Three stray cats have adopted us. Or maybe it’s that we’ve adopted three stray cats. However it happened, we’re all part of each others’ lives now.
I first noticed the bigger of the two black cats not long after we purchased our house. We were tearing out carpeting, pulling up linoleum, removing all vestiges of the four different kinds and colors of paneling from the walls, and stripping acoustic ceiling weirdness to make way for remodeling. I’d be taking a break when I’d notice this black cat in the adjacent field waiting for the perfect time to nab her next meal. She could sit by her designated gopher hole for hours. She was tenacious.
Several months passed. I was in-between knee replacements and going to the gym at 5:00 in the morning. I’d pull into the driveway and see a teeny black kitten run behind the bushes. Sometimes she’d be up on the porch, with whom we assumed was her litter mate, hanging off the brick ledge under our picture window. Once the weather warmed up, we didn’t see them anymore. In fact, we thought maybe the old owl in our backyard or some other cat-eating creature got them. Occasionally we’d see the bigger black cat sleeping in the moist flowerbeds, trying to beat the intense summer Texas heat, after a long morning manning her gopher holes.
Last winter was c-o-l-d. All of the plants we planted the previous spring died. I started seeing this completely emaciated tiny black cat curled up in a planter and wondered if it was one of the kittens we used to see in the spring. I put a little dish of food out. The cold wind could be fierce, so we wedged a small box with towels in it behind the barbecue for a sheltered place to rest. We didn’t see her much, but knew she was around. The food was always gone and you could tell where she created a little nest in the box. I started calling her Soto, which is Japanese for outside; she was our outside kitty.
Finally, the weather warmed up and we started taking advantage of being outside. Soto watched us from a distance. The bigger black cat, whom we referred to as Hunta (because she was such a great hunter) was hanging around more. Another white cat with a few black markings (his name is Oso, also undernourished, would appear regularly and eat whatever Soto left behind. It wasn’t long before they each had their own dish of food and a bowl of clean water so they didn’t have to drink water out of some disgusting place.
My husband would be making coffee, looking out the kitchen window, and say my fan club was waiting. Soto would be waiting at the back door and the other two would be a little ways off. I’d come out the door and Soto would start her squeaky meow and rub up against my legs. She’d weave between my legs all the way into the garage where I’d fill their bowls before placing them back on the patio. If I tried to pet her, she’d take off.
Gradually, the other two ventured closer and before long they were all involved in our little feeding ritual. And then one day, they let me pet them. I was so excited. Not having grown up with pets, this is all a new to me.
Each morning they’re sitting on the back patio benches, outside our bedroom window, letting us know they’re waiting for breakfast. They watch to see me get out of bed, and then make their way to the back door. They have claimed our yard as their territory and don’t venture off too much. Every afternoon, they’re back in position waiting for dinner. If I’m too late, they come around to my office windows looking cute, reminding me of the time.
So why am I telling you all this? I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to feed stray animals, but so hard for us (as Americans anyway, and based on all of the political rhetoric lately) to talk about feeding the hungry, much less to do it. If I was Buddhist, my tradition would be to honor all life. My karma is tied to how I treat all living creatures and there isn’t any judgement about my actions. But as a Christian, I can’t talk to other Christians about the less fortunate or immigrants or the uninsured or HIV/AIDS without being judged as a “bleeding heart liberal who doesn’t believe in personal responsibility.”
Oh well. Soto, Hunta, and Oso (pictured above having a morning nap) gladly listen as my muses on about topics no one else wants to talk about.