There’s an old saying that you never really own a cat. It’s the kind of adage that’s usually attributed to Mark Twain, whether he actually said it or not. Whoever originated it, I’m finding it becoming truer every day. Even after adopting four cats, fostering many others, and feeding a multitude of strays that have come to our front doorstep and gone, cats continue to be a mystery to me. Sometimes happy mysteries, sometimes sad ones.
Louise. Louise is the saddest mystery of all. She belonged to a family on the street behind our house, but her territory was broad and her mien friendly. She would walk right into anyone’s house. Sometimes we would come home and find her in the house, because the housekeepers had assumed her comfort in walking in meant that she actually lived here.
But in truth, Louise yearned to be an only cat. Her original owners (and I hesitate to say original, because they told us they had adopted her from the humane society) had other cats and dogs, and she disdained that. Sometimes, in an attempt to educate her as to her true home, I would pick her up, drive around the corner, and drop her off in front of her house – only to find her waiting in my driveway by the time I’d driven back home. Our next-door neighbors eventually ended up adopting her, and that suited her fine. Us too – we loved her as one of our own.
But there came a day when our neighbors were on vacation and I was feeding her. Louise was sitting on the fence between our houses when Monica went to work, as if to see her off. And that was the last that anyone ever saw of her.
That was almost a year ago. Several other cats disappeared around the same time, as if someone had driven into the neighborhood and scooped them up for some nefarious deed, but in checking with the other owners, Louise seemed to be the only one friendly enough to walk up to a stranger and expect petting and nothing else. One owner postulated that, given the drought, coyotes may have wandered down a nearby creek in search of food, but I couldn’t imagine a coyote in the neighborhood in the harsh light of day. Louise’s disappearance remains a mystery.
Zachary. A couple of years ago, we adopted a litter of three feral kittens. Our previous experience with ferals led us to believe that if you socialized them to humans early enough, they would become loving and affectionate. This hasn’t happened. One of the ferals, Rose, is still petrified of us, although she accepts food and treats (we’ve called in a cat behaviorist, and that seems to be helping). Another one, Max, will accept petting, but only as long as we’re lying down in bed; otherwise, we’re apparently big monsters more likely to torture him. And don’t even try to pick him up.
Zachary is the biggest mystery of the three. Earlier this year, when the weather was nice, we opened the door for them to enjoy the yard. Big mistake. Having been born in a yard, they had no interest in coming back in. Nor were they enticed by traps. I had to concoct Rube Goldberg-like rope contraptions and lie in wait in the dark to lure them back in the house, and then yank the door closed before they could sprint back out. This worked with all three, until the day that I accidentally failed to secure the door to the garage securely, and left the outside garage door slightly raised so that another stray (see below) could go in and out. Zachary discovered my error and hightailed it outside. Since then, all the ruses I’d previously used have been unsuccessful.
We gave up on trying to lure him in in the dead of night, and now leave food for him so he knows that this is his home. I’ve seen him come to the food, take a bite, look around furtively for predators, and eat some more. What mystifies us is that he’s obviously afraid of the outdoors, and yet he prefers it to the terrors of living with us. It’s enough to give you a complex when you give a creature food, water, warmth, and comfort, and he rejects it cavalierly.
Billy. I’ve saved the happy mystery for last. That’s Billy. Billy showed up in the backyard one day last December, curiously strolling through in search of who knows what. Of course we put out food, assuming he was lost and that we would reunite him with his owner.
But Billy was an enigma from day one. For one thing, his ear was tipped. That meant he had been in a feral colony at one time, trapped, neutered, and then released. The eartip indicates for any subsequent colony manager that there’s no need to take the cat in to be fixed again; if it finds its way into a trap, it can be released immediately. But Billy meowed – loudly. Feral cats don’t meow because their mommies train them not to, in order to avoid attracting human attention. Billy was absent from cat school that day.
There’s more. If Billy is indeed a feral, he’s the least accomplished one I’ve ever met. He comes when he’s called, with a loping, excited gait. He loves being cuddled. He will wrap himself around your neck like a soft boa and purr loud enough to drown out the television.
So where did he come from? How did he end up in our yard? I know of no feral colonies nearby. If he had a home, what idiot allowed this affectionate little guy to run off without putting up “lost cat” posters? We took him to the vet and discovered he had a microchip. We called the registry and the woman on the phone sadly revealed that no one had ever registered him. She thought that meant we would take him to a shelter. Little did she know.
He is frankly the kind of kitty we expected when we adopted the litter of three, the kind that appreciates going from being homeless and scrabbling for food to having a mom and dad who love him and always provides treats and a warm place to sleep. As I write this, he’s curled up in a cat bed on my desk (see photograph), sound asleep, his past a mystery but his future assured.