by Katherine Ann Wildt
(St. Louis MO 63118)
Some years ago, my roommate and I were befriended by some semi-feral cats…
Well–they weren’t really our cats. They just lived under our house. There were three cats, maybe four or five: two semi feral and one tame, one blind in one eye, one ginger, one coal black, one gray, and occasionally a white one. The cats visited our enclosed back yard and inhabited the hole leading to the pipes under the house.
How the cats survived in the beginning we didn’t know; warmth they found in the hole, and at least one litter of kittens was born there. Some nights we would hear them under the house. Once or twice we found one of the cats who had followed the underground passageways into the school, and once one managed to get into our first floor bathroom.
Our house is attached to a school, so we can hear almost everything that goes on over there after school hours. This particular day we heard some frantic mewing right outside our connecting door. When we opened the door, there sat one very frightened kitten who forgot how to find his way back through the underground passage.
“Here, kitty, here, kitty,” my friend called as she tried to capture the kitten.
“Yeo–ow,” yelped the kitten, trying to outmaneuver her as she successfully grabbed it and took it out the side school door. From there, the kitten quickly scampered away from all harm.
The cat that happened to find the cupboard door opening into our bathroom required at bit more ingenuity at removing. Again we heard the meowing of a cat, this time in the house. After looking around we discovered it in the first floor bathroom. It took one look at us, yelped, ran around the small room, turned back to the cupboard, and scurried into the passageway that led to the hole.
This cat was a bit older and more experienced in the labyrinth of passageways. Apparently, it had decided to explore a new passageway, or perhaps this time the cupboard door had been left ajar. At any rate, as far as we know, it never ventured that way again.
At the beginning of their residency, the cats ran away as soon as they saw us: hiding in the grass, behind the shrubs, or across the street, and returning when we went inside or closed the gate, or in the dark of night.
When they became used to us, discovering we did not try to chase them off every time we saw them, the cats remained where they were: sunning themselves, surveying the yard from the upstairs porch, or just standing wherever they happened to be at the time, yet always ready to run away if someone unfamiliar were to appear. Now we even had a guard cat who monitored our gate entry.
Because we had become accustomed to the cats, and, perhaps, because we composted and fed the birds, we occasionally put out leftovers for the cats. We never saw them eat the food, but the containers were always empty by the next evening. They did not bother our garden, nor did we ever find any dead birds in our yard.
The time finally came that when we entered the yard, the cat or cats (
for they did not all stay or always sleep under the house) either watched us at a safe distance or just plain ignored us. Neither antagonistic nor friendly, our cats were just there.
Then, one night the cats managed to get into the house again. This time they decided to do some exploring. They knocked a box of candy onto the floor, ate some of it, and disarranged everything small and movable. The second night they returned, performing the same tricks; but this time their paw prints remained. My new roommate was not amused. Actually, neither was I.
Now the cats are gone. The hole has been filled with earth, and the area has been seeded with grass seed. Since there is nowhere for them to shelter or to nest, they have gone away–perhaps to their previous homes, perhaps to other haunts where they will find food and shelter. I miss seeing our uninvited guests and wonder where they have gone.
The other night, I saw one of our cats again. When I returned home, the cat met me at the door. I opened the screen door with the cat at my side. It was very cold, and clearly the cat wished to obtain shelter.
“I can’t let you in. My friend would be very unhappy to have you in the house. I’m sorry, but I just can’t let you in,” I told the cat as he rubbed against my legs.
I petted the cat and suggested, “Try under the car. It should be warmer there.” Finally the cat moved a little farther away from the door and me. As I quickly entered and closed the screen door, I whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Many mornings after this, I saw paw prints on the hood of the car. At least one or two of our cats were keeping warm. Today, I saw the cat again, and I realized I miss our cats.