My friend Shirley is a sucker for stray animals.
I don't know why, but at any given time you can find at least five strange dogs lounging in her backyard. In fact, most of the dogs look so content I have a hunch that they really aren't lost at all -- they're merely on vacation.
They just wait for their owners to turn their backs, then dash straight to Shirley's house for a bit of relaxation, good food, and a nice change of scenery. Call me weird, but I could never fully understand why such a strong, sane person like Shirley could let animals walk all over her like that.
Of course, that was before my family was taken hostage by a stray cat. Now normally an occasional cat in the backyard wouldn't be a problem, but I could tell by the way this one peered into the window and meowed that it wasn't just passing through. For some reason I can't understand, this cat wanted desperately to come inside our house.
Now I've always loved cats, but any animal that voluntarily chooses to live with my family has to be a little, well... off.
Oh, it's not like we're bad people. But there is nothing -- nothing about us -- that says we need a new cat. Or want a new cat. In fact, I don't even have a good track record with pets. My childhood was a blur of hamsters followed by a plethora of goldfish and hermit crabs that all met untimely, tragic deaths. I still carry the guilt around to this day.
But, try explaining that to a stubborn fifteen-pound cat clinging on to your screen door.
"I wonder why it wants to come in so badly?" my daughter asked.
"Maybe it's lost," my husband said.
"Or maybe it just wants someone to pet it," my son said.
My theory is that perhaps the mounds of broken plastic toys, baskets of dirty laundry, and crumbs mashed into the carpet had confused the cat into thinking my living room was really a deserted back alley, somewhere on the shady side of town.
At first I tried ignoring it. When that didn't work, I did the only thing I could think of -- I fed it. Now, I know that it is exactly the kind of thing people are always warning you about, but I figured since it was already meowing at the same volume as say, a Metallica concert, there was no harm in giving it a little snack.
"Don't worry, it'll be OK," I assured my husband. "You'll see."
By the next morning the cat had torn the screen off the sliding door and began circling the house in an obsessive, Kathy Bates sort of way.
At one desperate point, I called my neighbor Julie, who has five cats. "Say, you aren't missing a particularly persistent cat with a fluffy orange tail, are you?"
"There's one outside trying to break in."
"So, let it in."
Now, even I know that once you let a cat in, any type of freedom you had is over. It is now your cat. In fact, I bet the word would be out on the street in minutes and tomorrow I would find five more cats circling my house. Then ten.
So, I put a scary look on my face, looked the cat straight in the eye, and said firmly, "Go away."
And that would've been the end of it, except for the fact that the cat purred, then walked between my legs and into the house.
So I decided to let it stay. But just for a little while. After all, I'm a mature adult and I can handle one small cat without letting it take over my life. (Famous last words!)
Oh, and about what I said earlier about Shirley -- if you don't mind, let's just keep that between you and me.
Copyright © Debbie Farmer
May 4, 2001
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