and white cat showed up one sunny afternoon, lounging on the front porch of our
old farmhouse as if she belonged there. Tail twitching in response to my
murmured, "hello, stranger," she eyed me warily as I climbed the
steps to unlock the front door. When I turned to introduce myself
properly, the cat had vanished.
up again an hour later, nose to the kitchen window, gaze fixed on the chicken I
was preparing for the stew pot. She opened her mouth and meowed loudly – a hopeful,
"feed me now" plea. It is a wise cat who knows a soft touch when she
I found an
old saucer, filled it with milk, and delivered it to the porch. Poor cat was
obviously hungry and fell upon that milk as if she hadn't seen food in
days. I sat on the steps and watched her lap-lap-lap until the saucer was
clean. She gave her whiskers a quick swipe and sat back on her haunches to study
me for a long, thoughtful moment. I spoke softly, inviting her to move closer,
asking where she'd come from and if she had a name. The cat blinked and walked
appeared at the window again at dinner time and scored herself a small plate of
chicken scraps along with a chorus of can-we-keep-her-pleases
from my three young sons. I was tempted. Their Dad took a firm stand in the absolutely not camp, claiming he'd never
liked cats and we were all a bit allergic and there was absolutely no way that
thing was ever coming inside.
came back the next day, and the next, quickly abandoning her stand-offish
manner in favour of pats and strokes and much admiration from four out of five
of the humans in residence – never inside, of course.
A few days
later, I might have accidentally added a box of cat chow to my grocery cart.
And middle son might have dug out an old curry brush, unused since the death of
our much-loved dog the year before. Soon, the kids and I had christened our window
cat Cookie – a name reserved for
favoured family pets.
cat had managed to make herself a member of the family in less than a week. She
was beginning to look quite plump and healthy, too, her dingy grey coat growing
cleaner and glossier by the day, thanks to an entourage of willing
brush-wielders. Somehow she'd even forged a truce with hubby. He grudgingly admitted she'd be useful for keeping
the mice away from the chicken feed. She could stay, but only as an outside cat. It wasn't long before I noticed him
leaving the greenhouse door ajar for her. Nobody likes to stay out in the rain,
after all. (We did not speak of this.)
And did I
mention that our window cat was looking a bit plump? The reason soon became
obvious. Cookie was pregnant. First order of business was a trip to the vet,
who pronounced her fit and healthy and sent us home with a vitamin supplement
and a strict deadline for a follow-up visit and spay. Cookie was tremendously
annoyed by the car ride, shredding her cardboard travel box in protest, but
once home again all was forgiven, thanks to a little sweet talk and a generous handful
of her favourite treats.
We set up a
large wooden box on the side porch and lined it with newspaper, hoping Cookie
would think it suitable for a nursery. A smaller, covered box at one end contained
clean straw and a comfy old blanket for mama cat's nesting pleasure. She took
to it right away. She also took to wearing the collar we gave her, complete
with her name and our phone number on a metal tag. The latter caused much
grumbling and rolling of eyes on the hubby front. But when Cookie disappeared
just before her due date, guess who lead the search party?
Cookie hadn't wandered far. She'd given birth in a nest of dried grass,
sheltered by a pile of rubble in a hollow on the far side of the lawn. Heavy
rains were forecast and we feared her four tiny kittens would be washed away in
the deluge. We needed to move the little family to the shelter of the porch,
but in order to do that we'd have to coax Cookie away from her babies. Food was
the answer. She'd been gone for three days and was sure to be ravenous. I gave
the cat chow box a noisy shake and, sure enough, mama Cookie appeared, trotting
eagerly up to the porch. While she ate her fill and lapped up some water, hubby
rescued the litter, gently tucking the babies into their nursery box. I confess
to holding my breath as I introduced Cookie to this new arrangement, half
expecting her to either reject the kittens or stubbornly return them,
one-by-one, to her den across the lawn. But she seemed quite pleased with the
comfortable arrangement and settled in to enjoy life as a proud and pampered
thrived. And while they ate and played and grew, (and grew!), I got busy. Four
little kittens were soon going to need new homes. I put the word out to family
and friends, pestered, cajoled, and described their adorable kitty paws and sweet
pink noses until people ran to hide when they saw me coming. But honestly, how
could anyone resist these little cuties?
