Here, kitty kitty…

Melissa Stagnaro

Although my father tries hard to hide it, he’s a bit of a softy when it comes to animals. Oh, he talks and walks a good tough-guy game, but those who know him can see right through his charade.

A case in point is the veritable herd of feral cats he feeds on a daily basis.

[Please note: This is not, and I repeat, NOT an open invitation for you to deposit any unwanted cats on our doorstep.]

It’s an embarrassing little habit of his, but for the most part we indulge him when it comes to his following of felines. We try not to roll our eyes when he constructs a new “kitty condo;” make every effort to keep a straight face when he specifies the exact quantity of food which should be put out in his absence; and barely bat an eye when he is followed around the yard by the current contingent of untamed critters, all with their tails pointed straight up in the air.

Seriously, he’s like the pied piper.

I thought he was alone in his preoccupation, until I made a new acquaintance recently. What Jane Goodall was to chimpanzees, this woman is to feral felines. I immediately vowed that I could never introduce her to my father. I’m afraid she’d give him ideas. You see, the five-star accommodations she provides for the strays lucky enough to know her make my father’s ministrations look like the services of a marginal homeless shelter.

You’d never know it by looking at her, either. She’s a young professional who hardly fits the profile of someone who collects stray cats and caters to their every whim. That’s right, she’s not anything like my dad. Nor is she a doddering old woman. I was, in the words of Maggie Dorsey, flabbergasted to discover her dirty kitty-litter secret in the course of an otherwise unsurprising conversation.

I can’t remember what little tidbit she or one of her coworkers, who were also present, let slip first. I think it started when she made a comment in passing about the upcoming winter and her concerns about the health and welfare of an outdoor cat.

At the time, I didn’t realize she was talking about one of many. I was clued into this, however, when one of the coworkers in question asked her to specify which cat. Was it such-and-such, the person asked. No, that one was currently staying in one of the guest rooms so it could receive aromatherapy treatments, Cat Lady replied.

Obviously the names have been changed to protect the marginally, although entirely well-meaning, obsessed.

No, on this occasion, she was concerned about Tiger-Kitty. Apparently this intrepid feline had only barely struggled through last winter, despite the fact that our cat-loving friend provided heating pads and heated water dishes for its convenience. Located, not out in the bitter cold, but in a detached two car garage she reserves for this purpose. Because apparently the separate dog house, also heated for their comfort, wasn’t enough.

Approximately 11 neighborhood strays call her little corner of Norwich home, she told me. A number which had been higher, she explained, before she discontinued canned-food Sundays. Where as a treat, she fed them canned cat food instead of their typical dry kibble.

The details of why exactly she stopped this practice are a little sketchy. There are rumors that her sister may have staged an intervention.

There seems to be nothing that this kind-hearted woman won’t do for the feral felines in her environs. On one occasion she reportedly climbed a tree to offer solace (and first aid) to one of the kitties after it had a fight with one of its kin.

And then, there was the time she gave mouth to mouth while performing kitty-CPR. Unfortunately, the kitten who’s live she saved in this Corky Romano-esque rescue attempt later perished in a tragic caulk accident.

It’s best not to ask, her coworker told me, as the incident is still a little too painful for her to talk about.

After that tragedy, our cat lover tried to draw the line. And when she returned from out of town last winter to find that another kitten had found its way into her garage (the one she actually parks her car in) while she was away, she attempted to bring him to the local animal shelter. They have a policy about taking animals with pre-existing medical conditions, however, and turned the small cat away. Why, you ask? Because it had what they called “frozen testicles.”

Yes, that’s right. The poor little guy’s balls had frozen.

But don’t worry. She got him the medical attention he needed at her regular vet. (Where she is no doubt a VIP.) They fixed him up, and adopted him themselves. I believe they even named him in her honor. When they add a new wing, that will probably be in her honor, too.

By the time my new friends were through sharing all these cat tales, my belly ached from laughing, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I was searching for a pen and a scrap of paper to jot it all down. Because I don’t know about you, but with all the doom and gloom in our world right now, my spirit welcomed the reminder that there are still plenty of big-hearted people out there, making their mark on the world in all kinds of interesting ways.

Believe me when I tell you, my cat-loving friend, I’m laughing with you, not at you, when I share this story.