Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pumpkin


It was mid-November and I was doing yard work - a final mowing, laying down mulch, and trimming back bushes that would soon go dormant for the winter when I saw something scurrying behind my shed. The shed, or more specifically, the little burrow that has been dug beneath it, has been home to rabbits, cats, and groundhogs, so I was not surprised when I found the source of the rustling:


Aside from taking a picture, I didn't try to approach her, but decided I'd stop at the store and put some food out. The first couple of times I went back to feed her (and she was just a "her" at this point), she would run away, wait for me to leave, and then tentatively approach the can. Thanks to my zoom lens, I could photograph her from near the backdoor to my house and when I started posting pictures on Twitter




the "oohs" and "aahs" were usually followed by a "she looks pregnant" comment. I thought the same thing - or maybe it was just the way the camera was catching her, but there did appear to be a little baby bump. 


When it looked like she'd be sticking around for a while, I realized she needed a name and @sarahrodeo came up with an apt one - Pumpkin. The time of the season and Pumpkin's coat both made the name perfect. And so, for the next few weeks, we would go through our daily routine, I would leave the food out, try to sneak a picture or two, and Pumpkin would chow down and then disappear back behind (and, I assumed beneath) the shed. 

By early December, I had come to look forward to our little morning ritual, but the onset of winter was swift and unrelenting. When the first warnings of snow came, I considered trying to bring Pumpkin inside, worried for her safety and knowing that braving the cold would be hard. I thought about trying to scoop her up or getting her to walk into a cage, something, anything to rescue her, even though she would likely fight and scratch and claw, because I didn't want her to die. But she would never let me get close enough and I never got a plan together - to contact a vet (I assumed she would need shots, or at a minimum, a check up, maybe even a place to have the litter I thought was gestating inside her) or figure out where to keep her in the house or buy a litter box or who knew what. 

I could not get my shit together, with her, with my life, which had been an utter mess, and was ill-prepared for the unremitting punishment of this particular winter - the snow storms, one after the other, the endless routine of shoveling every few hours, or the brutal cold that followed day after day. I felt terrible that I did not try harder to get Pumpkin to come inside and was convinced she would perish (horribly, and possibly with kittens meeting the same fate). It got to a point where I simply had to stop thinking about it - there had already been too much heartache and pain for one year and the burden of knowing I could have done more to save Pumpkin and did not was too much to bear. 

There was not much else to do for those months other than trying to keep one step ahead of the weather and simply survive. I turned inward - work was a hot mess and I was not much better, so I just put my head down and tried to make it through what would turn out to be one of the harshest winters in recorded history while trying to put Pumpkin out of my mind. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, about halfway through March, Pumpkin returned:


Stunned is too mild a word to describe my reaction, but there she was, like she had never been away. I was so happy to see her again, so guilt-ridden that I had abandoned her and not wanting to lose this second chance, I decided I would try to bond with Pumpkin. Little by little, I moved her food closer to the house and each time, I hung around, at a respectful distance, but just long enough that she would grow comfortable with my presence. I got her a little dish so she would not have struggle to eat right out of the can (or cut her lip!) and got her all the way up to the patio. She would make funny faces that I caught on camera



and, thanks to an eagle-eyed Twitter follower, I found out she had been spayed (the clipped ear being a way veterinarians "tag" feral cats so people know they've been fixed). 

The weather was still not great and I still fretted over her safety, but as we got into April, Pumpkin was starting to have "breakfast" in my sunroom.


We fell into a nice rhythm, a 6 AM feeding and some quality time before I got ready for work. But now, instead of just seeing her in the morning, I would sometimes come home to this



so there was "dinner" too. I thought about trying to get Pumpkin inside, but in talking to a friend who had "adopted" a stray, she told me to just let Pumpkin be - she obviously had the skills to survive winter, no reason to goad her inside. So I did, and just fed a steady stream of cute cat pics to my Twitter feed instead:



As the weeks have passed, Pumpkin has gotten more comfortable - she's waiting at the door at 6 am sharp:


She is also more comfortable with her sunroom surroundings and now, after she eats, there's a looooong nap on one of the patio chairs I brought in for the winter and sometimes she "fights" the towel I left out thinking she would use *that* as her napping area:




My heart breaks a little at how precious she is and vulnerable she must feel in the big, bad world. She will now walk right past me to get to her dish, but won't let me pet her - and I'm ok with that. She does her thing and I do mine. When people "IRL" ask me how I found Pumpkin, I always tell them that she found me - at a time when I needed to know what it was to care about something more than myself, to be giving without expecting anything in return, and to get something very valuable back in return. You see, putting food out for Pumpkin and opening a door to let her inside to eat costs me a whopping 50 cents a day, but what she's given me back in return is far more valuable. Whether she's around for another day, week, month, or the rest of her life, caring for Pumpkin, knowing that for those few short hours she spends in relative comfort instead of out in the wild, where she can laze on a patio chair without a care in the world and not worry about being hurt or attacked or scrounging for food, brings me great joy. Those quiet moments we spend in the morning, when I can collect my thoughts or just read a book, watch her eat in peace and know that she is provided for, are times I cherish. That this adorable little face and spunky little personality has helped me grieve and heal and find a little solace of my own is something I could never put a price tag on. Besides, LOOK AT THAT FACE!!!






