I'm a cat guy. I've always been a cat guy. I've cared for dogs, turtles and fish, and I enjoyed loving all of them, but my heart is squarely inclined to the feline for my primary living companions. Unfortunately, my mother is allergic to all four-legged pets, and with my past jobs, I had to move fairly often. Landing back with family between most assignments has made keeping pets difficult at best, so most of "my" cats have been strays.
I was on a project down in Cincinnati, renting a home in a small town just a bit north thereof. Wanting a pet and expecting to be there for quite some time, I asked the landlord about having a cat. You should've seen the look on his face. I promised that he'd never know that there had been anything other than a reasonable human in that place when the day came that I moved out. Deadpan. That was a no, and further more, hell no. Well, he didn't exactly say it like that, the devout man that he was, but his eyes said it all. Hard and fast, no exceptions, no discussion. I wasn't pleased but hey, the neighborhood was decent and the price was right.
Shortly after moving in, I found that most of neighborhood strays would flock to the squirrels living in my trees, like devotees of the most beautiful yet untouchable person that you could imagine—most of them, anyway—with one sticking around to sleep under my porch most nights. She was mostly a Maine Coon with long, silvery grey hair and the soft undercoat of a Russian Blue and the brightest emerald green eyes that I had ever seen. Her loving playfulness was tempered by a hard, pragmatic life of sheer survival. So, as any good father of cats would do, I harbored a wildling under my porch. If the landlord had known, he'd have evicted me post haste, but I didn't care. She was an old, battle-scared gal. She showed up about a month after I'd moved in. She felt like she'd found her final place after a long, hard life on the road, and I'd sooner have been dammed before turning her out.
At first I tried to ignore her in my daily routine, but she was there to stay. She had made her bed under my porch, and there was no way that I was going to send her on her way, so I upgraded her bed and started feeding her. One day, I noticed that she was pregnant. I wanted to check on her, but she wouldn't let me anywhere near her. She seemed to be in decent health and was starting to show. So, I broke down, prayed that the landlord didn't find out and made her as comfortable as I could. I put out a scent-free litter box and maintained it meticulously twice a day. You never would've known that I was being a bad boy—unless you had looked under my porch!
She eventually stopped wandering, and about a month after her arrival, she gave birth. Out of eleven, three were still born, the runt died on the fourth day, and the biggest got mangled in a neighbor's engine just after she was weened because the landlord had left the gate open after an inspection. Once her litter had been weened and was adopted out, she cautiously came up onto the porch. I knew better than to approach her, so I tossed her a treat that I had got for this eventual occasion. She looked at it intently, wondering what this human had just done. She sniffed it thoroughly, and after a few moments of contemplation, she ate it. She looked up at me all doey eyed and lightly taped her paw on the deck. Yeah, this lady meant business. She knew what she wanted and how to get it. She must have been formerly socialized in or around a home, and she was finally opening up to me. So I tossed her another.
The next day, we repeated the process, which became our routine. By the end of the first week, we had a well-defined schedule, and she was always patiently waiting for her human to offer up tributes for her having graced him with the pleasure of her presence in his life. Every day, I'd land the treats about an inch closer to me. The first several days were touch and go, but over time she warmed to the game and started enjoying it.
This went on for weeks until one day, she, being about two feet away, brushed up against my leg. I went to offer her my hand but she recoiled and jumped back. She must have left an abusive situation and was just starting to trust me. So, I threw out a treat a little farther away and restarted the process from there.
Several days later, she brushed up to me as I was walking out to the porch. Testing the waters yet again, I suppose. So I returned the favor and offered her a treat in my hand. She studied it from about a foot away. She obviously wanted to go for it, so I sat down and tried again. She still wasn't having it. So I slowly sat it down just in front of my shoe. She gave it a long careful thought, and then, slowly stalking it, keeping an eye on me the entire time, she gave it another examination. She quickly snatched it up, took it back several feet and spat it out. She looked it over one more time, and after a few more sniffs, she ate it.
I repeated this process, but this time laying the treat on my shoe. She was even more wary, but she did eventually capture her prize, back up a safe distance and eat it.
