It’s hard to love a wild thing.
I tell myself it’s a good for my Buddhist practice. I tell myself I won’t get attached. I tell myself I can love it unconditionally, wishing only for their happiness and well being. I tell myself a lot of things.
The truth of the matter is I do get attached. Really attached. And these wild creatures, these feral cats, break my heart on a regular basis.
A couple of weeks ago, Boots, one of the neighborhood strays, got hit by a car. Boots wasn’t even a cat I took care of, but he was a frequent visitor to my yard. He was such a handsome boy. And while he was a bully to the other neighborhood cats, he was a total sweetie to me. The evening after my neighbor told me that Boots had been killed, I ended up wailing like some old Sicilian woman grieving the loss of her child.
Yet those tears weren’t merely for Boots. I was also grieving for the feral cat I’ve taken care of for over four years, Pretty. Pretty had disappeared about a month previous and I was certain that she was gone for good. So I sobbed for Boots and I sobbed some more for Pretty, and while I was at it, I sobbed for Alaska and Nomie, who have been gone one and a half years and three years, respectively. It’s was sob-a-pa-looza at Chez LB.
The very next day I went out to leave food for Pretty, as I always do, even when she has disappeared (she’s done this before). I was wandering around my front yard forlornly calling for her knowing that if she was around she would call back – she is a very talkative little cat and always calls to me whenever she hears me come outside or hears my car drive up. I probably sounded pretty pathetic – mournfully calling for a cat that I was certain was dead.
Then I heard it. It wasn’t coming from any of her usual places, but from behind my house, on the hillside. I followed her plaintive mews until I saw her on the hill. My sadness quickly gave way to excitement. My Pretty was alive! And she was here! She looked skinny and a bit stressed, but she was alive and had a lot to say.
Soon Pretty and I were back at our old routines. She seems happy and much more confident. The only thing that is different is her voracious appetite. But, with her focused so intently on the food, it has allowed me to attempt to pet her. And as long as she is distracted by the food, I can touch her to my heart’s content. If I wanted to I could simply scruff her and bring her in the house.
So, that’s where my mind is at right now. What is the kindest and wisest thing to do for this little cat? The neighborhood has changed over the last few months – many more dogs and far fewer cats. This used to be a very safe area for these feral cats. There are four or five feral cat feeders within a three block area. They had all been neutered and were being fed on a regular basis (the cats, that is, not the humans). But, the cats are disappearing. At least we know what happened to Boots. The others, well, it’s a mystery. It could just be cats being cats and maybe finding greener pastures. It could be someone who doesn’t like cats. It could just be the dangers of being a wild creature.
I accept that part of my reasons for wanting to bring her in is that I can’t take having my heart broken again – at least not just yet. I want her to be safe. But will she be happy? After being born feral and living feral for over four years, can I tame her down enough to only be mildly neurotic like her daughter, Tangerine, who now lives with me?
I don’t have the answer yet. Each day since she has returned she seems happier, healthier. And I worry that she would feel betrayed by being nabbed and placed in a house. She’s never lived in a house. She wouldn’t understand that it’s safer than the outside world. Could she even appreciate it? I don’t know. I guess I’ll just try my best to do the best for her. It’s all I can do.