The cat formerly known as Phil

By Billie Johnson

I was set to write about the cows cavorting around town and Rick Davis’s kind and hilarious letter to the editor advising me to be cow suit free for a while, but life took a couple crazy turns this week. While some think my cow suit shenanigans make me crazy, believe me. I’ve reached a different and new level of lunacy.

It started the week before Christmas. After getting home from a full day’s work and a two hour meeting, I finally had on my flannel ninja turtle jammies and was nestled in for a “Modern Family” rerun. My girlfriend texted. A cat was meowing outside her window, and her kids convinced her to let him in.

Since it’s now acceptable to wear pajama pants in public (and she’s six blocks away), I went over when my show finished. Her teenage daughter held a black cat soaking up ear scratches. He was oblivious to the two bouncing brothers, the black lab and the hissing tuxedo cat.

She combated the kids choir of “Can we keep him? Can we keep him!” explaining that he wasn’t fixed, and she didn’t have that kind of money the week before Christmas. He was sweet, soft, and plump which indicated he belonged to someone. Introducing an adult male to another adult male would lead to all sorts of territorial marking and more laundry re-do’s than she could handle with going to school full time and three kids.

The teen kept gleefully going through names. I flip-flopped between supporting my girlfriend’s rationale and offering possible names. With the earlier episode of Modern Family on my mind, I suggested the dad’s name, Phil. The teen squealed and held the cat eye-to-eye.

“Yes! Yes! You can live with us. We shall neuter you and name you Phil!”

The night ended with my girlfriend saying “maybe, but let me try to find the owners tomorrow.” I went home to my own three dogs, two cats, two turtles and a partridge in a pear tree.

When morning came, the kids’ mom said they really could not take in a new cat. They let Phil outside and hoped he’d return to his home. That was Thursday.

On Saturday, I was meeting friends at the bagel shop to let them bestow birthday presents upon me when I saw that I missed a call from m’lady. She knew I had a lunch date and wouldn’t normally call, so I called her back. She answered crying.

“The cat. He’s dead. I went for a walk and he’s on 10th and Clark. What should I do? I can’t leave him here. What if the kids see him?”  Now that he was gone, she didn’t call him “Phil” anymore. He became “the cat” in a subconscious attempt at emotional distancing. I told her that I would take care of the cat.

After lunch I headed to his resting place and noticed her still walking. She got in my truck and we headed to the cat’s corner. I couldn’t tell his cause of death but could see a familiar white tuft of fur on his chest. I scooped up the cat and placed it in my truck.

We ran an errand so our eyelashes could dry because she didn’t want to tell the kids.

We looked forward to the distraction in our afternoon plans of Lava’s gingerbread house walk, a soak in the hot pools and Thai food. I realized throughout the afternoon how much I’d worried about the cat since meeting it three days before. I didn’t have to worry anymore.

My metaphor when I get overwhelmed is to remind myself that I can’t save all the kittens. I just can’t. Both literally and metaphorically. I can’t do everything and realizing that allows me to accomplish the things I can. Still. I just couldn’t shake the thoughts of the cat formerly known as Phil. Could I have taken him in?

We had a terrific afternoon and after I dropped everyone off, I got a text just as I got home. “The kids are yelling Phil” What? Then who was that other cat? I have no idea.

We learned from new neighbors that old neighbors moved and left Phil behind. With all of the “what could have been’s” the few hours before, my sanity didn’t stand a chance. Because of the cat formerly known as Phil, the real Phil is getting a second chance and a fresh start much like we all get as an old year ends and a new one begins.

The cow suits are nothing compared to this. I’m heading into 2015 with three cats! Complementing my cow suits are cats Phoebe, Franklin, and Phil. What a fine finale for 2014 and perfect prelude to a crazy New Year.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at