October 28, 2009

Crazy Cat Ladies and Contentment

How many cats before you're considered a Crazy Cat Lady? Really, I need to know because I may have crossed the line.

My grandmother on my dad's side was a bit of a Crazy Cat Lady. Pearlie was widowed the last 17 or 18 years of her life, and she would heat up food for all of the strays in the neighborhood. It seemed like every stray in Tarrant County knew when it was feeding time at Pearlie's. I've never seen so many cats! She didn't let the cats in the house, so she wasn't totally crazy, but it was a fine line that she walked.

Officially I only have 2 cats, Lucy and Ethel. They were rescue kitties and I've had them for 3 years. I think 2 cats is well within reason. But then one fateful day about 3 months ago, one of my neighbors stopped to ask if I had been feeding the black cat.

The black cat? I had noticed a black cat from time to time wandering around, but it always seemed to be on some sort of cat mission and it didn't seem hungry, so I hadn't paid much attention to it. "Good," he said. His grandkids had adopted the black cat and taken her home with them.

A couple of days later I opened my front door to find "the" black cat sitting on my front porch, meowing at the door. Up until that point, neither my neighbor, nor I, had realized there were TWO black cats. So began the ritual of feeding the black cat in the morning and again in the evening. It took me a few days to figure out he was living in the carport right in front of my condo. He would jump up on a car, and from there, jump into the rafters to sleep, undisturbed. When he heard my front door open, he would come down for a meal. In the beginning, my next-door neighbor was also helping with the feeding chores, but within the first couple of weeks he moved out of state, leaving me with the task.

As the weeks went by, the black kitty became more attached to me. Anytime he was within earshot when I stepped outside my door, he would come running - make that bounding - to greet me. He wasn't always looking for food - often he just wanted to rub against my legs and have me bend down to scratch his head.

We had a lot of rain this fall, so I took a golf umbrella my neighbor had left on his front porch when he moved, and made a little tent to protect his food. But then it started getting cold. I worried that the cat would climb up into car engines to get warm. And I worried that as Halloween approached, he would not be able to escape harm.

I had put him on a couple of shelter waiting lists back in August. Around the first of October I finally heard from Barbara at one of the shelters and she said they were probably still at least a month away from having room for him. She suggested that I bring him inside and keep him in a room separate from my cats, not only to keep him safe, but to help prepare him for the shelter. Bring a stray cat inside my house for an undetermined period of time? That sounded borderline Crazy Cat Lady to me. But I did it 4 weeks ago this weekend.

Initially the poor kitty was so relieved to have a warm, dry, and safe place to sleep that he didn't seem to notice he was confined to a 10 x 10 bedroom. For the first 2 weeks, he didn't even scratch on the door! I told myself it was just Stockholm Syndrome.

The last couple of weeks he has been more assertive about wanting out, but not in an obnoxious way. He scratches on the door from time to time, but not a lot. He tries harder to make it past me and out into the freedom of my hallway each time I go in his room, but he accepts it when I block his path. I'm not sure why he wants out since the only cat sounds he hears on the other side of the door would be Ethel growling or Lucy hissing. They're not happy to have this cat taking up residence in the room that has the best view of their world. They're not happy that they find themselves locked in another room a couple of times a day where they can hear me talking to the black kitty I've begun to call Oscar. ("'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener...")

And yet, as Oscar has clearly begun to think more and more about an escape from the room in which he has spent the past 4 weeks, he is the picture of contentment. His only demand is that I spend time playing with him and petting him. Not a lot of time - just a few minutes a couple of times a day to let him know he's loved. If I try to leave the room too soon, he's right on my heels trying to squeeze through the door behind me. But as long as I take the time to let him know he's not alone, he's happy to lie in the middle of the room and quietly watch me leave, ready to face another day.

The shelter has a spot open for Oscar so he'll be leaving me next week and Lucy and Ethel and I will return to our normal routine. They'll be relieved, and on some level, so will I. But I'm also going to miss Oscar and the lessons he has taught me about contentment. Because Oscar has reminded me that when I spend enough time with God to feel His love for me, I'm ready to face another day, too. I suspect my grandmother learned the same lesson from the cats she fed.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. - Philippians 4:12

October 22, 2009

Things That Go Bump in the Night

A few nights ago I was with a group of women, most of whom are attached - either married or living with a boyfriend. They got on the topic of what they do to feel safe when their significant other is out of town. One suggested keeping a brick by their bed. Really? Does that seem like a good idea? Another suggested a power drill plugged in by the bed. I kind of liked that one. There's nothing in the drill, mind you. Her theory is that the sound would startle any intruder into making a run for it.

But the truth is, the entire conversation took me by surprise because I've lived alone so long that the possibility of someone breaking in while I'm asleep rarely crosses my mind. Once or twice a month in cold months, when I don't have the white noise of a fan running all night, I'll wake up to the sound of police helicopters scouting the neighborhood. Even then, while it crosses my mind that someone could break in somewhere, I don't worry much about myself. I usually say a prayer for safety for everyone in my neighborhood, and go back to sleep. But that fan isn't off more than 4 months out of the year. The other 8 months someone could come in and pack up my whole house and I'd have a good chance of sleeping through it.

It wasn't always that way. When I was younger, I worried more. I'm not sure when that stopped, but I know it was after I began to let my faith become real. For years I'd pray for safety for myself each night before I went to sleep, but as I've gotten older, I guess I've learned to trust God more and more. I fully understand that there is evil in the world and that bad things can happen to any of us at any time, but I know that whatever happens, He will be there for me. Life is too short to be afraid to sleep alone in your own house.

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. - 2 Timothy 1:7