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Empress of The East
by Lillian Leslie

Thirteen years have passed since her first appearance. The calico cat trotted around the corner of an alley as if she knew our call and that the call meant a chance to eat. But she didn't head for the feeding place by the telephone pole, instead she waltzed up to the car and danced in circles beside it. We opened the door and she hopped in as if we were old friends.

She sniffed over the variouis food choices with a particularity rarely found in street animals, even in those wearing a collar (as was she). After snubbing the dry food, the lunchmeats, and an open can of cat food, the calico cat nosed her way to the bucket of chicken. I heard a growl rumble in her throat as she clamped a drumstrick between her teeth and bounded out of the car, around the corner, and disappeared.

From that night on the calico was a fixture in her alley; she came to our call every time and I believe we looked forward to seeing her as much as she did to seeing us. We always had a piece of chicken set aside for Queenie, as we called her. Street work can break one's heart or fuel one's anger, if allowed to, street work can harden or embitter even the kindest of souls. But in one alley on Baltimore's east side, a calico cat brought us a special gift as welcome as it is uncommon - each time we saw her, Queenie brought us a smile.

A number of cats and dogs wearing collars come to us in the streets. The collar is a signature of ownership, but their ravenous hunger is not. Queenie was never starving hungry and her midriff saged not because she was nursing babies, but because she was spayed. So Queenie was cared for - imperfectly perhaps, but leaps and bounds ahead of other "owned" animals who come to us in various states of deteriorating health.

One night Queenie didn't bounce around the corner for her piece of chicken. We called and waited, waited and called. No calico cat. Maybe she was inside, or so we hoped as we yielded to the ever-present time factor and the push to get through as many alleys as possible before dawn so the animals can eat under the protective shield of darkness.

A second night Queenie didn't come, and a third; we were no longer optimistic. We located the yard where she usually ran with her chicken and an elderly lady came out to speak with us. When we described the calico cat we'd all grown so fond of, the lady said "That's my cat." We asked why we hadn't seen her recently and the lady told us the cat was sick, had been for almost a week. "She just lies on the ground, she won't move and she doesn't want to eat." We told her the cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian. The lady explained she could not afford medical expenses.

But she gladly accepted our offer to transport Queenie to a hospital and pay the bill. As an emergency case, our cat was seen right away and she was determined to have a fever of 106 degrees. After a week's stay in the hospital, Queenie was well again. None of us wanted to return her to the dangers of life in the alley, but we had promised. And so several more years passed; Queenie always trotted over to the car for her special treat and always gave us a smile in return.

In recent months things changed. The calico cat, ever so particular for nearly thirteen years, was suddenly coming to us hungry. She'd lost weight. The yard and porch we knew as hers looked different, and one night someone came out of the house and chased us away. The elderly lady was gone and Queenie now had no one but us.

One night last November when we arrived in her alley, we put Queenie in a carrier and she made her final journey through the streets. This alley veteran of thirteen years will live out her retirement with other street veterans in a safe place where she quickly claimed the right to dominion. Those around her - animals and humans alike - know indisputably that this one is the Queen.


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