She was sitting at my doorstep looking pathetic. Those big sad eyes and rumpled coat said feed me. Of course I fed her.
Broken birds, abandoned dogs, emaciated cats all seem to end up at my door. I’m an old softie. They must know it instinctively. I can’t see a hungry face without the urge to feed it. I think it’s a “Mother Bird” syndrome. However, I should have remembered to caution myself: no good deed goes unpunished . Cliché or not, well-worn adages hang around because they’re true.
That was the beginning…
I did have a bit of doggie kibble that would tide her over. Now, don’t look at me like that, I’m not really a cat person. Anyway, it was the only thing at hand, and at the moment she looked ready to expire on my doorstep. She mumbled a bit under her breath, switched her tail, and accepted the offering. Typical cat -- condescending even in the face of starvation.
There she was the very next morning, waiting in front of the sliding door. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: It was move-in morning for Miss Kitty.
She can earn her keep, I thought. She’ll feast on small rodents, patrol the yard -- nary a gopher will dare to rear its head. But the cat had other ideas. First, she staked out her bedroom under the huge climbing rose by the back fence, then set about finding a soft place for her necessary morning’s ablutions. Yes indeed, Miss Kitty had found her home, and working for a living was not in her vocabulary. As a matter of fact, she had an exceptionally limited vocabulary.
Over my many years I’ve had plenty of experience with critters furred, finned or feathered, so I figured that, given time, this feral creature occupying my back yard would surely mellow. Indeed, she rushed to see me every morning as I stepped out to feed her. But mellow? Her greeting was anything but warm. She drew back her lips, snarled and rushed to her food dish. That hiss was her only acknowledgment – ever.
Her lack of friendliness did not, however, extend to other members of her species. It wasn’t long before the enterprising Miss Kitty had extended her welcome to a large and equally feral boyfriend. Now there were two.
Miss Kitty feasted and evidently prospered on daily servings of Gourmet Cat Food. Her coat turned silky. She had assumed the look of a pampered cat. Her infrequent visits at the food dish didn’t really concern me. In fact, I began to think that she might have found a more generous benefactor. She had added a little meat to her bones. The smug Miss Kitty was getting absolutely pudgy. Hmmm, could it be? Could she and her consort have been more than platonic friends? I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. After a few weeks of hissless mornings I awoke to an ensemble collected at my doorway. There she lay, sprawled in a sunny patch, waiting for her breakfast amid three hungry kittens who were busily enjoying theirs.
Yes, I’m a softie, and I’m also a sucker for cute little critters. I was just itching to pick one up and cuddle it. I stepped from the doorway amid a mad scramble as they hissed and disappeared. Momma had trained them well. They were as wild and untouchable as she. I know you’re thinking “Well, what did you expect?” But the wild nature of these cats and their progeny had somehow escaped me. I was left to wonder how does one find homes for untouchable kittens?
The clock was ticking. The kitties were growing.
I think it was Ogden Nash who said, “The trouble with a kitten is that
Eventually it becomes a cat.”
The eventual occurred. Five wild cats presented a problem. In fact they presented me with several problems. The cats grew, matured and did what cats do. Now there were even more cats. Where was a Pied Piper when I needed one?
The Humane Society offered me a humane trap and suggested I bring in the catch of the day, which would, of course, be humanely dispatched. I thought it might be best to take them to several farms a few miles away where they could dine on field mouse entrees and hunt to their heart’s content. The trip to the hinterlands with several howling felines became an almost daily ritual. But it was all in vain. Within days they were back. And sometimes they brought friends.
Enter my daughter. She had come for a visit. One look at the burgeoning passel of pussies on the porch was enough. “Why are you feeding them?” she asked. It was a logical question.
“They’re hungry.” That was all I had for my defense.
“Cats can feed themselves. They are the consummate hunters. Stop feeding them.”
Within days my daughter left. And with her departure, her scolding about my fertile, feral cat problem was only an echo. I love her madly, but there was still cat food in the big bin on the porch. And hungry faces perched in front of the sliding door looking expectantly for their food. Well, what was I to do? I’m Scottish – at least on my mother’s side. I couldn’t let perfectly good cat food go to waste.
So there I was with cats, cats and more cats. The problem wasn’t going to solve itself. Perhaps I’ll taper off on the kibble, I thought, that should get rid of them. But the sad little faces stayed.
Not only that, but Nefertiti, the beautiful black tuxedoed puss, actually brought home a crippled friend. The new arrival hopped into the back yard, devoured the days’ rations, and parked herself close to the food. Morning came. There she sat, hovered over the dish. Nefertiti made herself scarce. The porch became almost deserted. In moments I knew why. That pathetic little hobbled cat not only took over, but batted and snarled at the others in defense of “her” dish. She withdrew only far enough to hiss angrily at any intruder. Sharing was not an option.
Over the next week the little grey cripple managed to do what I hadn’t been able to do in months. The cats abandoned the back yard.
Ms. Nasty Cat continued to live in the garden. Apparently, there is no gratitude among cats. Nefertiti, along with Miss Kitty and all the others, had been sent packing.
Sorry Nefertiti, I could have told you, No good deed goes unpunished.
I love writing -- always have. So much so, that I started my own neighborhood news paper at ten and have been at it ever since. Owned my own ad agency and spent almost 5 years on contract writing a weekly Opinion column for the North County Times. I have published in several small journals, magazines and newspapers, and the San Dieguito Art Guild's The Paint Rag back in the '60s.
Living thirty years on a horse ranch in what was then back-country Del Mar was an experience that will last a life time and enters often into what I choose to write about.