Oliver, the Christmas Cat

Oliver first came to us in the summer of 2010. About a hundred yards north of our house is an active creek. For decades, the undeveloped area near the creek has been host to colonies of feral cats. Many stay near the creek until disease and death ends their lives. The lucky ones are trapped and given a second chance with the local animal shelter. Unfortunately, feral cats seldom make good domestic pets.

The tom cats from the colony fan out through our barrio-like neighborhood as soon as they mature. The strongest and healthiest wander nightly in a quest to satisfy their greatest need: to reproduce. When we first moved into the neighborhood years ago, the blood line was dominated by black cats with white chests. We even rescued a young mother with a newborn litter who had those markings. (Her arrival is a tale yet to be inscribed. Watch for ‘The Story of Helga’.)

Sometimes, the Toms would wander into our yard, usually after midnight. Our cats are all spayed and neutered, so they never found any action. Our resident males would huff and puff a bit, and the dogs would bark, but there were seldom any physical confrontations and after a few more nights they would depart for good.

My bedroom window functions as sort of a feline ‘doggy door’. I even built a small ladder so that they could come in and our more easily. Next to the window is a metal desk that serves as a serving area for cat food and water. In the warm summertime, the window remains open and our indoor/outdoor cats can come and go as they please (and as nature intended, according to the cats).

Last summer, late at night, I began to notice the brief presence of a small, dark cat eating the available dry cat food with great concentration. If I move ever so slightly, the cat was gone in a blink and would not return until the next night. Judging by the cat’s eating sounds, it was obviously quite hungry. Ever meal was finished off by a long drink of water.

This continued from mid-July into the fall. By then, I was able to get glimpses of my nightly visitor sufficient to realize that it was quite young, perhaps no more than six to eight months old. However, I was unable to determine its gender. I was able to determine that the cat was mostly black but with a strikingly handsome white chest.

When temperatures dipped into the forties at night, I had to start closing the bedroom window. Standard household feline policy at that point was that all cats were expected to be home by eleven p.m. Late arrivals either had to spend the night outside (there were lots of sheltered places to bunk down) or would have to come to my window and make noises to awaken me.

For a few nights, the visitor was nowhere to be seen. But, it must have been checking out the pattern played out each night by the other cats.  One night, I heard the window rattle and there was the visitor.

When I opened the window, the cat was on the ground near the bottom of the ladder and no amount of coaxing could encourage it to climb the ladder for food while I was there. Plan B was to leave a small dish of cat food on the top of the ladder. I did so and closed the window and then watched with the lights turned out. Within a minute or two, the visitor climbed the ladder, ate the food, and then quickly disappeared.

Over the next two months, this process was repeated nearly nightly. As rainy weather began being a common event, I was forced to move the food to the covered front porch. The visitor caught on to this fairly quickly. On the porch, there was better lighting and I became convinced that this young cat must be female based upon its smallness.

All cats need a name, even visitors in the night. So that black and white young cat became Pan, which was a shortened version of Pandora. That name came to me because that cat always seemed to be full of surprises. And, I assumed that it was female.

Late fall became colder and stormier. Pandora was coming to the front porch food bowl earlier and earlier each night.  Just before Thanksgiving, we had a very heavy and cold rain. After dinner, I went out on the porch and called Pan by name. There was no immediate response, but in a few minutes I watched very wet and ruffled bundle of fur come out of the bushes  and run over to the food table. It was dripping wet.

I said, “Pandora, this is it. You are coming in the house.” With that, I picked up a non-protesting young cat and carried it into my bedroom and plunked it down on the same metal desk where it all began just a few months earlier.

With a large, fluffy towel I dried Pan until there was no water left on its fur. A generous serving of soft cat food was its reward for patience.

After a serving of dry cat food and a sip of water, my rainy day visitor relaxed enough to be petted and scratched and inspected. It was then that I had quite a surprise. Pan/Pandora was definitely not a girl kitty!

It was then that Oliver became an official part of our cat household. With a black coat and a white shirt, he could only be Olive Twist.

Oliver stayed the night, right there on a fresh warm towel on the desktop. In the morning, after the rain, I opened the window and let him out. After a big breakfast, of course. Oliver—who quickly became Olli—climbed down the ladder and headed to the north end of our property and disappear in the direction of the creek.

That night, he reappeared and was carried back to ‘his room’. By then, I had a small box ready to be his personal bed. For the next few weeks, we repeated the process almost without exception. He would arrive an hour or two after dark, stay the night, and leave in the morning. By then, he would just walk in the front door.

Just before Christmas, on a really cold and rainy day, Oliver awoke and at his breakfast. His personal litter box was under the desk. After doing his business, he jumped back on the desk and curled up again in his box. I opened the window so that he could leave and he just looked at me. I closed the window and realized that Oliver was going to spend Christmas at home.

Oliver the Christmas Cat never left our yard again.