What triggers the act of bonding with a cat? Is it that casual encounter where eye contact is made, and sustained? Maybe it begins with a petting session, or just boils down to feeding a hungry vagabond who decides you’re a human worthy of attention and affection.
Michael and I have bonded with countless cats over time. They usually wander to our porch for a meal. A few wayfarers joined our indoor family, but most chose to keep their options open. Some we were able to trap, neuter and release, but most eluded us before any sort of special bonding took hold.
Several years ago a trim tuxedo with identical white paws and a distinctive black mustache began showing up on our porch. He was young, unneutered, and appeared healthy and untroubled. We named this charmer Boots. Although he was happy to partake from our all-day porch buffet, he was diffident and not eager for petting. He was content to sidle up the steps, eat his fill, then curl up in the flowerbed for a nap.
Two weeks passed, and the routine remained regular with a few exceptions. He now accepted kibble from my hand, and he allowed Michael to pet him. If we all sat on the porch together, Boots sometimes perched between us on the ground. He’d make serious eye contact—looking at me and then Michael—and would meow passionately as though communicating some important piece of information. Like the silky web of a garden spider we felt a bond weaving gently around us.
Boots was a keeper. He’d stolen our hearts with his winsome demeanor. And he displayed no signs of alpha-arrogance. He would blend easily into our cat family. The challenge was earning his trust to where we could lure him into a carrier. He’d need to be checked out and neutered before he could come inside.
But as we were making these plans, Boots abruptly disappeared. We were crushed. We argued to each other that we should have trapped him a week earlier. He was probably dispatched by a car, dog, or midtown coyote. We had bonded with that little guy, and we’d let him down. We thought about posting fliers but didn’t have a photo of Boots.
A few days after his disappearance we took a long walk to recalibrate our spirits. The fall afternoon was chilly and clear. Three blocks from our home we spotted a tattered, faded poster tacked to a utility pole. LOST CAT: Answers to Bob Marley.
The sun bleached photograph looked just like Boots, mustache and all. The phone number was too dim to read. Was Boots a two-timing cat prowling around under the alias of Bob Marley? He probably returned to his home and we can quit worrying, we decided.
Then, a week later, there appeared another LOST CAT flier with a photo that also looked suspiciously like Boots. This poster looked older, and the picture fuzzier, but there was no mistaking the similarity. This LOST CAT was named Bubba, and the hanging tags with phone numbers were all pulled off. What kind of racket was this Boots-Bob-Bubba running, Michael wondered aloud.
Shortly before Thanksgiving we took another afternoon stroll. We circled a small neighborhood park and were heading back home when suddenly I spotted Boots, Bob, or whatever-his-name-was lounging on a porch next to a young boy.
“Hi!” I called out brightly. “What a pretty cat!” The boy, maybe nine or 10, merrily agreed. “Our new kitty. Wanna see him?” Before I could answer he scooped up Boots and held him out for my inspection. He’d not been that docile with us, I remembered enviously. Boots caught my eye in instant recognition and meowed a familiar greeting. “He thinks he knows you,” the boy laughed.
“How long have you had him?” I asked. “A week. Mom said he’s homeless, and I’m keeping him. His name is Farley.”
“He’s a sweet kitty,” I replied. “Keep an eye on him.”
We walked in silence. “I’m too old for a custody battle,” I argued with no one in particular. “I can’t believe it. Marley, Farley, Boots, Bubba. What a scam! We bonded with that cat!”
“Honey, who knows why some cats cheat with their affection. Don’t take it personally. Boots bonded with us, and that kid, and others. Sometimes they cheat a little, just like people.” I frowned a sideways glance as Michael burst into song,“Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you.”
I thought of the little boy and suddenly felt guilty. Good luck, kid. Welcome to your first heartbreak.
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