People used to say that during the Great Depression, the needy would mark the doors of sympathetic households. I believe stray cats do the same to mine.
During the 25 years we’ve lived in our home, a dozen or so felines have appeared on my porch, gazing through the glass door, silently begging for a nutritional donation. Well, what can I do? Certainly not ignore their pleading faces.
I am opening the door, cat food bag in hand. Most cats only stay a few days, maybe a couple of months before disappearing into the woods. Except for one. She stayed for 11 years.
One evening while feeding the horses, I saw something move. I turned just in time to glimpse a black tail disappearing under our tack shed. Later, after our two cats had eaten, I saw a skinny, scraggly young tabby stealthily creep up and finish the leftovers. The next time I saw her, she had a companion, a black male cat. I made sure to put out enough food for both of them.
Pretty soon, they were appearing at dinnertime with our other cats. I named them Minnie the Moocher and Freddy the Freeloader. I would dole out food in separate containers just for them, but they would hover behind until I went back inside. Then, with no human near, they would devour their meals. This went on for a couple of weeks. One day, Freddy didn’t show up. We never saw him again.
Minnie stuck around our property, dividing time between the tack shed and the porch. She was no longer scrawny and filled out quite nicely. I congratulated myself on her newfound health. However, she kept gaining weight—especially around her middle. Yup, she was pregnant.
We fixed up a small shelter in the garage for Minnie to sleep and give birth in. She knew immediately it was for her, and I’d often see her watching me from its safety. The garage became her territory, and we left the door raised enough so she could come and go as she pleased. One day, I was out there when once again, movement caught my eye. There, behind the freezer, was Minnie, nursing five kittens. She gazed up at me with a wary, pleading look, asking me to please stay away and let her attend to her mom’s duties. She was, as all cats are, a very good mother.
Once the kittens had all found homes, we determined that Minnie had done enough to populate the cat world. We still couldn’t get near her but were able to catch her in a trap. On the way to the vet, I stuck my finger in the cage to try to comfort her only to have it bitten.
We released her into the backyard. She bolted for the woods, and I figured that would be the last we’d ever see of her, but nope—come suppertime there she was on the back porch.
It was obvious that Minnie missed her kittens and craved affection. Thinking this would be a good time to tame her, I spent hours on the porch, sitting as still as possible with a bowl of cat food next to me. She would sit a few feet from me, scrutinizing my every move. I, in turn, ignored her, reading my book, silently pleading with her to come closer. She never did. She had all the time in the world to sit and wait on me. I didn’t. So, I would go start supper, and she would dine alone on the porch. I finally accepted that she was never going to let me pet her(To pet is not a manner thing, they all belong to God), but she still became my constant companion. Whenever I’d go outside, she’d meow then follow me around the house.
One day, I was outside reading with Minnie curled up in a nearby chair when she suddenly sat up, staring at a large, fluffy ginger cat standing on the edge of the woods. It approached cautiously. Minnie jumped down and waited. The cat came closer, his big eyes staring at me, ignoring her. But Minnie had other ideas. She walked right up and head-butted him. Startled, he stared at her, then gave her a half-hearted swat. She tried again. Shrugging her off, he came straight to me, hopped into my lap, and curled up purring. He remained there until I went back into the house.
The next day, he was back. Minnie approached him again, this time simply putting her nose to his. He gave her a sniff, then brushed by on his way to my lap. This went on for several days, with Minnie never giving up on winning his friendship. Reluctantly, the big cat finally caved and submitted himself to her grooming and affectionate rubs.
I was beginning to wonder whose cat this was. At first, I figured he was a neighbor’s cat just come to visit. As the days went on, he looked skinnier and began losing his lustrous coat. He followed me to the house, meowing for food. I knew there was a house down the road that had recently been sold. Could he have been left behind? It was obvious he’d been someone’s baby, as it seemed his one goal in life was to be a lap cat. How could I find his people?
I scoured the papers for a lost cat listing. None matching his description. I bought a breakaway collar and typed up a note: “If this is your cat, please call me. I would like to adopt him, but I don’t want to steal someone’s cat.” I signed my name and phone number, taped it around the collar, and put it on him.
The fluffy cat still appeared every day, the note getting dirty and torn. Then one day, he had scratches all over his face, no collar, and his ear hanging by a few tendons. When we brought him into the vet, they scanned him for a microchip. Finding none, we officially adopted him, christening him Mr. Fluffy.
We soon learned that Mr. Fluffy is very territorial. If a cat strayed into our yard, he immediately chased it off. But never Minnie the Moocher. Whether he realized she had been here first or because she was female, Mr. Fluffy never attacked her. Quite the contrary—Mr. Fluffy and Minnie the Moocher became quite the twosome. We kept Mr. Fluffy in the house at night to avoid any more misadventures and vet bills, but every morning Minnie was there on the porch waiting for him. This went on for three years.
Then one morning, Minnie just wasn’t there. Mr. Fluffy and I scoured the property, but no Minnie. Poor Mr. Fluffy would go out every morning, walk around searching for her, then give up. Though we have two other female cats now, he hasn’t bonded with them or even attempted to.
It always hurts to lose an animal you love. But I wouldn’t give anything in the world for the time we had with our Minnie the Moocher. Feral as she was, she taught me friendship and love can be shared just by being present and accepting. No touching or words are needed. Just be there.
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