The White Cat - a short story
The commute home from work had been worse than usual. Dinner, followed by a good book, was all I was thinking about as I walked through the gate to the yard. That's when I saw the white cat for the first time.
The grass in the yard was overdue for mowing and looked a little wild. The big white cat stalked through that grass like an albino tiger in the jungle.
When he saw me, he froze in place with one leg in the air . The cat made quite a sight as he stood there iIn the early evening light. His bright blue eyes stood out against his pure white fur, which moved slightly in the light breeze.
From the first glimpse of the cat, I thought of it as a male. There was something about the way it carried itself that suggested that. The scarred face certainly suited a tomcat.
Something about him made me think he was a stray. Perhaps, it was the lack of a collar or because his fur looked like it could use a good brushing. Maybe it was because his ears bore the scars of many fights. Then again, it may have been his wary, but unafraid attitude. I knew I'd never seen him in the neighborhood before that night.
He stared at me with that unblinking stare cats have, until I took a step closer and then he whirled and bounded away. He was a white streak as he raced across the yard until he disappeared around the corner of the garage.
I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, 'oh, well' and then went about my business.
The white cat came to mind throughout the evening. There was something about him that caught my imagination. I pictured him wandering the neighborhood all night in search of food and water. It must be difficult for an animal to adjust to living without the protection of humans, even though cats are much better at this than dogs.
Cats are great hunters and scavengers and can usually manage to find enough food, even in a city like the one I lived in at that time. Water, on the other hand, can be one of the hardest things for a stray to find, because the excess runs off in the storm drains. It can be especially difficult if the weather has been hot and dry like it had been for the last few days. When I thought of this, I decided to put out a bowl of water for the white cat and any other stray animals that were in need.
As long as I was putting out the water, I decided I might as well add a bowl with the scraps from my dinner. It seemed to make more sense than throwing it in the garbage pail. I put both bowls near the back door and then settled down to read until bedtime.
When I left for work the next day, I noticed the level of the water had dropped and that the scraps of food were gone. I refilled the water bowl before leaving for the day. When I returned that evening, I set out more food.
The cat failed to put in another appearance for several days, although each morning the food would be gone and the level of the water would be lower in the bowl. I continued to feed and water my unknown beneficiary for about a week without knowing who or what was eating the food. Then, I saw the cat again.
He was at the water bowl as I walked out the back door one day. He immediately whirled and raced away. I realized that this was one very wild animal. That's when I determined to try to gain his trust.
From experience, I knew that even truly wild animals can be tamed, to a certain extent. One memory from my childhood stands out vividly. My grandfather would sit in his garden with a bag of sunflower seeds and scatter a few at his feet. He would sit motionlessly for some time until the birds came to feed. Before he was done, he would have coaxed those wild birds onto his lap to take seeds from his fingers. I remember seeing them perched on his hat and shoulders as he sat there. It was a truly amazing sight.
Squirrels can be easily coaxed into taking food from a human. Twice, while crouched down as I fed a squirrel, I've had one crawl up my back to perch on my shoulder. I have a picture, somewhere, of a black squirrel doing just that while my son and stepdaughters watched in amazement. This can get a little hairy when you think about those sharp teeth only an inch or two from your ear.
There are two main requirements for gaining the trust of a wild animal. One is patience - lots and lots of patience. That's something I have in abundance. The other requirement is food. I took care of that with a trip to the local pet store where I picked up some pet treats and canned cat food.
The next evening, instead of going back inside after setting out the food and water, I placed a lawn chair about 20 feet away and settled down to read.
It wasn't long before I spotted a white head peeking around the corner of the garage. After about twenty minutes, the white cat took a few steps around the corner and then stopped. He would come no closer that evening, even though I sat there reading for almost two hours. When I went back inside, I took the food bowl with me.
The next night was pretty much a copy of the first night. The stray must have been hiding behind the garage waiting for the sound of the door opening. Like the first night, he stood with only his head showing for several minutes then he moved a few feet closer and laid down in the grass. He stood up when I did, ready to bolt if I made any threatening moves.
When I walked away from him toward the door, he came a few steps closer and then stopped, his blue eyes gleaming eerily in the fading twilight.
When I reached the door, I stooped and retrieved the food bowl just as I had the night before. This time I took out a scrap of food and tossed it in his direction. He immediately shied away, and then returned to sniff the food. One gulp and it was gone. I tossed a second bit of food a little closer, but it seemed I'd exhausted his patience for one night. He turned and strolled away as if unconcerned.
The next two nights followed the same pattern, except for a change from a Dale Brown adventure novel to a William Morrow mystery. The white cat would come no closer than thirty feet. I was beginning to think I had bitten off more than I could chew.
There was a break in the routine on Friday due to previous plans. I thought about the white cat off and on throughout the evening and wondered what he might be thinking of my absence. I told myself he would take it in stride and be off doing whatever it was he did when I wasn't around.
Saturday was another beautiful day, with the promise of a lovely evening. Dinner was delayed slightly, so I was a little later going outdoors then I'd been the first four nights. To my surprise, the white cat was sitting about thirty feet from the door when I opened it.
He crouched down when he saw me, but didn't run. Moving slowly and as non-threateningly as possible, I set down the two bowls and moved towards my chair without appearing to notice him.
After about twenty minutes, he could no longer resist the smell of the food and moved towards the bowl. He watched me out of the corner of his eye all the way to the bowl. The slightest move on my part would have sent him flying from the yard, perhaps never to return.
He ate warily, but quickly. After each dip of the head, he would look at me to make sure I hadn't tried to sneak up on him while his head was down. I wondered what terrible events had made this creature so wary of humans. I was more determined than ever to gain his trust.