2017 UPDATE

Much has changed since this originally appeared in May 2014. For one thing, Pumpkin started coming into the house. For a few minutes at first, and then, gradually for longer periods of time. With a little trial and error, she started using the litter box too (one of my proudest moments) and even sleeping inside overnight.

Another big change was that Pumpkin's big brother Ghost found his way into the yard (and ultimately, into the house), and for the rest of 2014, 2015 and the early part of 2016, P & G had the run of the neighborhood and my house. They both usually spent the night indoors and would then prowl around outside during the day.

But one Sunday in April 2016, Pumpkin almost died. She got into a fight with something (I never found out what) and came home with a gaping wound on her right hind leg. She was reluctant to let me pet her under the best of circumstances, but as she was bleeding on the carpet, trying to corral her into a cat carrier was nearly impossible. She scratched me so hard and deep that you could still see the claw marks months later. But I finally wrapped her up and got her to an emergency care facility. I am forever grateful to the good doctors and nurses at CARES, who literally saved her life. They stitched her up (almost 20!) and were great during the subsequent follow-ups I had to do over the following weeks.

That day was one of the hardest of my life (I'm sure it wasn't great for Pumpkin either!). I was hysterically crying at the hospital and in the days after, as Pumpkin was quarantined in one room with a cone around her neck and an uncertain recovery, I questioned whether I was capable of taking care of Pumpkin in her weakened state. It was hard at first, Pumpkin was disoriented and frail and adjusting to having the cone around her neck. I was feeding her by hand (or spoon) and coming home from work at lunch every day to check on her.

Thankfully, and after three long weeks, Pumpkin was all better. Looking back, I realize how tightly we bonded and how she came to trust me so deeply to feed her, give her water, and just be there with her so she did not feel alone or scared. After Pumpkin had her cone removed (or more accurately, wriggled out of it herself) she became a full-time indoor cat. As fate would have it, Ghost also had a few scrapes that summer, nothing as serious as Pumpkin, but enough for me to make the decision that he too would become a full-time indoor cat. As importantly, I found a vet who made house calls (neither Pumpkin nor Ghost is easy to handle and the thought of getting them in and out of a cat carrier was not ideal) and so now both of my little ones are up to date on their vaccinations, get care when needed and, for the most part, have adapted to their new lives. They are by far and away the two most important things in my life and have taught me so much about my capacity to care for them unconditionally and with an open heart. 




Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

11 comments:

  1. the concept of 'grace' is lost to most of us, but that is what you experienced:
    the grace and affection of a critter gave you what you needed the most.
    Been there, done that. Glad she's neutered. Enjoy this little furry character.
    (PS, I also have an ginger cat...)

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    1. Thank you - grace is a wonderful way to describe it.

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  2. Cats tend to come into our lives when we need them - welcome to the world of people who can't imagine living without other animals. Congrats to you both!

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  3. I love this red cat. she is lovely.

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  4. Pumpkin is adopting you. I follow you on Twitter in #inners, #maddow, #nerdland, and I had no idea that a little calico/torbie girl had stolen your heart.

    Have you considered leaving open a door to the house and letting her inspect...free to leave if she wishes? (I think she'll eventually stay.)

    I have a semi-feral longhair tabby patrolling my house and bonding with my resident cats through the sliding glass door. I fed her homemade raw food last night. See that lollipop sticking out my neck?

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    1. Thank you for your comment. It's nice to connect with folks from the Twitterverse. I do love Pumpkin and look forward to seeing her every day. I have offered the door to the house but thus far, the closest she has gotten is the top step, but maybe one day …

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  5. Glad to hear that Pumpkin is warming up, TK. My sister likes the way you express yourself:

    "I read this. It was very sweet and precious, like Pumpkin."

    Keep trying the open door thing - when you are gone for awhile - you know about cats and curiosity.

    Others may comment on this - but if you come back through the back door and close it behind Pumpkin, she may freak a bit - but get over it.

    (probably go hide hide under a bed or somewhere else).


    If you "ignore" her, she may well calm down and acclimate.

    It's good that Cats are not so complicated as other felines - eh?

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    1. Thanks - she is sweet and precious and has brought me a great deal of happiness. The door will always be open if she wants to walk through it, but if not, we have a nice little thing going. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Cats do leave pawprints in your heart! Thank you for my' Pumpkin morning edition'. I enjoy the posts and look out for them! (@bizzicat)

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  7. This is pretty much the best blog post I have ever read.

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  8. With your beautiful prose, you should study up and write about the wonderful people who conduct the TNR clinics (Trap, Neuter, Release) for feral colonies. Some kind person took the time and great effort to trap Pumpkin, took her to a TNR clinic and released her back to her colony. The vets and volunteers who donate their time, skills and dedication to do these TNR clinics are magnificent.

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