On March 29, as I was walking past a vacant lot, I heard a faint meow. In fact I heard three of them. The place was a jumble of weeds and tall grasses, with countless nooks and crannies. Not exactly welcoming, especially not considering that I live in an area that is crawling with venomous snakes… or at least that we have enough of those critters to make it seem like they are crawling all over the place. In other words, I could hear that there were at least three kittens in the bushes, but I couldn’t see them, and I had no way of knowing whether it was that someone had dumped an unwanted litter like yesterday’s garbage, or if it was merely the kittens of a feral cat who were not happy because momma had been out hunting for a little longer than she should have been, but would be back shortly, plus I wasn’t exactly dressed to go chasing after them (that whole venomous snakes thing again). Still, I was determined to try to keep an eye on the situation, and the following day I made a point of walking past that same vacant lot. I could still hear some meowing. Unfortunately it was now coming from a single source. The other two voices had fallen silent, and I figured that what I was dealing with was indeed an abandoned litter, a litter that was probably down to one. After struggling for a while, I did manage to catch a glimpse of a rather defiant ball of fluff… getting my hands on him, well, that turned out to be easier said than done.
In the end I grabbed an empty ice cream cup, asked a neighbor who actually had a cat for some kibble, and rather reluctantly walked away. The next day I refilled his bowl, and managed to get a little closer. In fact I got close enough to grab him. I had him (and that’s when I first realized that the defiant ball of fluff was actually a he). That was March 31.
Now, I have to say that the last thing I wanted at that point was to find myself saddled with a cat. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but that was precisely the problem.
I live in a semi rural area, with more feral dogs than I can count roaming around, and barely a week goes by without me hearing of a neighbor’s cat that has just been torn to shreds. That was a kind of heartache I was not eager to invite into my life, but the moment I held that ball of fluff in my hands I knew it was already too late. I was a goner, and the heartache had already become inevitable. I wished the situation were different, but it was not… and then there was the matter of my dogs, dogs that had never had to deal with a cat before… dogs I didn’t know how they would react to the new addition. Still, a cat I had, and I set out to make the most of that particular situation.
It took me a couple of months, but in the end I did manage to get cat and dogs to get along.
Fast forward a little more than six months, and I find myself with a little snuggle bug curled up on my lap, one that can turn into a psychotic ball of energy in a fraction of a second, and for no apparent reason; one that keeps chasing… actually, I have no idea as to what it is that he is chasing most of the time. They tell me that in time that psychotic ball of energy will morph into a dignified cat, and on a rational level I know that is likely to be the case, but for now… for now I just don’t see it.
It is a fairly ordinary story, nothing all that special about it, I do realize that, and for most my meowing little rat would seem like a perfectly normal kitten, and yet I can’t help but to marvel at the change… that and to wonder what might have been.
Oh, I know if I –or someone else– hadn’t intervened when I did the most likely outcome would have been a dead kitten in a matter of days, if not hours, but let’s pretend that by some miracle he would have made it, that he would have grown into a feral cat. That cat would most definitely not have been looking for a chance to snuggle. In fact by now, at the age of seven months, he would have turned into a wild beast that was already all but untamable, one incapable of giving or receiving love, one that would have been too busy trying to survive to keep playing, and chasing shadows. He would have become, in other words, an utterly different being, so I sit here and marvel at the difference a little love and safety can make.
We have made our pets, especially our cats, into what they are, we have made them into something very different from what they should have been. We have actually given them a new ability –it is not so much that a feral cat can’t give or receive love, but rather that it is a solitary animal in the first place, one that doesn’t want that affection, and wouldn’t even know what to do with it– and when I look into my kitten’s eyes I can’t help but to see something reflected back at me, something that, for lack of a better term, might be described as a soul. Would that soul have been there if I hadn’t intervened? It is hard to tell, but I suspect that the answer to that particular question is no, that what love and safety brought into being within my little rascal was something that was not there all along, or maybe there was a spark, but, just like an abandoned kitten, that spark had to be nurtured if it was to survive at all.
Either way that spark is most definitely there now, in fact it is now something akin to a raging fire, and that most peculiar of abilities –the ability to bring forth the ability to love and be loved not only among ourselves, but also across different species– it may just be enough to make humanity actually worth it.
Oh, and if you want to see how the little rascal is doing now, here you have him!