Six months have passed since Sweetie the Stray came into my world in a real way. He had been around the neighborhood and in my yard before that, but I didn’t “adopt” him until this past summer. He’s still an outdoor cat because, well, he is still a sprayer, and frankly he kind of freaks out when I try to bring him in the house for too long. But we work on incorporating him into the household in small doses. In my ideal world, my Cat Whisperer skills would help him magically transform into a litter box-using house cat who co-existed with my resident cats, but I haven’t achieved that level of wizardry yet.
In these last six months, though, we have shared some experiences and made a lot of progress. And I’ve grown quite fond of him in the process!
We’re now going into our third season together. We started our adventure in the heat of summer as temps were topping 115 degrees. I fretted over how to keep him cool both day and night, as well as how to keep him dry and protected from the monsoon storms. He spent most of his daytime hours sleeping in the shaded planter box in the front yard, which is where I fed him. Eventually I trained him to come to the backyard for his meals and that’s when things really started to change.
As summer turned to fall, we found a rhythm. He hung out in the backyard more often, taking his meals back there and claiming it as his own. I bought him a raised mesh bed and moved it around the yard to follow the shade. It took him a while to get on it, but eventually he figured it out. In the late afternoons and evenings we sat together in the shade as the sun dipped toward the horizon. We developed a routine of meals and play time, and I tried to convince him to sleep on the patio chairs at night. Sometimes he cooperated.
As fall temps began to drop, my fretting shifted from keeping him cool to keeping him warm. I did my best to transform the westerly-facing patio into a kitty sanctuary. Short of turning it into a catio (which I would like to do, but that’s a project!), this space is perfect for these cooler months. It holds a bit of the afternoon sun and gives him covered shelter near the house. I’ve added cat furniture and an outdoor cat house stuffed with straw (which he completely ignores).
Blankets and self-warming pads now adorn the chairs. Most recently I’ve added an oil radiator and a hot water bottle to the mix. I turn the heater on in the evenings for a few hours to take the chill off the patio, and fill the hot water bottle at night to tuck into a blanket in his chair. I’m not sure how he feels about that, but I feel that I’m doing something. As temps have dropped to overnight lows in the 40s and even 30s some nights, it has been a good solution. Not the perfect solution, but a solution nonetheless.
On these cold mornings after I feed him, our routine includes long cuddles while he snoozes in my lap. I drink coffee and meditate on the morning light, happy to have him stay in my lap as long as he will tolerate it. So far, his limit is just over an hour and a half. For me, this is the pay off for caring for this cat.
Now that we are officially into winter, I’m doing my best to figure out a way to enclose the patio in a temporary fashion just to warm it up a bit. There’s also the issue of keeping him safe (there was a coyote in my yard the other day!). I bought a tall cat kennel that I’m considering using, but haven’t started the hard work of transitioning him into that at night. It won’t be long before the temperatures start to climb again, and then we will deal with new challenges.
For now, Sweetie the Stray is living large in my backyard with as many creature comforts as I’ve been able to give him. I still feel that I am the lucky one. He’s been a sort of emotional support animal to me in these hard times and for that I am grateful. Besides, who could resist that gorgeous face?!
May we all find warmth and support in the new year. Happy holidays!