’tis the (unhappy) season

… of tossing out dogs and cats in our rural community.

We expect — and find — several discarded dogs, hunting breeds, late in the deer season and for a couple weeks after it ends. We know they’re throw-aways because their collars and ID have been removed; a good dog always has a sturdy collar and ownership tags.

Less commonly seen are the cats. Oh, they’re there, but cats are wiley, independent and generally distrustful creatures who quickly revert to a feral nature. I know we have these wild cats — my cousin feeds them along with the family barn and yard cats, some becoming, eventually, almost tame and certainly tolerant of their human hosts, and I occasionally see one ducking around the corner of the tobacco barn.

What I haven’t experienced, until now, is the adoption by a cat. Bubba and the stranger woke me up in the wee hours of the night, Thursday morning, arguing with one another not far enough away from my bedroom window. I went outside and fussed at them; they relocated, but again, not far enough away. I didn’t see The Ghost then — the glare of the security light in my back yard was too bright.

Thursday night I was loading the car to go up to Raleigh for an early Friday appointment, and there on the back deck was a startlingly white cat. The first detail one notices about him is a very puffy tail. He miaowed at me and came within three feet of me as I stood and admired him, looking into my face and holding that lovely tail like a proud flag. Then Bubba followed me out the back door, and this little ghost of a cat serenely retreated to the shed. I left no food out, thinking he’d migrate on down the road soon enough if left alone.

Last night, shortly after I got home from Raleigh, while both Bubba and Precious were curled on the floor near my feet, I heard the high-pitched miaowing just outside the back door. I went to look, and the white cat was there. I had to feel sorry for him; I put some cat food in a plastic bowl and laid it down for him, and he rubbed against my ankles before he deigned to eat, even stretched his almost-glowing white head up to be scratched. Of course, I had to comply with his request as if I had no will of my own to resist him (and I didn’t want to, really).

A little later, the miaows came again, so insistently, that I decided to allow him in if he wished. I needed something from the shed, so I left the back door open while I went to fetch it; sure enough, he must have walked in immediately; when I returned to the house Precious was standing at the back door, looking back toward my bedroom with a certain indignant expression and threatening low growls in the back of her throat. “It’s going to be below freezing here tonight! I can’t just make him stay out in this cold!” I told her. When he heard my voice, he came immediately to me, and Precious turned her back on us both and returned to the living room, stealthily, turning every few paces and walking crab-style while she fussed at us.

He’s a simply beautiful cat — white, pale blue eyes (and a disarming way of looking directly at one) and pink ear tips and nose. His body is too skinny right now to be obviously be long-haired; the tail gives it away. He has stretched up to prop his front paws against my knee as dogs do, talked to me most earnestly, meekly submitted to having his ears cleaned with hydrogen peroxide (he appears to have ear mites), climbed in my lap while I try to work, investigated my coffee cup, slept on my notebook, followed me like a dog when I go from the living room to any other room in the house… and even now is attempting to be my muse (mews?) as I write this.

In short, someone has loved and petted and spoiled this cat with a lot of human attention, making him happy to come close to strangers and eager to be loved again. He seems to have decided I am his for keeps. Already, Bubba ignores him unless he comes too close, and even Precious, the grande Dame of the household, tolerates him far more sweetly than she has ever done Bubba.

Problem is, my life circumstances are such that I cannot take on more pets right now. I’m going to be talking to my next-door neighbor this week-end about taking Bubba to be a barn cat for her horses; I’m getting ready to return to Raleigh. Someone has chosen to dump a cat out on the side of a country road instead of taking responsibility to find him a new home or even take him to the pound. It breaks my heart to think of the number of animals euthenised each week at our shelter; still, it would be kinder to put a pet down than to leave it at the risk of illness or serious injury, left to die alone, in pain and untended, possibly spreading disease and causing injury to other domestic pets. And it is I — a stranger who did not ask for this responsibility — who is left to exercise the choice.

I’m calling this little baby “the ghost” — and I hope he can find a home soon. Right now he’s lying across my left knee, dozing. He’ll make someone an affectionate pet.

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