Many amazing animals make their temporary homes at animal shelters. This is the story of Lewis, a cat who came to a shelter after a thrilling adventure on the high seas.
You can be part of the next adventure of an animal in need of a home by becoming their adoptive family.
Tales from the Shelter is a recurring series that is intended for children of all ages.
Tales from the Shelter # 1: Lewis The Pirate Cat
It felt good to be aboard a ship again. And while his fellow sailors were in fact pirates, Lewis quickly began to feel the same sort of kinship with them as he’d felt with his mates on the Whittington. Captain One-Sock was seen by the sailors mostly from a distance. First Mate Mouse was responsible for informing everyone of the captain’s wishes. Mouse himself was friendly, but aloof, as an officer should be. Word quickly spread that Lewis the castaway had dared to make demands of Captain One-Sock, and Lewis found himself with a quite unlooked-for reputation for bravery. He still did not feel especially brave, but he was the guardian of three kittens now, and he had to be as courageous as possible, for their sake.
His best friends on the Boots were a couple of littermates named Smokey and Rocky. They were long-haired cats like Lewis himself, but Smokey was a gray color and Rocky more brown. They both had faint stripe patterns to their fur. The brothers had gone to sea from the port of Boston and had come to be pirates after their ship had been taken by the Boots. Life with the pirates had seemed much more entertaining than life on a regular ship, so they’d both jumped at the chance to sign on with Captain One-Sock’s crew. Despite this, Lewis believed them to be good cats at heart. Certainly many of the things he’d feared would take place on a pirate ship–lawlessness, fighting, abuse of catnip, even murder–on the Boots these things were legend, not to be found in fact. Perhaps, Lewis reasoned, pirates encouraged such mythology, as it made them more fearsome to the average sailor. Certainly, such tales had put fear into Lewis’s heart.
Mouse was a good mate and did not work the sailors harder than was necessary. The mate on the Whittington had been of similar temperament, and Lewis appreciated it now as he had then. It made the cats willing to do their work with all effort, since they knew that a job well done would be rewarded with fair treatment. That, above all–a respect for others–was something Lewis had not expected to find on a pirate ship.
The kittens, for their part, came to see the Boots as their new home. They happily ran about the rigging with the sailors, helping out where possible, and only occasionally getting in the way. The pirates seemed to quickly grow devoted to their tiny castaways, and sneaked them more food than the kittens could eat. Snow, Blackie, and Grey grew fit and fluffy from this treatment, and Lewis thanked the heavens that they should have come to such a place of safety after their ordeal.
As for himself, Lewis remained cautious. He enjoyed the company of the pirates, and was quick to return favor for favor, but he could not allow himself to become one of them. In fact, when Lewis gazed out at the sea in its endless blackness every night, he was beginning to wonder if he was a sailor at all, and not perhaps still a farm cat at heart.
They sailed this way for many weeks, as Captain One-Sock pored over a poorly drawn treasure map. They examined many uninhabited islands, but none proved to be the elusive shore that promised them riches. There were stormy nights, though none of them as serious as the night the Whittington had gone down. Lewis marveled at how little these storms frightened the kittens. But then, during storms, he had always found a few of the pirates spinning the children stories of grand adventure in far-off lands, keeping their attention away from choppy seas and harsh winds.
Unlike the kittens, when it stormed, Lewis found himself greatly unnerved by the creaking of the ship and the shrieking of the wind through the rigging. He felt unable to sleep during such a night, staying alert for the sound of cracking decking and the noisy rush of the sea coming into the ship to find him.
One morning after such a storm, the cat in the crow’s nest called down that he had sighted land. The ship had reached the next island that they planned to search, which was just an unnamed rise of sand and jungle above the sea. Probably it was quite beautiful, but as they approached it this morning, the whole of the land was wrapped in a cold white mist. For some reason, it gave Lewis a sense of unease.
