24: The Island Cat

24: The Island Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

The Island Cat

You will always be lucky if you know how to make friends with strange cats.

~Proverb

We had only been on the island of Saint Thomas for a day. Newly married and excited to explore, Tom and I sat on the balcony of our rental condo overlooking Coki Beach and sipped wine for breakfast. This was the good life. Tom, getting ready to begin medical school, and I, his bright-eyed new wife, will always remember this moment. Not only because it was picture-perfect, but also because it was when our cat, Essie, entered our lives and made us a family.

She sashayed up to our second-floor balcony bellowing a high-pitched meow for attention. We backed away at first with fearful thoughts of feral island cats, but she wasn’t deterred. Stretching her long, slender legs, she casually opened her mouth to yawn and bared her large teeth. I yelped and gathered my knees to my chest, wondering what she would do next.

Moving smoothly, like a dancing ballerina, she shimmied up against Tom, as if to claim him as her property. Then she jumped onto the table and stuck her head in his wine glass. He pulled her away and, much to my chagrin, put her on my lap. She began to purr and knead my legs. Then she lowered herself onto my lap and rested — where a pool of drool that could only be traced back to her mouth began to form.

We laughed while wondering if she had rabies or some strange disease. Later we would discover that Saint Thomas is a rabies-free island.

What kind of a cat just runs up to a random stranger, sticks her head in their wine glass and drools?

Suddenly this strange, spotted cat with a wild-eyed look intrigued me. She certainly wasn’t afraid of us and I began to feel like we shouldn’t be afraid of her either.

We ran into the condo and took some fish out of the freezer, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and brought it onto the balcony. We watched her devour it as we stroked her soft fur. With a final slurp and lick of her lips, she rid the porch of any evidence of food and looked around expectantly.

We left the condo that morning and spent the next eight hours snorkeling and enjoying the ocean. When we returned, Essie was lying on the balcony and eagerly leapt to her feet to greet us.

For the next couple of weeks we had a routine. Essie would join us for meals and then lie on our laps. We lavished her with meals of fish and lunchmeat and whatever else we had that would satisfy her.

Five days before we were supposed to leave the island Tom finally said what both of us had been wondering. “Should we take Essie home with us?”

“You said it,” I said accusingly, though secretly excited by the thought of bringing our new family member home.

“You were thinking it,” he replied, smiling. We went to bed nervous at the prospect of bringing Essie home, and wondered how to even start the process. The next morning we awoke expecting to find Essie on our balcony waiting for her usual morning meal, but she wasn’t there. When we couldn’t find her we began to worry.

“What if she got hit by a car? What if she was taken in by animal control?” I ranted. We resolved that it must not have been meant to be — but not before searching the local beaches and roadsides. After seeing no sign of Essie, we drove back to our condo with a glimmer of hope that she would be waiting. She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until 10 p.m., when we were sitting on our balcony mourning our loss, that we heard the familiar high-pitched meow. We jumped up and down, excited that we had our cat back. We brought her into the condo, something we had been resisting because it was not ours, and slept with her through the night.

In the morning we called the airlines to find out how to fly a cat from Saint Thomas to Michigan. The process was surprisingly simple, and after clearing her health with the local vet and ensuring that she wasn’t someone else’s cat, we boxed her in a small airline-compliant crate.

After twelve grueling hours we arrived home. When my parents picked us up from the airport their jaws dropped as we walked toward the car carrying a cat. We had left a couple, but returned a family of three. All because of an island cat with the will to adopt us as her family.

~Ayesha Schroeder

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