On June 2, 2016, I went to a local animal shelter and brought home what was supposed to be a barn cat. I lived in a house that was built into the side of a mountain where mice and other small critters were common invaders, so I thought it would be good to have an outdoor cat to help keep them under control.
Within three hours, the cat ran away and I was crushed. It was out there in unfamiliar territory populated by bobcats and foxes and other potential cat-eaters. There was little to no water anywhere. I was sure I had sentenced it to death. But still hopeful, I sent an email to the neighborhood asking people to keep an eye out. About a week later, one neighbor reported having seen the cat beneath his porch, but he was unable to catch it. A week after that, another neighbor reported having seen the cat at the bottom of the mountain where my dirt road met up with the main canyon road, and where there was a stream with fresh water. Both neighbors who lived at that intersection began to see the cat repeatedly, so I got a humane animal trap and filled it first with Fancy Feast and later with some really stinky canned mackerel. I checked that cage twice a day on the way to and from work. Sometimes the food would be gone but the trap still untriggered, as if something larger, like the mountain lion also living in that area, had stuck its paw in and swiped it.
And then one morning, I checked the cage as always, and saw fur inside. My brain could not register that it was a cat, let alone my cat. It didn’t seem possible. I stared for at least 30 seconds, seeing only with my disbelieving brain rather than with my eyes. Then reality came into focus. He was much smaller and obviously malnourished, but it was indeed Zorro the Wonder Cat. That was one year ago today, June 29, 2016.
I brought him up to the house and texted my boss to say I would be a few hours late that day. I took Zorro inside, set him free in the mudroom, and tried to coax him into taking food from me. It didn’t take much to get the starving cat to approach me for food. He even began rubbing up against me and bunting my hand, a habit that stuck with him from then on. The existing house cat was curious about what was happening in the narrow space, but I didn’t want to put the two cats in contact with each other just yet in case Zorro had picked up some diseases on his mountainside adventure. The dog, already less than thrilled at having to live with one cat, was neither curious nor amused.
Zorro took a trip to the vet where I learned that the only bad outcome of his adventure was the necessary extraction of one claw. And then, despite my cat allergy, he became a house cat. After four hard-scrabble weeks on an arid mountainside, he had earned it. He quickly became comfortable in his new luxurious accommodations.
And he became best buds, most of the time, with the other cat.
When I left Alaska Hill, Zorro stayed behind. I would have felt bad taking him away from his new friend. And my eyeballs and my dog really needed a break from cats. But apparently cats don’t need a break from me. Last year, I wanted a barn cat but got a domestic cat. This year, I want no cat but got a barn cat. One month ago, I found this little guy living in my storage shed on top of my suitcases. It only took a day for my opinion on this cat to change from “Not my responsibility!” to “Well, it would be inhumane not to give him fresh water, especially in the summer.” to “Goddamnit, here I am at Target buying cat food.” But this cat is not getting a name and is most certainly not coming inside.