If there is such a thing as a self-evident truth, most all of us animal lovers would concur that this is one of them: having a pet is not a free affair. Nothing of the sort. In some cases, the expense can be substantial; in an extreme case, even insurmountable. Except for the very (and I mean VERY) few who are lucky enough to get paid for mating or who earn enough prize money to earn their own keep. It is the rare animal, indeed, who truthfully can say that s/he has made a significant financial contribution to the household operation.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Despite the explosion of music festivals over the last two decades, many of which are top-notch in their own right, none holds a candle to “Jazz Fest” when it comes to the sheer volume and variety of music, or the food. For all of the pet owners out there who make an annual trek, it also means time either to find someone to keep watch over your little one(s) or to drop it (them) off for a “vacation” at a favored kennel or similar establishment.
The fest was upon us in 1994, and my (first) wife and I decided to combine the annual exams and vaccinations that our two cats and two dogs were due for with a five-night stay at our veterinarian’s kennel. Why not knock it out for the year in one fell swoop, and not have to bother any of our friends with a request to keep tabs on a house full of animals? It was a win-win, even if it wouldn’t be cheap.
Come to think of it, only three of the four actually lived in our house at that time.
A relentless fighter, his first order of business was to run my wife’s long-time cat straight out of the house. Within two days of Elvis’ arrival, Frankie (an adult who was more than twice Elvis’ size) had moved in with neighbors across the street, where he would reside until my wife and I broke up years later and she took him away with her. Still, Frankie was part of the crew that we dropped off at the vet/kennel that Wednesday morning, just before we left for the Big Easy.
Thursday – the first day of music during the second weekend of Jazz Fest. Far less crowded than any other day; even now, much less 20+ years ago. A wide-open day that we always greatly looked forward to. Just before we were about to leave the room, we got the call.
We were well aware of how tricky and tough Elvis the cat was, and we knew that he could take care of himself full well if he merely was free-ranging in the cat area of some kennel. My big concern was whether he might have escaped the entire operation and gone off on an excursion into a nearby neighborhood. Cars, raccoons, possums? No big deal; Elvis wouldn’t get taken out by anything like that. However, he loved dogs and I was concerned that he might have approached one or more who might not tolerate cats as well as our own dogs or those that lived near us.
Every evening we would come back from the Fairgrounds, only to hear the same message on our hotel room voice mail. Mind you, this was before the day when cell phones were prevalent. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Elvis the cat still was nowhere to be found and you could tell by the tone of their voices in the messages that the staff was really, really worried about it. Not that we weren’t also, but there was little that we could do from our vantage point to rectify the situation.
Sunday night came and we were pretty well worn out after four full days and nights in the city that care forgot. As expected, the voice mail light on the phone again was blinking as we entered the room. I let Jennifer check it and her face lit up with a huge smile as the message began to play. We ran it back and I listened for myself.
More accurately, he had presented himself by perching atop the refrigerator in the staff break room to chill out. Of course, Elvis the cat would have expected that to be a most likely place to find some milk, as I told them when we called back to thank them for having kept us posted throughout the entire affair.
Something in the back of my mind told me all along that he probably was okay. He was a bit too extraordinary to get lost forever or succumb to tragedy on some vet/kennel field trip. Probably just wanted to let us know that he didn’t appreciate being sent off to a babysitter while we were going to eat, drink and dance for four days. It was a big relief and a fitting end to what otherwise had been a super-fun long weekend.
We left New Orleans the following afternoon and drove straight to the vet after we arrived at the airport. The staff all were excited to see us, so happy that they did not have to deal with owners of a lost animal. One-by-one, the animals were brought out.
The person at the register printed out a multi-page invoice, and I pulled out my wallet and started to remove a credit card. She said, “Mr. Connell, put that away. We are so sorry about what happened. This one’s on us.” I told them that wasn’t necessary, but they wouldn’t hear of it.
I never looked hard at that invoice as I handed it back to them, but I did catch a glimpse of a “6” at the front of the number at the bottom. I can assure you that the bill I was about to pay was not for sixty-something dollars, and you safely can assume that another zero was in the equation. Five nights, two dogs, two cats, annual exams, shots, even flea and heartworm preventative for the ensuing three months. The works. The whole shebang. On the house.
We tried to talk Elvis the cat into doing the same thing the following year. I can only assume that he didn’t try. If he did, he was unsuccessful. No worries, though. Once was more than we ever expected to begin with, and we were more than grateful just for that.