He started hanging around our yard about six months ago, appearing and reappearing every few weeks like a sailor on leave, cruising after dark, a white flash of fur slipping into the tall weeds at the edge of our property.
The first time I saw him up close, I almost ran him over with the riding lawn mower. He was sleeping, mid-day, a couple feet from the safety and hideaway of the deep weeds, his sanctuary. He didn’t flinch as the motor of the mower roared within inches of his head. I parked the mower and grabbed my husband “It’s dead,” I said, racing back and murmuring “Poor kitty, kitty,” or some such cat-cooing words. But when I got within 15 feet, the cat sprang to life and raced for the weeds.
“I guess he had at least one life left,” my husband said.
I noticed the cat was wearing a black collar.
The trouble with rescuing cats in Hawaii is that you never know when they belong to a neighbor. Not every cat you meet is a house cat. Many are outside cats, surviving on mice and food tossed by an owner every now and then. Then, there is another breed of cats altogether--feral cats. Neither of these outdoor types cuddle. They don’t crawl into your lap and purr.
I figured the white cat was a neighborhood cat--part-tame, part-feral, wholly people-phobic.
Weeks went by. I didn’t see the cat.
Then, I saw him dash across the tunnel of light thrown by my car’s head lamps as I drove into my driveway. Another time, I saw him at dusk, grooming beneath the camouflage of low-hanging palm fronds.
I knew when the smallish cat had spent time around our house during the night, maybe napping on the front staircase or seeking shelter from the rain on a cushioned chair on the lanai. The next morning, my girls, one a retired search and rescue dog, would work his scent with the frenetic energy of a double espresso.
A couple months ago, I happened upon the cat curled in a nest of a ball behind some bushes. The girls’ were with me. Their noses went in the air and they strained their leashes, alerting me to the cat’s presence before we even saw him. I knew what would come next--a mad bout of ferocious barking--and dragged the dogs back to the house.
But something made me return to the bushes. Maybe it was the image of the black collar. At some point, I thought, this cat had cozied up to someone and allowed that someone to slip a collar over his head.
I sat 20 feet away from the cat, looking askance, acting nonchalant. It didn’t take long. He rose, stretched in an arch and circled me, approaching from behind. I sat still and let him make the advances until he was in my lap, his insistent head nudging my hand to pet him, his purr-motor roaring. Now, more than ever, I figured he belonged to a neighbor.
When I told my friend Pam, the volunteer coordinator at the Kauai Humane Society
, she said, “Bring him in. He might be chipped.”
But I hesitated. What if he belonged to the neighbor? And how does one catch a cat? Transport a cat? I didn’t know cats. I didn’t have a cat carrier. What's more, the knowledge that a disturbingly low percentage of cats that entered the doors of the shelter made it out alive circled the back of my mind like a song I couldn't shake. I debated and delayed and forgot about the cat between sightings.
Then, the neighbor stopped by the house last week, and even though I hadn’t seen the cat in a couple weeks, I asked her about him--white with a black collar. “Nope,” she said. “Not ours.”
Last night, after catching up on a recorded TV show, with the girls snuggled beside me on the sofa (I know) and the husband reading in bed, I saw the white cat outside the sliding glass door to our living room. He raised a paw to the glass, and I headed outside, fresh bag of cat food in hand.
He refused food for a full fifteen minutes, preferring to sate his starvation for love before filling his hungry belly. I sat on the plastic adirondack chair by the driveway, and he wove between my legs in a figure-eight pattern, rubbed the back of his head against my body and, quickly, crawled into my lap. I stroked his clean, white body from head to tail with a practiced hand, noting not a tick, not a flea but feeling the rumble of vertebrae and ribs beneath my fingers and noting the thinning of fur, like a man slowly going bald.
That’s when I realized this cat had once belonged to a home where he was cuddled and loved, and he deserved a new home--a home with people to pet him and, if there were dogs in the home, dogs that liked and played with cats. I decided that by letting the cat live in my yard, I was surely killing him, slowly, one lonely day, one missed meal at a time. It was time to take action, do the right thing and that right thing was to take the cat to Kauai Humane Society.
Pam said the shelter takes in some 6,000 animals each year. Only 3% of cats are reunited with their owners.
The rains started early this morning, coming down in buckets, and the winds picked up enough to rouse me from sleep and slip a thought into my waking consciousness. That thought was this: I hope the cat finds shelter from the rain.
I woke to find the cat sitting on a table outside the sliding glass door of my bedroom--not more than eight feet from me. And the dogs.
I called Pam from my bed.
“I know this sounds cruel, but use a pillow case,” she said. “That’s how I take my cats to the vet, snuggled against my belly as I drive.”
“But this cat doesn’t know me,” I said. I had visions of a pillowcase flying through the car, bouncing off windows and my head. I pictured claws protruding through the fabric, rivulets of blood streaming down my face. But the blood, it turned out, wouldn’t flow from my face but my pinky finger.
“Then, try a box,” she said. “You’ll probably have to tape it closed.
I spent an hour with the car in the garage, feeding it, coaxing it into the box, while my two dogs whined on the other side of the door. When the cat had a good and fully belly--I could feel its belly expand--it curled in a ball in my lap and nodded off. I wrapped it tight in a towel and, quickly, stuffed it in the box, securing the corners with duct tape but leaving the middle seam free for air flow. That was a mistake.
I made it to my designated meeting spot with Pam in Kapaa--the cat reclined across the dashboard of the car and me nursing a sliced finger. Pam wrapped the towel around the cat, worked it into the pillowcase and drove to the shelter with it snuggled against her belly.
Within an hour, Pam called me to say: 1) The cat was male. 2) He was neutered. 3) He was micro-chipped. 4) A message had been left with his owners.
Pam called me another hour later to say that the owners had called back. Their cat had gone missing last Father’s Day when someone borrowed a neighbor’s boat in which the cat had liked to sleep. After a short drive to the river, the cat was last seen leaping from the boat and fleeing. Hope for a reunion had long seeped away.
By sundown on a grey day with more rains predicted overnight, the white cat with a black collar was reported to be home, purring with delirious delight.
The next day, Pam called to say his name was Mikey.
Turns out Mikey is one of the three percent. His story shows how important it is to get your cat or dog micro-chipped. If you have a pet that is not micro-chipped, I highly encourage you to do so. And if you're looking for a pet, I suggest starting with the Kauai Humane Society. I've adopted two amazing dogs there, who both came leash-trained and with other amazing skills. If you're a visitor to our islands, please consider adopting a cat or dog, too. With every purr or love-lick, they'll remind you of Hawaii every day for the rest of their days. Now, that's some kind of memorable Hawaii experience.