musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

window cats...

The black 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.

She turned 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 sees one.

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 away.

She 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.

Window cat 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

Our window 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?

Thankfully, 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 mama.

The kittens 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 co-worker's mum.

But that's not the end of the story. Not even close.

One evening 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 not!"

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 ajar.

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?

Mama Giuseppina 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.

Of course, 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 worst.

Months 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.

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stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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At 7:56 pm, Blogger Sydell Voeller said...

A story with a bittersweet ending. At least (presumably) your kitty found a second forever home, and you could take comfort that she was loved and cared for.

At 2:47 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

You have managed to make me smile and feel sad at the same time Cheryl. Bittersweet indeed. I have no doubt that Dot had found a new home. She started life with you and moved on to make someone else feel loved and happy. Thanks for a great story. Loved it (and I am not partial to cats at all!).

At 2:43 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Susan and Sydell, thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Cats do have a way of making us do their bidding and those two had me right where they wanted me!

At 12:30 pm, Anonymous Jillian Dagg said...

Cats make such lovely stories.


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