It is the first bitter taste of winter tonight, blowing snow, slippery roads and temperatures down in the low teens. The apples started to freeze in their baskets on the porch and I covered all the squash with blankets. As I was closing the house up for the night, turning off lights, making sure doors would not open to a gust of icy wind, I noticed Momcat sleeping in the laundry room. She started to get up and run for the doggy door, but when I tucked a fleece blanket in her box, she settled with a purr.
Momcat is like our own little vagabond or street-cat. She was abandoned in the neighborhood years ago and turned out litter after litter of kittens each summer, few survived besides the ones I was able to capture, tame, sterilize and find homes for. Two of our present cats are her offspring. Finally, just before her last litter was due I managed to capture her and contain her while she gave birth and nursed her kittens. She had a large kennel in the laundry room and at first hissed and backed to the corner each time I came near. Even though she had allowed me limited physical contact while she was wild, she was too angry at being locked up to tolerate my most gentle touch.
The kittens were born and I spent a great deal of time with them to make sure they would be tame enough to be pets instead of wildlings. Gradually, Momcat relaxed again and purred when I scratched her ears. My hope was that she would remember her former life as a housecat and remain with me. I’d allow her to stay and have everything she once had that was so cruelly taken from her. It seemed to be going well until last spring when I decided it was time to put a stop to her endless kittens. I took her to the vet and had her spayed.
She returned to her kennel for a few weeks till I removed her stitches and knew she was mended. I opened the door and she was gone like vapor in the wind. I stood shocked, as the doggy door slowly flapped back and forth at her exit. I assumed that she would be back later after she had gotten over her resentment at me for what I had done. Not a chance. She moved out. She went back to sleeping under the porch and living her life in the wild.
Occasionally we would see her in the laundry room, grabbing some catfood, but as soon as I reached for her, she was a yellow streak headed for the door. She would have none of me. I worried that I would never be forgiven.
Each winter over the years, we cover the porches with thick vinyl to make sort of a sunroom. It keeps the house much warmer, gives me a respite on sunny days and provided a fairly warm place for Momcat and her latest family to sleep. I would keep snug boxes or baskets and food out there and we cut little flaps for her to come and go. It was wonderful for Momcat, but she began inviting other homeless friends and soon I was the unwilling director of a flop house.
It’s all sand under the porch and everyone felt it the perfect litter box. On warm days, you’d open the door and your eyes would water from the smell. This was not exactly working. I was going through ten to twenty pounds of cat food in a week and my song birds were disappearing fast. I knew I had to do something drastic before the next “baby season” started or I would simply be raising and releasing cat food. We started trapping cats. The young ones, I would tame as best I could, have them altered and ship off to willing barn owners. Some of the older ones were beyond this. They bore battle wounds and scars, they refused even the smallest attempts as affection with absolute intolerance, some were riddled with disease. We discussed at length whether we could afford to have them all sterilized and then release them back to the wild. This would completely defeat the purpose of what I was trying to do to save the songbirds and smaller animals that were becoming nearly extinct in my yard. My Buddhist side struggled mightily with my practical side and we finally came to a devastating decision. When I weighed the quality of life that these poor animals had in the wild and the devastation they were causing to the natural wild population of small animals, I decided that sometimes the only option is to terminate life. I was out of money and out of options.
Others may disagree, but I have always felt that animals have a sort of collective spirit; they pass easily from one life to another with little or no attachment to each. In a way, they (especially cats) are perfect little Zen beings. They simply accept what they have at the moment and acknowledge that it may be gone the next, but it will surely come again, somewhere, somehow, sometime else. I lit a great deal of incense as offerings that week. I meditated on what I was doing and accepted full responsibility for the action I would take. I begged the “cat spirit” to forgive me and gave the order to my husband that the remaining cats must be eliminated as humanely as possible.
It felt horrible to put him in the executioner’s position and the only way I could bear it was to remember that the executioner is innocent. He merely carries out his job to the best of his abilities and as long as he bears no malice, his hands remain clean. It was I who would accept the karma of my actions and to this day have not changed my position.
We gently trapped and eliminated the remaining five cats. I knew that I had contributed to the problem, by making it possible for so many cats to survive in the wild, by assisting them with food and shelter. My heart was in the right place, but my interference with the natural order of things had upset the balance of nature. I made sure that I recognized each animal as a living being, asked its forgiveness and prayed for a better life in its next incarnation. It did little to assuage my guild and I wept with each one.
By midsummer, the cat problem outside was under control once more. The oh so prevalent, flea and worm problem we battled, disappeared. Song birds began nesting in the yard and I could feel secure that the little bunnies and squirrels and fledglings I released would have a good chance and reaching independence. Still, Momcat remained. I already had four cats living in the house, so I did not mind so much that she preferred to live outside. We reached an uneasy truce as far as touching goes, (I would not touch her and she would not bite me). Things were, well, OK….sort of.
Every time I saw her, my heart broke a little. She must have been loved at one time. She must have had a home and family with warm beds to sleep on. Someone must have scratched her tummy when she wanted it and there were so many times you could tell she wanted it. She would approach me and look into my eyes, she would rub lightly against my leg and perhaps purr, but as soon as I reached for her, it was hiss and retreat. She would watch through the window as her kittens would receive all the love and affection that she must once have had and I knew that deep inside, somewhere, somehow, she remembered and longed for it once more. She simply could not trust.
I’d stopped trying to force interaction with her. She has food available and warm places to sleep. If she chooses to live outside, that is her prerogative, just as it is mine to worry about her and her comfort. So it was a great blessing to find her inside on this bitter night, sleeping in the box of old quilts and blankets in the back corner. It was even more the blessing that she accepted my intentions and the reward of that tiny purr made my heart soar. I imagine she will be in and out this winter; she has total freedom to come and go and life as she chooses. The porch is completely closed off to her, so she will have to spend more time in the house with me. I’m glad. The other cats will get used to having her here again and I’ll know she is safe and warm….and somehow, I think a little happy.
Welcome home Momcat. Welcome home.

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