Finding the tracks of an opossum or raccoon in the snow doesn't necessarily mean trouble on the home front. Usually the animal is just passing through and is snooping around for something to eat. Anticipating their arrival, I keep everything closed up that I don't want them getting into. Thus I have very little trouble with possums and coons. A woodchuck, on the other hand, is a different story.
The tracks I saw near the barn last week made me a little nervous. They were made by a stray cat. A wayward cat always means there could be trouble - especially if it's hungry.
I had forgotten the tracks by that evening, when I stood at a south window, watching the sky turn pink as the sun went down. It was getting late and all the birds were gone except for the ten cardinals, who are always last to leave the feeders for the day. It was a very pleasant way to end the day, watching the beautiful cardinals and a pretty pink sky. Suddenly, in a flash of red feathers, the cardinals were gone. I soon saw what had spooked them - the cat, strolling through the snow up the path that leads to the barn.
The stray cat has brown stripes, a white bib, and four white socks. He is quite handsome and looks healthy; he's probably just hungry. I watched him walk a few steps, sniff at the side of the path, then perk up and look around. He seemed nervous, keeping an eye out for danger as well as for something to eat.
I picked up the binoculars to get a closer look. I observed his stealthy walk as he passed the snow-covered woodpile. Then he stopped and looked right at me. I froze as I felt his yellow-green eyes staring right at me.
Satisfied that the coast was clear, he snuck under some brush near the bird feeder and sat low to the ground. I figured he was waiting for the cardinals to return, so I stepped out on the porch where he could see me. In a flash he took off for the barn, fluffy white snow flying up behind him. I followed him, but didnít really expect to find him; there are too many places for a cat to hide in the barn.
As I walked back to the house, I wondered what to do. I could not let a cat hang around and terrorize the wild birds. There was a time that I would simply have dispatched the intruder, but those days are far behind me. I could trap him live, but what would I do with him? Heís probably a poor soul who was dropped off by someone who, for whatever reason, no longer wanted a kitty. If I let him go somewhere else, I would leave him in the same sorry state Ė cold, lost and hungry. Iíve become compassionate because I know what itís like to be cold, lost, and hungry.
I didnít want to take him to the humane society because if no one claims him, his fate is sealed. What to do?
I had some dry cat food left over from watching a friendís cat, so I put a couple of cupfuls in a dish and set it by the barn door. I wasnít back in the house five minutes before I saw the cat eagerly munching down the food. I knew this meant he would stick around for a while as long as he was getting a free meal. I thought if I could solve his hunger problem, he might not be so apt to try to catch the birds at the feeders. Maybe it would give me a little time to figure out a solution for the cat problem.
The stray cat continued to spend his days hiding in the barn. For six nights I left food for him. Then, three days ago, he disappeared, and I have not seen a sign of him since. I wonder where he went and how he is doing. I like to think he went up the road to a neighborís farm and joined the barn cats there. To help me remember that he was here, he had sprayed his scent on the steps of the porch. Each time I use the steps I am rudely reminded of the cat that came to visit.
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