It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday and a cat is crying on piteously on my porch.
I have lived with cats long enough to recognize the sound of terror versus hunger, versus general surliness. This is fear, the kind that wells up when you realize you’re lost outside and can’t get back home and there’s nowhere to hide.
I’m not very much awake and the cat on the porch is begging to come in, squeaking out her confusion and helplessness, so I shut my cats in the bedroom and invite her in. She acts like she belongs here, crying in relief and skittering into the bathroom. I go ahead and close the door, shutting her in there. She’s huge, orange and white, with long hair drooping from her tail and draping over her body like a shaggy blanket. She’s clean, without scars or scratches, and her teeth (which I can see clearly every time she opens her mouth to squeak out little cat sobs), are nice and clean. She’s not interested in being comforted, but neither is she losing her mind and trying to escape after realizing she’s now contained in my bathroom. So clearly not feral. Someone will be missing her in the morning.
The animal shelter can check for a microchip to identify her owner, but it doesn’t open for 4-1/2 hours. I tuck towels against the doors to keep her from snagging my heel or spooking my own cats with her snakelike white paws searching under the gaps. Quinn stands guard in the hall long after I turn out the lights and return to bed, just in case the stranger tries to escape. When she doesn’t escape and eventually stops crying, he trots over to the bed and curls up beside me. Clearly he thinks that’s that and we can go back to our normal lives now.
Three hours later I wake and slip into the bathroom. Porch Cat is sleeping on the floor beside the toilet. She stretches and rubs against my legs as I brush my teeth, letting me know she was lonely. Since we’re being warm and friendly I scratch her ears lightly and she pushes her face into my hand. After a few moments of this congeniality, she hops onto the counter making gurgling, chirping noises I take for curious vocalizing—until she growls and slaps my hand away.
Stop. Touching me.
So…not warm and friendly, then.
I have three friends in Austin, and one of them kindly agrees to shuttle us over to the animal shelter (making the trip by bicycle is an ordeal I don’t want to attempt). I leave her alone and get to work making a carrier large enough to hold her. It’s a cardboard apple crate left over from moving that says ‘fragile – crockpot’ on the top. I line the box with a small blanket and venture back into the bathroom.
Porch Cat huffs at me. She wishes I would knock before entering. I try to coax her into the box, first with my bare hands and then donning thick work gloves and Jeremy’s long-sleeve winter biking shirt. She is now positive I’m going to murder her. She becomes an amporphic mass of white fur, golden eyes and lighting-fast claws. She evades my grasp, squeezing impossibly into the crevice between the toilet and the wall. She must be cramped, yet manages to ignore physics and her bone structure, clawing at me from whichever direction I approach.
We agree to take a break. I sit back against the door while she eyes me with one pupil visible over the lid of her toilet fortress. I question my first assumption that she is not feral. I slow blink at her, and after a moment she blinks back. Not feral, just scared. Scared of the human with huge hands who trapped her in this tiny room and keeps grabbing at her.
I can sympathize. I explain the situation to her: I mean no harm, I’m only trying to help her get home. She blinks at me some more.
Feeling better after our heart-to-heart, I approach again but she refuses to participate in any more peaceful exercises. She enters some fourth dimensinon of space, practically disappearing into the wall. She is taking no chances and states her position firmly. Meanwhile, Quinn sits outside the bathroom door, wondering loudly what’s going on and why can’t he come in too.
Fortunately I know where my towel is.
Porch Cat is unprepared for towels, which pop her out of the fourth dimension. She zips up onto the counter, where a towel dropped over her from above ends the struggle. I set her, towel and all, into the box and close the lid. She protests this treatment, shooting claws through every airhole simultaneously. I pointlessly apologize for helping her like this and tape the box shut while she calls me bad names through the airholes.
Once I return from the animal shelter where Porch Cat (who was microchipped) waits for her owner to take her safe home, Quinn meets me at the door, most irritated. I’ve been unfaithful, he claims. I left the house with a strange cat, and he’s always petitioning to go outside and why should a stranger get to go outside and that’s not fair.
I explain the situation and cuddle him and he calms down. But he spends the rest of the week staring at me accusingly. Finally I earn his forgiveness with a tuna offering, and life returns to normal. You can’t explain to a cat, but you can solve most problems with tuna.
Or failing that, with a towel.