A few years ago, a cat took residence in our front yard. She made her home under my husband’s old Ford Ranger truck that was sitting in the RV parking stall beside the lawn, waiting to be donated to a charity we were yet to decide on. The cat was as black as the truck that gave her refuge, or so we thought. We would learn later on that under the bright sunlight, her fur turned into the color of dark chocolate.
I love animals in general, but I never considered myself a cat person. Not until this cat came along. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? She had a quiet, gentle temperament and a laid back, almost demure demeanor. She never bothered us and seemed perfectly content living in our front yard, devoid of that characteristic feline curiosity and lacking any interest whatsoever in intruding into our house. She never begged for food either, leaving me somewhat perplexed over exactly what she had for nourishment.
The only thing she showed a bit of a hunger for was some affection from us. She started walking eagerly toward my family whenever we left or arrived home. When we beckoned her, she came without hesitation or any hint of fear or mistrust, and stood on her hind legs to lift her head up and rub it against our hands.
I swear this cat had a thing for cars. Driving home and pulling into the driveway turned into a complicated task for me because the minute she spotted or heard the car turning the corner into our street, she positioned herself right in the middle of the driveway, between the car and the garage door. Terrified that I would run her over, I got into the habit of stopping the car and shooing her over to the side or picking her up and depositing her under the gum tree before proceeding into the garage. It was not always easy; I sometimes had to do this repeatedly until the cat stayed put in the sidelines. This cat was as stubborn as I was and couldn’t quite understand that the middle of the driveway was not exactly the safest spot to be when a car was headed for the garage. I, on the other hand, refused to believe (no matter how many times my daughter tried to convince me) that this cat, by nature, like all other cats, had exquisitely sharp reflexes and could nimbly dodge any approaching danger. “Just keep driving, Mom. She knows how and when to get out of the way,” my daughter would lecture me, to no avail.
My stubbornness did not end there. My husband, who knew me only too well, warned me against feeding the cat. He did not want the cat to become dependent on us for survival, and felt that offering her food would weaken her scavenging and hunting instincts. He also made it clear to me right from the start that we were not taking this cat in—-meaning into the house as an “inside pet.” We already had two big dogs (who were not cat-trained), a gold fish, and seven parakeets. Adding a cat to the existing menagerie was out of the question. The cat would eat the fish and the birds, and the dogs would eat the cat. Period. End of discussion. Peaceful coexistence was not going to be possible under those circumstances. I said “okay” but wasn’t sure, deep inside, if I meant it or if I simply wanted to keep the peace among us, humans.
I started secretly feeding her. At first I surreptitiously sneaked her a handful of the dogs’ kibble whenever I got a chance. She didn’t seem to mind the canine diet at all and chewed those big pieces with hardly any effort. Yet, something told me it was just wrong! Seriously. Feeding a cat dog food? How lame was that? And how heartbreaking! So I gave in to the inevitable and bought her a small bag of cat food.
I hid the bag at the bottom of a plastic basket I kept in the car, beneath a pile of canvas shopping bags, an umbrella, books, and CDs. I devised a new clandestine feeding routine. My husband works from home most of the time, and on days that he drove to the office, he usually got home ahead of me. As long as I was confident that the coast was clear—-he was inside the house, safely oblivious to the goings-on outside, or he was not tinkering in the garage or in the front yard—-I parked the car in the driveway and kept the garage door closed while I fed the cat. I waited till she was done eating before opening the garage door. I made sure I gave her just enough for her to finish so that we didn’t leave any evidence behind.
Amazingly, the cat and I carried on this covert operation for months without getting busted. Then one day, as I was laying the cat food down on the brick foot path beside the driveway, the garage door started rolling up and my husband walked out (or should I say “walked in”?) on us. I froze and heard my heart jump out and land with a big thud on the bricks, beside the yet uneaten cat food. The sweet smile on my husband’s face slowly transformed into a frown as his mind processed the meaning of the unexpected scene that had just unfolded before him.
I don’t know if it was the horrified look in my eyes or the sight of a hungry cat whose dinner had been abruptly aborted that melted my husband’s heart, but something about that scene made him respond with instant, unconditional forgiveness. My dear husband. He is really a very kind man underneath that tough, pragmatic, no-nonsense exterior.
No words were exchanged between us at that moment. Only a silent understanding that we had just adopted a cat. Or rather, that a cat had adopted us. And finally, the poor cat could eat, free from guilt (my guilt, that is).