Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Visit from Tabby Tom

Skitter's arch rival, Tabby Tom, comes for a visit, and a cat fight is narrowly avoided.

At first, the colony was nowhere to be seen this afternoon. I wiggled my way out the front door, juggling a caserole dish of canned cat food, today's empty water dish, a pitcher full of water and another of dry kibbles. I managed to not slip on the front step (the wind chill has been FAR too low to get out and do any shoveling), set everything down, locked the front door, got my gloves back on, got everything picked up and adjusted again, and went crunching through the snow around to the back deck, kitty treats in hand (or in arm, rather).

Normally, I prefer to just head out the back door straight on to the deck, which is where the daily feline feeding frenzy takes place. However, one of the many joys of an elderly house (ours was built circa 1900) is its many quirks and idiosyncrasies. In wet weather, like snow, our back door swells and becomes impossible for me to pull open from the inside. I can unlock it, go around back, and throw my body weight against it from the outside and usually get it to open. It sort of defeats the purpose, though, of easy access to the deck from the back door, if you first have to go out the front door before you can open the back door. Not to mention that, in order to get it closed, I have to go inside and do the body flinging thing again from the other side. It's really just easier to concede the argument and use the front door. Why the front door doesn't also swell during wet weather is a complete mystery to me.

As I passed under Hades' maple tree, I noticed that some of the tracks in the snow were far too big for cats, unless we were being visited by something LARGE from the Saint Louis Zoo, which I doubted. Had to be dogs. We occassionally have canine visitors as well as the regular feral cat colony. Now, don't get me wrong. I adore dogs. I grew up with dogs. I yearn for having another dog, and someday I will. There is no being in all the world that can love you as a dog does; no scent under heaven to compare with the scent of clean, happy puppy. (Baby humans have a unique scent, too, almost as wonderful as baby dog. Kittens, I've noticed, have no scent that I can detect. My theory is that the mother cat keeps them scrupulously clean, probably to keep predators off the trail.) But dogs in the back yard though, generally upset the cats, sending them into hiding. So it was today. As I rounded the corner of the house, not a kitty soul was in sight.

It is still blisteringly cold. Eight degrees F in Saint Louis this morning, according to my ever helpful desktop weather widget. By noonish, when I was out in the weather, it was a sultry twenty degrees. As I write, we're having a heat wave. All the way up to twenty-two degrees F! According, that is, to my handy desktop weather widget.

So, with the cold, I expected the cats to be snuggled down in their various hidey holes, or piled together in the kitty palace of  hay back by the alley, the back forty. I rattled the pitcher of kibbles, called and clicked, and still no one came.  I set out the new water dish and filled it with water from my pitcher; yesterday's water dish was indeed frozen solid again. I picked it up to take inside. All the feeding stations got a line of canned food and one of kibbles. I noticed that Tara, who comes over to feed the colony in the evenings, had the same thought I had about cold weather and wet food. In one of her bowls was still a half eaten serving of canned food as well.

I continued to clatter and call, and eventually Little Bit poked her head out from under the deck, and, seeing the wet cat food, bounded up to me, tail high, then set to work. I gathered up my serving bowls and utensils; when I turned around, Miss Kitty had joined her, and was happily gobbling up the moderately warm canned food. (Cats, I've learned, absolutely do not like cold food. That's why if you refrigerate say a half can of cat food, and offer it up the next day, they won't eat it. Well, that and stubornness. But nice WARM food, now that's a treat. Mouse temperature is ideal, I guess.) Miss Cally was at the water station, taking advantage of the fresh, unfrozen water.

By the time I stood in the yard again, ready to head back inside, I counted six cats, all but the two big yellow males, Skitter and Handsome, who've been missing for a couple of days. (Four of the thirteen cats live inside, having made the move up to house cat.) Then, I heard the most gosh awful yowling you can imagine. I called and the yowling answered. I prowled the perimeter of the yard, looking for whomever was calling me. For a few minutes we played this call and answer game. A new neighbor across the street, out for some unknown insanity in this weather in her yard, tried very hard to be NOT WATCHING what was going on. It's the start of  a new University term, and we have new residents in the little house across the street that rents to college students. Cute girl; she'll get used to me and my weird ways.

