We discover our cat's dual identity

The calico cat simply showed up one day, deciding to take up residency in our hickory tree. From then on, every time anyone would come or go out the back door, the cat would be there, silently staring down at us from her perch.

"Just don't feed it," my husband announced. As a busy young family, we were not interested in taking on the added responsibility of caring for a cat, dog, or anything else. Besides, he pointed out, the cat obviously belonged to someone. She was healthy, beautiful, and sported a bright red collar. "If you feed it," he warned, "it'll hang around here forever."

It turned out there was no need to feed her; she seemed perfectly self-sufficient as the weeks quietly wore on. Whenever she wasn't on her perch and we worried about her, we discovered, to our delight, that merely calling "Here kitty, kitty," would bring the cat obediently from anywhere in the yard. Although bewildered by her mysterious appearance, the children and I grew extremely fond of her and eventually, when freezing temperatures were forecast, a decision needed to be made.

"Pleeeeease, Daddy," our daughters pleaded. My husband hesitated, then caved in, agreeing that we could adopt her as our official family pet on the condition that we take her straight to the vet for a shampoo and spaying. As he put it, he didn't want any "flea bag" in our home; but he said it with a smile, and we celebrated. We named her Miss Merry Bear and settled into a cozy routine.

Until one day when there was a knock at the door and a happy young couple stood there, holding our cat and introducing themselves as Ann and David. They lived in the neighborhood. They were out for a walk, they explained, when to their amazement they spotted their cat on our porch. Having feared she had gotten hit on the road months ago, they were obviously overjoyed with relief, suggesting that they would be taking "their" cat home now, as they loved and missed her very much.

Sensing the commotion, our three daughters quickly appeared on the front porch, horrified at the thought of these nice strangers whisking away "our" Miss Merry Bear.

It was the cat who finally broke the awkward tension by bolting from Ann's arms, shooting through the open doorway into any of the many hiding places of a house. Assessing the situation, David sadly turned to go, apologizing for any intrusion. As they left, Ann was crying softly, holding a gash on her arm.

That night our family discussed things. What if, we reasoned, the situation were reversed? What if, originally, it was our cat that ran away from home and was suddenly found? Wouldn't we want her returned? As we struggled over which course of action was correct, the cat strolled through the room, appearing indifferent to any turmoil she may have caused.

A telephone call the next day resulted in an "Alphonse and Gaston" conversation:

"We'd like to stop by and return your cat."

"No, no ... we couldn't possibly take her away from your family."

"No, please, we insist."

"Absolutely not. Thank you, but we could never accept your kind offer."

In the end, there was a mutually agreeable settlement: Our family would keep the cat while our neighbors retained open visitation rights.

Indeed, they stopped by periodically to say "hi" and give the cat hugs. We looked forward to their visits and, over the course of conversations, we learned that the calico was originally David's cat and hailed from New York City. After David and Ann had married and moved to our area of Lookout Mountain, Ga., the cat had become their "baby." We learned that David always called the cat home by whistling the tune from "The Andy Griffith Show" and that her original name was, well, Kitty. Kitty had been a devoted pet for eight years until, they suspected, David and his buddies' newly formed band's practices had driven the cat into our hickory tree.

Ann and David's visits became less frequent as time passed and they began raising two active sons. Their family eventually relocated, yet David still managed to stop by and visit Kitty – aka Miss Merry Bear – when he was in town on business. Our girls were growing, too. Along the way, we somehow even acquired cages of parakeets and rabbits.

Two families once shared a cat – two families that will always share the warm memories of a neighborly détente.

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