Caring for strays brings its own rewards
I first noticed them last winter, two cats, one large and muted butterscotch in color, the other much smaller and bright, marmalade orange with white socks. They hung at the back of the yard, often crouching beneath the miniature blue spruce tree we purchased from a vendor of dubious reputation at a flea market, (the blue spruce that is now twenty-eight feet tall and still lunging skyward.)
“Where do they live?” I wondered aloud to Jay.
“I think they stay in the big garage behind ours,” he replied casually. “The big one sleeps by our heating vent when it’s really cold, under the juniper bushes, but I don’t know about the little one.”
I’d seen the delicate line of footprints that meandered across the street and up our drive, and the snow-angel belly prints as someone scootched under the gate, so I’d assumed that these two were the culprits. I should have known better. Our neighborhood has slowly become a place where wandering pets show up with depressing regularity; cats run rampant, and Jay and I have rescued five dogs in the past year. I raised an eyebrow at Jay. He sighed, knowing instinctively where this was going. “Okay, I’ll shovel a spot out by the garage so you can feed them, but what about the dogs? They’ll get into the food when I let them out.”
The big butterscotch guy was scruffy in the way that street cats are, his ears ragged, his coat rough, but the smaller cat, who I’d assumed was female, was also a tom, much younger and quite pretty, not yet hardened to life outside. I recalled seeing some neighbors across the street and down the block playing with some orange kittens earlier in spring, and wondered if perhaps this was a ‘leftover,’ a kitten that didn’t get adopted.
The pair made it through the winter, and with the warmer weather I moved their feeding station to the back of the yard and installed an old doghouse behind the garage so that they would have some shelter. They spent their days soaking up the sun next to the Buddha statue in the back garden, and gradually the little boycat became comfortable enough to sit two or three feet away when I filled their food bowl in the morning. I noticed that his eyes do not seem to focus well, he seems a bit slow in other ways.
Despite an occasional minor tiff with lots of yowling and cursing in feline, the pair is always together, and it is obvious that the big tom watches over what is very probably his offspring, When I feed them, the old fellow always stands guard while the young one eats, then has his turn.
I do not presume to be an expert, but I have had vast experience with feral cats and I know that once they are past kittenhood, rehab is very nearly impossible. Still, this pair have somehow become “our” cats; BT, for Big Tom, and BC for boycat. Several mornings during the late summer and into fall, we have stepped out the back door to find gifts of dead mice curled next to the mat, virtually unmarked (I assume that this is in case we would like to eat them ourselves, but I try not to dwell on that thought.)
Now that winter is here once again, the boys have taken up residence in the doghouse. When I slog through the snow with food in the morning, two heads pop out the door, and both cats clamber out and wait while I refurbish their bowl. The gifts have stopped arriving due to the weather, but I have been rewarded in another delightful way; one morning BC sat crouched atop the doghouse and did not move as I approached. Careful not to startle him, I leaned into the door of the house with the cup of dry food and busied myself brushing some stray snowflakes out of the bowl. There was movement above me, and then, soft as a feather, a paw patted my hair ever so gently. Slowly I stood up, and our eyes locked. There was a look of wonder on his face, and joy, I’m sure, on mine. We stared at each other for the briefest of moments, then he slipped past me, a slither of orange stripes, and settled at the bowl.
I glanced at BT, sitting sentry behind the juniper bush, and he answered my gaze with that long, slow, languorous blink cats use when they are pleased. He knows, as I do, that sometimes you don’t have to be in church to receive a benediction.