I first met Orange 7 years ago. He showed up for dinner with the feral cat colony that I managed at my house. He stood out with his Orange fur among the black, white and grey kitties that I had known for years. When I stepped out onto the porch to feed them he started to run. I softly called ‘kitty, kitty, kitty’. He froze and turned his head as if in slow motion to look back at me. I called again, ‘kitty, kitty, kitty’. He turned and meowed loudly and walked up to me. I realized we weren’t dealing with a feral kitty but one that was lost or abandoned. He was hand shy but friendly. He had a large lump on his head. From that day on Orange was a fixture at my house. I asked around to neighbors did they know who if anyone owned the orange cat. I put an ad in the paper. A few people called but his distinctive feet with extra toes that made him look like he had baseball mitts easily told them it wasn’t their kitty. One couple didn’t know what I meant by extra toes and so came to see if he was their cat but no he wasn’t. They left with their heads hanging, I asked did they want him, he needed a home? No. My boyfriend and I just started calling him Orange on accident. ‘Was the orange one out there when you came in?’ ‘Did you see Orange today?’
Orange warmed up to me. I was able to pet him and eventually pick him up. He was a serious love biter though. After very little stimulation he began nipping at my hand. Not hard, just a little pinch. He couldn’t help himself. He hung out at my house, I told my boyfriend Orange was in love with me. Whenever he saw me he talked, MEOW. He made me feel important. When I started caring for the feral cats that lived on my street I developed a habit of going to the side porch and turning on the light at night before bed and looking out to see if anyone was there. Soon enough Orange began his Romeo act. Every night before bed when I looked at the side porch there was Orange sitting on the porch staring up at me looking out at him. Love in his eyes. I’d turn the light off with a heavy heart and go to bed. I started checking the porch in the morning too and most mornings there was Orange staring at me, as if he had been there all night. I already had two cats and my live-in boyfriend was not a cat lover. Bringing in another cat only meant another thing to fight about.
He lived with the ferals on the street for about 4 months. Then one cold day in January he was limping around on three feet meowing loudly at me. I opened the back door that led to the basement and invited him in. He cautiously descended the stairs and when he was safely in I shut the door. He panicked and began trying to shove his head through the crack between the door and the door frame. I sat on the couch, talked to him softly and waited for him to calm down. I set him up with a litter box food and water in the back room in my basement. I figured give him a chance to adjust and keep him separated from my two cats until I could get him to the vets. After he’d been to the vets and gotten a clean bill of health I opened the door to the back room so he could have free reign of the house. He preferred not to leave that room. Not venturing out and standing in the doorway as if there were an invisible barrier preventing him from leaving. I’d go down and sit with him getting to know each other. Learning how long I could pet him with out getting a love bite. My other cats would venture in and they got to know each other. One time I tried putting the tv on in that room while I sat with him and he was terrified. He ran and hid behind the couch and would not come out till the tv was off. I brought down a radio to see if that bothered him. Nope. So I started putting the tv on with a blanket over the screen. He adjusted to that over time and we proceeded to work on acclimating him to the tv being on without the screen covered.
After about 2 months he began venturing into the other rooms in the basement. When I would come downstairs for a visit he would tear back into his old room as if he was doing something wrong. After a couple more months he ventured upstairs. Where he sat in the door way to the basement. This led to behavior problems for another one of my cats. The litter boxes were all down the basement. Rather than try and get past Orange sitting in the doorway she began going to the bathroom in other places. After realizing what was going on I located a litter box upstairs and order was restored. Orange eventually began venturing all over the house and I started feeding him exclusively upstairs. It took me a few days to realize that he refused to get on the table where I had the food dish to eat. He knew there was food up there and meowed at me by the table, ‘Please put the food where I can get it.’ He lost a couple pounds while I tried to coax him to eat on the table so that the food would be safe from the dog. He refused. So the food had to go on the floor. He never got on a table, chair or counter in the entire time I knew him.
I pretended to look for a home for Orange. My then boyfriend was not a big cat fan especially of a big orange cat that liked to bite. I placed half-hearted ads and said that nobody wanted him. But the truth was I liked this quirky character. So he stayed and became an indoor only cat. Three years later I left that house and relationship and took all my critters with me.