This photo was
taken on one of their first explorations beyond the big box. The wee cutie on the far right, sporting a single black dot on her left side, was an enthusiastic climber and extremely fond of my youngest son, J. He'd always been a bit nervous around dogs and cats, preferring to watch from afar but not touch or be touched, so when he named the kitten Dot and welcomed her onto his lap, we were doomed. Dot would stay with us. And not only stay, Dot would become an indoor cat. (Hubby, like the rest of us, would do just about anything for J.)
If you look closely at the far left of the cat family photo,
you might spot a tiny black blob with four white paws, neck-deep in the daylilies. Always adventurous, that black kitten went home with Kate, my best friend since childhood. Named Pepper
by her new family, she lived a long and happy almost-twenty years as a city cat
in west-end Toronto. Here she is, still adventuring as an elder cat.
The two remaining
fluff balls eventually found homes, too. One with my niece, the other with a
not the end of the story. Not even close.
a week or so after her kittens moved on, Cookie appeared at the window with a
friend in tow, a calico cat, grubby and hungry and very, very pregnant. Hubby issued
a firm and final pronouncement: "Absolutely
We named her Patches.
The two cats settled into Cookie's big box nursery and together they
raised Patches' litter of five.
Somehow, we found new homes for all those
kittens, too. Cookie and Patches both eventually visited the vet to be spayed and
vaccinated, and both returned to the farm as carefree lady-cats with plenty of
mice to chase and a warm greenhouse where the door was mysteriously always left
I'd love to
end this tale with "happily ever after" but the truth is bittersweet.
In 1993, we purchased a home of our own, a move that took us less than half a kilometre down the road from our much loved rented farm on the outskirts of Box
Grove to a sturdy heritage home in the village. Unlike the isolated farmhouse,
our new home sat close to a busy road. Outdoor cats Cookie and Patches would face
danger from traffic there, and we knew they wouldn't willingly abandon
the farm they knew as home. Our sweet Italian landlady came to their rescue,
admitting she already loved her piccoli
tesori (little treasures). It seems they'd been walking up the lane to enjoy
second breakfast with her for months. Who knew?
promised the cats would have plenty to eat at her house and said we should visit
whenever we liked. Within a month, those two sly felines were sleeping on Mama
G's bed, feasting on her table scraps, and toasting their toes by her fire –
outdoor cats no more. It makes me happy to think of them that way.
little Dot moved with us to the new house. We did our best to take the right
precautions, confining her first to her crate and then to a single room while
we settled in. But somehow, amid the chaos of the move, she escaped. Our first
hope was that she'd made a desperate run back to the farm, but there was no
sign of her there or anywhere along the road. Weeks passed. Little Dot had
vanished without a trace. I wanted to believe she had her mother's good instincts.
That she showed up at a window and convinced some kind person to take her in, feed
her, and care for her. But I couldn't help fearing the
later, I was surprised to see Dot's sweet little face gazing out at me from a
window on the far side of the village. At least, it sure looked like our Dot. When
I tapped on the door to inquire, the woman who answered was brusque. No, she
hadn't found a stray cat. No, her Molly couldn't possibly be our Dot because Molly
had been hers "forever." Maybe that was true. Or maybe the woman
simply feared I'd try to claim the cat she obviously loved. Whatever the truth,
J and I chose to believe the little
face in the window really was our Dot, gone from our lives but safe and loved in her forever home.
is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington
Labels: Box Grove, cats, Cheryl Cooke Harrington, Cookie, country life, family, family story, farm, humor, Markham, memories, pets, writing