The prevailing local attitude to cats is to bring one home and dump it in the yard. It is then expected to fend for itself by killing and eating everything in its environs except you and the dog.
If it dies then it is obviously a failure as a cat so you get another one and start again. In winter you can occasionally leave a shed door open for the cat, but this is a luxury, so if you ever admit it to anyone you must do it with a self-deprecating chuckle because you know you will be ridiculed by everyone else in the neighbourhood.
At no time do you ever feed or provide bedding for the cat because that softens it and it wont actually do its job of being a cat. Concepts like regularly veterinary checkups, and the impact of cats on local native wildlife are such alien concepts as to be peered at suspiciously as if they might have fallen off a conversation destined for an urban café.
Into such an environment came first mum and then me. Mum’s cat Hemingway was primarily an outdoor cat so mum made sure there was enough food for Hemingway to graze throughout the day. Considering the local human attitudes to cats and the local cats attitudes to full bellies, there was a fair amount of dry biscuits left out each day.
After we arrived, these biscuits were topped up each night with the “stale” biscuits that Trouble and Abby hadn’t eaten plus any wet food Abby and Trouble hadn’t eaten.
At one point we had four regular strays as well as our three each evening. After we lost both Hemingway and Trouble I stopped the daytime feeding and only put out the nighttime leftovers. I wanted Abby to gain some confidence and grow into being her own cat now that the domineering Trubs had passed on.
As I’ve kept Abby to a more or less stable dinner time we’ve still been getting regular dinner guests, but they turn up around 5-ish wait for dinner and then disappear again, so the yard is Abby’s, they just “visit”. It’s a cat courtesy thing.
All except The Grey Thing. TGT has been hanging around for years. She’s “owned” by one of the locals but spends most of her time in our yard. She’s very shy and usually bolts when we are around but we often come home from an outing to see her sprawled under one of the fruit trees. We’ve never seen her fight with Abby – she always defers when Abby pushes the point.
In the last week The Grey Thing has been here all the time. Every time I step foot out the door she scurries off the back verandah, when I let Abby out in the morning its obvious The Grey Thing has slept in our outdoor laundry. Then she started sitting at the back door meowing for food before bolting just out of reach when I come to the door.
Its been raining here most of the week so Abby has spent most of the week inside with me, so lots of eating and playing inside so little leftovers. So a few nights ago, I topped up the leftovers with some supermarket brand biscuits we had leftover from months and months back. Then I put out a second helping. And I stood next to the bowl and I patted The Grey Thing while she ate. Just a couple of times.
It seemed to break the ice. She now follows mum or I wherever we go outside, she winds around our legs. She tries to play with Abby, but Abby is far too ready with her claws and I thin the Grey Thing is an older cat who is more happy to do a mutual grooming session.
Last night I gave Abby her monthly Frontline application and gave one to The Grey Thing too. This morning after I left Abby outside the back door, and mum was in the shower, I returned from my bedroom to find The Grey Thing sitting in the middle of the kitchen sniffing the air. She looked at Abby’s food dish and I said no and she hasn’t touched it. She’s been in and out all day since and pointedly looked at and moved around and cried plaintively at the food dish on the back verandah but she has not touched Abby’s food dish (which does have biscuits in it!)
Abby’s been inside and seen her in here. Abby’s had a long play in the tunnel with me and was completely unconcerned about The Grey Thing, but when TGT seemed to be heading for my bedroom (where Abby sleeps), then Abby herded her back outside.
The sun is shining for a couple of hours now and both cats were twining around our legs as we hung the clothes out. When we left them The Grey Thing was sunning herself under the line and Abby was butterfly hunting.
Although The Grey Thing is slowly insinuating herself into our lives we’ve been resisting because we know she’s “owned” even if their attitude to cat ownership is not to my liking she is still owned by someone else. However, the rumour mill has it that she is owned by a couple who have returned “home” (i.e. overseas) for the next 3 – 6 months. The timescale does fit with her escalating neediness. So it seems we may be temporarily looking after her for a few months at least.
We could also be letting ourselves in for some heartbreak.