I lost a pet last month. I call her a pet, though I am sure she would have disagreed.
Two years ago, a very pregnant calico cat followed my indoor-outdoor cat, Potter, to the food bowl on my front porch. She was very shy from the beginning, and would come to the bowl only when I went inside.
She came every day for a week, then disappeared for several days. My wife convinced me that we had to do our civic duty, so I bought a trap and began to watch the cat’s comings and goings. By the time I found where she had hidden her kittens, their eyes were open.
I set the trap on my front porch and caught the mother at her next regular feeding. With her captured, I re-united kittens and mother in the extra-large dog cage I had bought and set up in our basement.
We gave her the very original name of “Cali” and began to give her everything she wanted, except her freedom. Every time we opened the cage to add food or water or change the litter box, she would back into a corner, hiss, and strike the floor of the cage with her paw. In spite of this, she was a good mother to her four kittens who were always clean and well fed.
The kittens loved us. When Cali would back into a corner, they would rush to the door of the cage and play with each other and us until time for them to go back with their mother.
When the kittens were weaned, we took Cali to the vet and had her spayed. I hope I never have to repeat that ordeal. She hissed and spat through the bars of the carrier after we forced her into it, and, the next day, she did the same all the way back to our house.
On the advice of the vet, we kept her in the cage, alone, for two more days, then released her back outside. She continued to show how much she hated us by hissing and slapping every time we brought her food. When she ran across my yard to her freedom, I was sure we would never see her again.
We didn’t see her again for several weeks. By the time she came back, we had placed her kittens and we were happy to be back with our one black and white cat, Potter. (Actually, we are his people, not the other way around. We hop up to do his bidding each time he wants in or out.)
One day, Cali was waiting for her turn at the food bowl as if nothing had happened. She stood back until I went inside, just as before. There was one difference. If I tried to approach her, instead of backing away, she would hiss, then back away. She hadn’t forgotten. She was just compromising. If we wanted to feed her that was okay with her, but we mustn’t get too familiar.
And so it went for the next two years. She became great friends with Potter. They slept the last two winters curled up together in the dogloo that I bought for them. We have a second story deck behind our house, and both cats would spend much of their day curled up in the large planter pots in the corners. She was always there to be fed in the morning and at night.
But although she was living on our deck, she continued to make clear that she hated us. A hiss and a slap kept us at our distance.
Last year we put a cat door in the screen to the deck for Potter to come and go as he pleased. Cali’s curiosity soon overcame her fear, and she began exploring the house. She would always run if she saw us, but I began to have hope that she would change her mind about us someday.
On a hot day in late July, we saw her lying in the shade at the edge of our deck, panting furiously. We decided that she must be sick and tried to help her. She hissed and slapped and pulled herself to the bushes the cats use for a ladder and disappeared.
We didn’t see her for a couple of days and assumed the worst. When she reappeared, it as if she had completely recovered, if she had been sick at all. Then she didn’t appear for a couple of days, and when she came back, she didn’t stay very long. This pattern repeated several times, until, finally, she hasn’t come back for several weeks.
In retrospect, we think she continued to be sick the whole time, and the struggle to climb to our second floor deck became harder and harder for her. I looked for her in the neighborhood, but I’ve not seen her. My wife says that feral cats will hide when they are dying and Cali will never be found.
It’s amazing how attached a person can become to an animal, even an animal who never showed the least affection in return. We miss her. I still look for her in the morning when I put food on the deck for Potter.
One thing is certain. The animals we have as pets don’t live long enough. My wife and I both, separately, and before we were married, swore that we would not have another pet. Losing one is just too hard.
Then Potter adopted us and Cali decided to call our deck home. We just couldn’t say no. How could we say no?