There was this feral cat, a big gray fellow, skulking around the farmhouse where I lived a few years back, stalking the birds and squirrels at the feeders. I saw him out there for two years running, hot summers and snowy winters, and started putting out food.
He’d slip up and bolt down the food, then scurry off to wherever he stayed most of the day. I put a chair outside, about 20 feet from the food dish, and started sitting there reading every day at feeding time.
The first day, he came around the corner and saw me, sat there thinking about it, but eventually slinked near and wolfed down the food, while I carefully looked away. In the following days, he got used to me being there, and I started inching the chair closer and closer to the dish.
Eventually, I was right next to it, and one day I reached out as he was eating and touched the top of his head. The look he gave me was … astonished. “Are you insane? I’m a feral cat! You don’t touch cats like me!”
The next day I reached out again, gently scritched the back of his head with one finger. He tolerated it, kept on eating. In days after, he slowly started reacting to the scratching, coming to visibly enjoy it. The slinky behavior went away, and he started hanging around on the back deck.
Turned out “he” was a “she,” and I named her KittyBit. She’d been someone’s pet, I figured. How she ended out in the wilds, I had no idea, but as I had lots of elderly neighbors, I wondered if one of them might have died and her beloved cat fled the scary strangers who came in to deal with things.
I moved into an apartment, and she came along. I made sure she had windows to look out of, but she avoided them. She’d had her fill of living wild, and was now a pampered Indoor Cat. Good food, places to lounge and luxuriate, hands and laps to enjoy. She no longer drooled, but she would press into any hand. She was a square mile of desert, and every human touch was the pattering of spring rain.
Another move gave her a window to look out on a yard with bird feeders, and she took to lying in the window watching the living scenery. She developed a cute, weird behavior – she would lurk outside the bathroom when I showered, then rush in as soon as the door opened, leap into the shower and commence licking the water off the walls.
In all, five years went by. She wasn’t young when I got her, but she really started showing signs of age. Bones jutted out at hips and shoulders, legs bowed, fur snarled into ungroomed tangles.
Five days ago, she stopped eating. Started vomiting up yellow bile. The machinery of catness was running down, breaking, coming to an end.
Purring in her last hour under a stroking hand, she had a peaceful, painless ending at the vet’s.
The deal I made with her – a guy deal – was that I would save her, but wouldn’t necessarily love her. She was just a roommate. But the silence in the house, the hole that used to be filled with bright eyes and purring laply presence, brings me to unexpected tears.
So long, KittyBit.