It’s been said that acts of kindness, provided to one who has so rarely had the benefit of experiencing them, can transform a personality — to turn the cynical into the hopeful, to sooth the angry and make them tranquil.
There are people who will counter that suggestion, and point to ornery folks they knew that started out mean, and no matter how much kind acts you tossed their way, never changed their tune.
I have my own example, though, and it’s one that brought a great deal of joy to my life for the past nearly seven years — in this case, from offering kindness to someone else, then happily watching their most amazing transformation.
In this case, it started in August 2008, when I bought my home in the Colonialtown neighborhood of Orlando. That’s when he first came into my life — well, in very small ways, anyway.
He was a cat — not at all a kitten, and quite obviously a stray. He appeared to mainly be living across the street from my house, around a home that was vacant. No people inside it, less to fear.
I would very often see this cat sleeping on the front steps of the house. Sometimes he would disappear under it, safely hidden and sheltered in the crawl space.
He was not, in any way possible, a cat that sought out people. Just watching me walk by, this cat would perk up and quickly disappear. He had come to fear people, possibly from past instances of abuse. I could never get close enough to this cat to formally introduce myself.
But I did notice something. I put food out for other neighborhood strays, and this male cat eventually did notice, and would come over to my front step to see what was there in that dish. But if I looked out the window and saw him, or stepped out onto the front porch, he would bolt across the street.
It seemed like we stayed in this pattern forever — and for the first few years, that’s exactly what happened. I started bringing food over to him if I saw the cat sleeping on the front steps of that vacant home next door. He would move away from me, but eventually he seemed to get the idea of what I was doing. Still not entirely trustful, the cat would nevertheless no longer hide when I came by, but instead would stop …. and wait …. and cautiously observe.
Is he doing what I think he’s doing ….?
He would watch me put a dish of food down. He would watch me go back across the street. And it was only then, once I had moved a safe distance from him, would tise cat go inspect the food I left. He would eat — and eat — and eat. He never lacked a healthy appetite.
The cat always seemed to have a frown on his face. Was this intentional? He always looked to be either sad or grumpy, so I nicknamed him Crabby Tabby. I even started calling him that.
Somewhere along the line, and I don’t quite remember when, he and I slowly built up a certain level of trust. He began coming over to my front steps to eat the food I put out. Eventually, he let me put out my hand for him to sniff. That led to Crabby Tabby allowing me to pet his head. The trust took some time, but eventually he started to equate me with food, affection and warmth, not some ostentatious threat.
As we got closer, almost real friends, something else happened. It was in the winter of 2012/2013 when I decided I didn’t want this cat enduring the cold nights anymore, so I picked him up and brought him inside my house. At first he went into a panic, rushed to the door and cried to go out. But eventually he got the idea that the rooms inside my house were no less threatening than I was — and he started coming around to the front door on cold nights, meowing to come inside. At that point, he went from stray to domestic.
Cats that have lived on the streets, scrounging for food, taking shelter from the rain, being threatened sometimes by people, take remarkably well to being domesticated — kind of like how people take to winning Lottery tickets. Crabby would go from room to room, finding a new place to sleep — and then for days, even weeks, that was his spot. In the middle of the bed. In the laundry basket filled with old clothes. Inside the closet, off in the corner. Once he settled on a spot, it was his for a long time.
I kept the name Crabby Tabby, though it really no longer applied. He no longer looked sad or morose, but gleeful. He would sit on my lap each morning, purring endlessly. Clearly an older cat, he began to slow down, although he kept up a hefty appetite. And he was enormously affectionate. Sometimes he would be sleeping on the dining room table. I would walk over to him and begin rubbing my nose against his. His response was to rub back, while emitting a soft, then much louder, ecstatic purr. He had grown to love that kind of affection.
Last weekend, I was away on Friday night, and returned to the house on Saturday afternoon. Crabby was outside on my lanai. I brought him inside to feed him, but for the first time ever, he wouldn’t eat or drink. He moved slowly and awkwardly, and spent most of the afternoon asleep on a chair. Eventually he jumped down, stumbled over to the back door and went back out on that lanai, and spent the rest of the day quietly lying there in the sun.
I figured Crabby might be feeling under the weather, and would check on him the next day to see how he was doing. When I went out onto the lanai that morning, Crabby had curled up into a ball off in a corner, and died peacefully in his sleep. I was stunned; I knew he had been slowing down from age, but this came on so quickly that I wasn’t ready to accept it.
Looking back at our friendship, there’s no question that Crabby was a great example of how a little bit of kindness goes a long way. You might think I did this cat a world of good, taking him in from the cold, feeding him, letting him know he was loved.
But that’s not the whole story.
I can’t begin to say how much he gave to me as well.
Contact Mike Freeman at Freeline Media or at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..