Protector of Elton
By Gary Michael Smith
Remember the story of Elton? He's the abandoned black and white formerly feral stray that had come
and gone from our backyard for years, but who we finally adopted full time after Hurricane Katrina. He's elderly and sweet, and really needed someone to care for him. It's not that he's infirm; my wife,
Brenda, and I just wanted to be sure he had a steady diet of high-quality cuisine and appropriate medical
care as needed. And although it took a few years, he now lets me groom him, clean his ears of wax and mites,
and even pick him up and walk around with him. Neighbors are amazed as no one else can get close to him.
It looked like our timing was right too. He had acquired a number of blisters on the tip of his tongue
that seemed to be related to his sneezing, runny eyes, and constant drooling. After observing this for
some time, my neighbor, Raul, and I decided to take action. After speaking with a vet we learned that
Elton had a condition called rodent ulcers. These are nasty little blisters that eat away at flesh,
and Elton's had gone on for so long that he'd already lost half of the tip of his tongue as well as
some of his upper palate.
The vet had seen this before and mixed a pharmacological miracle treatment in two syringes. So every
6 to 12 months, depending on need, I take Elton for his shots, which dry up his blisters and stop the
drooling and running eyes as if the faucets were turned off. It's $90 well-spent in my mind, and gives
Elton 100 percent relief. And after the last shot this past weekend, I rewarded him with a new collar
and a new food bowl. Since he has the ulcers and since one of our two inside boys, Hambone, is FIV
positive, we can't even consider bringing Elton indoors. So we just ensure he's kept in ample supply
of Fancy Feast canned food and Science Diet crunchies, has clean and fresh water, gets a monthly
application of Advantage Plus, and is loved on every day.
Most of the neighboring cats even seem to respect his elder authority. Elton is very laid back and
non-confrontational, but I have seen him have to defend himself when neighboring cats try to get to
his food. And lately, after the recent river batture flooding, we've had a rash of coyotes running
around the neighborhoods in search of food -- be it pet food or the pets themselves. Elton usually sees
them coming and takes refuge on our patio table or somewhere else out of the way, as the coyotes squeeze
through the 4-inch bars of our wrought iron fence to enter the yard. (This is both amazing and scary to
watch.) We chase them away when we see them, but from the looks of the torn up paper plates on which
we used to feed Elton, we're thinking the scavengers come more often than we notice. Plus, we know there
are wild raccoons and opossums on the deck at night too, eating what Elton leaves behind.
The most amazing recent story, though, is how one of Raul's cats, Geronimo, seemingly has taken the
role of "Protector of Elton." Brenda and I have noticed for a while that G-Mo seems to enjoy hanging
around our yard, lying near Elton as he eats, but not bothering him. This morning, he was
lying particularly close, and we were intrigued that Elton wasn't spooked or annoyed; he seemed to
Elton and Geronimo
And we have noticed that G-Mo actually will chase off other cats that wander into our
yard while Elton is eating, probably because they smell the food. G-Mo is not someone you want to mess
with either. He even attacked Raul's wife, Soco's, feet once because, while outside talking with some
neighbors with Geronimo lying nearby, she made the mistake of petting a neighbor's dog. G-Mo saw this,
came over to Soco, and latched onto her feet, biting and clawing to make his displeasure known.
This morning I got a taste of his wrath too. After observing G-Mo guard Elton while he had breakfast,
I snapped a couple pictures. Then, after Elton had finished and moved to another part of the deck to
digest and groom, I went outside to refill his water bowl and to thank Geronimo. I should have just
left it as a verbal thank you. But no, I had to reach down and gently pet him on the head. He smelled
my fingers once, probably detecting the inside cats' scent, then pulled his head away. I stroked his
head once more and was met with a quick hiss and lightning fast swipe of a paw, which left a good six
painful scratches. Note to self: G-Mo is there to protect Elton -- from EVERYONE!
G-Mo was protecting Elton
Geronimo even seems to serve as bodyguard outside our yard as well. Raul told me yesterday that he
observed Elton walking across his yard the other day, with G-Mo an inch or two in tow. At one point
Elton stopped for a second and G-Mo reached up and tapped him on the rump, prompting him to move on
as the two continued on their trek. It's anyone's guess how the animal kingdom works but it does seem
to. And we're often best advised to limit our interference.
Gary Michael Smith is a writer and photographer in New Orleans. He can be reached through