Guest Story: Sole Survivors

by Kitty Katz

One fine spring morning in 2008, after feeding my cat Corey (RIP), I decided to take an exploratory walk around my neighborhood, something I’d not had the luxury to do when working took most of my time and energy. With the workplace finally behind me, it was a moment for new beginnings. Little did I suspect how my life would change from this day forward. Glancing down a driveway, I saw one, two, three, four, how many cats? It turned out to be a feral colony of about a dozen.

The next day I brought food–even though it was obvious they were well fed–and every following day, until they were quite used to me and glad when I showed up. Soon they were assembling in the driveway, waiting eagerly, as though informed by tiny imaginary wristwatches that my arrival was imminent and breakfast would be served shortly. So now, instead of going to a job every day, I began to “work for cats.” My magnificent brown tabby Corey deserved much of the credit for this. She radiated love almost visibly, like the rays in a child’s drawing of the sun. While I had always been a “one cat woman,” Corey’s boundless love inspired me to expand my boundaries as well.

It sounds crazy, but I could genuinely feel Corey urging me to Love…More…Cats. And there they were. Not all together at once, but gradually the colony members distinguished themselves to me by color and markings. There were a calico and a tortoiseshell; 2 silver tabbies; 2 solid white and 1 solid black; 2 tuxedoes; a full Siamese and a Siamese mix; 1 solid orange tabby later joined by 2 more with white trim; 14 cats sharing a couple of fine-looking, sturdily-built shelters in the quiet yard of a private house, safe from harm.

One day when I arrived earlier than usual, the homeowner came out the back door and walked across the yard to meet me. He said it really wasn’t necessary to bring food for the cats as he provided plenty. But since visiting them gave me such joy, I asked nicely if I could supplement his provisions, and of course would always tidy up and keep the yard clean. He smiled indulgently, and from then on, I rarely missed a day with the colony.

As time passed, I named the as yet un-named ones after celebrities I thought they resembled: Betty White, Sade, Patti LaBelle, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. Others had more conventional names: Miss Kitty, Sugar, Tuxie, Patches, Handsome, Papa Siamese, Lyon and the 2 newcomers Banana and Noah.

Periodically, local TNR advocates with ties to Neighborhood Cats, a nonprofit feline welfare organization, would do a community walk-about to identify feral colonies in need of spaying and neutering. When one of them came upon my colony, it was our lucky day. They not only got the entire group trapped and neutered, but led me to become a Neighborhood Cats certified caretaker myself. NC’s mission is “to improve the lives of millions of cats living on our streets and support compassionate people caring for them.” I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Some of the ferals were more fearful or timid than others. But eventually all accepted a few light pets while they were eating. What a thrill that was! Each with their own individual charms, I grew to love them more with every passing year. Although even the friendlier ones were still feral and would never live indoors with me, they were still “my” cats. We were getting old together, but these cats were living 2-3 times longer than the average feral. Then, suddenly, one wouldn’t show up at mealtime, never to be seen again. The loss was no less grievous than if it had been my own beloved pet. One by one, their numbers declined till there were only two: Tuxie and Patti, now at least 15 years old.

Patti is probably the younger of them but still an old girl, a delicate silver tabby with blue eyes and a real prima donna. Tuxie is slim and wiry and in spite of her voracious appetite hardly ever gains an ounce; her tuxedo coat is always maintained to a glossy sheen.

Although there are just 2 cats, 2 of my women friends have been lovingly sharing in their care and really spoiling them! It’s truly astonishing how such little animals, with simple endearing behaviors, can inspire such uncommonly Big Love in their human caretakers.

Not long ago the cats were joined by a young tuxedo male. He seemed not to realize they are “fixed” and each one old enough to be his grandma. They tried to rebuff him but he kept coming back, wanting to be friends, until they finally let him stay sometimes. We call him Catarella, perhaps the last of an illustrious dynasty of free-roaming cats in my neighborhood. Sole survivors.

Kitty Katz

New York, 2022

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