by Ruth Y.
(West Allis, Wisconsin)
Monty, my little ex-feral cat and I have been having a lot of fun outside, now that the weather has cooled off.
He wanted to go out in summer, but he would mostly sprawl out in the dirt trying to cool off, and then I would bring him in. He's been allowed out off leash now and then, especially since my husband has blocked up all the gaps in the fence. It's also not the season for baby birds learning to fly, making themselves easy targets for playful cats, and the bees haven't been too bad lately. Even so, he's only allowed outside with me there with him.
Most cat owners would probably not take the time to sit outside with their cat for anywhere from twenty minutes to over two hours a day. At first I found it annoying and boring and I'd bring my i-phone or journal out-- but lately I've found that sitting out there with Monty is very relaxing and quite a good relief from stress. It's certainly better than sitting in front of the television, and I get fresh air and exercise too. Just another way cats make our lives better.
My back yard is actually quite a mess. I'm just not a gardener, and aside from cutting the grass we do nothing back there. It was very overgrown and weedy when we purchased the house. We got rid of the worst of the weeds, but otherwise it's kind of wild back there. No one can see it from the road, so we don't really care. There is a tiny wooded strip in the very back next to the fence, which until recently I never really noticed.
One day while out with Monty I started thinking about making a little path through the tiny wooded area, like my sister and I used to do in the ravine by our parents' house when we were kids. We would clear all the weeds and brush and actually sweep the path with a stick so there weren't even leaves on it. We probably had a good couple of miles worth of paths crisscrossing through those dense woods when we were kids. So I cut a little path by the back fence and it felt like I was 12 years old again.
Now Monty and I play back there all the time. He loves to chase small stones that I throw down the path. He walks up and down the path or jumps into the brush and weeds next to it. I sit under the trees and remember how being out in the ravine made my childhood such a wonderful time. Our cats would play outside with us, just like Monty does now.
It would be weird, I suppose, for a grown woman to sit under the trees in her back yard for an hour, but with Monty I have an excuse. It is our little paradise back there, a safe quiet place where the outside world doesn't matter because we're having a good time together.
Monty did have one adventure a couple of weeks ago with the neighbor's dog. Oscar (he's a little wiener dog) stuck his nose through a gap in the bottom of the fence and Monty nearly took it off with a swipe of his paw. Luckily, I had him on the leash that day, and later I had my husband put a big concrete block in front of the hole to avoid any other mishaps.
Oscar will never again stick his head through there, but Monty kept trying to get away from me and go through that gap for days afterward-- he had to finish the job of clawing Oscar's nose I guess. I like to think he was protecting me, but who knows-- I actually like Oscar, but I don't dare tell Monty.
I'm still amazed how my life has changed for the better since catching Monty as a kitten that summer's day. I recently read that feral cats have about a 1-2 year life expectancy on their own. His little life would be just about over (if not already snuffed out) if I had not brought him home to live with me.
The residents at the skilled nursing facility where I work ask about him all the time, and I find myself rushing home from wherever I am to get back to Monty and enjoy some outside time with him. He's not a real cuddly cat, but he likes to be wherever I am. I think his favorite inside activity is watching me sort and file papers.
If I try to sleep late he keeps coming up on the bed putting his cold nose on me and staring at me. When I open my eyes it's like he's saying, "C'mon Mom, do something interesting. Or better yet, take me outside!"