Freelining with Mike Freeman: Goodbye, Little Friend

Goodbye, my little friend. 

  I watched you this morning, rubbing against my feet, crying to be fed, knowing I couldn’t feed you for hours. 

What I didn’t expect, as I walked out the door into the bitterly cold morning air, leaving you behind in my warm house, was that I wouldn’ t see you again. 

I’m sorry for that. I wish I could have hugged you one last time. 

Goodbye. 

In all my years, I’ve noticed one unmistakable trend: stray cats have an uncanny ability to find me. They wander into my yard, and they seem to instinctively sense that I’m neither a threat or someone to be feared. A few of them have approached me cautiously at first, eyeing me nervously, until I put a bowl of food down and the connection goes off in their heads: Michael equals an end to hunger. They start coming around more often. Pretty soon they’re a mainstay in my yard. 

A few of them I’ve even adopted; Others disappear after a few weeks. This always surprises me. I get into the habit of feeding them on a daily basis, figuring I’ll never be rid of them … and then one day they don’t show up. They just vanish. Did they find a permanent home? Wander into another neighborhood? Get bored with my selection of canned cat food and move on? Or meet a tragic end, such as being hit by a car? I have no way of knowing. They never send me a postcard to explain what happened. 

Getting those scared strays to trust you takes plenty of patience on my part, but every once in a while, a cat comes along and expresses no fear or anxiety around me whatsoever. They’ve discovered that I leave food out for my own cats, and they like what they’ve discovered, and they develop an almost defiant attitude, as if they want food, and they want it now, and what are you waiting for! I have no clue if they’re used to other neighbors feeding them and their sense of entitlement is based on previous acts of generosity among my fellow cat lovers, but in any event these particular cats do have a remarkable ability to spot within me a devoted fan of their sad cries. 

That happened with this one black cat, a male, who wandered into my yard a few months ago. My own four cats live outdoors – or they did until the cold spell came on – and I’d bring their food out to them, kind of like a waiter at the finest feline restaurant. If you have cats of your own, you know they often times howl to be fed, but then eat about half of what you give them. Regular meals can do that to a cat. 

This black kitty, though, had a voracious appetite. He could finish off whatever I put in front of him, then move on to what my own cats were having and nudge them aside. He wasn’t bashful, that’s for sure. And he took a quick liking to the meals I served, and, as it turns out, to me. His appetite for food was second only to his desire for affection and attention. 

 

This hungry stray found good food -- and plenty of it -- at Michael Freeman's Colonialtown home.

He took to sleeping on my front porch – leaving me with the inescapable impression that yes, I had been adopted by him (cats don’t look at it the other way around).  

So he became a fixture at my home, wandering off during the hot afternoons to find a shaded tree near my house to sleep under. Whenever it was time to feed my own cats, he’d come running, rushing ahead of the others. Every morning, he was crying outside my front door – again, at the front of the line to be fed. Sometime he’d wander into my home and jump on the couch and catch a  … well, I hate to say cat nap, but ….  

This happy stray shares a couch with Michael's cat Heather.

In any event, we were an item, this black cat and I – sometimes he would come in the house, jump on the couch and climb on my chest and sleep there, purring happily as I pet him. I have no idea how long this would have gone on, but someone kept urging me to have this cat fixed so he wouldn’t leave a trail of little baby kitties in the neighborhood to be fed. I agreed, and the appointment was set … for today.  

I wasn’t supposed to feed my little stray friend after 10 o’clock on Tuesday night, so I didn’t – although he cried every time I walked in the kitchen, sounding every bit like an animal that hadn’t eaten since Reagan left office. And, with the coldest temperatures in recent memory blanketing us, I had no qualms about keeping my stray friend indoors for the night to be sure he’d be around for his … operation. With the cold night winds blowing, I put him on my bed and climbed under the covers … and it was immediately clear that my friend had discovered paradise, curling up next to me on what may have been the most comfortable sleeping arrangements he’d experienced in a long time, if ever.  

This morning was tough. I had to lock my friend in the bedroom while I fed my own cats – he wasn’t supposed to get anything to eat or drink before his operation. He cried and cried at the door like the room was on fire, and I wasn’t surprised; he knew that morning was the traditional feeding time, and he knew the sound of canned cat food being opened. It was tough listening to his cries, because he was acting the way he always did – hungry, hungry, hungry.  

I left him there as I headed off to the gym, knowing someone else was doing the dirty work of loading him into a cat carrier, and taking him to the vet for the big operation that all cats needs, male and female alike. What I didn’t expect was the call a few hours later that my little stray friend never got that operation.  

As a precaution, the veterinarian had tested him for numerous illnesses, and the results for feline leukemia came back positive. There was nothing that could be done to treat the illness, so my friend concluded that the most humane thing to do was to have the cat put to sleep.  

And that was it. My little friend was gone. I hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.  

I know from personal experience that a lot of other stray cats will wander in and out of my life in the years ahead. Some will be among the ones that eye me nervously at first, not quite sure if I’m friend or foe; others will be like this black stray, and instinctively recognize they’ve got a winner here.  

I’ll bond with some of them, and not with others. It always works out this way.  

I’m just sorry I was bonding so quickly with this one black stray. Any cat that demands as much affection as he did always wins me over. Cats are so fickle – rubbing against you one minute, scratching you the next. This one wasn’t like that. If I had affection to dish out, he was ready for every second of it.  

Goodbye, my little friend. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for a final goodbye.  

Your warm purr always made me smile.

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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