27: Stray Cats

27: Stray Cats

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Stray Cats

You own a dog but you feed a cat.

~Jenny de Vries

I’m going to jail — directly to jail. I’m not passing GO, and I’m certainly not collecting $200. My crime, you ask? I’ve been feeding the stray cats in my yard. It seems there’s a town ordinance against it punishable by a fine, and since I’m refusing to stop, probably jail time.

No, I’m not a crazy cat lady, although I must appear to be one. In fact, I had never been a pet person in general. When we bought our home fifteen years ago, however, it seemed to come with a built-in pet in the form of a beautiful black cat that lived in the back yard. It will come as no surprise to cat lovers that the little black cat made her way into our home and hearts.

When Toonsie passed two years ago, the balance of power in our yard was destroyed. It became the real life version of the animated film Over the Hedge. The cat was away — far away — and every other critter in our yard was vying for the vacant position of head honcho. Ducks began swimming in our pool in spite of massive amounts of chlorine. Chipmunks climbed our screens for sport. But the final indignity came while I was reading a book on a chaise lounge and two squirrels circled me in a mad cartoon-like chase, holding me hostage and quivering in fear that they would hop onto the chair.

“We’re not getting a cat,” said Prospero. “Don’t even ask.” He knew that I had been popping into local adoption centers, but he was adamant that we would resume our old life of traveling and having no fur on the furniture. Prospero was absolutely brokenhearted when Toonsie passed, but he was looking forward to the freedom one has in life when there are no pets or children to consider.

Then one day when I went out to feed the birds I found a black and white tuxedo cat huddled under the feeder. She was injured, with freshly dried blood on her paws, quivering and near starvation. Hunting in her weakened condition was nearly impossible, and she used all of her energy trying to get away from me. So I put out a dish of leftover dried food along with a can of food found in the cabinet. I brought it near to where she was hovering, along with a bowl of fresh water.

Tripod, as my husband began calling her since she favored her left front paw, made herself comfortable in the flower bed under the bird feeder, only getting up to eat. After several days she began to heal and within weeks had a shiny coat and fighting spirit. When the cool weather set in, we bought her a heated house to sleep in. Tripod was happy there for several weeks, then abandoned it for reasons of her own.

Weeks passed after her disappearance, but word must have gotten out that there were good eats to be found in our back yard. Stray cats began appearing each day and no one left hungry, including one cat that had a lovely home around the corner. Tiger Lily may not have had a collar, but Prospero and I saw her walking into a woman’s house like she belonged there. By this time, all of the strays had names: Phantom had a black and gray mask over half of his face, Midnight was a spitfire of a black cat with a white moon on his chest, and Chestnut had fuzzy brown fur. Even Tripod reappeared and established herself as the ruler of the roost, often chasing the other cats away.

Feral cats are funny creatures though. They never make human contact, disappear for days on end, or you can have a morning like today when everyone showed up at the break of dawn for the breakfast buffet. Prospero and I ran around the yard putting plates of food in various corners so the cats could eat in peace. It’s a cat comedy to watch them take a few bites, give each other the stink-eye as a warning to keep away from their food, and then glance at us to make sure we remain securely locked in our habitat. They do love to watch us through the glass door, especially when I’m on my elliptical machine, making me feel like a hamster on a wheel.

It’s a win-win situation. Seeing cats in the yard helped us to not miss my Toonsie so much. Prospero was happy that no cats worked their way into the house, which is why he splurged on the heated cat house in the first place. And the cats were happy to have their bellies full of healthy food. Best of all, balance was restored in the yard. The cats chased the ducks out of the pool. The chipmunks kept their distance from the house. And the squirrels stayed in the trees where they belonged.

Only the town officials weren’t happy, or they wouldn’t have been had they known what I was doing. One day I read in our local paper that an elderly woman had to appear before the judge because her neighbors turned her in for feeding the cats.

“Now madam,” said the judge kindly. “You can look at the cats. You can pray for the cats. But you cannot feed the cats; that’s against the law in this town.”

I felt so sorry for the poor woman. I also realized that I was in deep trouble. Several other articles appeared in the paper regarding the ongoing wars between cat lovers and their bird-loving neighbors, and the bird people always won. Even when I had my beloved Toonsie a neighbor hissed, “That cat is vicious. She kills for the fun of it.” Well, she was a cat.

Eventually I’ll get caught, but until that time I’m going to continue to feed the stray cats. Is it really so wrong? Anyway, I have a game plan. If I have to go before the judge, I’m going to drop a dime on my neighbor across the street. She keeps two chickens — also against the law — so that her family can have fresh organic eggs every day. The horror! I like her a lot and we really get along. She often gives me fresh eggs. Hopefully, we can be roomies in jail, maybe even form a book club in our cellblock. Or, on the other hand, I can fight this ridiculous ordinance up to the Supreme Court. I always loved a good fight. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes down. Until then, the stray cats will eat!

~Lynn Maddalena Menna

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