He had been lurking around our house all summer. Always skittish, always limping away, as quickly as he could, with his front left paw extended out in front of him.
He was beautiful, with dark gray fur and golden eyes. He had the biggest paws, with extra toes, the size of catcher’s mitts or snowshoes!
So, of course, I fed him.
We “met” this cat well before our new kitten came to live here. At first, we didn’t know if he belonged to someone or was a stray. All we knew was he was hurting and needed help.
He started out distrustful and very skittish. But he was utterly, utterly reliable about coming to be fed. Every morning about 5:30, every evening about 8:30, he’d be in the same spot on the driveway, just waiting.
It took a few days before I could get near him and a few more before I could touch him. Then he let me pet him.
One day, after he’d eaten and I petted him, he rolled over and let me rub his belly. Once we took that step forward, we started working on the next one. I picked him up one day. He looked at me like I was crazy, struggled a little, and then seemed to say, “Oh, okay.”
Another day, I moved his bowl into our front hall and he came in to eat, while I held the door open behind him. A few days later, I let the door close. He freaked and threw himself against the glass, and then seemed to say, “Oh, okay.”
We knew we wanted to keep him and get him to the vet and fix his foot. We took the fateful step of giving him a name, calling him “Smokey Joe.” Along the way, we learned that he had an owner, who was on the verge of eviction from his place down the road.
We predicted, and were right, sadly, that when the guy left, he’d leave SmoJo behind.
We waited. The guy moved out. He left this cat, as well as a kitten and a dog, behind.
As hateful as that was, so many people are truly good. All three animals had homes within a day.
We made arrangements with our vet and one morning, when Smokey came in to eat, I scooped him up and put him in the cat carrier. He panicked and threw himself against the sides and then seemed to say, “Oh, okay.”
Blood tests showed he was free of disease. A physical exam showed that his lameness was a result of an ingrown claw. He is polydactyl, with those extra toes, and one of the claws had grown sideways, deep into his flesh. The wound was abscessed and the infection was tenacious. The solution was declawing, basically amputating, that one toe.
He recuperated and took antibiotics without fuss. He wore a plastic cone for a couple of weeks. He has been inside, this cat who lived outdoors and had the run of the world, without trying to get out, for 6 weeks now. We let him out yesterday, for the first time, and he didn’t venture out of our sight.
And he has become Gigi’s best friend. He came to live with us about a week after she did. Our other cats are aloof and rather frightened of them both and they have turned to each other.
They play rough.
They sleep curled together.
They make us laugh.
Smokey has reclaimed his lost kittenhood and plays long and hard. He loves a catnip hedgehog. And Gigi.
If a cat could feel such a thing, you’d swear he was grateful. Pet him, and he flings himself at your feet, and turns his belly up for a rub.
We’ve told him he is with us for good, that he doesn’t have to worry about being hungry or cold, or living in pain.