When we moved to Cambridge, the couple who sold us our farm was great about telling us about the idiosyncrasies of the house and barn. They made sure we had a Rolodex full of contact information for any of the contractors and other service people who they used over the years. They left us the stools that looked so great with the breakfast bar. And they told us about the yellow cat.
"There's this feral yellow cat that lives in the barn. We put food out for him, but he's not too friendly and he won't let anyone get within 20 feet before he'll run away," said Jennifer Miller. "But he's part of the farm, and so be on the lookout for him. He's been here for at least two years."
Sure enough, we spotted the yellow cat a few times a week. Usually he was cutting across the yard, or eating from the community cat bowl we put out for our own cats, Laverne, Shirley and Lucy. As soon as he sensed the presence of a human, he'd bolt. But I started trying to talk to him. His name simply became the formalized Yellow Cat, as in "I saw Yellow Cat today hiding in the hay loft." One horrible winter day, when it was snowing and the wind chill was well below zero, I saw him fighting his way into the wind to the shelter he chose in a drain pipe that ran under the driveway. The next morning, the snow plow had effectively blocked both entrances to the pipe. We ran out to dig out the openings, but couldn't see whether he was in there. He showed up a few days later in the barn, proving he had some of his nine of lives left.
Before we ever had dog doors in the house, we had a cat door into the garage. We put it in so our own cats would have somewhere to go if they were left outdoors while we were away. Yellow Cat figured out the cat door and took up residence amidst the boxes in the garage. He found on open box with an old packing blanket and made it his bed. I began putting food out there for him, and we began working on trust.
The breakthrough came when we thought he was a goner. We found blood all over, including where he was sleeping. He apparently had a serious leg wound, though we couldn't get close enough enough to do anything about it. But we did start putting antibiotics in his food. He got better... another of the nine lives used. Tom built him a box, and we set up a heated bed and water bowl in the garage for him. He moved in. We still couldn't get too close, but he no longer would run away.
Yellow Cat began to be more friendly toward our other cats. He also began sunning himself out in the open, either on the deck or in a chair. He'd hang around and wait for us to give him some food. And eventually he discovered the dog door into the porch, where we had a water bowl. He was a smart cat, and a brave one. When we were out of town, according to the neighbor who would take in the mail, he used the other dog door to come into the house. Eventually, he even came in when we -- and our dogs -- were home. He was not intimidated in the least by Trinket or Bosco, and was more than willing to let them know that with a swat to the face.
As he became more comfortable being in the house, he began letting us pick him up. He'd purr loudly, and let us pick the burrs out of his coat. He was pretty ratty looking, didn't smell too good, and always seemed to have a few scrapes or scratches, ear mites or some other malady. But he worked his way into being almost a house cat, and worked his way into my heart in the process. He knew that all he needed do was ask and I'd give him a slurp of half and half. He loved half and half. He became relentless in asking for it. And then he'd purr so loud as he lapped it up.
About two months ago, he started looking more sickly than he generally looked (he definitely looked like he'd had a hard life, even though he was now cared for and loved). He was losing weight, and didn't have as much energy. The last week of September, he stopped eating. He would only sniff his half and half, and sip some water. He was failing. On a rainy Sunday, I saw him just standing awkwardly in the front lawn. I brought him in and dried him off. He didn't look too good. I took him down to the warmth of the basement and put him on the bed we have down there. But he climbed back up the stairs, and walked with an unsteady gait to the dog doors and outside. He sat upon the woodpile in the rain. I decided that the next morning I would take him to the vet and send him over the rainbow bridge. As I left to go to campus, I looked at him sitting there, called his name, and he looked back at me. It was the last time I saw him.
When I came home, I asked Tom about him. "Oh, he's on the chair in the living room. I tried to feed him, but he didn't eat." We looked in the living room, but he was gone. I think he knew I what I was thinking. Being put down, though, was not part of Yellow Cat's exit strategy. He took his leave, went outside, and essentially faded into the landscape. No one has seen him since, and I have to guess he just went out to one of his many spots, fell asleep, and never woke up.
This is a post I've been meaning to write for a month now. After he was gone for a week, I pulled together a few pictures of him. But I also kept looking out for him. There was a part of me that thought he'd prove us wrong, rally once more, and be back looking for half and half some morning... yet I knew that was rather unlikely. I truly hope I don't come across his remains... and have been mindful of not looking too hard around the grounds for that reason. Instead, I look at the places he would often be found... the garage, the rug in the kitchen, a chair in the dining room, the front porch. But I know he's gone, and he's not coming back.
It's hard to win the trust, let alone the love, of a feral cat. Yellow Cat taught me it's possible. Close to four years ago, a big gray tomcat showed up. Two years ago, a mouthy and assertive black cat took up residence in the barn, then left the following summer only to return that fall and stick around permanently. Only Yellow Cat had the distinction of being named for his color. Bob (gray) and Betty (black) have also let us befriend them. Both they and I have Yellow Cat to thank for that, for I knew if I could make friends with him, and I was really patient, I could be pals with Bob and Betty too.
Yellow Cat will forever be a part of our farm, and forever be in my heart. Godspeed, my little yellow friend. I'll neither forget you, nor forget the lessons you taught me.