By Tracy Ahrens
Last year I decorated my mom and dad’s Christmas tree at least 10 times. Twice weekly when I visited them, my mother handed me a plastic storage bag full of at least 20 ornaments that had covered at least one-third of the tree.
It became a ritual, one that made us all laugh and made me laugh even more when I heard about how these ornaments were plucked from the branches of the artificial tree in the wee hours of the morning after I put them back into position.
The ornament pluckers are four black cats and their tortoiseshell mother. I coined them as a posse of “little black ornament thieves.”
The challenge for my parents prior to my arrival was finding the ornaments on furniture, under furniture, in various rooms and gathering them like an Easter egg hunt.
The kittens were born in my parent’s house. The mother, Lily, appeared in their backyard one snowy spring day, very pregnant. We brought her inside and she gave birth within a couple of weeks to these four black kittens. My parents kept them all, spaying and neutering each one and naming them after spring flowers. We have Blue (short for Bluebell), Pokey (originally Poppy), Tulip and Iris.
The first Christmas we figured the kittens would scale the tree like a scratching post. But, they didn’t. Finding them so actively disassembling the tree at close to 2 years of age was a shock and a comical situation for us all. It seemed that their petite mother was often in charge of the vandalism.
According to my mom, after they turned out the lights to go to bed, Lily would “call” the babies with a few meows. She’d assemble them in the living room where the tree was located and the kittens would gather to embark on their vandalism.
The small artificial tree is erected between a chair and an end table and in front of a window. The ornament thieves would stand on the ground and reach up for their loot, rise up on their hind legs from the end table, or climb to the back of the chair to grab ornaments from higher up.
Within three feet of the tree is a large wicker basket full of their toys, two Turbo Scratchers and a tunnel toy for them to crawl through.
None of this mattered during tree time.
Via email I shared details of the kittens stripping the tree. An acquaintance of mine that is a humane investigator wrote me a humorous response:
“Please remember that I am a humane investigator and have the authority to impound (arrest) wrongdoers. Should these malicious scoundrels continue their criminal ways call me and I will bring all the force of this position in an attempt to apprehend these scandalous thugs. Specifically, I may bring several squads of SWAT team personnel – we would surround the target residence and demand (bullhorn) the scallywags come out peacefully and without contraband at which time they would be taken into custody.”
Throughout the warm seasons, the kittens and their mom enjoy playing in my parents’ fenced-in backyard and scaling a ginkgo tree like black bears, sitting out on big limbs and watching us from above. We figured that when we brought a Christmas tree into the house, they would want to scale it, swat at it, bite it or sharpen their claws on it.
With the exception of one or two branch-plucking episodes, they never climbed the artificial tree. They just felt the need to strip it clean of decorations.
One evening after I put ornaments back on the tree, I watched the kittens from another room and two of them moved in slowly to start confiscating their treasures. They were like squirrels gathering nuts. Like monkeys picking fruit off of a tree.
Most peculiarly, the kittens always focused on the same ornaments over and over. Angels, sparkly plastic balls, birds with feathers, a little felt teddy bear, a penguin made out of a real nut, and snowmen.
No matter where I’d put these particular ornaments back on the tree, the kittens would find them and take them off again.
My dad and I stood at a distance and watched them working, each pulling a branch downward, explaining to us why the tree always looked like it had stood in a gale-force wind.
At first the kittens didn’t damage the ornaments they stole. They took each one and just carried it around or batted it about with their paws.
As time went on, they chewed up a paper candy cane ornament, left tooth marks in the legs of toy soldiers made out of wood clothespins, and swiftly decapitated an angel that my grandmother made out of ribbon.
On Christmas Day my mom handed me a bag full of ornaments again and noted that she heard one of the kittens in the kitchen batting something around that sounded hard. That object, she said, was now under a storage cabinet. I had to retrieve it and we figured it was an ornament.
We were wrong. Among a stash of 15 sparkly pompom balls, little felt mice and milk jug rings, I found an apple coring device that my mom had recently lost. The hard plastic device was stolen by the kittens and hidden under the cabinet.
When I disassembled the Christmas tree after the holidays, I had to inspect the house for ornament spoils. Back to the kitchen cabinet I went to peek underneath with a flashlight. It was under the sofa where I found two ornaments and a bulb cover for a string of lights.
After an extensive search, a snowman ornament was still missing. We still have no idea where it was taken. Perhaps it will appear this holiday when I decorate their tree, the first of at least another 10 times before Christmas.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her book, “Raising My Furry Children” to your collection, raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com.