Author Archives: Rick Urban

Tale Two – A Kitten in a Bag

Posted by Rick Urban

The cold, damp air and the oppressive, grey clouds indicated that winter had arrived. Though the fall had been mild, today people huddled indoors as December settled upon New England. Sunset was arriving much earlier now that the Winter Solstice had passed. Evening was dark.

By this time on a Sunday the streets were quiet. Christmas and the holiday season preparations were in full focus. Illuminated porch lights were subdued by Christmas lights that adorned the homes and trees of the city. One could move about quietly and discreetly, barely noticed.

Though the Sunday traffic had waned, unusual activity was in progress. Around the corner from the park a car moved slowly along a wood lined street. It navigated under the shadows of trees, hidden from the street lamps, finally turning left onto a quiet neighborhood avenue. In front of a house buffered by a cluster of evergreens at the road’s edge, the car stopped. Though the house was gracefully adorned with Christmas lights, the yard remained in the shadows.

The car’s engine and lights turned off. It had stood quietly for a minute when the passenger door opened. Barely visible, a figure cloaked with a hooded garment made his way to the side yard. Without pause, a box, and a bag within, was deposited at the base of the front porch. It was positioned out of sight, protected from view and wind by the steps. The car, hooded figure and driver left before anyone had noticed their presence.

The box and its bag remained where they had been placed, quiet and still. As the chill in the air was magnified by a steady wind, the bag began to move. A faint sound could be heard as well. It was cold and dark, however, and everyone was indoors. The meow persisted, barely audible, as the movement inside the bag waned. An hour passed. Any passerby would have been curious about a box that cried. Sadly, it remained where it had been placed.

Just as the whimpers were fading the front door opened. A young adult stepped outside. Inside, the clamor of dinner preparations could be heard. A television set playing in the background was competing with a radio playing Christmas Carols. Voices in unison stated that the wreath was still in the car. As she made her way back up the front walkway with the wreath in hand a sound, perhaps a meow, caught her attention. She paused, looked around, but did not see the box. Up the stairway she went as a subdued plea for help continued, inaudible.

Then for a moment the wind faded. She had reached the top step and had opened the door when, again the sound, clear as a series of meows, could be heard. Looking back and peering down toward the hedges she tried to focus, convinced she had heard the faint cry of a kitten. Calling to it, she placed the wreath on the landing and slowly descended the stairs. With each kitten call, a muffled meow replied. Upon reaching the bottom step – her eyes trying to cut through the evening shadows, the sound finally identified itself. Hidden between the steps and the hedge was the box. Concerned, she lifted it from the ground. As she did so, the bag within began to twist and turn.

She carried the box up the steps, gently placing it on the landing, and began to untie the laces that secured the bag. Before she could peek inside, out leapt a gray kitten, claws extended. In search of sanctuary, he raced into the warm house through the open door. Almost as quickly, Jocelyn followed him inside. Providence had finally intervened and brought the cold and frightened kitten to safety. The wreath was still on the stoop.

Once Inside, the kitten, happy to be warm quickly surveyed the foyer and rooms beyond. Emboldened by his escape he ran straight ahead. He passed through the dining room on his way to the kitchen where the welcoming sounds of music and activity could be heard. There he saw the comforting sight of Rita, who, startled as first, smiled back with loving concern. Gleefully, the kitten announced his arrival as he stood in the entrance. The enticing aromas that permeated the kitchen air elicited a series of hungry meows. Jocelyn and Rita stood still as the kitten purred and walked bravely back and forth between their legs. It was his way of announcing that this was his new home.

The introduction was followed by a bowl of warm gravy and selectively portioned pieces of fish. Proper kitten food would need to be purchased. Until then, the comforting meal would provide the necessary sustenance. Satisfied, and in appreciation of his welcome, the proud kitten groomed himself with care. Exhausted by his ordeal, he slumbered into the dining room and fell asleep on the rug.

It was the Christmas Season and everyone had been in anticipation of good tidings ahead. Unexpectedly a kitten had been placed at the base of their porch steps, carefully wrapped and positioned to be found. For Bags, the kitten, it was hope and salvation. For Jocelyn, his newly appointed guardian, it was an endearing gift. Christmas had arrived early for both.

Bags would enjoy many adventures with his new family. As his two and four-legged family grew he would find comfort in their fellowship. Though Bags would remain small as an adult, his diminutive size would never preclude his zeal for life and companionship.

Tale One – A Kitten Finds a Home

Posted by Rick Urban

Before the meadowed landscape beckoned from the hilltop and before the friends gathered as a family of friends, a little ball of fur, frightened and alone, came upon what seemed to be the welcoming sanctuary of Belmont Racetrack. Here, the young grey kitten, tired and hungry, meandered the grounds in search of shelter.

