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(Jump to Part II - Six Weeks Later)
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(Jump to Part IV - Two and a Half Years Later)
November 3, 2013
Back in July of 2002, we had a "close encounter" with one of the "neighborhood" cats that wander around our small town. These are cats that might have homes - but don't spend a lot of time there. We'd actually already sort of adopted another semi-stray tomcat, who had made friends with our cats, and once he started sharing the yard with them (and sneaking in to eat their food - he was very skinny initially), we gave him a name and put down a third dish when we fed the cats - and in time we met the people he lived with when he wasn't staying with us. So at this point we had three cats most of the time, our resident spayed female cats Tejitu and Tilahun, and our "half-a-tomcat" Gashay (who wasn't actually a tomcat by then, but was larger than both of his older "sisters" combined, and was very ready to defend his adopted home). (Note: pictures click bigger.)
Anyway, on the night in question, we woke up to quite the ruckus in the kitchen - and stumbled out to discover that one of the young tomcats who had been hanging around had apparently followed one of our cats in through the cat door, not knowing that it was locked at night so the cats could come back in (Gashay often arrived quite late for dinner) - but could not go out again until morning! Fortunately we arrived before the young stray and Gashay were doing more than yowling at each other and exchanging a few bats. We tried to let the visitor out - but he wouldn't go near the open door and kept trying to go out the locked cat door - and we were too sleepy to realize that all we needed to do was unlock the cat door and he'd be long gone. Anyway, we managed to grab the two primary combatants with minimal damage to us or them, and decided to toss the visitor into a cat carrier and lock him in the shop until morning, at which point we could decide what to do after having coffee.
Come morning, we decided to put up some posters, to try to find out whose cat he was, and if he'd had his shots, and make sure he made his way safely back home. Unfortunately, we didn't get any replies. After a few days, we took him in to our vet for a quick checkup - our half-tomcat Gashay was the sweetest of big lugs - but he was also FIV positive, so it could have been a problem if he'd bitten the visitor. Fortunately the vet didn't see any sign of serious injuries on the stranger - and said that he was also FIV positive, so it was less of a concern. We brought him back home, and continued to try to find an owner - or anyone interested in him. He really couldn't stay with us, because we already had one territorial male cat, and one of our females is also pretty assertive (I'll try to post the story of her and the young chocolate lab later - for now, we'll just say that Tejitu came out on top of that encounter!). But the little stray was a sweet little lug, and we did want to make sure he came out all right in the end.
Here are a couple of pictures of him, on his first visit to the vet. She said the large head was because he was an un-neutered male, and his head would become more proportional to his body if he were fixed.
After a couple of weeks with no response to our notices, we brought him back to our vet, and made sure he had all his shots, got him neutered, and while he was asleep, we had a microchip inserted, so we'd know if he ever needed a friend. We brought him back to the pen we'd bought to keep him secure in the basement where the other cats didn't go, and got to know him a bit as he healed. And we gave him a name - Miskin - which means "poor little me" and was a name for street urchins when Charlie was in Ethiopia in the Peace Corps years ago. I should mention that our other cats have Ethiopian names as well - Tejitu literally means "full of honey mead" and more loosely means "full of spirit" and Tilahun means "my shadow" - and Tilahun is very much my cat, and came dashing across the kitten room at the shelter to climb on my shoulder when we walked in; there was no way we could not adopt her after that. Gashay means "my defender" or "my shield" - and he did do a good job of protecting our yard from other cats, while always deferring to his older "sisters" even though he was much bigger than they were.
To return to the story, after a few more weeks, we were ready to begin to look for a forever home or at least a no-kill shelter which could hold Miskin while looking for people who would love the affectionate young cat. But before we did that, we decided to let him out - to see if he thought he had a place to go, or if he would return.
He had a place to go.
We never heard from his people, though we had a collar with our phone number and a big "please call" tag on him when we let him out. But we saw him from time to time sitting on a couple of porches a few blocks away. He occasionally came back to our part of town, but clearly wasn't interested in taking up residence in our cellar again, even though there were regular meals, and people who would spend time with him, at least once or twice a day. After a few years, we stopped seeing him around - and assumed that he had probably met the early end that comes to many cats who live mostly on the street.
Fast forward to October 2013.
We were in California for a couple of weeks, a combination business trip and vacation - and the day after we arrived, I called home to check the answering machine - and found a call there from the local humane society. Our cat Miskin (identified by his microchip) had been turned in - and they wanted to know if we would be coming in to claim him. We said we wouldn't be back in Maine for a couple of weeks, and they agreed to keep him until we returned for a very modest fee (I like the part that they did everything possible to make sure this older cat was reunited with people who cared about him!).
We picked him up the day after we returned (having stopped by the pet store to get him a kennel/pen on the way because we'd given away his old one), and after a day or two of assessing his stress level, opened the kennel door and gave him free run of the basement. We added a couple more cat beds, and were pleased to see that he seemed quite comfortable in his space (he actually sleeps in the bed in the kennel much of the time). We had made an appointment to bring him to the vet as soon as possible - which was almost a week after we picked him up - and were thrilled to learn that she didn't discover anything really awful. She sent us away with ear drops (once a day for 10 days) and eye ointment (we were actually concerned that he might be blind in one eye, but she said no, and one eye is looking great now, and the other is looking a whole lot better), and said to continue the pills for his skin condition for another five days - I must confess I'm much better at inserting pills and holding a cat while Charlie applies eye ointment and ear drops than I've ever been before - and he's a trooper. I'm sure this is not fun for him, but he doesn't run or scratch or freak out when I pick him up and reach for the towel we wrap him in while doing these things.
Yesterday we began the process of introducing him to Tejitu and Tilahun (sadly Gashay died seven or eight years ago - but we are happy to know that he enjoyed spending time with us, and are fairly certain that he wouldn't have lived as long without the support we provided). We locked Tejitu and Tilahun out of the kitchen, and opened the door so Miskin could come up the cellar stairs and look around. The first time the door where he regularly waited for us was opened, he looked around once, and dashed back down.
Today was better. We knew he wouldn't be trying frantically to escape, so kept back a bit. He would go out, sniff around, then come back to us to be patted. Then he'd check out another corner of the kitchen. He ate a bit of the food we keep in the kitchen (which was just the same as what he was getting in the basement - but probably more exciting because he could tell that other cats had eaten there), and tossed one of the catnip toys around. Here are a couple of pictures of him today - and I do feel compelled to mention that I was more interested in what he was doing than how I was looking - I am capable of more friendly expressions - LOL! I've included one picture of him in the basement - focused on his dinner! All pictures click much bigger.
It's interesting - as I look at the pictures, he actually looks a bit younger now than he did 11 years ago - and while he's curled up in my lap, I do have the feeling that he's more a kitten than a senior cat - but a closer look at his face, or seeing the stiffness in his back legs tells me he is almost certainly past his prime. That said - he's a little sweetie, and I know that he has more good years in him, though perhaps at a slower pace. He likes warm laps, and catnip chili peppers (we brought those back for all three cats), and chasing little feather toys - as long as they don't move too fast or make him jump too high. (You know, he reminds me of me - I think twice before jumping myself these days!)
So - I'm not sure how this will play out, but I find it promising that Tejitu and Tilahun are not sitting on their side of the cellar door, growling at the interloper on the other side. They were both 16 years old this spring, and are beginning to be a bit more laid back than they were 10 years ago. And they did adopt Gashay all those years ago - so perhaps they will accept Miskin without too much drama. We do love all three of them - and are keeping our fingers crossed.
Added - here's the update, six weeks after Miskin re-entered our lives - Miskin - Six Weeks Later.