“Landing party!” called Mouse, and sailors lined up for the chance to go ashore. On this occasion, Rocky and Smokey were chosen, along with Lewis, whose sense of duty had overrun his misgivings about the island and his lack of sleep the night before. The three sailors, along with Mouse, climbed into a lifeboat and landed themselves on the shore after a hard bout of rowing. As soon as they’d dragged the boat a good distance up onto the beach, they looked back to sight the Puss in Boots. But they discovered that they were now themselves surrounded by the chilly mist, and though they knew the Boots waited patiently for them, she could not be seen.
Lewis felt a shock of fear that took him quite by suprise. But perhaps it was excusable, since the last time he’d failed to sight his ship, it had marked the beginning of a terrifying journey in a tiny lifeboat with little food. Still, there was no reason to be scared now. Lewis shook himself out of his fright and followed his shipmates off of the beach and into the jungle.
The problem with Captain One-Sock’s map was that it sketched few landmarks clearly. The one thing that appeared in perfect detail was the actual treasure island, but try though they might, no sailor aboard the ship had ever recognized it. The map and treasure would probably have been taken as pure fancy, but for Captain One-Sock’s devotion to the quest. It seemed that the cats who served the captain either believed in his ability to find the treasure, or else they did not want to question him.
Despite the dense trees and tropical fruits the landing party found on the island, the earth was cold beneath their paws, and the mist dampened their fur. It was not a welcoming place, and Lewis felt his unease grow as they walked deeper into the jungle. The calls of strange animals were heard, but the mist hid them away in the trees, so that Lewis was never quite sure what creatures were moving about above them.
After they had been walking for half an hour, Lewis began to hear rushing water, and they soon came upon a waterfall. A clear, cold stream tumbled down a rocky cliff and emptied below into a large lagoon that was ringed by a dark sand beach. With the cliffs surrounding the lagoon on all sides, the area looked to Lewis like a brown bowl that held a bit of water at the bottom.
The mist was thinner here, and as the four cats looked out over the scene below them, Rocky caught his breath. “Sir!” he cried. “Look! The island!”
The lagoon was immense, almost like an inland sea. And in the center of it was an piece of land–an island hidden within an island. And Rocky was quite correct. This inner, hidden island was the exact shape of the island on the captain’s map.
The cats cried out with joy, bounding quickly down the rocky cliff beside the waterfall. “It is the island!” exclaimed Mouse, and Lewis felt a rumbling purr rise up through his own throat. He might not have been a pirate, but the elation of finding a hoard of treasure was surely contagious.
Their rejoicing gradually faded away as the cats stood on the shore of the lagoon, tails twitching and ears turning one way and another as they took in the scene. “It’s too far to swim,” Smokey announced, and they all had to admit that it was true.
“Lads, we shall fetch the lifeboat from the beach,” ordered Mouse, and though Lewis was loathe to try lugging a heavy boat through misty, cold jungle, he of course hastened to obey.
It was not a pleasant journey. Mouse fitted an attachment to his paw that covered his own claws with long talons of steel, and he cut the way through the jungle as the three sailors struggled to carry the lifeboat behind him. Perhaps it was fitting, Lewis thought, that just as a lifeboat had carried him for three days, it was now his turn to carry a lifeboat. But thankfully it would not take anywhere close to three days to reach the lagoon!
They stopped for lunch–dried rats and a little barley with powdered cream that they mixed with water–and after this much needed break, the three sailors shouldered the lifeboat again and renewed their walk toward the lagoon. It was not until they finally reached the clearing in the jungle that marked the edge of the cliffs that Lewis realized how late it was. The sunlight that filtered through the mist was nearly horizontal to the horizon. It was almost nightfall. And here, outside of the trees, Lewis could feel a bitter wind blowing.
“Looks like a storm,” Mouse remarked, as the cats caught their breath. “But I wager we have time to make the island and begin our search before it hits. Let us not waste time, lads.”
