I can still remember waking up in the middle of the night to what sounded like a terrible catfight. Perhaps it was the neighbor's cat or the stray they had been feeding. I was happy to know that my animals were safe and sound inside. I quickly forgot about it and went back to sleep.
The next morning, there he was at my door. He was obviously in pain and looking for somebody to help him. The wound looked as if something had gotten him by his neck and had a good bite. Without thinking, I took him in, called my veterinarian who kindly agreed to see us right away. I packed him and my newborn baby into the car and we were on our way.
He was a kind animal and had been around for a few months now. He was a typical "Tom", but he was friendly and gentle with people. I had come to enjoy his visits to my yard, but always finished them by making sure I washed my hands well, as he was rough around the edges and always covered in dirt.
He seemed too skinny for the big frame he had and it was apparent he did not have a permanent home. I suspected that he would be the neighbors' cat soon, as they had been leaving food out for him for sometime.
I thought that I would get this cat the medical attention he needed and that would be the end of it. After all, I already had two cats, a newborn baby and a very small house. The inn was full and I was on my way to the vet's with a wounded stray cat. I would get him fixed up and send him on his merry way. It seemed like a perfect plan and the right thing to do.
"The good news is, I can definitely fix the wound. The bad news is, we don't know what bit him and we don't know if he has been vaccinated for rabies. We either put him down or quarantine him for six months."
I heard the doctor's words, but at first they didn't register. After careful contemplation I came up with my brilliant plan. I would quarantine the cat for six months and find him a nice home after that.
"Ok", I said. "I'll take him in for six months, but I am not keeping him."
The doctor smiled, as if he knew about something I was missing here. "Come back in ten days to have the stitches removed", was all he said.
I was on my way home, with my newborn and new houseguest. I wondered how my husband would react when I would explain to him that the stray cat, who more than likely didn't have rabies, would be staying with us for six months.
It seemed like an easy enough arrangement, we would just keep him separated from our household by keeping him in the basement. Yes, he could stay in the basement for six months and then we would help him to find a home.
It all went as planned, although my husband was caught off guard by the news regarding the new houseguest, he managed to be understanding. As for the tomcat, he seemed to exemplify the definition of gratitude.
I thought he would be trying to get upstairs. I envisioned that he would try to escape. I expected him to complain. Instead we had the perfect guest, gracious and non-invasive, living in our basement for six short months.
The trips to the vet were frequent. My vet would just smile every time I spoke of our temporary arrangement then send us on our way. His office staff could not stand that we were not giving him a proper name. I argued with them explaining that we couldn't possibly name a cat that was with us only for a short time. We referred to him as "Stray Cat," they referred to him as "Big Tom."
Time passed as it does and all along I came to understand and respect the patience of our houseguest, who would soon be leaving us. It was a good time. He brought us joy and gave us the opportunity to feel as though we were doing good service. He seemed to be an old soul, if cats could be as such. He had a special look in his eyes and found a special place in out hearts and home, even if it was from the basement.
Weeks turned to months, months turned to years and his days in the basement soon faded to memory. Without ever realizing what was happening, the houseguest joined us upstairs and enjoyed following us around the yard every chance he got. He even endeared the neighbors.
It wasn't an unusual event for him to be sited opening screen doors only to let himself in just in time for breakfast. He quickly became a neighborhood icon, who we all referred to as "Straymond", a proper version of how we once referred to him.
When we first found the lump on his body, we thought of it as a quick visit back to the doctor and that would be that. As usual, the doc was great; he would remove the tumor, biopsy and told us not to worry in the mean time. We didn't worry, not ever. Straymond was one tough cat. He could get through anything. Except for the cancer that eventually took him away.
We were never going to keep him and ten short years later we found out we were right. He was accepted into our lives as family and taught each of us a lesson.
As with the stray cat, every one of us is a houseguest of sorts, only here for an undisclosed period of time. It might be longer than we ever expected or shorter, whatever the case it is borrowed time and temporary to say the least.
On his final day, he was suffering badly. One last time, I drove Straymond to the veterinarian. As we allowed him to leave his pain and us peacefully, I looked at the doctor and said, "I told you I was not keeping him". The doctor responded with the same knowing smile that I remembered from the first time I brought the stray cat in.
I left the office feeling sad that Straymond was gone but grateful for the time we had spent together. Paying attention to how chance introduced us in the first place, I realized that once he had touched our lives, we would be keeping him, maybe not in the basement, the house, or even in the back yard. With a strange but familiar smile on my face, I found myself thinking that we would be keeping him, forever in our hearts.
Copyright © 2008 Shirley Warren