Thursday, August 25, 2011
The shadow in my garden
And then one day, it appeared on my back patio, lying on the top step against the sliding door glass. It was a brutally hot and dry day, one in a string of them that wilted plants and tired out animals. I thought it was just enjoying the shade and the coolness under the eaves of my house. Then my husband and I took a better look at the poor animal. It was so thin you could count every rib. Its fur was dry and brittle. It had a scab on the back of one ear where it had tangled with another cat or animal. It was in bad shape.
It was starving to death.
When it saw us inside the door, it retreated a little bit, but stood its ground looking at us steadily. It was asking for help, for even a feral cat knows in direst need to hunt for a sympathetic person. And we had to try to help it.
I got two disposable plastic dishes and took a scoop of Molly's cat food and a pan of water out to the patio by the steps. In a few minutes it was back, voraciously eating and drinking. Molly circled around inside the door, looking at the cat intently. She probably hadn't seen another kitty since her encounter with the stray cat a few years ago. Molly didn't know what to make of the new creature out on the patio. When the stray saw Molly, she arched, puffed and growled. My timid Molly ran around in circles, hair standing on end and tail out to full bottle brush status, confused and intimidated. It was like she was saying "What's the matter? What's the matter? Why is that cat so RUDE?" Finally, the stray disappeared and everyone calmed down.
Since then, we've continued to feed it and see it once or twice a day. It's a true feral, deathly scared of people and never socialized. It has filled out and its coat is now shiny black. It's also grown, because the poor thing was probably only 4 months old or so when we first saw it, just an adolescent, and completely unready to face life on its own. I have seen it try to hunt and it's an absolute novice. It had not been able to feed itself, and had probably been on the move for some time, looking for a place to live. Who knows how far it had traveled or what became of its mother and littermates.
For the last few weeks we have settled into a routine. Every morning after breakfast I put out water and food. By 10 o'clock, the stray has had a meal and a drink and wanders around the back yard for a bit. Sometimes it lies in the shade of the bushes. Sometimes it makes an unsuccessful attempt at catching a bird. All the backyard wildlife holds it completely in contempt; the birds don't even leave when it arrives for a meal. They know that this cat has no hunting skills and they are probably safe. Later in the day it will visit again and finish off the food. Who knows where it goes for the rest of the day. Some days, it will nap on the porch of the unoccupied house across the street. Generally, it is invisible as a shadow.
I continue to refer to it as "it" because I don't know its sex. My husband thinks it's a female, which breaks my heart because soon it will be grown and there will be kittens, which presages a hard life for all concerned. The life expectancy for feral cats is very short, and the mortality rate for feral kittens is high. And we can't support a whole colony of feral cats in the neighborhood.
But we weren't going to sit still for any poor animal starving to death at our back door. We know that it might not even make it through the winter, poor thing. I have begun to refer to it as Hobo Kitty, or Hobo, after what my husband once called it, but he steadfastly refuses to name it and personalize it because he knows that to get too attached will only lead to heartbreak.
So the little black shadow continues to slink through my garden, watching me with wary golden eyes, and I feed it and worry, and know that there probably won't be a good ending to this. It is far too wild to be caught, and even if it were apprehended and taken to the shelter, this cat is not pet material because it was never socialized as a kitten. A trip to the shelter would be a death sentence in my town, because they don't keep unadoptable animals.
Soon it will start to get colder, and then what will it do? I am going to make a shelter on the back patio for it to provide soft warm bedding and a windbreak for when winter comes, but I'm not sure it will feel secure enough to use it. That's all we can do.
The shadow in my garden walks alone and keeps its own counsel.