Then I saw him. It was Skitter, in the back yard of the abandoned house next door. I had been afraid that he had gotten trapped somehow, but he wasn't. Just standing in the middle of THEIR deck, yowling. My first reaction was relief to see him. I peered over the waist high fence my back yard shares with the house next door, looking to see if he was injured. He was fine. Fluffy and fat (the alley cats in this colony are fed rather well, all told).

"What are you yowling at?" I hollared at him. He raised his head, looked at me, and yowled again. The girl across the street raised her head and looked at me, too, though she didn't yowl. She looked away quickly when I noticed.

"Is someone trapped?," I asked him. I had noticed by then that he was staring intently at one of the piles of lumber on the back patio. The previous owner had seemed to be intent on rehabbing until he went away, leaving piles of lumber here and there. I set my cat feeding paraphenalia down in the snow and took a deep, grumpy breath, prepared to climb the fence and see what was going on. I'm not as fond of climbing fences as I once was; it's not as easy for a fifty year old plumpish granny to shimmy over the chain link as it is for her thriteen year old grandson. Nevertheless, you do what you have to.

Just as I reached the fence and was about to wedge the toe of my shoe into the chain link, resigned to an undignified scramble over the fence, a grey streak bolted out from behind one of the piles of lumber and shot around the corner of the house next door. From where I stood I could see both the back and side yards, so I saw the huge male, a magnificent grey tabby like House Cat Rikki. Only, where Rikki is delicate and petite, about four pounds soaking wet, this was a huge beast, much bigger than Skitter, who still stood yowling on the other side of the pile of lumber.

I recognized Tabby Tom, as he paused in the side yard of the house next door, waiting to see, I suppose, if Skitter would follow. Skitter did indeed follow, at a slow, stalking pace, yowling as he went. Now you have to understand that Tabby Tom, who lives down the block, and Skitter are Arch Rivals. They are both intact males, each of them have evaded trapping for years. What Tabby Tom was doing at this end of the block I'm not sure. There is a delightufl woman at his end of the block, across the alley, who feeds Tabby faithfully and who would gladly take him in and make an honest house cat of him if he would but let her. She's called by all "Granny Etta", and I've had occasion to meet and work with her once before, once when Tabby was wounded and the neighborhood rallied to trap him for a veterinarian visit. He eluded capture, despite a deep and terrible wound to his eye, fought off infection,  and now sports a dashing battle scar with which to impress the lady cats. He's a tough old Tom, and I was glad to see him and that he was in good health. I'd be glad to feed him along with the colony I do feed, but Skitter will have none of it. For whatever reason, he defends my back yard as his own personal territory and will absolutely not allow Tabby to join the colony.

As Skitter rounded the corner, Tabby sauntered quickly away and down the street. I headed back to my own front door, hollaring at Skitter to quit yowling and come eat. (The girl across the street got in her car and drove away.) When I closed the front door, Skitter was sitting, all fluffed out and glorious, in the middle of the sidewalk.

Now if I'll only see Handsome again tomorrow, I'll know that everyone is well and safe.


  1. So for a Christmas gift what I needed to get you was a bird bath or water dish warmer?

  2. Indeed, Strawberry! In Robin's comment to the post "Where are the boys?" she pointed out the same thing, and posted a link to one available via Amazon. I ordered it yesterday. Will let everyone know how it works, and how the cats like it. I'd love to hear and see other people's recommendations, too! Hugs!

  3. So I ordered the heated water bowl from Amazon, and it came in the mail yesterday. Today, as temps here drop to low 20's again, I'll be digging out the heavy duty extension cord to see if I can get this thing up and running. Can't be too difficult, can it? Will keep everyone posted..