He used to be wild. At least he appeared to be.
I'd see him late at night when I'd come out the back door with some garbage or peelings to dump in the compost. He'd be near the garage where the roofed patio is coming off the garage. That was where the food dish was for the dog. He'd see me and he'd run out of there pretty fast.
As time went on he didn't run as fast--he knew I wouldn't chase him, squirt water from the hose or throw rocks at him like I knew others were wont to do. But he'd always run, sometimes pausing as he jumped to the top of the chain link fence - a quick look back at me (probably more for his own security) and then he'd vanish on the other side, his dark black fur swallowed by the darkness.
Knowing he was a stray I bought cat chow and would put it out for him so he wouldn't have to eat just dog food. I didn't own a cat at the time, only my border collie dog Sam. I could tell he was a stray. There's a certain body posture that a stray has; crouched, low to the ground, and they walk lightly on their feet, almost like they're in stealth mode all the time. That also means they're not relaxed like a house cat, a loved cat.
The term feral is often used but experience has shown me that 'scared' would be a better term for these cats. That's not to say that there aren't totally wild (feral) cats out there, because there are, but most didn't start out feral.
Time would pass and I would see this cat on occasion, sometimes he'd run out of the dog house in the night. There was straw in it and my dog certainly didn't sleep in it at night, only during the day time. The small garage door was usually left open in winter especially, not so much in the summer because raccoons would make a mess of the garbage. I knew that he could go in there if it got really cold, or any other stray cat for that matter. (We'd had a childhood experience with a precious cat running away from home and getting such severe frost bite that the tops of his ears which fell off. Ever since then, I can't stand the thought of a stray cat being out in the cold).
As my dog Sammy got older his hips began to bother him. I realized he needed a warmer place to sleep during the day other than his dog house.
Mom, Dad and I cut a doggy door in the small garage door so that it could be closed. That way it'd be warmer inside. Then I set up a straw dog bed in an extra large cardboard box and then put in a pig lamp. Pig lamp is the term I use - it's a heat lamp with a protective wire covering and my grandpa used to use them in the barn. He'd hang it over the piglets to keep them warm.
It took Sam a little time to get used to going through the dog door, but it wasn't long until he was spending a lot of time in there nestled in the straw. And at night Tom would sleep in Sam's bed.
I'd see the wild cat when walking in the subdivision and I realized he had quite a large range to cover. We'd nicknamed him Tom - as in Tom Cat. Early on when it was winter I could always tell when he'd come by because of the tale tell footprints in the snow. Tom's footprints were unique though - giant, because he is polydactael which meant he had extra toes. In fact, that was the first time I ever 'saw' Tom was when he left super huge footprints in the snow. I new I had a large Tom cat around.
As time went on Tom didn't run away quite so fast but I realized he was less and less afraid of me. Then one day he showed up under the heat lamp in Sam's bed and he did not, would not, run away. He was sick. Really sick. So I gave him food and water, left the heat lamp on and kept the dog away. I was even able to touch his head briefly, which he hated and shrank back from but he didn't run away. That's how sick he was. Thankfully, he recovered.
From there I worked on Tom, calling him by name, talking to him, and keeping a regular feeding schedule. In time, he would come and eat, walking by me as I sat reading outside. He knew I was a friend. When I said his name, he'd look at me. And he didn't run away any more.
Then I would touch his back. At first he shrunk away but it didn't take long until he allowed it and came to enjoy it and he loved to have his head scratched.
In time I knew I had to do the right thing and have Tom neutered. He was constantly in fights and coming by wounded--once with a terrible throat gash that got so infected I had to capture him and take him to the vet. He was getting older and I realized that by not having him fixed I was perpetuating the problem of feral cats in the neighbourhood. I was afraid to capture him and put him through this procedure, since to my knowledge he'd never been to a vet in his life. I had to admit to myself I was afraid he would hate me for it and I'd worked so very hard to gain his trust.
I did it anyway. It turned out he very badly needed tooth surgery too. The vet said, "Boy is this cat ever used to pain. He has broken teeth with bare nerves." So we got him all fixed up and he came home. And he didn't hate me. I had to keep him in the garage for a few days to recover and we had a great time bonding. I had to care for his neck wound and Tom really enjoyed the attention he got while I cleaned his wounds. And he purred. For the first time Tom started purring, very loudly. We became very good friends.
From there, Tom was introduced to the house... slowly... he was freaked out about the whole coming indoors thing at first, but being a smart cat, he caught on to everything really quickly. He loved coming in on rainy days and evenings. In time, he was allowed to stay in overnight and then as long as he wanted, asking to come and go as he pleased.
I started writing this last Friday.
On Tuesday this week Tom vanished.
Today is Friday again and Tom is still missing. This is very out of character with a cat who has slept by my side every night for the last two years.
My niece helped put up posters on my street and at the busy street corner. Dad and I checked the road for a body - hoping not to find him but needing to know if he'd been killed on the road.
No body, no Tom.
And I worry. Tuesday was a garbage day and nice weather during March break. Lots of parents are home and maybe gardening and cleaning up outside, maybe opening up their sheds and garages. I'm hoping Tom wandered inside and is just waiting to be set free. It's not really like him to wander into other people's buildings (that's something Tigger would do).
I'm missing him very much. Let's just say the prayer life has picked up again as I'm hoping my big little darling comes home very soon. If you're someone that prays, please pray for Tom. Thank you.