We live with two creamy orange cats – but not in the having-a-pet or litter box fashion.
We think these two smallish felines were born outdoors last summer. We do not know anything about their parents other than one is a very large cat, maybe 15 pounds, that seems to be an American Bobtail. One of our two cats has a conventional tail; his sister has the bobtail.
We first met them last winter, walking our collie in Three Springs. They would approach in the snow from a distance. Eventually, they mustered the nerve to walk up to the collie, meow him and touch noses.
They dug a shelter beneath a cottonwood; we whistled for them there at sunrise to join us on walks. They were wary of people and dogs but they seemed to think we were good company and the dog would protect them. (The female once stood between the collie’s front legs and hissed at a poodle.)
We watched them survive their first winter and delight in the return of light. They put on weight. They became talkative.
It is something to see them now, walking with Charlie, the collie. For the prairie dogs and blackbirds, it is a carrier with a destroyer escort. Often we walk in a din of whistles and chirps. Once we have passed, it subsides with a few desultory squeaks.
Not long ago, a notice was posted on a neighborhood electronic bulletin board, from a resident reminding other residents of “the dangers of feeding wildlife (this includes two feral orange tabby cats).”
We took exception to “feral.” It has a bigoted connotation, if you know these cats.“If the problems persists,” the post continued, “I will contact animal control to have them removed.”
“You guys need to keep a lower profile,” we told them.
“Does that include the collie?” they asked. “He can stay with us.”
We were out with Charlie the other day when we saw the cats sitting and calling to us from beneath a car. The male was holding his right arm at a bad angle, toes curled under, and did not want to put weight on it. The female squawked. The male would not let us see the problem limb.
Perhaps someone else will help him, we thought, but it was like whistling past the graveyard.
The next day, he hobbled over to us. We picked him up. He squirmed but did not resist much. We pressed his chest to our chest. His heart was racing but then, perhaps feeling another heartbeat, he began to purr. We got the affected forepaw by the wrist in one hand so we could see: It had a few small masses of what looked like tar jammed up in the pad.
We dug it out and put him down. He tested it: It worked!
It is Apion, a first-century Roman, whom we owe for the story of Androcles, the runaway slave of a Roman consul in Africa.
Androcles sheltered in the den of a wounded lion. The wound turned out to be a thorn in the beast’s paw, which Androcles removed.
Androcles was caught, sent to Rome and condemned to be devoured by wild animals in the Circus Maximus. The fiercest of them was the same lion, who turned tame in his presence. Androcles was released and given the beast.
Apion said he used to see Androcles after that, making the rounds of Rome with the lion on a slender leash. In Three Springs, for now, the collie is leashed and the cats, long may they run on all four feet, go free.