Lewis was of two minds about the darkening weather. Surely it was better to spend the night on an island than a ship in the open sea if they were in for a blow. But something about this island just didn’t seem right to him. It was eerie somehow. He thought of the kittens on the ship and knew they’d been taken below as soon as the wind began to pick up. No doubt they were enjoying fresh fish and coconut milk for dinner. The pirates on board would not see the children want for anything. If he didn’t make it back, Lewis realized, the kittens would have a permanent home on the ship. But of course, that would mean that they would be raised as pirates, for surely as soon as Lewis had passed out of their lives, the pirates would think nothing of teaching the kittens to live as they did, thieving from other ships to provide their needs.
He was coming back, Lewis reminded himself as they carefully carried the lifeboat down the rocky cliff toward the beach in the growing wind. He would return to the Boots, and this time, with money enough to pay for the kittens’ education as soon as the pirates found a suitable port at which to leave them. He was coming back. So why was his tail puffing up wider with every step toward the lagoon?
There was no rain when they climbed into the lifeboat and finally started rowing for the little island. The arm muscles that Lewis used to row were different from those he used to carry the lifeboat, and so he was grateful, at least, that he was feeling aching and pain in a different place than he had all afternoon. The wind was getting stronger, skipping across the water and pushing it into choppy waves. It was fresh water, Lewis realized, as the spray leaped up over the sides of the boat and hit him in the face. The lagoon must be completely isolated from the sea.
Mouse lit the lamp on the front of their boat, and Lewis watched the little island grow nearer as the sun dipped lower in the sky. Just as the cats began to feel the first drops of rain, their boat struck sand. They quickly pulled their craft up into the cover of some trees and Lewis began to ready himself to take an oar and start digging. But Mouse suddenly called out to them. “Lads! It’s not even buried. Come and see!”
Perhaps the secret island-within-an-island was thought to be security enough for the cats who’d hidden their treasure here so long ago, for indeed, they had not taken time to bury their wealth. They’d merely secured it under a ledge of rocks so that it was out of sight to any except those who walked the island’s beach. And it was treasure indeed. Three large chests, and as Mouse used his steel claws to pick open the locks they took in the sight of the bounty. Golden milk saucers, open boxes glittering with jewels and lined with silken pillows, ribbons of satin and lace with feathers of exotic birds attached.
“My word,” breathed Mouse. “Boys, we’ve actually found it.” But instead of joining in the rejoicing of his men, Mouse just looked uneasily toward the lagoon and the lifeboat. “It’s too heavy,” he told them. “We can’t fit all of us in the boat along with the treasure chests. Some of us will have to remain behind.”
Lewis felt the wind beginning to push through the few trees of the little island and tried not to shiver. Perhaps he was not successful, because he found the other three cats looking at him. “It’s going to be a bad storm,” Mouse said quietly. “It’ll be safer and drier on the shore of the lagoon, and we might as well start the treasure on its journey to the Boots. Lewis, you take the boat and the treasure chests. Get them to the other side and in the morning, you can come back for us. We’ll pass the night here.”
Lewis was struck speechless. He must have had quite a look on his face, because Mouse laughed suddenly, his tail dancing with amusement. “Lewis, you’re probably the most upright cat this poor ship of pirates has ever met. We know you won’t steal from us, lad, have no fear. Now get across the lagoon before this weather blows up.”
Lewis hastened to do Mouse’s bidding. The four cats dragged the chests out onto the beach and loaded them into the lifeboat. The rain was not coming down too heavily at this point, and the waves were not big enough to threaten to sink the little craft.
“Can you make it across by yourself with all this weight?” Mouse asked Lewis as he secured the last chest with rope.
“Aye, Sir,” Lewis responded.
“Then be off with you, and we’ll see you in the morning,”
With barely a backward glance, Lewis obeyed. In minutes he was out alone on the lagoon in a tiny boat as a storm gathered strength around him.