We thought Sally was dead. My wife found the little black and white body in the centre of the road. Sally, a tame male semi-feral cat, hadn’t been seen at our house for half a week, which was unusual.
Sally came to live with us a year ago. He was six-months old, perhaps; born outdoors, lived outdoors. We had two indoor cats of our own and weren’t looking to home a third. But we have a bit of land, and I built a rugged, two-story house for him, with a shingled roof and insulation. I stuffed it with straw, too, and put the house on our deck to keep him close and safe. He went right through the winter, coming in to sleep in a cat carrier on the very coldest nights. Each morning the ice in his water bowl was replaced with a fresh drink, and every night he was fed.
But there was the little body. In the end, it wasn’t cold or coyotes, or the screech of an eagle. I was a little surprised it was something so depressingly obvious as a car that took out our boy named Sal. I took strange comfort in the body being found just in front of our house – like he was on his way home.
We buried the body in the back woods. A pretty spot we’ve designated for animal loved ones. It was a sad-nice moment. A short life well lived.
Opinions vary about feral cats. Critics are right that they are merciless killers of song birds and mice, and that they are frequently malnourished and miserable – living just long enough to create a whole generation of kittens that will go on to also be malnourished and miserable.
But that didn’t describe our boy. He was well cared for. We had him fixed, and we kept tabs on his health. He was fed well. And there was something about his wildness that seemed right. He was relaxed in a way our indoor cats couldn’t manage – like he was where he was supposed to be. Domestic cats aren’t much changed from their ancestor, the African wild cat. The two are close enough they can breed and produce fertile offspring.
Freedom suited Sal.
Fast forward a week. I was in our dining room, at the table, when I saw movement, heard a thump, thump. A black and white cat dropped from our roof onto the balcony railing, then to the deck. It was a signature Sal move: gain access to the house by jumping onto the roof, crossing over the peak, then arriving nonchalantly at the back door.
We were thrilled. A notch in one ear was irrefutable proof of Sal’s identity. My wife was in Ottawa, and I called immediately. Jokes were made about him reappearing right after Halloween (Pet Sematary, anyone?). I told my mother I should rename him Lazarus.
Sal has moved into the house. One of our indoor cats is taking it in stride. The other is as cranky as we thought she’d be. One of our two dogs, Pixie – she’s the boss of the animal kingdom – has a hard look in her eyes when she stares at Sal, like she’s contemplating steam-rolling the feline. But she’s learning Sally’s one of us, now. Sally will discover Pixie needs more space than he currently allows, but it might take a scare or two to drive the lesson home.
I don’t know whose cat we buried back in the woods. But he’s in the company of Jackie the hamster, and a wild, rescued rodent that died in infancy. It’s a good place.
Sally will be safe, and that’s very good. I just hope safety doesn’t come at too high a price. I hope he never stops wanting to go outside, never stops climbing trees or sprinting across open spaces.
It might even be good if he disappeared for a day every once in a while. Proof he hasn’t lost something vital. His wild heart is an inspiration.