All my life I have never truly been a ‘pet person.’ We had tons of cats when I was growing up. My whole family is cat crazy. I’m neutral. I never knew I could love an animal like the rest of my siblings, until my gay BFF (Kevin, who lived across the street) and his sister got a puppy. The sweetest cocker spaniel ever. Sandi. He knew the path from Kevin’s house to my house. Whenever they couldn’t find him at their house, they knew to come ask us. I remember dog sitting for Sandi one weekend and he needed a bath. I loved him so much I didn’t care that he smelled awful and I didn’t care how wet I got while bathing him. On visits home from college I would walk over to Kevin’s house when they were away and greet Sandi at the fence and pet him and talk to him. But cats…
Cats were a different story. So, when I heard a cat crying outside my apartment throughout the night, I knew, not my cat, not my problem. The cat belonged to our next-door neighbors at the first apartment complex I lived in when I moved from Colorado to Tennessee. And the next night, same thing. I only knew the cat had a home. Next door. My sister, Kathryn and I shared an apartment and she had a dog. Her dog would escape sometimes and chase the black and white fluffy cat up trees. I did feel bad about that. But he was the neighbors’ cat. Not mine.
It was January 2010 and it had been raining. Snowing. Sleeting. Freezing rain. Just flat out cold and wet. And all through the night for two weeks, I heard the cat crying. I’m not heartless. I just don’t like confrontation and did not want to get involved with the neighbors. But on January 16th during a freezing rainy evening around 11:30pm, I crept downstairs and meekly asked Kathryn if she could go outside and get the cat. (I’m much better at committing a ‘crime’ if I have an accomplice who actually does the deed.) I could not bear to listen to her cries any longer. No living creature should be out in that cold rain. I was only sorry I had not retrieved her days earlier. Kathryn went out, found the cat in the bushes and brought her into the warm apartment. I had a towel and wrapped the cat up in it and rushed her upstairs.
This poor cat was shivering, wet, muddy, and just scared and cold. I did my best to clean her and dry her. And then we settled on my bed to go to sleep. She slept on my face all night and I’m telling you, she stank like the dickens.
I woke up at 7:00am and called my oldest sister, Rebecca, who loves cats (probably an understatement).
“Guess what? A cat slept on my head all night long.”
“Aww, are you cat sitting?”
I told her what happened. She encouraged me to go to the store as soon as we got off the phone and get cat food, litter, litter pan, and whatever else I would need. We weren’t sure what I should do with the cat, but knew I should at least keep it inside my apartment for a couple of days.
When I returned from the store, I set up the litter pan. The cat stood and stared at it and then up at me and then back down to the pan, like “are ya kiddin’ me?” Oh. Yeah. It was a bit small for her. She was a pretty large cat. Well, it would have to work until I figured out how long she was staying. I fed her and wiped her down with pet wipes. I left her upstairs and went to talk to Kathryn and that is when I found out the whole story.
It seems that the neighbors, two college age girls, got the kitten in the summer and Kathryn saw it in the window all summer and fall. Then in December they got a puppy and soon after is when we saw the cat outside. They would leave a can of tuna out for it, but she was meowing all night long for weeks. She was always near the door, if they really wanted her, they could have easily gotten her. I told this story to Rebecca and she said, “Congratulations! You now own a cat. You cannot give her back to those people after they have treated her so horribly.”
I named her Bell because she had a jingle bell on her collar. I took the collar off though, because I didn’t want her to get hung somewhere and choke, like one of the cats we had long ago. Every night Bell curled up with me. She would stretch out beside me in the crook of my arm and snuggle her head in my shoulder and then turn her eyes to stare into mine. It was the sweetest thing. I knew then, I loved this cat.
Bell and I moved out of that apartment three months later and I took her to the vet. My first time ever at a vet!
The doctor took one look at my cat and said, “What made you think this cat is a girl?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know.” I didn’t go rooting around looking for stuff.
“Well, this is a big ‘ol tom cat. See,” the doctor said as he held Bell up and continued, “There’s his penis!”
I almost fell out on the floor. Does he not know me?! You just didn’t say those kinds of things out loud in front of me. It was like the word just hung there and echoed through the halls… “penis, penis, peniiiisssss.”
I left the office stunned. Bell cried in his carrier in the back seat and I cried in the driver’s seat, as I drove home. I live with a boy?! Our whole relationship was based on a lie!
It will be our ten-year anniversary this January and Bell (aka Bellboy) and I have gotten over the shock and have been doing just fine. I love that cat, even though I think he more owns me than I do him.