Along with everyone else Orange thrived in the new peaceful home. I began leaving the back door open with a screen hanging in it for fresh air during the summer. The second year the cats started venturing out into the back yard. It seemed harmless. They didn’t leave the fenced yard. Then Orange started venturing out of the fence. I’d chase him back in. Then he started going into the woods. He’d answer when I called and came back if I called him urgently. Then he stopped listening. He was doing his own thing but coming home within an hour or two. The street cat again. One Saturday he didn’t come home. I searched everywhere. I put up flyers and left them in mailboxes. Monday I had to go out of town for work for the week. I worried about how he would fare if he came back and nobody let him in. I had fostered for the local cat rescue group so I called the friend I had fostered cats for and she looked for him while I was gone.
Over the next few months I had a few leads and lots of people helping. I had one man call me and tell me he was sure we would find my cat, he was looking for him too. Children in the neighborhood behind mine took my flyer and went door to door asking people if they had seen him. Someone who works for me says his parents live in the neighborhood behind mine and they had seen an orange cat. I asked him for their address, I asked them to take a picture. I gave up. I figured he had been a meal for a coyote or fox.
Then two months ago my neighbor a few doors down lost their cat. They contacted my friend, the local rescue woman for help. They mentioned that they had been feeding an orange cat. She told them their neighbor had lost one, she called me. I immediately walked down with one of my flyers. They said it could be him. I asked them to call me the next time he was there. I didn’t believe my Orange was still alive. Over the next couple months they proceeded to call me a few times and the conversation was always the same. ‘Hey Jamie, that orange cat was here 20 minutes ago.’ Me: ‘Here’s an idea, call me WHILE HE’S THERE NEXT TIME.’
Finally a couple weeks ago the same conversation is had. Then 15 minutes later they call me back – he’s on the neighbors porch. I run down-literally. I get a glimpse of him before he runs off but I’m not sure. Could be him. Right size, dingier but the color is close. Thanks to the snow I can follow his foot prints and he’s gone into a drain pipe. I call ‘kitty, kitty, kitty’ MEOW! Over and over we have this exchange but he refuses to come out. I think it sounds like my Orange but how could he be alive after 7 months? Then he stops responding and I’m suspicious he’s crawled out the other end where ever that is. I talk to the homeowners and they aren’t happy about this cat that’s been living under their deck and in this drain but they want me to catch him. I still don’t really believe he’s mine.
Six days later I glimpse his long, striped tail as he runs from me. I’m pretty sure its my Orange. So with the help of my friend we make a dramatic rescue – we catch him! We are ecstatic, over the moon. 7 long months he’d been living on the street. I get him home and he’s his old loving self. I rush him off to the vets and he’s lost half his body weight down to 7.2 pounds and he wasn’t fat to begin with, he has a nasty abscess on his face that requires a drain tube and on the way to the vets its clear he has diarrhea. I’m armed with pills and resolve and still on a high that my baby boy is back. Its comforting the way he still talks to me every time he sees me.
Thanks to my very active social life I fail to notice for two days that he’s been having diarrhea and vomiting in the basement. By the time I notice he’s due to go to the vets the next day. On the way to the vets he has more awful, awful diarrhea. I ask the vet, Is he going to make it? The vet seems puzzled by this question. He says he wasn’t looking at him as a cat that was in danger of dying. He takes another look. Gives me more pills for diarrhea and vomiting and we plan for him to come in a week later.
I wake up the next morning and there is no greeting from Orange. No morning, hi how are you meow. My stomach knots up. I take care of the dogs and then I open the basement door. There he lies at the bottom of the steps in a puddle of wet and the big pill bed behind him covered in diarrhea. I rush down sobbing and know immediately from his cold body that he’s long gone. I felt like I failed this little guy. Maybe if I’d been more diligent. Maybe if I’d stayed home instead of keeping my normal schedule. Maybe if I’d looked a little harder to bring him home sooner. Maybe if….
But I take comfort that he was home, warm and loved for the last few days of his life.
And if you’ve managed to read this far, thanks. This was a self-indulgent post to commemorate the short life of one quirky little kitty.