Are you a dog person or a cat person?
I have a soft heart for all kinds of furry creatures but stand solidly on the dog side of the fence. In all fairness to felines, some of my family members are allergic to cats, making it impractical to adopt one. With my limited exposure, I tried to understand feline behavior but failed, multiple times, in my attempts to cozy up to them. In truth, I grew a little bit afraid of what a kitty might do!
Take Jenny’s “devil” (her description) cat. He purred and rubbed against my leg, giving every indication he wanted to befriend me. Enchanted, I responded by gently stroking his head and back. He returned the favor by biting my hand!
Amy’s two felines, always cordial to visitors in her presence, hissed at me when I entered their domain to feed them while she was away. My husband couldn’t understand why I returned to our home in a panic, afraid to go back to their house without his protection. I was eager to prove to him how vicious they were, but wouldn’t you know it? The little guys were as sweet as pie to him!
Each of those cats probably sensed my trepidation, making them cautious of me.
Based on my history, I never thought I’d become pals with a feral cat, much less a black one. No, I’m not superstitious, but considering my bad luck with felines, who could blame me for preferring that a black cat not cross my path!
Two of my neighbors, nonetheless, introduced me to Black Kitty. “Alice” had been the first to give him food and shelter when he showed up in her yard. Since he was less than a year old, she attempted to tame him but felt Black Kitty would never mesh with her other cats. “Betty” also provided food and various comforts, but she couldn’t take him in. Her domicile was a second home to a domesticated cat that liked to fight Black Kitty. For the time being, it seemed best for Black Kitty to live outdoors at Alice’s.
The first time Alice and Betty were going to be out of town over the same few days, they asked me to feed him. By then, Black Kitty had gotten used to seeing me while I was out walking my dog, often in the company of Betty, who had earned his trust to pet him. Consequently, he deemed me a safe-from-a-distance meal ticket. After filling his bowl, I quickly stepped away, and Black Kitty happily gobbled down the contents.
My feeding him allowed us to get know one another a little better. A vocal fellow, he would meow at me, and I’d meow and talk back. I developed a true affection for him, and Black Kitty seemed to like me. Honestly, he craved attention at least as much as he desired food.
Over the next two-plus years of his taking up residence in our neighborhood (yes, Black Kitty was neutered and vaccinated), I occasionally fed him to help Betty, who had assumed responsibility for his meals. He wouldn’t let me get too close, but each time I’d whistle to announce that breakfast or dinner had arrived, Black Kitty always came. During my last stint, however, he did not surface. When Betty returned from her trip, Black Kitty didn’t appear for her either. We didn’t know if he’d found trouble or better living conditions.
Weeks later, while walking my dog one morning, I heard his meowing. Obviously calling to me, Black Kitty was occupying the front porch of a home that’s across the street and one house down from Alice’s. His easygoing demeanor indicated that he lived there, which made sense. I’d been told that the family sometimes cared for him. (The family later affirmed that Black Kitty had permanently adopted them and vice versa.)
Relieved to see Black Kitty, I meowed in response, and he began walking towards me. I stopped, waiting for him to come over. Indeed, he trotted closer to me, meowing all the way. He then dropped down within my reach and casually rubbed his back against the road. He’d never before seemed so unguarded around me.
I couldn’t believe it when he stood and stuck his tail straight up! I knew, thanks to Betty’s teachings, that Black Kitty was giving me a friendly greeting, but his next maneuver was a real shocker. Suddenly, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary, he was brushing against my leg. That was my cue to pet him.
The notion of getting bitten didn’t cross my mind.
Black Kitty not only let me stroke him, but he also turned his back to me for more petting—a sure sign that he trusted me—with my dog right there! Although somewhat mellowed with age, my feisty little dog had barked at Black Kitty many times. Remarkably, though, in that moment, the two were perfectly peaceful, as if they’d agreed to a truce.
To be clear, Black Kitty’s behavior had nothing to do with food. He would have sensed that I didn’t have a single morsel with me. This was about a semi-feral cat’s taking his relationship with a human to the next level.
Of course, he’ll continue to test me. For all I know, Black Kitty was high on catnip when he let me pet him that one time. Maybe it won't happen again. If it does, I’ll continue to stand protectively between Black Kitty and my dog. That's my job! In any case, something special has developed between us.
Friendships, especially the unlikely ones, are like that. Gaining one another’s trust takes time, but incredibly sweet rewards come from welcoming the opportunity and being patient.
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
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