It is true – you can’t herd cats.And why would you want to?Their independence is a thing of beauty.They love and need love but they ain’t gonna waste a whole lot of energy fretting when humans drop the ball.They get on with their lives.
I met Jessica and Scout nearly two years ago. They are sisters, if not by birth then by friendship. These felines obviously had a home once, perhaps even a nice home. Both have been spayed, but not as a result of the catch and release program that notches their ears to show they have been tended to already. These girls must have had a responsible person who took care of them. Perhaps the person passed away or became homeless. Or maybe the seemingly responsible person merely went through the motions but was not worthy of two sweet cats and discarded them. It happens all the time. Folks think, “A pet sure sounds like a lot of fun and them kittens sure are cute.” Well these cute little creatures grow up and have needs and expenses. Maybe the new girlfriend or roommate doesn’t like cats and bingo the cats are kicked to the curb.
So one day Jessica and Scout appeared at my neighbor, Hannah’s, back door. She could not have pets due to an upcoming move back to Boston for graduate school. But she fed them, loved them, and named them. She felt responsible now for the little vagabonds and asked me if I would take over their feeding. “Of course,” I assured her. Easy breezy, except I knew I would get attached.
Hannah had given them names, names that actually fit their personalities. They could not just be two of the many nameless stray cats that fill the neighborhoods of New Orleans – no, they were Jessica and Scout. They look nothing alike. Scout is black, lean and her gait is always quick, slick and stealth-like. Jessica has beautiful black and gray markings placed randomly atop her white coat and her stride is more of a sashay weaving with her tail ramrod straight up in the air
I was concerned that soon they would become personal to me. So Hannah gave me permission to continue feeding them beneath her former apartment so as to distance my home from them. Again you can’t tell a cat where to roam. Even with food laid out on their familiar turf they wanted affection.
Scout, true to her name, would follow me whenever I was on foot. The first time she tracked me, Boyfriend and I were headed out to dinner and that involved crossing Esplanade Avenue. Too much traffic for a cat. So we separated and I detoured back to our street, leading Scout with the promise of more food. Then I took off through three different neighbor’s backyards, added two more blocks (now six blocks from where I started) all the while looking over my shoulder, sometimes jumping behind a tree for cover before I could lose Scout and regroup with Boyfriend. The next time we needed to take a similar trek, Scout was on to it and outsmarted us by shortcutting under a house. Now tell me, who’s herding who?
For Scout’s safety we try to walk to our neighborhood tavern, Liuzza’s, when she’s not looking. But then, out of nowhere, she is racing alongside us. She will then wait outside the bar until we leave and escort us home. Last night it was raining and there she was sitting patiently under a parked car. I carried her home inside my coat.
Jessica is not inclined to follow, but she too wants to interact and even though her nature is very tentative she really requires hands-on affection and occasionally claims my lap.
I knew from the beginning that I would feel a responsibility to them beyond bowls of food. I would tell myself that with so many thousands of homeless cats and dogs that merely feeding them (and knowing they had both been spayed – a visit to the SPCA determined this fact) gave them a leg-up in the survival department. But through trail and error, illnesses and deaths, my own cats and dogs have taught me much about the dangers that outdoor life can bring. Feline leukemia, FIV, heart worms, numerous parasites, street fights and hit and runs from cars. But to allow them to become housecats I would risk the health of my own cats. And even if they tested negative for infectious issues they could never be happy to stay under house-arrest. And yet still they sit (even after a feeding) on my porch looking inside through our screen door. Indoor life seems to mesmerize them just as escapes into the Great Outdoors seems to dominate my cats’ thoughts.
Jessica is more reticent, easily spooked, and this will be her best defense. While Scout is fearless of dogs (will go nose to nose with our cat-loving dogs) Jessica seems to know that it’s a dangerous world out here and one miscalculation, misjudgment of a dog’s nature, could cost her one or more of her nine lives. They both are safer under the big house, the house that acts as their dining room. There beneath, they can hide from most dogs. But as they say, you can’t herd cats. They both seem to enjoy something homier – like my porch. Someplace to call home.
So the three of us continue this little dance of where they should be and where they want to be. Cats just know that everything belongs to them. For Jessica and Scout, it’s the underworld of houses, the mighty hunts that play out beneath the Azalea bushes, the kindness of neighbors who give treats, and those who allow them to sneak into their homes for short respites from the elements. And I hope they know that I too belong to them.