I came home from work one late summer day in 1993 to find a pretty long-haired dilute calico cat sitting under the large spruce in my front yard, waiting for me to arrive. As I walked up the sidewalk from my driveway she gracefully stood up and waved her plume of a tail in greeting.
At first I panicked, thinking it was my long-haired white cat Sally and she’d gotten outside, which meant others were outside too and were possibly long gone by now, but I could clearly see this cat was built taller and longer than Sally, taller ears, longer face, and had those lovely big patches of peach and gray.
When I got to the spruce, she daintily picked her way through the myrtle to reach me and regally asked me to pick her up, which I did. Purring, she settled in, glancing up at me and blinking languorously. Her legs and belly were dirty but she looked overall cared for though slender. Draped on my left arm I petted her with my right and as I ran my hand down her side over her belly…oh, that was why she’d shown up. Unless she’d recently swallowed a small watermelon, she seemed to be expecting kittens, not today but in a few weeks, and was actually politely asking me if she could have her babies here.
It could be that someone had placed her in my yard, knowing I rescued cats; I’d already taken in plenty from the neighborhood, and the kids knew me from taking in Cookie. But I don’t know any cat who, when placed in a stranger’s front yard under a tree, will stay there, even if it’s just to be a little contrary. I think, rather, this kitty had traveled a bit and then observed the house with all the cats and found it acceptable, then chose a day to make her grand entrance.
I’ve come home from work with unexpected kitties before, like Sophie, and I’d even had cats show up under that same spruce, like Jack, and also kitties who asked to have their babies in my spare room, but this kitty had obviously been around for at least the day, and no doubt each one of my cats in the house had seen her, and the household had likely had a lively conversation about the kitty sitting out in the yard under the spruce. I’m sure I can guess what they decided, but I am the human and am highly predictable when an unknown kitty shows up in the yard asking for help. When I walked in the door and up the stairs with the kitty I was observed in near silence by eight pairs of feline eyes bearing a range of emotions from curiosity to disgust.
The next issue was that kitty had to go into the bathroom since the spare kitty room was already taken with another kitty at the time. The bathroom was outfitted with food and water and litterbox and hands washed before I went to the spare cat room to visit that kitty. But how do I wash my hands before I head back downstairs? Back into the bathroom without letting out the new kitty and without touching her, then finally down to the kitchen to feed the regulars.
Such is the kitty dance in a tiny house, and I knew no matter how honored I was the kitty had chosen me or how much she wanted to stay here, keeping her would be difficult. I worked long days most days—she may have actually been around on other nights but I came home long after dark most of the time; I also left for work very early in the morning most days. The kitty in the spare kitty room was recovering from a deep upper respiratory infection and I didn’t want her and her unborn kittens anywhere near that. At least being inside in a safe place was better than nothing, but caring for them all plus my regulars was going to be difficult on all of them.
Over the next weekend I canvassed the neighborhood, carrying her with me because she enjoyed it and never tried to get away from me. I asked the children first if they knew her, but they discussed all the animals they knew and decided they didn’t know this cat. I then approached the adults who were outside or on porches, but none of the adults knew her either. She was such a congenial kitty I kept hoping someone would fall in love with her beauty and wonderful personality, but back home we went.
I knew a number of other people who rescued and fostered, so on Sunday evening I began that good old-fashioned tradition of calling around and asking if they had any room at their particular inn, or knew anyone who did. In a few days a foster home was found, and the following weekend I took the kitty I’d named Isabel—after a character in a book I’d read most likely, but she needed a princess name for her regal and somewhat demanding bearing—to her new foster home.
Sadly, the birth was somewhat difficult, she rejected one or two of her kittens outright and over the next few weeks she lost all five of them one by one. I’d been feeling a little guilty I’d betrayed her since she’d chosen me and was obviously comfortable with me, but if she’d given birth while I was away for 15 hours, or her kittens needed the attention they’d received in the foster home, I would not have been there to provide it. I always want a fairy tale ending and happy homes for all the kittens, who were as lovely as their mother, but I will always wonder if she knew when she approached me that her kittens weren’t well and that had been why she had demanded attention in the way she had. As I would pet her she would look directly at me and meow and pull on my shirt as if to say, “This is nice, but don’t you understand? Something is wrong.”
For all the cats who’ve run or eluded me when I tried to rescue them, she was a wise and intelligent girl to find a home that would take her in and I’m just glad I was able to. With her birth issues alone she would not have survived without help. Wherever she came from, whether she’d escaped when she went into heat or was tossed out because she was in heat or was pregnant, or had actually been placed in my front yard under the spruce by someone, she recovered from her experience and went on to a good and loving home.
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