Twenty years ago when I was in the auto recycling business, a raggedy old pickup truck was hauled in. When the wrecker driver was unhooking from it, he heard kitten mewing coming from the cab. He found two little newborn tabby kittens under the seat. Their eyes were still closed.
My wife and I fashioned a feeding bottle out of a salt shaker and a rubber glove finger. They both grew up to be long lived, beautifully marked brother and sister. This past December the tom, (we called him Bumper because he would bump into your leg when he wanted your attention), at twenty years old had developed arthritis in his hind legs. He was still able to get around pretty well, but it was obvious when he walked. They just accept their lot and move on with their life.
Both of them were of the opinion that once you eat out of a bowl of dry food, if you didn't eat it all, the balance was garbage and it wasn't fit to eat. Actually that was my wife's opinion, so she would collect the leftovers during the day. We have a lot of squirrels here and on my way out to get the morning paper each day, I took the leftovers and poured them on the ground under the trees. The crows discovered it and it was amusing to watch the competition. The squirrels would run at the crows. The crow would leap up, the squirrel pass under and the crow came right back down, neither one of them having the time to eat anything. Eventually it all was consumed.
One morning last December, as I came back up the drive, there was this big gray cat eating the food. The crows were screaming from the branches above him. The squirrels were also scolding from above. I have a large azalea grove close by and the next morning I could see him hiding under one of them. As soon as I was gone he was on the food big time.
At first I thought he was one of the neighborhood freeloaders but for a couple weeks he was there every morning. After he ate he would be off through the neighboring properties. Bumper had not been aware of the situation. We live on two and one half acres and he was very possessive of his territory. One morning he happened to see the intruder and arthritis or no, he was going to run him off, Big Mistake. There was a verbal confrontation and two streaks across the yard but no physical contact. That was the last time Bumper would chase anything. He pushed it too far and his hind legs were hurting badly. I called the vet and he did a full checkup. It turned out the arthritis was the least of his problems. His liver was shot. So Bumper joined all my other four-legged friends to wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge.
After about two weeks of talking to the gray each morning, he quit hiding and would wait out in the open for me. A few days after that when we got up in the morning, I looked out the back door and there he sat looking in the porch screen door. I fixed a bowl of dry food and eased out to the screen door. I set the bowl down on the step, leaving the door open about a foot. He finished the cup of food in nothing flat. After he had eaten he cautiously investigated the back porch, then he was gone. The same scenario was repeated for women's jackets the next three days. The fourth day he would hardly get out of the way for me to open the door and he had his nose in the bowl before I was able to set it down. I attempted to stroke his head and he raised it into the stroke with evident pleasure. I stayed there stroking him while he ate. We were officially friends.
I went back in the house and we ate our breakfast. The door to the porch is a sliding glass door and while we ate, he parked himself in the middle of the porch floor and took a bath. After breakfast I went out and he didn't move. When I reached down to pet him he rolled over on my feet in a submissive maneuver and let me rub his big white belly. I sat down on a porch chair and he was a dynamo of action rubbing around my legs and against my hand. He could hardly contain himself. I sat there a good hour and he never stopped.
When I got up to go in he was at the door ahead of me. Just inside the door sat Sassy, Bumpers sister. My wife had been watching and nixed his coming in the house, not knowing what might happen when they met. Sassy had been just sitting around for a couple weeks. She didn't want to go outside or do anything. We thought she might be mourning her brother. A few days later Gray Baby succeeded in his quest to come in the house. He leaped right over my wife's foot block, when she opened the door. First thing he did was go over to sniff at Sassy. She hardly acknowledged him and he went on to explore.
Her reaction prompted us to call the vet again. Her liver was worse than her brother's had been so she joined him. At twenty years old they were both calm and quiet cats. They never jumped up on things or roared around. It was mostly eat and sleep. Not so with Gray Baby, his mission was to be all that he could be, and see all that he could see. While the vet was here we had him check out Gray Baby. He determined that he was two years old, weighed thirteen pounds, was neutered, and was in magnificent health. Someone had for some reason dumped him in our neighborhood. He got his shots, was entered in the vet's records and we were officially adopted by him.
This December was the coldest month we had in central Florida this year. A couple nights before he accepted our hospitality it got down to nineteen degrees. So when he moved in we weren't ready for him to roam around the house at night. I put a litter box in the laundry room and a big towel on the dryer and shut him in there over night. About a half hour after we went to bed, there was a big thump. I went to see what he had done. There on the floor was my box of light bulbs. I looked up to where they had been and there he stood looking down at me from the shelf with that "Hi, see what I can do," look. The room is eight feet wide and he launched himself effortlessly across the room down onto the washer and flopped down on the bed I had provided.
He was a delight to have around. When I worked at the computer he loved to lay in front of my keyboard while I typed. I rested my wrists against him to keep him from embedding his own little messages into my work. My wife has her own work table in the corner of our home office. There are two windows in that corner and he found that he could lay on it and watch the whole back and side yard. He kept moving her stuff around so much that she finally cleared it off.
Every evening after he had his dinner he would go outside for a couple hours. He would come in for the night anywhere between eight and eleven p.m. He would come lay on my lap and as I stroked that beautiful white belly he would look up into my face with such, I don't know, pleasure, love, appreciation. His coat was very thick and it would get hot for both of us and he would move to an end table between our chairs.
Three nights ago eleven p.m. came and went, he didn't come in. I took a flashlight and went all around the property calling. No Gray Baby. My wife sat up a long time that night watching for him. He never returned. The not knowing is the hardest part. Did he run afoul of a big dog, a coyote, a fox, an idiot with a gun? I drove the local roads and found nothing. Gray Baby was only with us three and a half months, but it was special. Over the years special friends both two-legged and four-legged intersect our path of life and walk along with us a while. It's tough when they depart and leave this big hole in one's heart!