A few days ago, while shoveling snow from my driveway, I saw a flash of
orange near the shed at the end of my carport. It was a cat -- a very young
cat. I put my shovel down and stroked her fur. She seemed friendly and healthy,
just a little thin. I wondered where she had come from. Before long, I had my
answer. With a cunning maneuver between the loosely closed door and the
doorjamb, she slipped into my shed. Or, should I say, she slipped BACK into my
Upon inspection, I found a rudimentary nest had been fashioned from some
lawn chair covers and sporting equipment. It looked well used and was lined
with a light coating of orange fur. I may never know where she "came
from" initially (subsequent days of searching the neighborhood and
watching the "lost pet" ads indicated she was not missed), but I know
where she lives now. Apparently, I have been adopted.
The Big Chill
The day the kitten (whom I am tentatively calling "Marmalade" at this
writing) found me, I was shoveling snow for what must have been the eighth or
tenth time this season. Usually one can't count on snow shoveling as a total
replacement for upper body strength training where I live, but it's been a
particularly harsh winter so far in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures have
hovered in the single digits, snowfalls have broken records in many areas, and
icy conditions have led to accidents and road closures.
It was after many weeks
of this inclement weather that Marmalade made her presence known. Such a tiny
thing, she was, and the weather was so very, very cold. I set about finding her
food and shelter. By nightfall, she had consumed one small can and one large
scoop of cat food and was ensconced in relative comfort in fleece-blanket-lined
box in the same shed.
Why didn't I take her indoors? Well, that gets complicated. You may think
I'm nuts, but some pet owners will understand the following confession: I
couldn't break the promise I had made to my other cat.
Some 8 years ago, when I adopted Ming the Siamese, she was a full-grown,
age-indeterminate feline whose previous owner had to get rid of her because
Ming allegedly picked fights with the other cats. "She's the troublemaker
of the bunch," they told me, "She just HATES other cats." I've
always been more of a dog person myself, and have never had more than one cat
at a time, so I figured I could provide a good home for her. Indeed, Ming and I
have shared countless hours in my recliner, with her on my lap and a good book
in my hands. She holds her own with my dogs and visiting dogs, and even seems
to enjoy their company if they're not too pushy. (She's been known to give my
Irish wolfhound puppy a few smacks in the face for turf violation, see photo.)
But other cats? That's another story.
Ming is primarily an indoor cat, but she does utilize my dogs' pet door to
go outside when the spirit, or a tempting sunbeam on the deck, moves her. The
few encounters she has had with other cats over the years -- ranging from yard
encounters to visiting kitties to one particularly confident little black Tom
who came IN the dog door -- have proven to me that her previous owners were
right. Ming HATES other cats.
A Win-Win Compromise?
Enough days have passed that it's pretty clear I have a new cat. There has been
no response to the flyers I posted within a 3-block radius of my house and at
the local grocery and hardware stores. I've decided to try what, for me, is a
totally new approach to cat ownership. Marmalade is going to be an outdoor cat.
I know darn good and well many cats and dogs live outdoors year-round, but none
of MY dogs and cats have ever been outdoor animals. I'm making this decision
based on three factors: (1) The weather has warmed a bit; (2) I did some
Internet research about outdoor pets and I feel I can meet her needs; and (3)
she seems way better off living in my shed than wherever she came from.
Oh, yes, and there's a fourth factor. That danged Ming. I have no doubt that
she and Marmalade will have a face-off at some point in the future, probably
this spring in my garden (kitties love freshly turned earth). But by that time,
I'm hoping Marmalade will be firmly ensconced as my Outdoor Kitty and Chief
Mouser, and Ming will be content to continue her longtime role as Lap Sitter
and Chief Canine Disciplinarian, and they can each reign over their separate
domains. Who knows, maybe the elder kitty will have even mellowed by then and
the new kid can spend some time indoors. But I'm not going to push it. After
all, I made a promise.
Sally O'Neal is a lifelong pet owner who lives in Washington State. She has
been a travel, outdoor, and human interest writer for 15 years and written for
sportsmansguide.com since 2000. Next week, she'll share her research on caring
for outdoor pets.