His desperate search came a decade after Affirmed had been victorious in the Belmont, having won the final leg of the three-year-old racing series, the triple crown. Belmont, filled with horses and festive activity following the optimism of the 1970’s that had been witness to three triple crown winners, seemed, at first glance to offer refuge. Options, any kitten might have deduced, would be numerous. That, however was not the case as the kitten walked from barn to barn, only to be ignored. He passed through shed row after shed row unable to find friendship or food. His walk slowed as he weakened from hunger and despair. An orphan, surrounded by the bounty that was the sport of kings, had no shelter. Sad and tired, the kitten finally capitulated and crawled into a stall, nestled into the corner by the feed tub, and fell asleep in a cushion of fresh straw.

Then, suddenly awake, the kitten’s eyes, wide and focused, peered at the looming face of the giant horse who had just realized his presence. The stallion, nostrils flared with anxiety, began to relax as interest overrode fear. In a similar fashion the kitten, now fully aware, momentarily calmed. As it is said of cats, he was curious. Then whiskered muzzle met wet nose. Instantly both withdrew. Bewildered by the other’s intrusion into their domain, both kitten and stallion remained still. For what seemed an eternity to the kitten, silence prevailed.

Finally, too tired to escape and frightened by the entrapment, the kitten emitted a high-pitched cry for help. His back arched and his fur bristled as he exhaled another, penetrating  meow. Again alarmed, the stallion’s nostrils snorted in reply. Peace had transitioned into unsettled commotion, drawing the attention of the stallion’s groom. Rushing into the stall, unable to see the small, grey creature in the corner, the groom swiftly placed the chain lead through the halter and held the stallion. This he accomplished while speaking in a low, reassuring tone, comforting him with calming words, then softly brushing his neck with his right hand once the lead had been secured.

Finally relaxed, the stallion nudged the groom twice with his head and then stared into the corner of the stall where the kitten, now frozen, stood silently looking up at the stallion. Alerted by the posturing, the groom looked into the corner, and saw the kitten standing, barely visible in the clump of straw that had been his refuge. Frightened by the new presence, the kitten made a bold move and leapt to his right and bounded out of the stall. Startled once more, the stallion needed more comforting as the kitten ran across the shed row and out of the barn through a gap in the boxwood hedge that grew at the perimeter.

Checking the stallion’s face and head, then his bandages, the groom, satisfied that all was in order, patted the stallion one more time and removed the lead, exiting the stall by ducking under the stall guard. Whinnies had become audible as the feed cart, filled with the warm oat and grain mixture, had begun its way down the shed row. Relaxed, the stallion peered out the stall welcoming the arrival of his meal. The groom stood by, finally assured that all was indeed in order as the stallion buried his muzzle into the feed tub and began to eat.

His interest aroused by the sounds of the neighing and slurping of warm, moist feed, the kitten looked back at the barn. Desperate and hungry, the kitten walked cautiously back toward the shed row. Peering through the opening in the hedge his eyes caught sight of the groom who had been in the stall with the stallion. The groom, sensing the kitten’s presence, turned around, trying to focus on the gap in the hedge where the grey image had reappeared. Recognizing the kitten that had just fled, the groom slowly approached. Before he had walked a few steps, the kitten had retreated, hiding behind the hedge. The groom, realizing the vacancy of his effort, turned around and headed toward the feed room.

Most horse barns in the 1980s had a bag of cat food. Trainers and grooms found comfort in feeding stray cats, often welcoming them into their barns. Some cats became fixtures, others preferred to remain aloof. Unaware of this tradition, the kitten had withdrawn to the edge of the barn’s grass island by the time the groom had returned with a bowl of dry cat food. Unable to see where the kitten had gone, the groom left the bowl by the gap in the hedge. Curious, the kitten walked back toward the hedge, returning to the gap through which he had fled a second time just moments ago.

Peering at the bowl, the kitten studied the setting carefully. The groom had remained, standing only a few feet away. The bowl beckoned. The food, generously portioned, rose above the rim, peaking in the middle as a delicious crown of kibble. Hungry, tired, and desperate, the kitten crawled slowly toward the bowl, ready to retreat if necessary. The groom stood by as the kitten began to eat, carefully at first, picking food and retreating behind the hedge only to return for more, until the bowl was empty.

A few days passed and a number of meals had been consumed in similar fashion. The kitten and groom had become friends. The stallion, too had welcomed the kitten into his stall when, on occasion the kitten would crawl into the corner for a nap.

It was summer and the track and backside bustled with activity. The kitten, while not unapproachable, was not as yet committed to the barn. He learned to enjoy the morning meal that had become routine. As he began to relax and as his fears dissipated, the kitten allowed the groom to pet him as he ate, purring as he did. It, along with the happy arching of his back, signaled the formalized bonding that had been realized.

