by Fiona Kelly
I may never know why it did not occur to me that leaving a can of tuna out on the front porch would attract cats.
Originally, I left the tuna for Bubba, a neighbor’s cat. He was unusually large for a cat, so he would fend off the raccoons who would try desperately to get into our garbage. We paid him in tuna fish and the occasional belly rubs. It was a good system.
Bubba could often be seen sleeping in the most unusual of places. It was common to see a car stop for seemingly no reason in the middle of the road. Usually, the driver would get out of the car and move Bubs, who could not be bothered to get up from his nap; even in the face of immediate danger. The drivers would usually set him in the grass or the sidewalk out of harm’s way. Rarely would they just drive around him. He quickly moved from being a family cat to being a neighborhood cat. Cat beds began to pop up for him on every porch.
Bubba, unfortunately, went missing after years fending off raccoons and, presumably, other cats. The neighborhood woke up to their trashcans ransacked and strange cats sleeping in Bubba’s beds. During his absence, the neighborhood has been adopted.
A few weeks before Bubba’s disappearance, a small Siamese could be spotted hiding under a bush or darting in between houses. She never let anyone look at her long enough to get a solid description other than “Siamese.” Eventually, she decided to set up camp on our front porch. She set herself up in one of Bubba’s beds and gave birth to three kittens; One of which suspiciously matched Bubba’s black and white pattern.
The three kittens caused a lot of gossip all down the street. People speculated whose cat it was and why an outdoor cat owner would not get the cat spayed or neutered. Fingers were pointed and neighbors met at garden walls to spy on the Siamese, who was christened Lady, nursing her kittens under a bush.
The kittens were named Marie, Toulouse, and Berloiz by an overzealous kindergartener who had seen The Aristocats for the first time. It was never specified which was which. With the three kittens brought a new era in the neighborhood. After the initial shock of sudden responsibility, neighbors were positively gleeful over the little balls of fur. People would peer out their window to check on the kittens if Lady left them on a porch or behind a garage to catch a bird or a mouse. This was not necessary, however. Cans of tuna turned into full water and food dishes. Cat toys were left next to the beds and even a scratching post or two popped up on a porch. The feline family could want for nothing.
With this expansion brought even more cats. Whether they are feral or not, no one seems to agree on. Both cats remain skittish, though they still take advantage of the many amenities the neighborhood offers. They frequently snooze on a porch, but will bolt as soon as they hear a car door open. Smokey, a big grey beast of a cat, is one of many.
Smokey quickly took Bubba’s place. He was the only cat who could compare in size. He is not fat, just muscular and large. Some say he’s part mountain lion. It is unclear if Smokey has a home or not. Sometimes he’ll turn the corner at the last house and not be seen for a few days. Whether he has a home or is cheating on the neighborhood is unclear. He always returns, however, to fend off the raccoons. And, though everyone is pleased that their trashcans remain intact, there is an unspoken understanding that he will never replace Bubba.
The other cat is not known for usefulness, but for fame. It quickly spread around the neighborhood that, weeks after he had been declared missing, when we had all but given up hope, Bubba had been spotted. The kittens were no longer the hot topic. Bubba had returned in all of his glory. He was seen intermittently for about a week until someone got a good look at him. It was not Bubba. He had the same black and white fur pattern, but he had a much less squished in face and he would run away before anyone could reach down to pat him on the head, which was highly uncharacteristic. He was merely an imposter. He was fed and cared for all the same, but the distrust remained.
The rumor mill started up shortly after. A housewife had been driving down the road when she saw the infamous billboard: Still Alive! The billboard had a picture of a black and white cat named Sammy and had a hefty reward attached to it. Some of the more ambitious neighbors considered catching the cat to try to get the reward. However, others argued that it was clearly not the cat. The black spots were in the wrong place or he was too small to be Sammy. So, Not-Bubba-Possibly-Sammy continued to live his kitty life without being bothered.
The weather started getting colder when the kittens celebrated their second month birthday and shortly after, they were gone as well. This stirred the neighborhood into a panic. No one knew what happened to them; just that they all disappeared at once, seemingly overnight. Eventually, we all came to a conclusion: one of the neighbors got the kittens inside and adopted them to happy homes. We have yet to find out who did that.
With all the carelessness of a cat, Lady quickly moved on. She was no longer skittish or shy. She would happily come up to people walking down the sidewalk and weave in between their legs. Freed from all responsibility, she wanted nothing more than attention. Eventually, she grew bold enough to meow at doors until it opened up and the occupant gave her food. Though, as the temperature dropped, she also tried to sneak inside the house when it was warm.
It was never made clear if Lady belonged to anyone. However, it because increasingly obvious that she did not when the snow came. She stuck to the side of the house shivering and trying to warm up on the spaces next to the windows where heat would sometimes escape. Her paw prints showed that she was going to other houses less and less until there was a single line of prints from the porch to the window. Finally, I just opened my door and let her in.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a neighborhood to raise a cat. As the seasons change, more and more cats come in. Whether they have a home or just realize that we are all suckers for a furry face, they remain on our porches. Whenever I talk to anyone outside the neighborhood about cats, they get the same look on their face and say “well you’re going to get a lot more cats by doing that.” Yes. We are going to get a lot more cats. Collectively, we amount to a lonely old woman who just cannot say no to getting another feline. But, as long as we can, we will feed them. And, as long as they can, they will come. One day, we will be completely overrun by cats.
At least we won’t have to worry about raccoons.