Thursday, October 26, 2006

Starved for Attention (Uh, and Some Food, Too)

I found the Alley Cat three years ago last July. It was a normal summer evening and I was drying the dishes after dinner. Craze had already taken off to a film screening when I heard a cat screeching. It was loud and pained. My first thought was that some young serial-killer-in-training in our neighborhood was torturing a cat. So, I opened the backdoor to investigate, intent on putting a stop to any bloodshed.

Immediately, I saw the source of the wailing. Instead of the imagined scene of carnage, what I saw was a tiny kitten looking out at me plaintively through the window of my garage. As I walked towards the window, it didn't run away and when I spoke to it through the glass, it just howled at me woefully with one eye closed.

Now Craze and I had seen a cat in our garage a full six days before. We had been coming back late on a Friday night after some social outing and, as we drove down the alley, our car's headlights hit the window at the side of our garage and we saw what we thought was a large cat leap across its expanse. "Was that a cat. . .in our garage?" I'd said in surprise. As we opened the garage door, shining the car's headlights into its empty space, we saw no cat. But what we did see was a mess. This cat had knocked down books and unwanted knickknacks from one of the high shelves. "It must be a BIG cat," we agreed as it had knocked down half a set of hefty encyclopedias, circa 1930.

But further inspection showed no sign of cat. We left the garage doors open for a few moments and walked away, giving the big fella time to escape without fear of capture. After walking back, and still no sign of anything feline, we pulled in the car, shut the doors and retreated into the house for the night.

But on this mid-week summer's evening with many food-and-water-less days between that moment and this, I found myself staring at our apparent culprit. Could it be that this little cat had made all the mess? And worse still, could it really have squirreled itself away in our garage for all this time, with nothing to eat or drink except the odd grasshopper or spider it might catch? Clearly, the animal had finally given up trying to hide. It was in pain, probably because it was starving to death.

So, I ran back into the house, grabbed the garage door opener and opened the door wide. But the cat did not run out. Once inside the garage, I walked towards the window where its tiny body still sat and as I did, it ran, quick as lightening, into a pile of boxes in the corner. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty," I called, to which the little cat again wailed his now obscured reply.

I put on a pair of garden gloves, afraid that this wild cat might scratch or bite me, and then started moving the pile of boxes working my way towards the meowing. Just as the kitten was in my sight, he was off again, hiding himself in another part of the garage under yet another stash of junk.

After 20 minutes of digging through boxes, I finally had a better idea. Food. Food would surely bring this starving creature out of hiding.

Back in the house, I grabbed some of my old cat Dee's kibble and put it in a bowl. Walking back towards the garage, I spoke to the alley cat again. And again in response, it wailed, now from underneath an old bookcase. Placing the bowl at the edge of the bookcase yielded dramatic results. The tiny cat, probably smelling actual food for the first time in at least a week, immediately came out of hiding and began to eat. He literally seemed to inhale the food, making a noise I'd never heard a cat make either before or since that moment. It couldn't get the food into its mouth fast enough.

I talked to the cat gently as he ate and then it occurred to me it probably needed a drink. I dashed back inside and grabbed a small bowl of water. Back in the garage doorway, the little cat immediately made a b-line for the water, actually slurping as he drank. In fact, he was so dehydrated that he drank the entire bowl in one long drinking session.

This little cat was impossibly filthy, but cute. It was mostly grey with some black markings, a black tail with grayish white rings cascading down to the tip. One eye didn't seem work too well, often staying closed when it looked up from the food and water to send admiring looks towards its savior. The kitten was so small, maybe only 8-10 weeks old by my guess, its ribs clearly outlined against its dirty, matted fur.

As the cat continued to eat and drink, I gingerly put my still-gloved hand closer to the cat. It didn't flinch. More boldly, I ran my hand over the cat's body, which the cat immediately seemed to enjoy. For the first time, it actually moved away from the food to enjoy some more petting attention. Clearly, after initially satiating its hunger and thirst, the cat was also clearly starved for attention. For several minutes, it happily went back and forth between the bowls and my hand, its little body beginning to purr loudly like a small engine.

"What are we going to do with you?" I said to the little cat, picking it up gently to reveal that "it" was a "he." The cat just looked at me happily, continuing to purr, eat, drink and periodically make erratic dashes towards my hand for additional petting.

Clearly, I had to contain this creature until a decision was made about what to do with him. I ran back into the house, headed to the basement and grabbed the trusty cat carrier. Taking it back outside, the little cat was still there enjoying the riches of Maggie's all-you-can-eat cat buffet. And as I approached, the little cat did not flinch, still in a state of blissful contentment that he was now no longer dying of hunger or thirst and that someone was actually petting him. Just twenty minutes before, he had avoided all attempts at human contact. Now, he couldn't get enough. "Hi, little boy. How we doin'?" I said, as I leaned down again to scoop him up. He wriggled happily in my hands, enjoying the scratches and the chatter, always replying in his own feline voice.

