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We Can't Have Cats

How We Became the Heads of a Cat Colony

By Judey Kalchik Published 3 years ago 6 min read

May 9, 2013 is a date I will always remember. Not because it was our 4th wedding anniversary (although it was), but because I thought there was a nest of rats outside our backdoor.

Let me explain.

After a rare dinner out my husband and I went to visit the peach tree in our backyard; as you do. We did a walk up the hill back to the house and up the walk towards the breezeway between the house and garage. I looked to the right to check out the hostas we had planted and then looked to the left to see if there was any hosta-progress there. Instead of green plants I saw a pile of squirming black bodies. As per usual I screamed and ran away.

They were five new-new-new- newborn kittens. No mama or daddy cat. Just babies in a shallow depression alongside the foundation of the house. Once reassured they were not rats, I thought they were adorable. We cooed over them from a few feet away and went inside to peep out the window until it grew too dark. What would we do? My husband is allergic to cats. We had tried cats before and it didn’t work out; although we loved Gracie and Trixie and Alice when they were with us, we knew we couldn’t try indoor cats again. Could we?

There was no need to make the decision. The next day the cats were gone. Well, not all of them were gone. One little one was left behind. After watching it squirm and cry for half a day, we picked up Taffy and brought him inside.

Tucked him into my bra to keep him warm, fed him with an eye dropper, bundled him with two Beanie Babies to keep him warm and comforted. The little guy just mewed and sneezed. He wouldn’t eat much, and the sneezing gave way to labored breathing. After the third day he died, and I was furious that the mama had left him behind. My husband told me that she must have known he was sick and needed to concentrate on her other babies. Still fuming, I moved onward with the summer. There was a lot to do around the house and never enough time to do it.

Our yard was what you might call ‘natural’, meaning it was naturally something we would get around to doing. There was an old bike and several old newspaper mailboxes stacked behind the garage. The previous owners had been renters that weren’t much into landscaping and the bushes were overgrown.

It wasn’t until three weeks went that I noticed the black cat streaking across the backyard at all hours of the day. Almost like it owned the place. I was to find out that she thinks she does own the place.)

It turns out that the black cat was the mama cat and she had installed her four babies in the mailbox facing away from the house. Those little ones had been snug and dry, venturing out and under the overgrown hedges. When I saw them in a kitten tangle I was hooked.

The kitten tangle

But what in the world were we supposed to do now?

Name them, of course. The mama was the rich dark black with caramel undertones of a ripe olive, so Olive she became. The largest kitten was Romeo, and his three sisters became Tawny Kittaen (because MTV used to play videos), the littlest one was Minnie, and the third girl was Tres (because she was the third girl, of course). Naming out of the way, Project Woo the Cats commenced.

Our ultimate goal was to catch them and get them fixed. We would wing it from there, but I started sharing them on Facebook hoping that kitten-lust would cause a rush of people to take these cats. Because we can’t have cats. Because my husband is allergic. So, they can’t be our cats.

I wooed them with food. Mama Olive would sit and glare at me, but I fed her by the clock. It got so she would let me sit and pet her while she ate. The babies just bumbled around, occasionally getting close enough for me to gently stroke an unbelievably soft head.

Project Woo the Cats was working, thank goodness for milk jug rings

Soon they took the cue from Olive and would gather around during feeding time for Mama, then they would nestle close and nurse when she was done. Checking in with the local Humane Society we found that they could be spayed or neutered for an exceptionally low fee if we agreed to provide them food and shelter as long as they stayed in our yard. Of course, that would be outside, since we can’t have cats and these weren’t our cats.

The day we gathered them for the Humane Society to pick up was sunny and bright. Kittens tumbled in the backyard while my husband constructed a family holding pen in the front yard. The plan was for me to lure the kittens close to me, he would pounce and transport them into the large cage, securing the grate at the top. The first penned baby cried piteously. Olive ran around the backyard as we rounded up first Romeo, then Minnie, Tres, and finally Tawny. I was holding down the cage top crying along with the babies when my husband captured Olive and reunited her with her young ones.

I was exhausted and guilty- we had lured them into trusting us and we betrayed them. My husband took my arm, guided me into the kitchen, and poured us a shot of tequila… at 10 AM. I am not a big drinker, but I tossed it back. It’s a good thing these aren’t our cats, I mused. I can’t believe how obsessed I would be if they were really ours.

Almost eight years later I know exactly how obsessed I could be to be the caretakers of a cat colony. We provided them shelter in the form of a lean-to cat house nestled under the pine trees. They climbed on top of it and used it as a scratching post. Since it was getting cooler, and they didn’t like (obviously) that house, my husband built them an insulated kitty cave in the breezeway. Since it didn’t make sense to prop the door open and let in a draft, he installed a cat door in our metal screen door for them.

Tres at six years old

There’s a bench with custom cushions, a heated dish to make sure their water doesn’t freeze, and two small lounging homes made from boxes, sweatshirts, and cushions in case they want some solitude. And contrary to what people may tell you, I don’t cook for them every night. I stopped that after the first two years. It IS possible that on very cold days they come inside, and on hot days they may need some time in the airconditioned house because we aren’t savages… and Olive’s dark coat must make her hot.

Why yes, that IS Olive on the couch. It was VERY hot outside

We are down to two constant cats these days: Olive and Tres. Both are fascinated when we work outside. Well, when my husband works outside, and I pop out helpfully to see what he is doing. He informs me that Tres is quite knowledgeable about small engine repair and Olive enjoys gardening. One day, as we watched him do something with the lawnmower I realized that the cats just mosey over, stretch out, and watch him work. Sometimes they get in the way, other times they rub up against him wanting attention. It’s almost like there’s nothing for me to do any more.

Minnie lives up the road and around the bend: they call her Fritzie. Romeo is a sometimes visitor and especially appreciates breakfast on the veranda of a morning. Tawny disappeared after the first few months and I am sure she has found her own safe home.

I don’t know why Olive had her babies outside our back door. I don’t know why she chose us, why she trusts us, or why she bumps my hand so I will scratch her head in that perfect place between her ears the way I know she likes. I don’t know why Tres has stayed here with her all these years, or why she follows me when I get the mail or restock our Little Free Library in front of the house.

I don’t know why these strays decided to stay but I know we would be lost without them.


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About the Creator

Judey Kalchik

It's my time to find and use my voice.

Poetry, short stories, memories, and a lot of things I think and wish I'd known a long time ago.

You can also find me on Medium

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Comments (2)

  • The Dani Writer11 months ago

    A beautifully engaging story! Cats could corner the internet all day and night without trying if they wanted but they probably don't feel like it—until maybe it's incredibly inconvenient or amusing. A great read!

  • Cathy holmes11 months ago

    What a wonderful story. Good for you and hubby for taking care of them.

Judey Kalchik Written by Judey Kalchik

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