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.
I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.
― Jean Cocteau
**Happy ending alert: This cat does not die at the end of my post!**
I don’t read books or blog posts about pets. I don’t watch movies about pets. I know how they’re going to end and I know it’s going to make me cry.
Why do we only write epitaphs and obituaries for the animals we love? Do we only recognize how much we love them when they die?
I know exactly how much I love my cats and I know how special they all are, but one of them is special beyond measure. I want you to know about him without crying at the end!
The cat’s name is Blondie, a funny name for a huge, yellow boy. He was a stray at our summer place, years ago, and since he was around so much, we needed a way to refer to him. He was pale yellow so we cast around with all our creative energy, and called him Blondie.
When he finally became ours, the name had stuck.
When he first started coming around, he was pitiful. He was big but very thin, which made his legs seem too long. Now he’s quite plump and my mother always says, “Blondie used to be much taller.”
He now has long luxuriant fur but, back then, it was matted and he had licked himself bald in places.
He had a circuit he made, trying to find food and he covered a lot of ground. Neighbors would say, “I saw that cat you’ve been feeding at the community college,” (two miles away) or “That cat you’re going to adopt was at our house yesterday” (two miles the other way).
And, yes, we fed him. You would’ve fed him, too. Because as hungry and pitiful as he was, all he did was purr. And he has been purring his big, deep, resonating purr ever since.
He purred when we fed him and let him into the house. He purred when he wanted to go back out and we wouldn’t let him, even though he was a little nervous about that.
He purred when we put him in a cat carrier. And put him into a car. And drove with him 400 miles. And he got carsick and everything. He was very nervous about that.
He purred when we took him directly to the vet to be neutered. When the vet said, “He probably has feline immunodeficiency virus or feline leukemia and will need to be euthanized,” the cat purred, while I cried.
But he was fine! So we took him home and made this rambling boy a house cat for 8 months of the year. We made him live with two other cats. And he purred.
He has purred ever since. And he has adapted. He has the heart of a lion and has become the center of the cat family. We call him the captain of the varsity and the other cats pay him obeisance and take turns curling up with him.
People love him, too. More than once, workers who’ve come to the house have taken one look and said, “Now, that’s a cat!” Because he’s big and hunky and bear-like, he appeals to people who don’t normally like cats. Once, a deliveryman came to the house, and Blondie streaked out the open door to get outside. The pizza guy said to my husband, “Hey, mister, I think your dog just got out!”
Blondie protects what he sees as his. He has taken on dogs, large and small, who have ventured into his world and woe be to those dogs! Cats who don’t belong to his family are directed to leave and large waterfowl are summarily dismissed!
Blondie has been with us for many years now. We live in a spot where he can go outdoors but he never goes far. His favorite spots are kind of half in and half out—in the doorway, on the deck, in the nearest garden (the one with the catnip!) And he purrs.
We keep a close eye on him. We give him special food now and let him eat where no one can bother him. We whisk him the vet (she loves him!) at the smallest sign of a problem. We stop what we’re doing and pay attention when he comes by for love.
It’s as if we know how lucky we are!
And that makes Blondie purr.