I put him in the cat carrier along with the food and water and an old towel, left it in the garage and headed back into the house. I'd wait until Craze got home to chat with him about what to do with our little visitor. I was thinking we should keep him. He had no collar or tags and just looked like a stray. I wasn't too sure that my old cat Dee would love him, but I also welcomed the opportunity of having another cat. As selfish as it might be, Dee was pretty old and I liked the idea of having another, younger cat still around when the day came that Dee would have to leave us. Maybe she would like him? And if she really didn't, we'd find another home for him. A better home than the alley or our garage. But if we did decide to keep him, we'd first have to take him to the vet to ensure that he didn't have any diseases. Dee's health was fragile and I didn't want to compromise her by bringing the little guy into the house too soon.

A few hours later, I was lying in bed watching TV when I heard the back door open. Craze was home. Within a few moments, his footsteps were on the stairs and then his face appeared in the doorway. He looked a little startled. "Um. . .there's a cat in our garage," he said both as a matter of fact and at the same time, a question.

"I know," I replied victoriously like the storied great white hunter. "It was hiding in our garage and I captured it." I then went on to relate the whole story in minute detail. At the end, I looked at Craze hopefully and asked, "What should we do with him?"

"Take him to the shelter, I guess," Craze answered, with the response I was definitely NOT hoping to hear.

"I was thinking that we could keep him," I offered tentatively, waiting for a moment. Then I continued, "We could take him to the vet in the morning and have them make sure he's healthy first, of course."

Surprisingly, even though it was clear that Craze wasn't totally thrilled at the prospect of another pet, he agreed to make the final adoption decision once we knew the cat's health status. He even agreed to drop off the cat at the vet the next morning. The vet would do their blood work and then we'd decide if it made sense to pay for all his shots and then bring him home and give him a name.

The next day, I sat in my office staring at the commuter screen, engrossed in a new business pitch when the phone rang. I picked up the phone, identified myself and the familiar voice at the end of the line immediately said, "You suck."

"Why?" I replied unsure what I'd done. Craze went one to relate his trip to the vet. He'd put the cat in the car, resolved not to keep him. But then once in the vet's office, the little Alley Cat had made quite a ruckus. Craze said that his outcry was so plaintive, that he couldn't help but feel sorry for him. So heart-wrenching, in fact, were the little guy's cries that Craze had admitted that he'd started to cry, right there in the vet's office.

"It was embarrassing," he grumbled. "Crying over that dumb little cat at the reception desk. But, he just seemed so alone, I thought if we don't keep him, who will take care of him?" After a moment of silence, he added accusingly, "You totally planned that. You knew that I'd feel so sorry for him at the vet's that I couldn't say no to keeping him. That's why you had me drop him off there."

The fact of the matter was, that hadn't occurred to me at all. It never crossed my mind that having Craze drop the little cat at the vet's would cause such an emotional outpouring. But, I was secretly glad that it had. "So, what did the vet say?" I asked, changing the subject.

Craze, his composure regained said, "They're going to look at him and run the blood tests this afternoon and give you a call later. If he checks out, we can pick him up tonight."

Later the vet confirmed that our new little friend was fine. They estimated that he was about three-months old, just very underweight. His wonky eye was also fine, he just seemed to have an odd blink. He had fleas which they'd treated him for, but all other tests came back negative. The vet then offered to keep him overnight until the fleas were completely eradicated and said we could bring him home the next evening.

So, one more night and $375 dollars later, we brought home our little garage tenant. We gave him a bath and watched much of his grey coloring run down the drain to reveal pure white across large expanses of his body. So, we had a black and white cat, not a black and grey cat as first thought.

We kept him separate from Dee for a couple of weeks. She was never thrilled with our new adoptee, hissing at him and giving him a good whack now and again. And she refused to play with him. But as time went on they learned to live in peaceful coexistence. You could often find them curled up separately but together in our front window or in the sunshine just inside the back door. And a little over a year later when the time finally came when Dee left our house for the last time and did not return, the normally happy and affectionate Alley Cat went into mourning. Each night as we'd return from work, he would cry the kind of loud, pained wail I'd first heard the previous year emanating from our garage. His old friend was gone. And even though the Alley Cat had two humans who loved him, he was lonely.

And then, just as it had come to me that long-ago summer evening, I had another bright idea. "Let's get a pet for the Alley Cat!" I offered gleefully, like a kid contemplating a trip to the circus. "Let's go to the Anti-Cruelty Society tomorrow and get him a friend," I continued, smiling at Craze over the dinner table.

Craze just rolled his eyes at me, immediately resigned to his fate. After all, he loved the Alley Cat and knew that I was right. Though he was now a big, majestic boy, the Alley Cat was starving again, this time for companionship. And as his providers, it was up to us to serve up a solution.


Anonymous said...

That is so touching!

Angela said...

Not only is it touching, but it is engaging. I read on Craigs List that you were interested in some feed back, so here it is, in my humble opinion, hope you don't mind:

I read a few other posts and although they were relatively well written, I didn't finish any of them. Why? I think it was because you didn't put me in the situation, you told me about it, you have great grammar, you can string a sentence together--but so can pretty much anyone else with a pen or a keyboard. I think your talent really comes through on this one because there is a bit of emotion in the post. You engage the audience really well here. The voice of the piece is clear, as it is in other posts, but also purposeful unlike so much rambeling about tomatoes...