The following weeks brought comfort to both the kitten and the groom. Their friendship evolved into kinship. This prompted the groom to begin to consider the kitten’s long-term welfare, so he began to consider options that could offer the kitten a life away from the uncertainty of the racetrack. Good fortune would intercede as one day another person, a daily visitor to the barn, made the kitten’s acquaintance. Daily treats reinforced this friendship as well. From that point forward the kitten, groom and visitor met regularly in the shed row in the early morning hours of the day when the horses were fed.

One morning, as the daily routine was reaching its conclusion, the groom and young man began to discuss the kitten’s future. They thought in earnest about what to do. While the track had offered the kitten sanctuary, and many cats were happy at Belmont, the innocent nature of the kitten prompted a safer, more comforting setting must exist.

That afternoon the kitten and his guardian, the young man he had befriended at the barn, left the track. They headed north from Belmont for an hour to the country where farms adorned the landscape. Here, nature presided despite the surrounding development that was trying to intercede. For now, the proud farmland remained. On his way north, nestled in the back seat of a station wagon, the kitten became Guidry.

His first home welcomed him that afternoon. A two bedroom co-op that boasted a soft, blue recliner and two inexpensive rugs for kitten play. Fate had brought good fortune, both to an orphaned kitten and a young professional managing a new life in New York. An endearing friendship had begun and each found comfort in one another’s company; a life as Best Friends was born.


Our Friends in Fur – The 90’s Lineup

Posted by Rick Urban

ROLF – A Black Labrador Retriever (and something a little furry with a narrow head and a slightly bushy tail). Adopted from the Guiding Eyes from the Blind … due to the mystery of his genealogy… perhaps a bit German Shepherd.

LUCAS FAYRECHILD –  A Black Labrador Retriever (big, bold and solid Maine muscle). Nicholas, at the age of 6 months, was the high bidder, having proudly waved his number card numerous times (each time bidding Lucas’ donation higher) at the Danbury Hospital benefit auction held at North Fayre. Lucas was seen eating his food (and that of his littermates) and was an instant draw due to his robust girth and personality.

FERRYMAN – A bay, warmblood gelding imported from England as a jumper who became a Connecticut “Yankee” in Queen Jocelyn’s Court … and presented as a wedding gift in the fall of 1989.

RESERVOIR RUNNER – A bay, thoroughbred gelding who found a new life in Connecticut after a brief career trying to navigate the NY racetracks (at his own speed); he became a stablemate of Ferryman.

BUTTONWOOD’S DREAM – A bay, thoroughbred mare purchased from Buttonwood Farm in NY after she was retired from the NY racetracks (having suffered a fractured hind ankle). She, too would find her way to Connecticut after a brief second career as a mother (broodmare).

GUIDRY – A domestic shorthair cat orphaned as a kitten at Belmont Racetrack and adopted in 1986.  A Yankee fan from birth, his name was a given as the “first born” of the Urban Tails lineup. For name reference, refer to 1980’s Yankee line-up, section pitchers, name Ron ….

BAGS – A domestic shorthair cat also orphaned as a kitten; he was left in a box wrapped in a “bag” of blankets and found on the front steps of The Residence  in The Cove. Marriage brought Guidry and Bags together in Connecticut.

GROUCHO PUDDY – A feline in appearance only as he mastered the art of domestication and family life as an author and venerable leader of the Friends in Fur. Striking and distinguished, he held court daily and managed the farm as its first secretary of state. His lineage is portrayed in one of his books.

Outlined here is the cast as the 1980’s transitioned into the 1990’s, and early family life became farm life, and where Best Friends gathered. Here, youthful perspectives prevailed and kinship set the standard of the day. Art met medicine, and collectively they nurtured a comforting and adoptive form of animal husbandry. Neighbors and relatives visited often to catch a glimpse of the activity of the day and to enjoy the comfort of Friends.


Posted by Rick Urban

Friendship and companionship are considered the most important human traits.  Every one of mankind’s monumental achievements has been born of a congregation of men and women, and often, animals.   Before there were cars, people traveled on horse-drawn buggies.  The original New England colonies wouldn’t have survived without oxen to plow the fields.  In addition to protecting homes and being gentle with children, some canines are capable enough to serve as Navy SEALS.

The stories that follow allow us to relive the most virtuous moments of our animal relationships again and again.  Our lives as Urbans would be much different without our animal companions, who have offered endearing bonds for as long as we can remember.

The characters in Urban Tails are real.  Although historical events are always referenced, some accounts are purposefully vague and filled with narrative license.  Often a story will take us beyond the boundaries of the farm – to another county or even country, and sometimes back in time.  Most importantly, these passages are pleasing reflections that remind us of our role as friends, advocates, and caregivers for our friends in fur, who in turn provide constant reminders that humor is indeed good medicine.