Have you ever given an animal a very strange name? Ever have a very unique pet?
My mother once named a cat Hudson Falls, for the village where she was abandoned, so maybe my story has some genetic element to it…
When we first moved to Oregon, I found the place names exotic and wonderful, setting my imagination afire. There was the Suislaw River, and the Willamette. There was Sisters and Sweet Home and Coos Bay and Depoe Bay (the world’s smallest harbor)….
And then, there’s the Umpqua River.
I was so captivated with this name that I decided it would be the name of my next kitten years before the kitten was even born – because it was just such a fun word to say. The name eventually landed on a little shorthaired tabby whose stripes went straight across her belly.
At the time, I didn’t know that Umpqua was the name of a band of Coquille Native Americans – but our little Umpqua was feisty – with a capital, bold-faced FEISTY! She was best friends with the Bunko-dog, and, although she was little and they were established adults, she put our other two cats, Mutant and Lithe, in their places -which were beneath hers, naturally! Fortunately, they both liked her, and didn’t need to be in charge.
Once, when she was very small, I purchased some ice cream from the Umpqua Dairy. It was easy to get her in the empty cardboard tub, but less so to get her to hold still!
Umpqua often found her way into trouble. She would not stay in – if there was an open door, she wanted to be on the other side of it, and she was fast (as befit her feistiness). Once she came home with a torn ear. Another time, it was with what seemed to be a missing toe, but turned out, once we could get a closer look, to be a laceration.
She and the Bunko-dog had a game they played. He would pick her up in his mouth – by the head, in fact – and run full tilt with the kitten swinging from his mouth. The first time this happened, we were mortified. We commanded the dog to drop her. He did.
What did that crazy little cat do? She purred, rubbed against the dog, and cried until he picked her up again. Eventually we came to accept that this was OK with them both, and he never hurt her – but I never really got used to it.
Because of that connection with the dog, it was very odd that, after we moved our travel trailer from its summer site to the winter one, she was suddenly snarling and taking an offensive posture with him. It wasn’t until I was holding the cat and she scratched me that I realized we had the neighbor’s small tabby, and not our own. Umpqua didn’t have front claws. We returned the wrong cat to her rightful home, but had to check hack twice more before being able to reunite our little Umpy with the rest of the family.
Shortly after we moved back to New York with one dog, three cats, and a newborn son, Umpy came in one day with a broken leg. We took her to the vet I had worked for years earlier, hoping for a simple casting.
But Umpqua had done it again. Not only had she broken her leg – she’d broken it in half. When we went back to visit her the next day, she had pins and hardware, in addition to a cast….and a bill that ran far into the hundreds.
We couldn’t afford to pay it. We had a three-month-old baby, and we’d just moved cross-country and were in the process of buying a house. We were offered a time payment plan, but even that was too much.
It broke my heart, but we gave Umpqua to the vet that day, so that she could get the care she needed, have a home with lots of action, and, on occasion, donate blood to another cat who needed it.
We saw her there once or twice, and she seemed happy. But I’ll always have a soft and regretful spot in my heart for that quirky little trouble-magnet we named Umpqua – and, every time I hear the name, I can still see her, in all her feisty glory.
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Have you ever named a pet after a geographical location? Known an animal who was accident prone or had a unique characteristic? By now, I’m sure you know what to do!