Sweetie the Stray

It was still 104 degrees at 5:00 pm.  Apparently, September was not going to deliver much relief from the oppressive heat. No surprise, really.

“Enough already,” I muttered to no one. “It’s too damn hot.”

I was sitting in the backyard keeping Sweetie company while he ate. Sweetie is the stray cat that’s been making his presence known around the neighborhood for well over a year, maybe two. Is that possible? My memory is fuzzy, mostly because of the guilt that infuses it. I can’t bear the thought that I actually resisted this cat for that long. It wasn’t until about three months ago that I finally gave in. He’s not feral — too loving and friendly for that. I suspect that someone abandoned him for reasons that are beyond me. 

Somebody must be feeding him, I thought. He must belong to someone, I told myself. He’s in such good shape. He’s beautiful. So friendly. These were the thoughts that I had as I gave myself excuse after excuse to not go there. I already had two rescue cats of my own — Nervous Nellies who deserved the safe and quiet home I had promised to give them. I couldn’t bring another cat into the house. It would upset the apple cart, for sure. But there was something about this cat.

Then one night I went out to give Sweetie some water and kibble — a new habit that I had allowed to develop right after I decided to give him a name — and I saw the neighbor.

“Is this your cat?” I asked.

“No, we don’t know who he belongs to. We asked around, even bought a special collar and put a note on it, but no one claimed him. We’ve been feeding him wet food, though. And he comes in the house once in a while.”

I felt relief that someone had been feeding him, but tried hard to keep the lid on my own sense of guilt for not having done so myself.  What would my mother have thought? She was the queen of caring for strays — animals and people alike.

Then the neighbor went on vacation and left some cans of cat food at my door along with a note asking me to feed him while they were gone. 

 “One can a day ought to sustain him,” she wrote.  One can a day?!  No way.  I was already feeding two cats indoors and they each ate way more than one can a day and weren’t having to brave the Arizona weather!  No, nope, nuh-uh. I took another look at the cat and that was that. That’s when my heart cracked wide open and I began to love him. Dammit. Now what?

~~~~~

Loving a cat involves more than feeding it, that’s what I knew for sure. There was his health to check on, which meant a visit to the vet. There were the sizzling hot AZ summers and the cold temps of winter to think about. I’ve always advocated for indoor cats — it’s safer, they live longer, and there is air conditioning and cat trees and toys! How could I love this cat and leave him outdoors? I had myself a regular dilemma.

So, slowly, a few minutes at a time, I began to bring him indoors to a room that had a separate entrance and could be closed off from the rest of the house. I was energetically tentative, though, “asking” him if he wanted to come in instead of “telling” him that’s what we were doing. Picking him up and carrying him was easy, but I often hesitated when we got to the door and he sensed my indecisiveness and reflected it back to me. One day after I had successfully brought him in the house for a short five minute visit, he wanted back out into the scorching summer heat. Reluctantly, I opened the door and let him go out and then stood outside asking him if he wanted to come back in again. Standing there on the porch, he hissed at me as if to say, “What do you want from me, lady? In or out? Come or go? Make up your damn mind!” And it hit me like a lightning bolt. I got it. Not only does ambivalence keep me stuck and off balance, it keeps those around me wondering, too. I have a tendency to get lost in all aspects of a decision, considering things long beyond what is probably necessary, but sometimes endless deliberating presents a barrier to the outcomes I am seeking. That the Universe saw fit to drive this point home through a stray cat is rich indeed.

~~~~~

Sweetie is still not an indoor cat. Not even close. I’ve learned to be more clear about my intention when I bring him in so that I’m not giving him mixed messages, but we’ve still only worked our way up to 40 minutes at a time — once. And the real deal breaker is that he doesn’t seem inclined to use a litter box; turns out, he’s a sprayer! Ugh. Perhaps this is why he is outside in the first place. This may be a bigger challenge than I can overcome. He’s a cat that has learned to live outside. So, I love him where he is by feeding him plenty of good food, giving him comfortable places to rest, cool baths in the heat of the day, and lots of affection. My indoor cats are getting used to seeing him in the yard. Time will tell if they learn to co-exist. As a friend says, even if he’s still outside, Sweetie’s life has greatly improved. To that I would add, so has mine. 

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