She was very small, smoky grey fur, with an almost Egyptian look to her. She huddled out on our deck this very cold winter, when the river had frozen over for the first time in a decade. We had just finished our dinner of meatloaf. My eventually-to-be-husband, Stuart, looked out at her and said “put out the leftover meatloaf for her.” The kids and I all looked at him in shock and surprise. Stuart was not known for sharing his leftover meatloaf with anyone, let alone a bedraggled stray cat.
For the next few weeks we continued to put out bits of chicken, tins of salmon, all manner of food to entice her. Furtively, she would dash in the house, find a warm, out of the way corner, and thaw out a bit. The moment anyone opened the door she would streak back out to the wilderness. Stuart bought a case of tinned cat food.
She started to relax a little, and spend longer periods of time in the house. One night she walked quite deliberately towards Stuart, knocked her head up against the underside of the coffee table to gain his attention, then consented to his stroking her head with one finger. I believe that was the moment he decided she was his cat.
The next day he came home with flea shampoo and a cat brush. I was to wash the cat; he was going to brush her. The bath part went surprisingly well. Not so the brushing. Stuart, being more accustomed to dogs than cats, felt if he just continued to hold her down as he brushed her, she would finally submit. Wrong. She growled, slashed, and bit, twisting around on the floor, leaving deep, bleeding gashes on Stuart’s arm. Finally she managed to sink her teeth deep into his palm, and Stuart released her. She leapt out of further reach and glared at him in disgust.
She disappeared for several days after that. Stuart, a normally reserved and unsentimental man, became frantic. He took to canoeing up the river, which now had little ice bergs floating along it, calling for her, shaking her favourite treats. “I want my kitty cat back” he told me, sorrow and worry in his eyes.
She reappeared. I suppose she had forgiven Stuart, as she again did the whole head-knock and consent to be petted thing again. She even climbed on his lap. The kids and I weren’t granted this privilege. She was so nasty, yet so beautiful; Stuart decided to name her “The Doleman of Elas” after a Star Trek character. Stuart got her to the vet’s, had her spayed, examined, got her shots and had her ear tattooed lest she go missing again. (Which she would do on an all-too-regular basis. This would send Stuart back into “I want my kitty cat back mode”)
Feral cats are not terribly affectionate, but they are fascinating to watch. One day, I noticed the Doleman crouched on the
roof of the doghouse, tail twitching, eyes fixed on a Great Blue heron stalking elegantly past her. “No” I thought, “She wouldn’t possibly…” The six pound Doleman pounced directly on the heron’s back. It flapped its great wings and swung at her with its long beak, but couldn’t dislodge her. Finally, it took to the air, The Doleman still clinging to it. Around ten feet up she thought better of it, and dropped to the ground in that “I meant that” attitude cats do so well.
Time never really tamed the Doleman. Several moves, meant new vets who never seemed to believe us when we warned them to wear leather gauntlets before attempting to touch her. She was so tiny. One even foolishly opened the door to her crate without blocking her. It took an hour, a lot of sweat and minor human bloodshed to get her back in.
But we loved our nasty little cat. She had “cattitude”. She was a survivor. And, on very cold days, she might even grant permission to stroke her. When we first brought her to the vet, he guessed her age at somewhere between one and two. She lived with us, nasty, independent, and elegant to the end, for seventeen years. She suffered a stroke, and died in a matter of hours one night. Stuart wept openly. He built her a little coffin, on which he inscribed “The Doleman of Elas, flying to Heaven on the wings of herons”.
A semi-wild cat will not wrap themselves around you with affection. They will remain aloof and indifferent. They will present challenges when it comes to ensuring their proper health care. They will, however, command your respect, entertain you with their sheer cattitude, and if conditions are just right, you may have the honour of stroking their warm soft fur. And, in The Doleman’s case, they might reveal the gentler side of someone you hadn’t seen before.