ORLANDO — It was on a mild November afternoon when she first approached me – and not cautiously, either.
My initial impression was of how scrawny this little black cat was. Emaciated is probably a better word. I could tell she wasn’t afraid of me, even though she appeared to be a stray, because of that very reason: starvation had clearly surpassed fear of people.
Today, I often glance out at the lanai just beyond my bedroom window. This stray cat – who, by the way, is a stray no more – is now comfortably relaxed on one of my lounge chairs. The sun’s rays shine down on her, and she appears to be having the time of her life. If she gets too hot, the cat, which I dubbed Peaches N. Cream, will get up and stroll over to my pool, dip her head in and have a refreshing drink. I’ve often worried that she might slip and fall in, but so far that appears not to have happened.
When I moved to Orlando in 2002, I brought no fewer than six cats with me from Massachusetts. All but one was a stray I had opened my doors to. Sadly, in the 15 years that have gone by, all six have passed away.
And since I relocated to Florida, I’ve adopted seven more cats, and I now own three. Peaches N. Cream is one of them, and in all my years, none of the strays I brought into my home has seemed as desperately in need of saving as this one.
When that stray black cat first approached me, clearly desperate for any thin scrap of food I might have, I quickly noticed something disturbing: a bright red splotch on her forehead, right above her eyes. I picked the cat up, and it took me a second to realize what that red splotch was. The smell gave it away, because I instantly identified it as hot sauce — the kind commonly found next to a bowl of Nachos.
Some sick individual had thrown hot sauce in this poor cat’s face.
Over the years, I’ve had stray cats come to me that looked very hungry, several that seemed scared of me, and a few where it took months before they would trust me enjoy to come even a foot or so away from me. But I have never felt so angry, so disgusted and so sick to my stomach as I did seeing this cat with hot sauce in its face.
I held onto the cat, and brought her to my front door. At that point, she did get scared and tried to break free, but she was so thin and weak that I didn’t have much trouble holding on to her. It took me a moment to find my keys and unlock the door, and once I had her inside, I got a cloth with warm water and washed all the sauce off her face.
Then I put her down, got out a can of cat food, and placed it in front of her. Not surprisingly, she ate ravenously, and sometime growled, like she thought I might take it away.
This scene would have been far more sentimental and heartwarming if one of my other two domestic cats, Fluffy, hadn’t spotted this black stray – and promptly tried to attack her. That near-assault, claws raised indignantly, absolutely terrified Peaches, who screamed loud enough to wake the dead. Fluffy’s claws are swinging through the air and Peaches is howling, and I’m standing there thinking What did I get myself into here? I shooed Fluffy away and put Peaches in a separate room where I could lock the door behind her and avoid future Fluffy fits. And yes, Fluffy was in the doghouse at that point.
That was Peaches’ introduction to my home. In the three months that have followed … well, she’s become quite acclimated to the house. She finds places that she wants to mark as her territory – maybe the dining room table, maybe the edge of the couch – and she parks there for weeks on end. Lately, Peaches has been digging the fresh air and sunshine out on the lanai.
She’s mostly a lone wolf. I have a cat named Midnight, who is older, and she never much cared that Peaches was in the house – she could take her or leave her. Fluffy hissed a lot at first, but now she and Peaches mostly just ignore one another as well. Oh, her! Time to turn my nose up! Peaches isn’t much into socializing with her housemates.
She likes to occasionally sleep on my shoulder, particularly on cold days. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when I approach her, at first she cries out in fear, and flinches. It’s only when I start to rub her nice fur, ever so gently, that she starts purring.
I’ve stopped trying to imagine how much abuse she may have endured.
Today is National Love Your Pets Day. If you have a pet, and you live a busy life, and you come home from work, quickly feed them and then forget they’re there, take a moment today to go home and remind them of how much you really do love them.
We’ll never know how much misery they may have endured before we found them, since they can’t tell us. But we can definitely make them feel loved, as often as possible.
Conclusion: Cats are highly vulnerable creatures, who suffer from abuse, neglect and lack of food. If you have a loving cat as one of your pets, spread the word about how we all need to care for them.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.