Critter transformations and character development

April 2, 2018

Grizzly Tom

Grizzly Tom inspired by Lydia Maria Child’s story “Pussy Malta and Grizzly Tom,” written specially for Our Dumb Animals 2: 11 (April 1870): 105. Design by Meredith Eliassen.

Grizzly Tom Notecard

This story is an account of two cats that Child encountered while boarding with Joseph and Margaret Carpenter and their Quaker family while her husband David dealt with debts from a lawsuit during the 1830s. The Carpenters operated a farm and interracial household in an isolated area near New Rochelle, New York that was a stop in the Underground Railroad. The family had two cats, a slender, working, female Maltese cat names Pussy Malta and a cantankerous, infirm old cat named Grizzly Tom who had been a fixture on the farm since he was a kitten. The two cats had a fragile relationship because Tom was so disagreeable: “spitting and growling, clawing and scratching whenever he was not asleep.” Pussy Malta conversely was a hunter who was protective of her recent litter of three kittens whose eyes were still unopened. Pussy Malta kept a watchful eye on Tom while they both lapped up milk from the same trough to see what he would be up to next.

One day, Pussy Malta became very sick… and even with care, she only got worse and began convulsing. Tom, who had been asleep on the stoop heard her cries and went to see what was wrong. Tom immediately softened, laying his paw gently on her fur as if to say “I wish I could help you.” However, sadly, Pussy Malta died within the hour leaving her three kitten orphaned curled up on a piece of rug on Tom’s stoop.

Grizzly Tom assessed the situation as the mother cat grew cold and stiff, and returned to the stoop where he steadfastly watched over the brood like a foster father, protecting them until they were old enough to fend for themselves. What’s more, Grizzly Tom proved to be an extraordinarily nurturing parent, never deserting the kittens even though they often teased him, pulling his ragged fur and playing with his tail as he slept, all the while, never striking them a blow.



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