Commentary: Country Cats

Buffalo, NY – When you live in the country, cats just appear. Dropped off in newspaper-lined bins, left in kitteny heaps in a ditch on your road, thrown out of moving cars, crawling up your porch. They arrive nameless refugees without passports or luggage, from another world, another life, and you find them homes or take them in.

Our cat Mini Monster, named for another older, bigger cat - Monster - is our latest. Lurking along the edges of our field for weeks last summer, he'd make brief eye contact only to disappear again. One day, he made it to the porch. Long fluffy tail. Dark stripes. One eye. Like a weary pirate, patchless and hungry, he joined the ranks of our barn cats and found food.

Animals trust children. Patiently, with soft voices and fingers-full of salmon treats, Hope, Georgia, and Henry waited. Reaching gently, touching his back, his tail, his head they lured this frightened and mangy beast into friendship. Long dark fur hung off of him in mats, tiny creatures crawled his head, and his left eye wept green goo. One day I got close enough to stuff Mini into a cat box and whisk him to the vet. A few hundred dollars later, neutered, dewormed, deloused, demited, and diagnosed with Hohner Syndrome for his eye, he became a pet again.

Sometimes I ask Mini about his past life. "Did you live with an old lady who fed you tuna?" "Are you a father?" "Do you miss it there?" He doesn't answer, just presses his head into the crook of my arm and vibrates. I watch him nuzzle our dog and feel he must have had a dog in that other place. I clip a mat from behind his ear and wonder if he remembers being groomed; he's so still. These musings are like wondering about your boyfriend's past you long to know but you will never know and maybe it's better that way. Mini is between 5 and 15 years old; our vet made up a birthday for him.

So why? Why pay money we need for a working car to heal a broken cat?

And here is where I believe that becoming a parent has made me a kinder person. We help the cat because we can, because we are here, and because we were asked. As a mother, I have a responsibility to teach kindness to three young souls. We heal the cat because he needs us. He is a symbol for the world, a world that sometimes does show up on our porch and ask for help. By feeding Mini, petting him, and loving him, we make the world a tiny bit kinder.

The cats don't all live inside, but Mini does. A circle of fur on Cali's dog bed, a stretched out baby in Georgia's arms, a curled up comma on our couch. He's become a home-soundtrack, a loud in-and-out-breathing-purr that sounds like a growling "Thank you thank you " when anyone even walks in a room or pours water into the steel bowl.

I grew up a dog-person. As children we were told, "There's a difference between dog people and cat people; and we're dog people." I understand that difference; dogs love you and cats love what you do for them. But drop-off cats love like dogs. They know what humans are capable of. And we know too.

Listener-Commentator Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writing teacher who lives in Holland. She blogs at poemfarm.blogspot.com.

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