Midnight’s Shadow

Not long after we moved into this house seven years ago, we noticed a scruffy black cat hanging around the cul-de-sac. It was leery of people, but seemed to be well-fed. We assumed it belonged to one of the neighbors until it started getting thinner, at which point we started putting food out for it.

People who love cats understand the difference between a stray and feral cat. Strays have been lost or abandoned, but still have enough fond associations between humans and food that they get usually get taken in by some kind soul. Ferals are born in the wild to those poor strays that have never been neutered or spayed. They tend to cluster together in colonies, which has become a troubling problem in the United States, as a visit to Alley Cat Allies reveals. Both of our cats, Gus and Bandit, were rescued from colonies.

They say that people who take care of ferals are strange, because ferals will never show their love in traditional ways. They will never let you pet them, or run figure-eights around your legs. They will never snuggle with you. Showing up every day for food is their way of saying thank you, saying I trust a little piece of you, the one that brings my nourishment.

This cat, whom we named Midnight, turned out to be a unique amalgam of both feral and stray. When I trapped it and took it to the vet, we learned it was a she and had already been spayed. But I knew of no colonies near our house, and could only conclude she had been abandoned. Yet she never let us touch her, ever. She would accept our food, but nothing else. She would appear on the front walk or the doorstep at breakfast and dinnertime and wait patiently. Sometimes she would hide in the plants in the front yard and I would have to search for her, but she rarely missed a meal. She never meowed to announce her presence, though I implored her to.

Over the years, Midnight claimed our cul-de-sac as her territory and our doorstep as her dining area, which was fine with us. Whenever we went on vacation, the kitty-sitting instructions always included Midnight. When it rained, we left the garage door open a little, with a kitty bed inside. Sometimes she slept there. She also had a little round carpeted house, no more than ten inches high, that sat on our protected doorstep, and as she got older, she spent more time there. To my delight, she also began to meow at me. Still no petting, but at least she talked to me.

The life of an outdoor cat is not an easy one, and this past year has been especially hard. It rained more than we could remember in California, and it soon became clear that Midnight has having trouble breathing. I thought if she had a cold, the warm weather would eventually clear it up, but her right eye became milky and her breath became increasingly labored.

She ran away from us less and less. I set out the trap again, but she was too smart for that. But she was clearly in distress, and I finally remembered that hearing that you could catch some cats in fishing nets. On the Friday morning before Easter, I was able to bring a net down on Midnight and transport her to a local vet. The results were worse than we even imagined.

X-rays revealed a plethora of problems – masses in her lungs and on her forehead; BBs where she’d been shot at one time. The diagnosis was a common feline disease called Cryptococcus, a fungal infection cats get from coming in contact with bird excrement. With most kitties, it involves an easy, though months-long cure, through antibiotics.

But clearly Midnight was too far gone. The feisty kitty who’d always run away from us was now too weak to even hiss. At the vet’s office, we petted her, the first time we’d ever been able to do so. After a night there, it was clear that treatment would only prolong her pain. I was only comforted by the fact that her last 24 hours had been spent inside, warm and dry and looked after lovingly.

I cried in my wife’s arms as the vet sent Midnight on her way. As you get older, you become more patient with animals. I guess I always expected that there would always be time for her to grow even more accustomed to us, to eventually trust us, and even come indoors, but there wasn’t. Midnight’s time had run out.

It was the day before Easter. While I am not a big believer in either reincarnation or resurrection, I find myself hoping that there is a special god for cats – one that will bring Midnight back and send her into the arms of a loving family, a warm house, and a life of safety and comfort.

We have put a figurine of a serene black kitty on the window sill where we used to watch for her (see photo). It looks like her, the way she used to wait for us to serve her meal. As long as I live in this house, I will expect to see a little black cat waiting patiently on the front walk. And as long as I live, I will wonder how something I never got to touch until she was dying could have touched me so.


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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9 Responses to Midnight’s Shadow

  1. Carlene says:

    Oh, Howard—I have a feeling that there will be a long stream of kitties running across the rainbow bridge when we get there—at least I hope so! But you can take comfort in the fact that you made Midnight’s life as comfortable as possible—on her terms.

  2. lois stearns says:

    I, too, have a “Midnight”….his name is Baskin and he is an orange Tabby.
    Seven or eight or maybe 10 years ago a friend rescued him …..a kitten being teased by some children. He would not be petted and hid in a closet until nite when he would come oof the closet and eat his dinner. Then she had to move and could not take him to her new apartment so she asked me to save him. We had a helluva time cornering him and getting him into a carrier but I got him home and let him out to meet my other kitties.

    No luck. He ran under a chair and would hiss and growl if I or they tried to come near him, but he would eat and drink and use the box. I was sure I could civilize him. Ha. No way.

    Eight years or so later I can now get withing 2 or 3 feet of him….he is still wary but no longer afraid…just doesn’t want any part of me. He has, however, developed a fondness for a new kitty I have brought home and makes it a point to try to lie down next to her.

    After keeping him indoors for all of those years at huge effort, I have recently begun to let him out into the back yard which he loves. I made him a bed in the shed in the yard if he chooses to stay out but he seems to prefer sleeping in the ferns. If he stays out he is waiting each morning for me to open the door so he can come in and have his breakfast and perhaps use the kitty box (!). He seems happier than all the years he was confined here with this awful cat lover and I think we have a nice understanding.

    I keep telling him he is a fool and could be getting pets and tummy rubs and he looks at me like I am crazy….which of course I am. I have provided for him in my will to be captured (yes, with the fishing net) and taken to a reputable Kitty Farm where he can lie in the sun and perhaps find another lady cat to lie next to for his lifetime.

    You and I must be related and that is OK……….I love animal lovers and think they are the best folks on earth.

    So sorry for your loss and grief, but you gave Midnight a good life and I am sure she understood and was indeed grateful.

  3. You’ve both hit the nail on the head — we share our lives with cats on their terms, and we’re lucky when their terms include tactile loving.

    Lois, thanks for sharing about Baskin — he sounds like a delight, though an aloof one.

  4. Faith says:

    Letting go of animal companions–even if they weren’t all that companionable–never seems to get any easier. Heartbreakers, every one of them.

  5. Judit Sarossy says:

    You just made me cry…..

  6. Barbara says:

    My condolences on your loss of Midnight. I have loved and lost several four-legged companions and it is never easy. Midnight was lucky to have had you to love and care for her.

  7. Myra says:

    Howard this is a lovely tribute to your beloved kitty. I, too, believe our 4-leggeds have something akin to a soul. Why should they not? Midnight is swirling around out in the ether in a better world. Many blessings to her on the way.

  8. Pingback: Three Shades of Gray | Middle-Age Cranky

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