, Salem, MA


February 25, 2014

Column: The Charlie Brown of cats

It’s 10 degrees and two in the morning. I stand outside our garage door, peeking in through a small window. I’m shivering in a sweater worn over pajamas, a scarf, and thick socks inside slippers. Keeping my voice low so as not to wake the neighbors, I plead: “Oscar, please come inside ...”

Oscar, our cat of a dozen years, stares back with a look of forbearance. He’s been through worse — he’s not coming in. In the darkness, the dial on the electric radiator glows orange. I can make out the shapes of the empty cat beds. One has a pitched roof. Another, “The Igloo,” is round. Still another, “The Tube,” isn’t a tube at all, but squat and bulbous. The manufacturer claims the latter is the “world’s best-insulated cat bed.” They could be right. Oscar will never know. He prefers an old cardboard box with a heated pad.

Finally, I give up and flee into the house. Before getting into bed, I go online, scanning the various cat beds reviewed on until my head spins. I sometimes end up ordering one that Oscar will, in turn, ignore.

Feral cats don’t follow the rules of normal cat behavior — if indeed there are such rules. Oscar has survived by following his instincts. Years ago, when we adopted him, I knew nothing about ferals. I’d contacted Feline Rescue of Cape Ann, looking for an adult cat. I was told Oscar was available and they’d get in touch with me.

When two weeks passed and no word of Oscar, I called the director. “Oh, he’s not ready yet,” I was told. He was being “socialized.” I had no idea what this meant. It sounded like it had something to do with etiquette. Was Oscar being instructed in the social graces? Later, I learned it was another word for domestication. Oscar, who’d lived outside all of his life, was learning to live with people. And though he tolerated it, Oscar never liked it. Living with us, Oscar had the best of both worlds. He became an indoor-outdoor cat: outdoors during the day, indoors at night. Vaughn, the neighbor’s cat, was his best friend. The two were inseparable.

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