Richard J Grund
For a few years now there has been a feral cat that comes to our home to be fed. She was led here by our next-door neighbor’s cat who showed her his feeding dish outside our door. Yes, he’s our next-door neighbor’s cat but she’s not home much so he comes here to be fed. We got him an outdoor dish and one day there she was with him. They must have had a bad break up because he hisses when he sees her now but still lets her use the dish. He doesn’t drive her off or attack her as he does any other cat that thinks they’ve struck cat gold.
She’s a very petite little lady. And, very skittish. She would eat the food but if you were anywhere in the vicinity she would take off running. Not too far mind you but far enough to be out of reach. It appeared that she did not trust people. One of her ears had been tipped so it appears someone had her fixed and turned her loose. We would speak to her in soothing, loving tones every time we saw her and never chased her. Over time she would move away from the dish but not as far as before. Her sweet, small feminine face would look at you from a distance. There was no way to know how old she was. So, we started calling her Baby Girl because she was so small and very much a girl.
Over time she would wait to be fed and when we went back inside she would venture near the dish. Always looking and watching for another cat or for someone coming by. If either of those happened she’d run underneath our fence and off into the yard. Just one sound from our door and she’d be off and running. We had no idea where she went or where she stayed at night. Sometimes during the day she’d lie in the sun off the side of our driveway and when it got too hot would slide under the shade of a tree or my SUV. We never gave up trying to win her trust. Eventually, that effort would pay off.
One day I opened the door to see her sitting at the end of the walk near our front door. She was waiting to be fed. I spoke to her, saying “Hello Baby Girl”. She watched me carefully to make sure I didn’t move toward her. And, I never did. I would place the food in the dish and change the water. Before going back inside I’d invite her over and tell her to come eat. Once the door was closed she would come over to the dish. This went on for weeks until one morning she was just a few feet away from the door. She was now showing up last thing at night as well. She knew she had a good thing going. I greeted her as I always did and set down her food. She had come realize I would not hurt her nor try to grab her. This was our new routine until one day the ice was broken.
On this morning when she was at the door and I set the food down she was suddenly right next to my feet. I dared to risk petting her that day by lowering my hand so that she could see it and put it near her head. She didn’t move so I gently touched her head. I gave it a gentle pat and soft scratch behind the ear. She leaned into it and the rest they say is history. Every morning and night she’d be out there to be fed. Waiting to have her head rubbed, ears scratched and to rub against my legs. Baby Girl and I were friends. She was always looking at the door to open or the window for me to look out. When I opened the door, she would meow away her story for the day and we’d go through our routine. I would take the dogs out early in the morning usually, around 6 am and she’d be waiting. If she wasn’t there I’d worry about her and when she showed up that night, I’d lovingly scold her for frightening me. I’d get a few meows; a leg rub and we were good.
About a month ago both she and my neighbor’s cat went missing at the same time. I suspected someone had taken them. They’re both black and there are people that use black cats for ritualistic purposes. It upset me because I feared for her safety and wellbeing. I’d come to care for her and would want to know if anything ever happened to her. Outdoor cats don’t have long life expectancies and I had come to realize that Baby Girl wasn’t as young as she appeared. One day she looked up at me in the bright sunshine and I could see her eyes were clouded with cataracts. She was obviously older than we knew. No matter. However long it was that she had we wanted to be safe and pleasant. Not seeing her waiting for me that week hurt our heart. My wife too had fallen in love with her and even though she didn’t let Deb pet her she did wait for the food from a nearby, safe distance.
Then, one morning after about a week as I glanced outside there she was. Thinner but seemingly unharmed. I grabbed some food, dumped the entire can with kibble in a paper plate and ran outside. I told her how much we missed her and worried we were about her. She meowed the whole story as she snaked in between my legs rubbing them furiously. And, the neighbor’s cat was found the same day. I believe they got away together from whoever took them. She would have made someone a great lap cat if not for how feral she was. If we did not have two big dogs that we knew would not accept her, we would have tried and brought her inside. But that was not an option.
Next to the food dish is an old cat carrier we had. I set it up with a soft rug on top and a bathroom rug inside. She would sometimes lay on top when it was warm and even took to sleeping there at night. A few weeks ago, we got hit with a cold spell and I worked on showing her the inside of the box where she could stay dry and warm. Once she discovered it we found her sleeping there regularly. We would look out the window after she finished eating and she’d be inside the box asleep. Sometimes she’d look up with those felines eyes, give that blink and contentedly go back to sleep.
By this time, she was not coming by alone. Another feral cat with a crooked paw was coming by too. Now I was setting down food for two. He was much more feral than she and didn’t seem to like people. But, I eventually won him over too. Just yesterday morning he was at my feet watching her get petted and touched. Although he didn’t lean in for it, he didn’t run either. He even let his tail touch my leg but moved when I lowered my hand toward him. It would only be a matter of time before he would be getting petted too. It was great to see her have a friend and when the food arrived it was a head-butting, purring love fest between the two. So much so I’d have to step carefully because they’d stay right in front of the door.
This morning I was up early. I looked outside expecting to see her and her friend as I had for months now. Neither one of them was there. This happened periodically that they would sleep in somewhere. They had full bellies from the night before. So, I thought they were sleeping it off. But, I kept going to the window to check on her arrival. She was never there. About 10:30 am our neighbor’s cat, whose name is Baby but we call Moochie for obvious reasons, was at the window demanding to be fed. When I say demanding I mean it. So, I got his food and headed back to the dish. That was when I saw her. One of her sleeping spots at night was near our car where she could dart underneath if in danger. There she was. She had been there all along. My heart jumped to see her. It appeared she was sleeping. I called out her name. She didn’t move. She wasn’t sleeping.
Sometime during the night, she must have passed. From the open eyes and tongue hanging out, it appeared to be a stroke. We have had cats and I’ve seen this look twice before. I simply muttered, “Oh, Baby Girl…” and shed a tear for a feral cat that had won my heart. She had been gone for a while as her body was already stiff. She probably died not long after I fed her last night giving her one last scratch of the head and getting one last rub of my leg. I buried her in her favorite spot next to the driveway. This had become her home and we her family. I figured she deserved at least to have that. Maybe it was more for us than for her but it felt right. I would never have to wonder now where she was or if she was safe. She’s home.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
Psalm 36:6 (NLT)
Richard J Grund