We moved into our new house and neighbourhood in October of 2004. We were welcomed on the very first day by a friendly grey tabby cat. We were sitting on our front steps, just chilling out and marvelling that we now owned a piece of the Toronto real estate market when this cat came trotting up our walk. Immediately we fell in love with him but it was clear that he had an owner because he wore a bright red collar with a jingly rabies tag hanging from it. We started calling him the Friendly Cat (I’m not very proficient at naming. Some of my stuffed toys are called such imaginative things as, "Koala", "Giraffe" and "Sea Turtle". I’ve named other neighbourhood cats as well: Orange Cat, Cross-Eyed Cat – you get the idea). Anyway, the Friendly Cat, besides having a collar, also looked well-fed and I felt no worry for him.
It became one of my favourite parts of the day during the ensuing months to turn the corner onto my street and have the Friendly Cat run up for a little scratch on the head. If I happened to be outside talking to someone, the Friendly Cat would come over to interject his opinion. If I was doing something in the garden, he’d stop by to keep me company. One particularly cold morning during the winter, I tried to get him to come into the enclosed porch of our house because it was just too cold to be outside all day, but he spurned me (my friend Debra later said that he was probably just testing to see if I was really the "Friendly Neighbour"). Just as well, my own cats were still not impressed with the new house and two cats produce quite enough fur to waft around in billowy clouds at the most embarassing moments. Iit wasn’t until we got our dog that I realized they shed relatively little in comparison to the Great White Fur Machine, Chloe.
Recently, within maybe the last month or two months, I realized that the Friendly Cat was getting a little thin. In fact, he had become downright skinny. His ribs were visible and his hips thrust out sharply where they met his ribcage. Admittedly, I am oversensitive to the plight of animals, but even Kevin and my dad seemed touched by the decline in this poor cat. Upon closer inspection, his bright red collar had become faded and tattered, and it was literally hanging from his neck, the paint was chipping off his tag and worst of all, which brought a lump to my throat, his fur had been rubbed off in a ring around his neck from the oversized collar. I couldn’t bear it any longer and I committed the Cardinal Sin of dealing with cats: I started feeding him.
It wasn’t long until the cat was showing up around 7:00 every evening like clockwork for his Meow Mix. Then he started showing up in the mornings at the time I walk the dog for a morning meal. The cat was clearly starving to death and he has such a great personality, I couldn’t deny him. One day, my neighbour across the street, Lois, caught me – against my better judgement – trying to convince the cat to come inside. She asked whether it was my cat (because I think she was going to give me hell for his condition). We got to talking and it turned out that she and her next door neighboor were also feeding him. There seemed to be no explanation for his sudden skinnyness. We came to the conclusion, based on how ragged his collar had become, that his owner had moved away and he had mistakenly gotten left behind. She graciously offered to help pay for vet bills if I was able to take the cat in.
I honestly didn’t want to take the cat in, but he is just so pitiful I couldn’t bear the thought of him outside this coming winter. I took his collar off to see if his fur would grow back and he was insanely happy. I continued trying to get him to come in. Efforts were thwarted by Chloe’s insistence that the porch is hers and no cat was going cross it. Good for Chloe – today Lois met the Friendly Cat’s OWNER.
Apparently, the Friendly Cat has a name: Tiger (even less imaginative than "Friendly Cat"!). The woman complained that the cat "wasn’t hungry" when he came in, and expressed shock that three (3!) neighbours were feeding him, because according to her he was just skinny "because he’s old". No.1 – that cat is not old. He’s 6 at best. No.2 – He wouldn’t eat at 3 houses if he wasn’t hungry. No. 3 – When does he "go in"? He’s outside all hours of the day and night! She noted that his collar had "fallen off" and that she would have to get a new one – how could you allow your cat’s fur be completely rubbed off by an ill-fitting and disgracefully ragged collar? You should have bought a new one about six months ago! YOU ARE A HORRIBLE PERSON, LADY. I mean, really. Look after your cat! And don’t be asinine, cats don’t suddenly become skinny when they get old. My cat is 12 and he’s fat as hell. And believe me, even if my cat was eating at three other houses, he’d still find the strength within himself to eat at home. So would yours.
How can you stop feeding a animal you know is starving, even if you know it has an owner?