I heard a soft knocking on my storm door and saw a giggling gaggle through the glass. I knew some of them, grade schoolers who I saw around the neighborhood and who sometimes visited me for my cats. And because they knew all the other kids in the neighborhood and played around the back yards, they knew most of the pets in the neighborhood and were a great resource when I found a cat—or dog—and wanted to determine if it belonged to anyone. So we had had a few conversations before. It was early January 1997 and they were selling something to finance something they wanted to do at school, candy bars, wrapping paper, band camp, trip to Hawaii, they knew I was good for at least one order.
I stepped out on the front porch with them though it was bitter cold and in the late afternoon growing quickly colder. That was when I saw the cat, a long-haired black cat, walking around behind them on the porch.
“Does that cat belong to any of you?” I asked.
A few turned around to look and a few said “no”, one girl said, “He’s been following us.”
“Yeah, he has, he’s really nice,” a very tiny boy piped up.
“Do you know where he’s from?” I asked instead of “Do you know who he belongs to?” since they were kids and pretty literal with answering questions and may have seen him around but still not known who he belonged to.
“No, he’s just been following us today.”
“He lets us pet him.”
“He’s really soft.”
I could tell they didn’t know any more. I bought some of whatever they were selling and told them they should go home now, it would be dark very soon and it was very cold, and if they found out anything about the cat to come and tell me.
I reached down to pet the kitty as they left and, as I thought it would, the kitty stayed with me. He was indeed a nice kitty but younger than I’d thought, kind of a big kitten, fluffy and not at all afraid of strangers or strange places. I had not seen this cat before and unless someone in the two square blocks I knew well had just adopted a cat I had no idea where he might have come from. He wasn’t acting as if he’d escaped, but as if he was accustomed to the outdoors. He must be a cat someone let outdoors who had just decided to follow the kids.
I went in and got a little dish of dry food I kept on hand for strays and he ate readily but not as if he was famished, and he actually looked pretty clean. I decided I’d say good night and go inside, then watch to see what he did and where he went.
He stayed. He was on the deck around back in the morning, hunched up on the cold wood in the frosty sunlight, looking in the door as most of my regulars looked out at him. The spare cat room was open at the moment and I decided he could warm up and have a meal in there while I started looking for his owner.
I had done some thinking about this black kitty overnight. It was January 1997; I had lost my first black kitty, the overly affectionate and super intelligent Kublai, in September, then orange boy Allegro in October. I was still far from over those losses, and was still seeking Kublai’s spirit, and here was this friendly, pretty and intelligent black cat who’d found his way to my house. I felt nothing of Kublai about him though, and decided he was not representative of Kublai in any way—a cat could be black and show up on your porch, and still not be the black cat you’d loved and lost. I don’t like to put my stuff on the cats I know or rescue, it complicates the issue and it’s not fair to the cat.
But this guy was still wandering around in the cold and I wanted to find out who owned him, just because that’s what I did. He was also not neutered, and I especially wanted to keep track of that. He was a love bug right away, though, waving that plume of a tail in joy at the thought of being picked up, and freely giving hugs and nose licks and purring like a lawn mower. I was really glad I was the one to pick up this totally trusting and physically affectionate cat.
That was a Sunday, and because I’d be going back to some long days of work the next day, and because of his friendly nature, I decided to keep him indoors and make up a flyer and print it out on “Vulcan Green” fluorescent paper to post on telephone poles and hand out to the kids. I had a computer and printers at home and was pretty deeply into freelancing as a designer along with my day job then, and also had a piece of clip art that reminded me of him.
I stapled them to the poles that night and kept a stack for the next time I’d be able to find the kids.
But when I came home from work the next night there was a message about the flyer. I called the number and the woman who’d obviously left the message voluntarily told me he liked to hug you and lick your nose, he had yellow eyes, and her daughters missed him. He had gotten out the day I found him when she and her daughters were leaving the house. She lived about three blocks away. Because she had her daughters to pack in a car on a cold night, I said I could bring him back to her, in part to meet her, ask questions and scout the place.
