In addition to dogs and chickens, I have 4 cats to make absolutely sure that I’m never without some sort of pet-related chore to take care of. There’s Ms. Cuddles, a gray Persian Gayle brought home about 10 years ago, Ms. Missy, the pretty calico whom we found as a kitten, quite literally in the trash around the same time, our resident orange cat, Mr. Punkin, who, as a fist-sized kitten, was loitering near a Veterans Affairs Medical Center trashcan. Then there’s Mr. Shadow, the black cat. Make no mistake, I love them all, but today I’ve chosen to single out our somewhat elusive member of the family, Shadow.
The evening I met him, way back on a summer night around 2006 or 2007, I was returning from Houston and stopped at a convenience store along the highway, somewhere around Prairie View, for gas. After gassing up, I hopped back in my rental car to hit the road and then thought better of it, deciding to grab a soda, something with caffeine, to keep me awake. I pulled into a parking spot in front of the store’s big, glass double doors, and just to the side of the entrance stood a emaciated, desperate black kitten, who looked to be about two months old. Domestic animals like cats and dogs know they need us, particularly when they can smell food, and hunger had obviously overcome Shadow’s innate shyness. He was standing hesitantly to the side of the door, ready to run at a moment’s notice if necessary, and looking up at people rushing into and out of the store, too busy to notice a little guy like him while he silently implored them to show just a little compassion. As I went inside, I told myself that if he were still there when I came out, I’d feed him. While getting my soda, I bought a couple of cans of wet cat food, figuring I’d feed them to my own cats if the little, black kitten was already gone. When I went back out, there he was.
My original plan was to simply put the food down and leave. Goodness knows that even then I had plenty of pets at home. I just couldn’t do it. Shadow, the shy–but desperate–kitten, allowed me to pick him and put him in the car. I opened a can of cat food, placed it on the mat on the floorboard, and the rest is history. Besides, I was tired, and he helped keep me awake by keeping me entertained. As it almost always turns out with pets, it was not a one-way street we were traveling. We were helping each other already.
Shadow is our under-the-radar cat who’s still just a tad on the shy side–except with me–and who prefers to stay outside, provided it’s not too rainy, too hot, or too cold. OK. He’s a fair-weather family member who, ironically, is absent during fair weather for the most part. During our more temperate times of the year, he’s voluntarily an outside cat. We regularly see him out in the backyard where we leave his food and water under the patio table umbrella. He knows, however, that all he has to do is show up, stare through the windows of our French doors long enough, and one will magically open to let him inside. When he wants back out, he will literally rise up on his hind legs and beat on the glass (or plastic or whatever that clear stuff is) of our storm door, the one that opens into the front yard, like Dustin Hoffman pounding on the glass in The Graduate. He makes just as much noise, too. I can hear him all over the house!
What he does while he’s outside is beyond me. During the day he presumably holes up somewhere and sleeps, and at night–well, he’s a black cat. Try watching a black cat on a dark night. Most nights, if I go outside for a few minutes with the dogs, I may feel a bump in the night. That would be Shadow rubbing my leg to say “howdy.” In reciprocation, I’ll go back inside, find the Friskies Party Mix Original Crunch, his favorite, and give him a handful of something tasty. (As much as he seems to like them, I’m tempted to try a couple myself!) One of these days I’ll remember to just go ahead and take some Friskies outside with me.
A young Shadow wanting out.
I suspect Shadow is going to want to check back into the Elkins Street Motel pretty soon. The weather guessers, otherwise called forecasters, are calling for 94° and 95° temps this week. When he knows it’s going to be hot, and he somehow seems to know (does he watch the news from the window at night?), he turns up at the back door around dawn, the same time I’m letting the dogs outside to do their business. (The sun wakes up the dogs; the dogs wake up me.) Even then, he won’t just run inside unless I’m the one holding the door for him. (Being a doorman is apparently an art!) If Gayle, my beloved, is holding the door, he will balk and jump back over the fence. When he hears the door open again for any reason, he’ll reappear, and if I’m the doorman on duty again, he’ll saunter right past me (he never tips!) and take his position behind the flat-screen TV located on the third shelf of the entertainment center. For variety, he’ll sometimes locate behind the DVR located on the second shelf. Once in a while I have to push the DVR back toward safety because he’ll scoot it toward the edge of oblivion as he stretches out, but so far, so good. It used to bother me, but I’ve given in to the inevitable. He’s so shy that I’d just as soon not alienate him by fussing about where he takes his snoozes.
Shadow has been a pleasant, bemusing, and often amusing presence around here for about 10 years now. I hope to have hime around for another 10. Anything that brings you love brings you good luck, too!