand times.”
Zoe’s mother is an actress. I’m sure she doesn’t mind if Zoe gets a little dramatic when she wants something. That doesn’t work at my house.
“My mother isn’t the kind of person who likes being asked a million times for anything,” I explain. “She’s a doctor. She wants facts.”
Zoe’s redheaded cousin, Maggie MacKenzie, leans across the aisle. “The fact is you’re great with cats and you deserve a pet,” she says.
David Hutchinson turns around in the seat in front of us. “Tell your mom that a cat would eat the mice in your basement,” he says.
“Yuck!” Zoe protests. “That’s disgusting.”
Brenna Lake, sitting next to David, punches his arm lightly. “Sunita doesn’t have mice, you bean head.” She twists around to face Zoe and me. “Write down all the reasons why you want a cat and give the list to your mom. Make sure you have lots.”
“I doubt that would work,” I say with a laugh. “My mother wants a cat that doesn’t have fur, claws, or teeth, or need a litter box or food. In other words, she’ll let me have a stuffed animal.”
“But she let you volunteer at the clinic,” Maggie says. “Remember how much that surprised you? Maybe you should give her a chance.”
She’s right about that. I didn’t expect Mother to let me volunteer with the others. But she did. At first I thought helping at the clinic would be enough. If I got to be around cats at Dr. Mac’s Place, I wouldn’t want one of my own so badly. But being around them makes me want one of my own even more. There has to be something I can do to get Mother to change her mind.
The bus slows as we approach our stop.
“OK, you guys,” I say, turning to my friends. “You’ve convinced me. I’ll try asking mother again. But I have to find the right way to do it. Now let’s get to Dr. Mac’s Place.”
Dr. Mac’s Place is run by Dr. J.J. MacKenzie, Maggie and Zoe’s grandmother. We call her Dr. Mac. She invited Brenna, David, and me to volunteer at the clinic with Maggie and Zoe last month, and it’s the most spectacular thing that has ever happened to me.
Being at the clinic is amazing. We see all kinds of animals, from cats to canaries, puppies to pot-bellied pigs. My favorite parts are when the veterinarians let us help them during examinations and when we learn about things like X-rays and blood tests.
It’s not always fun, though. Some of the work is boring and smelly, like cleaning cages or mop-ping floors. But every job is important—that’s what Dr. Mac says.
Since my dream is to be a vet when I grow up, I’ll do whatever she asks. I want to know everything I can about animals. Especially cats. Whenever I have any free time at home, I devour the cat books that Dr. Mac lets me borrow, or surf the Internet to find Web sites about cats.
All this reading may explain why Socrates likes me. Socrates is huge. Twenty pounds of muscle and attitude. His fur is a blend of orange, rust, and yellow that reminds me of apricots. You can see faint stripes on his tail. I bet he had a tabby cat for a grandfather.
Socrates has the reputation of being an aloof, “worship but don’t touch me” cat. Maggie says that he rarely lets her pet him or pick him up. He likes to sleep on Dr. Mac’s desk or on the receptionist’s counter, but he takes off if anyone tries to scratch under his chin or between his ears.
That’s why Maggie and Dr. Mac were so surprised when Socrates hopped into my lap a few weeks ago. He had never done that to anyone else before. It’s like he picked me to be his favorite human. He always walks up to me when I enter the clinic and lets me pet him for a few minutes. If I sit down, he sits with me. Maggie thinks he likes the smell of my shampoo. (I have long black hair, and he does like to play with it.) Dr. Mac says he cuddles with me because I’m a calm and quiet person.
I have a different idea. Socrates knows how much I want a cat of my own. He can tell that I love him. I think he’s adopted me. I guess I’ve adopted him, too. I’ve adopted him in my heart. He’s like my pet away from home—until I get my own.
We round the corner, and Dr. Mac’s Place comes into sight. Dr. Mac’s house is a two-story brick building with dark green shutters and a matching green door. The clinic pokes out of the left side of the house, a one-story addition. It has its own door and two windows that face the street. A garden of spring flowers blooms along the entire front of the building. Dr. Mac says that animals enjoy flowers just as much as people do.
Socrates shoulders his way out of the daffodils to greet me as we get closer. He butts his head against my shins, and I crouch down to pet him.
“Hello, Socrates!” I say.
He purrs loudly, like a lawn mower engine, and rubs the corner of his mouth against my knuckles. Cats have special scent glands on their faces, and when they rub against a person like this, it’s a way of marking their territory. It’s kind of nice that Socrates thinks I’m part of his world.
“You should feel how warm his fur is,” I tell the others as I lay my hand on his back. “I bet he’s been lying in the sun all afternoon.”
“Cats have all the fun,” David says. “Eat, sleep. Eat, sleep, sleep, sleep. Eat some more. Wish I could do that.”
“Hey, look!” Zoe says, pointing to the corner of the yard. “Another cat. Do you think Socrates has a girlfriend?”
The new cat steps delicately onto the grass and walks toward us. It’s a tuxedo cat, mostly black with white paws and a patch of white on her chest. It’s easy to see this is a she-cat. She’s very pregnant, with a heavy belly that almost touches the ground.
Socrates stiffens and growls. I can feel the vibration of his warning call under my fingertips. He doesn’t want her here, and he’s telling her she should leave.
“Shh,” I say quietly. “She’s not going to hurt you. Just relax and be friendly.”
Socrates is not in the mood to be nice. He steps away from me to face the black cat, his ears flat against his head. His tail whips back and forth, warning the other cat.
It looks like fur is going to fly.
hy is he doing this?” I ask Maggie. “He doesn’t mind it when cats come into the clinic.”
“Socrates knows it’s OK for other cats to come into the clinic, but the yard is his alone,” Maggie says calmly. “Don’t worry. She’ll run off in a second. That’s what always happens. I wonder where she belongs, though. I’ve never seen her around here.”
“Maybe she’s looking for a place to make her nest,” I say. “It looks like she’ll be ready to have her kittens soon. Let’s get Socrates inside and leave her alone.”
The black cat takes two more steps toward Socrates. She makes a strange warbling noise in her throat and arches her back, her fur standing on end. Cats do that so they look bigger, to frighten away other animals.
Socrates is not scared. His coat is all puffed up, too, making him look monstrously huge. He opens his mouth wide to show his sharp teeth and lets out another loud hiss.
Maggie frowns. “That’s not good,” she says.
“Duh!” Brenna says.
“Maybe—” I start, but before I can finish the sentence, the cats jump on each other. Socrates lashes out with his claws, then chases the female behind the azalea bushes. The bushes shake as the cats growl, hiss, and howl in pain.