The street below me is mostly large older homes nearly all broken up into apartments, and she lived in the ground floor of one of them, with two daughters about six and eight. The girls were really happy to see their kitty, and he went right to his food bowl as if he hadn’t left. I began to think he was let outside pretty regularly despite her story.
Then she told me her sister’s cat had had kittens and she’d—surprise!—given one to the girls for Christmas. The girls loved the kitty who they called “Blue” for Blue’s Clues, but the mom didn’t seem as committed as her daughters. I had the feeling I knew where this would go.
“He needs to be neutered very soon,” I said.
“I know, I’ll have to get that done,” she said absently.
I had a lot of sympathy for a single mother who’d had an unwanted kitten thrust on her. I knew she liked watching her daughters with him but didn’t want the extra work and expense. I told her to let me know if she needed anything or had any questions, I’d help her find a low-cost neuter right away, and left her with my business card that had a cat on it so she wouldn’t forget. As soon as I left I regretted not talking her into giving me the kitten; if I could have gotten her away from watching her daughters with him, or told her I’d keep him and give him back when I’d had him neutered, I think I could have done it.
. . . . . . .
She called me once to tell me he wasn’t using the litterbox and we talked about neutering again. She was irritated with his behavior and then said he’d also defecated on the floor, then changed it to the couch. That was serious. I’d pay for a low-cost neuter, and even take the cat there, if I felt it would not be done otherwise, and in this case I knew she wouldn’t do it. But I didn’t think a neuter would help in this case, I had to get him out of there. I would be able to get the cat out of her hands and it would be very easy to convince her to let me keep him.
I told her I would schedule a neuter as soon as possible, not to worry about the cost or the transportation, and I’d call her when it was set up, in two or three days. I did so and called, and called again with no answer, drove past her house at different times of the day, knocked on the door. I feared for the worst for the sweet black cat.
Then out of the blue she left a message on my machine telling me she’d moved and left the cat on the porch, I could come and take him if I wanted. I had no idea when she’d moved, if it was that day and she’d been ignoring me or if she had actually moved a week or so before. It was the end of the month, the time for moving, it was dark when I got home and I just hoped I’d be able to find him.
But he was right there on the front porch of the house, huddled on a pile of stuff they’d obviously left behind and still smelled and felt familiar to the guy. He looked terrified in the dim light from the street light, not the confident friendly cat I’d met a few weeks before. I knew he might run, so I talked softly and conversationally to him, holding out a hand—and realized I’d forgotten food or treats—and slowly taking one quiet step at a time toward the porch, up the steps, across the porch.
He crouched further and watched me with widening eyes, beginning to back up, decided to make a break for it as I reached my hands but I caught his hind legs and as much as I hated to have to handle him roughly after his terrors I yanked him back and held his hind legs with my right hand while I scruffed him with my left. I held him scruffed and drew him to me as he wrapped his tail tightly around his legs; if I hadn’t been holding his legs together his tail would have been tight between them, submissive, but I wasn’t going to trust those claws on any of those paws. I gently held his hind paws and tail together and held him against my chest, then turned around and walked to the car, whispering into the back of his head that he was safe.
I had a carrier in the back seat, carrier door open and ready, but when I reached the car I stopped to cuddle him and whisper to him again. He trembled, tense and frightened, and I could tell he was still just waiting for his big break. I slowly let go of his hind legs and opened the car door, upended the carrier and lowered him into it, still holding his scruff, closed the door and set it down on the seat.
His yellow eyes softly glowed with mistrust from the darkness of the carrier. I crouched down at his level.
“You’ll be okay, little guy,” I whispered. I felt more hurt than fear in his demeanor. I completely regretted not keeping him, even regretted putting up the signs. I hoped he wasn’t physically injured, and decided I’d give him a good exam at home and if it looked as if he needed medical care I’d even take him to an emergency clinic.
But I really thought his injuries were all inside and felt we would have a long road back to love and trust again.
. . . . . . .
Continued in Part 2 of Cast Away
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