Our cat conundrum slowly uncurls

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My daughter Emily accused me of being hardhearted the day the stray cat appeared. She spotted him perched high on our neighbor's roof. "He's stuck!" Emily cried. "Look at him!"

I did look, and I wasn't concerned. Even from the ground, I could see this cat wore a flea collar and obviously belonged to someone. I explained to Emily how the cat could easily jump from the steeply pitched roof to the flat roof of our neighbor's garage and then climb down the tree behind the garage.

"No, he can't," she insisted. "He's scared!"

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She fussed and worried until I brought a dish of cat food and jiggled it near the tree. The cat leaped down the very path I'd described and gobbled up the food.

"He's starving!" Emily said.

Actually, he wasn't thin. He looked about a year old and sported a shiny coat of brown-striped fur. After we fed him, he seemed happy to stick around. Emily petted him and carried him around our yard for hours.

It was a cold spring day, and by evening the temperature dropped considerably. I insisted that Emily come in, and the cat stay out. She hovered near the window and fretted. Outdoors, the winds howled and the cat meowed.

"He's freezing!" she cried.

I assured her he'd soon go home, to his real home. We peeked out the window throughout the evening and watched him shiver and cry on the front steps, as if he truly were freezing. At bedtime, I broke down and allowed him to come into our warm front entry.

I assured my husband this would not be a problem, because the cat had a flea collar and belonged to somebody. He was probably just lost. Emily brought him a blanket to sleep on, more food, and water. I brought a kitty-litter box.

Blackie, our family cat, who firmly intended to remain our one and only cat, paced the other side of the entry door. She hissed and growled, thinking, no doubt, that it was quite enough to put up with our family dog, let alone another cat!

The next day, Emily and I wandered around the neighborhood - me, urgently, and she, reluctantly - trying to find the cat's owner. Several neighbors confessed they were feeding him on the sly, but he wasn't their cat and they didn't want him.

Finally, we tracked down his home, or rather lack of home, in another neighborhood. His owner had moved away and left the cat to fend for itself.

Contrary to my daughter's earlier accusation, I am not hardhearted. At this wretched news, my heart tumbled. The poor thing! Emily looked at me with love in her heart and pleading eyes. To her, the solution was simple. She even named him.

Our cat, Blackie, was not so easily moved by this story of homelessness and desertion. She refused to accept Waffles as a member of our family. She hissed, spat, cuffed him on the ear, and threatened to do worse when we brought him inside.

My husband and I decided Waffles would be our outdoor cat. This went well for a while. Duane, being the first one up in the morning, enjoyed feeding Waffles on the front porch at the crack of dawn.

Waffles soon claimed the porch and steps as his territory. We would come home to find him lounging there in the sun. Other times, Emily would wander around our yard with Waffles draped happily over her shoulders.

Unfortunately, Waffles became territorial, and things went astray. Late at night we'd hear the most awful screeching and caterwauling outside our back door. One morning, Waffles appeared with a torn ear.

That summer, when we left for vacation, my mom promised to feed him, as well as Blackie, while we were away. Still, we wondered if Waffles would stick around until we returned. Sure enough, my mom noticed him missing on the fourth day.

Upon our return, Emily and my two older daughters were desperate. They searched the neighborhood and called him for hours. I soon guessed where he might be. We drove to the animal shelter, and there he was, a most unhappy cat cowering in his cage.

I phoned my husband at work. Clearly, Waffles could no longer be an outdoor cat. What should we do?

"What else can we do?" Duane said. "We have to keep him." The girls, who had been hovering near the receiver, shrieked with joy.

But it wasn't that simple. What would we do about Blackie? I called the veterinarian and began crying as I explained our predicament.

"Now, now," the vet said. "It should work out. Given a little time, most cats can adjust to each other."

The first day was a nightmare. We brought Waffles home and presented him to Blackie. Blackie hissed and growled with increased fervor, which greatly amused Waffles. He playfully batted her twitching tail. She flew into such a tizzy that foam drooled from her mouth.

I placed another frantic call to the vet.

"Now, now," the veterinarian said. "You just need to relax. Tonight, after the kids are in bed, you sit down with your husband, have a nice dish of ice cream, and things will seem better. Within two weeks, I'm sure those cats will be friends."

Actually, it only took one week. Seven days after that disastrous introduction, Blackie and Waffles were napping side by side on the couch, as if they'd grown up together. Waffles had discovered the secret to befriending his new sister. She had never been one for self-grooming. Waffles, being quite fastidious, not only bathed himself, but his sister as well, which she greatly enjoyed.

Since then, Waffles has befriended us all. He allows my girls to dress him in doll clothes and pose him beside the dog for pictures. (Blackie would never suffer such indignities.) He climbs Duane's shoulders and affectionately kisses his ears. He begs for cereal in the morning, follows us around the house, talks to us all day long, and curls up on our laps while we read.

It didn't take us long to realize we'd be lost without him. With my young daughter's heart to guide him, Waffles the stray cat, had finally found his home.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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