We played this game for several days, me placing the treat increasingly higher up my leg. When she was looking relatively comfortable, I tried the hand offer again. This time, she walked up, batted it out of my hand onto the ground and ate it. I offered her another, but this time I picked it back up and kept it in my hand. We repeated this until she finally just gave in and ate it right out of my hand. From that point forward, I only fed her treats out of my hand at the start and end of each respite.
Several months before I moved away, one day out of the blue she jumped into my lap and nuzzled my hand. Clearly asking for a treat, I obliged her, and she immediately ate it without any hesitation or further thought. Oh, and guess who was pregnant again….
During this time, she couldn't get enough of me. She would expose her belly and wasn't satisfied until I had given her all the attention that she wanted. Sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes it was over an hour, but the times kept getting longer over the last few weeks of her pregnancy; in all of this, we started when she wanted to start and stopped only when she was finished.
So she gave birth to nine beautiful little kitties. I prayed each day that they wouldn't mew us out of a home! After the last kitten had been placed, I took her to get her shots and neutered. She did not like that in the least, and to say that she was extremely unhappy with me for some time would be the understatement of the evening. Trying to get her into the carrier was an ordeal, so I eventually just cleared out the trunk, laid out a thick blanket, used another blanket to burrito and scruff her—oh, did she not like that!—and placed her gently in the trunk. And for the record, I had the back seats down with a pet net to keep her cool. But she was not cool. Absolutely fuming by time we got to the vet about 15 minutes later. The assistant had to sedate her just to get her out of the trunk! Things went just swimmingly after that. I got her home all nice and comfy. Until she came down of her meds and remembered how pissed she was at me. Of course, she finally got over it… after weeks of stinkeye, us returning to our previous happy routine.
As I was packing for the move, having lost my job in the fallout of some brain damage that I had suffered—a story for another time—the landlord came by as a surprise with several others from the church that I was attending at that time to help me pack. He'd let me out of my lease after only seven months, and had offered to help me move out (for all my disgust with and disliking of "The Church", he was the real deal); I hadn't expected an entourage. To my shock and horror, he met my friend. She wasn't pleased with all the company. He wasn't happy in the least about her presence.
Now please don't get him wrong—he owns several cats, being a cat lover himself. It's just that he'd got in trouble with the city over past tenants and their cats "creating a nuisance", per the report of one elderly malcontent as he told it, so he had a strict no cat rule for all of his properties within city limits.
I wish that I could say that we had a brief, pleasant discussion. Rather, I received a stern lecture on the importance of keeping one's word through honoring one's contracts. I noted that I had: just because a stray cat wanders onto my property and eats the food that I put out for the squirrels doesn't mean that I keep a cat. There were squirrels actually living in the tree on the property, and they did take the food on occasion, so it was more of a dissimulative restructuring of the truth than an outright judicious prevarication, right? He wasn't impressed.
I told him the whole story that I just told you. He visibly softened as I continued. In the end, he forgave my "indiscretion" as he put it and adopted my friend, giving her to his daughter. I was struggling to find my friend a suitable home, and lo and behold, my landlord once again came to my rescue. I'd have loved to have taken her, but I was temporarily moving in with family who, as aforementioned, is deathly allergic to cats. I've been told that his daughter and my friend have bonded, and that they're both happy and well adjusted to their life together.
As I consider this brief period in our lives, I realize that my friend was never really "mine". Out of respect for her path, I never named her, because I refuse to think of myself as having owned such a free spirit. I don't even like the concept of "owning" another living thing. I prefer to think of it as a partnership, especially with higher-order sentient beings such as is my friend. I do understand why we need ownership laws to keep others from taking our companions way from us, but my friend is not one to be possessed by anyone unless she chooses to give herself to them. She was as much of a chooser of our friendship and giver of love as was I. She was a soul passing through my world, and it was my privilege to have loved her even for such a short period. I still think of her fondly to this day, missing the love, the mere presence, of my friend.
До свидания и спокойной ночи, my dear, sweet friend. I'll always think warmly on our brief time together.