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November 3rd, 2012

(Sigh)…Cats…!

She’s an adorable little calico and she’s feral so she won’t let anyone get too close.  But for several years now she’s been lurking around my street and occasionally visiting Casa del Garrett, to check the menu around the bird feeders, and every now and then catching something.  I keep the feeders well off the ground, in part to keep city rats from getting into them and in part to keep little calico cats away from the customers, though I suppose she, and the occasional hawk, also consider themselves that.  I’d rather she left my birds alone.  But she is the most amazing hunter I’ve ever seen and part of me respects professionalism in every endeavor.

And bravery.  I watched one day as she stalked up to the edge of a fenced in yard that usually contains two very large dogs. She would have been a bite sized snack for either one but cat sense must be far superior to spider sense as she seemed to know even though she could not see the entire yard from street level that the dogs weren’t in there.  But a small flock of birds was, feeding on some seed that had been put out. I watched her suddenly leap over the fence, run up the hill, run back down and back over the fence and across the street with a small bird in her mouth. It happened that quick.  Another time I was serenely watching the birds at my feeders from just inside my front door and she suddenly leaped over the top step (where you see her sitting in that photo) and tried to snag one of the birds that were inadvisedly ground feeding there.  What caught my attention was when she made her sudden leap her front claws were striking in the air above the sidewalk, not where the birds were, but where she knew they would be.  That time she missed but was close…one of those birds must have felt the whiff of air as a claw passed by.  I have seen the occasional feathery left overs scattered around my walkway.  Usually it was a pigeon.  She can have all of those she wants.

In a heartbeat I’d take her in, but as I said she’s feral and those cats will never accept human companionship. But somebody has been watching out for her because her coat is usually very clean and well kept and one ear is clipped (you can barely see it in this photo) which means at some point someone scooped her up and took her to the vet to be spayed and given her shots). I’m guessing the city doesn’t mind at least some feral cats prowling about, provided they’ve been spayed/neutered and topped off with anti-rabies, as they’ll help keep the rodent population in check.  And at least until recently someone must have been feeding her.  Good as she is hunting, I don’t think that’s enough to account for the her overall good condition. Most ferals I’ve seen looked pretty tattered.  He coat is always shiny and clean.  Or at least it was until recently.

In the weeks before Sandy hit I noticed she seemed a bit…disheveled.  Her coat had started to look a bit…worn.  And she seemed tired all the time.  She’s been around the neighborhood for some years now and I thought perhaps age was beginning to set in.  Or maybe one of the other ferals around here had bullied her out of her place wherever she was getting food and shelter.  Or maybe the crazy older lady everyone in the neighborhood suspects is feeding the strays had stopped for some reason.  I hadn’t seen the woman around her house for a while.  She’s easy to spot when she goes for her walks.  She’s the one who always wears a heavy winter coat when she goes for her walks, even in a brutal heat wave.  She has family that stops by regularly and I began to wonder if maybe they’d finally taken her away.

So I began to worry about the little calico.  Then Sandy barreled in.  During the worst of the storm I caught a glimpse of the calico huddled in the basement window sill and I felt frustrated I couldn’t just bring her inside.  But any move I might have made toward her just then she would have bolted into the storm which would have only made matters worse.  So I let her be, afraid the next morning I’d find a little dead kitty in front of my basement window.  But somehow she survived it.  Maybe she moved on to wherever it is she normally beds down for the night.  There are crawl spaces under some of the houses, and somewhere under one of those maybe there would be shelter and heat.  I have no idea.  All I know is after the hurricane she was gone, but later the next day she showed up again.  And the next day I did something I swore I wouldn’t.  I put some food out for her.  I knew the moment I did that I was making a commitment I wasn’t sure I wanted to be making. But I did it.  It was the sight of her huddled wet in the basement window sill and I couldn’t do anything but hope she wasn’t going to die of exposure.

A couple days later after work I got a distinctively colored and shaped bowl out of my kitchen cabinets and put it on the basement window sill where I’d seen her during the hurricane.  It had one of the cans of tuna from my winter pantry.  I had about a half dozen of them I knew I wasn’t going to finish by the sell by dates on them, so I figured they weren’t going to waste if I gave them to the cat.  The next morning I saw the bowl had been eaten from, and I hoped it was her and not a city rat that got into it.  I brought it inside and cleaned it out.  I had a plan.

The next day when I came home from work she was there on my front steps.  The front steps are one of her usual perches where she stalks my birds.  I spoke to her and she moved away, but not too far.  I went inside, got the bowl out, put another can of tuna in it and walked outside to where she could see me.  When she saw the bowl her face lit up.  There was a reason I picked that particular oddly shaped and colored bowl.  Seeing me holding it she could make a connection between it and me.  I put it down on the basement window sill, and nearby on the front porch, a smaller bowl of water.  Then I went inside, walked down to my basement art room and peeked under the curtain in front of the basement window.  There she was, eating.  When she was done, she moved away and I came back upstairs and took the bowl back inside.  I don’t want to be feeding all the neighborhood cats, let alone the city rats.  Just her.

A few minutes later I walked back outside.  It was Halloween night and I wanted to put up some decorations and attract some goblins.  As I was stringing some lights on the front steps rail, she came out from under one of the cars parked on the street, walked closer to me on the sidewalk then she ever did, still well out of arm’s reach…sat down…and stared right at me for a time, never taking her eyes off me, like she was sizing me up.  For a good five minutes she did that, as I tried talking a calming patter to her while I was stringing lights.  Then she seemed to shrug, and walked away.  The next day, promptly after work, she was sitting on my front steps, waiting.

So now we have a routine going.  And her coat is looking nicer again and she seems to have more energy.  I have no idea if that’s me or her other source of food is back online too.  But it’s good to see.  I’m too single to have a pet and this is in many ways an ironic echo of the story of my life.  It seems no matter who I take a fondness to I always get kept at arm’s length.  So in a way this is a relationship I’m used to.  But she’s lived on the city streets for years now, and the other side of that coin is I probably don’t have to worry about her too much if I go away for a while.  I might be able to talk one of my other neighbors into putting some food out for her while I’m gone.

The other day I bought some nice stainless steal cat bowls, one for water and one for food.  And some cat food.  Today she ate from both.  She actually seemed to like the cat food better then the human food.  And thus Bruce, walking the stations of life, steps into that crazy old man who feeds stray cats stage.  Oh well.  I guess I don’t mind.

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