The Stray

Joan E. Chandler

We were young, with two toddlers. Rod worked at one full-time and two part-time jobs, trying to make ends meet. We seldom found time for a few moments alone, time to appreciate our recently-bought, shabby home and its gravel-bowl front yard.

On one of those oh-so-rare occasions, a sweltering summer night at dusk, we sat on a front step and surveyed our kingdom. The air was still. It was pleasant to simply rest our elbows on our knees and our chins in our hands, and to enjoy the quiet.

We both saw it at the same time. It was a cat, off-white and long haired, and it was walking in the center of the road. It seemed unaware of the traffic. I said to Rod, “Do you think that cat is ill? It looks listless.”

Unable to ignore a sick or injured animal, Rod approached the cat, hoping to at least coax it out of the road and away from cars. But it didn’t respond. Gently, Rod reached down and picked up the cat, and walked toward me. This poor animal looked awful. His coat was dirty and tangled, and his yellow eyes were mere slits. Rod said, “I can feel his ribs. Let’s see if he’ll drink some milk.”

We couldn’t just keep referring to him as “The cat”, so we called him Nomad. We took him into our kitchen, where he cowered in a corner as Rod warmed a little milk and poured it into a saucer. While the cat lapped up a bit of milk, I called Dr. Johnson and described our predicament. He said, “Bring him on down.”

The vet examined the waiflike creature, and suggested we leave him there at least overnight, maybe longer. He thought the cat might be lost and half-starved, but a cursory examination showed nothing life-threatening. The next morning I used some of our very limited spare cash to purchase cans of cat food, a narrow collar, and a tinkly cat toy. Unless its owner appeared, we would be welcoming home a new pet.

Nomad came home in two days, clean and fluffy, freshly wormed and inoculated, and minus a hairball or two. There were two new dishes in a corner of the kitchen, one filled with salmon stew and the other with milk. An old towel was crumpled nearby for a soft bed. Despite the fact we had given to his PCP $85.00 we didn’t have, and spent another $30 for pills and supplies, we were happy to welcome home our beautiful new cat. We were pleased that he ate and drank, pawed at his new toy, and curled up on his bed, seemingly content. Recalling that rare moment on our front step two nights before, I thought, “Timing is everything.”

The next morning, Nomad, obviously well housetrained, scratched at the kitchen door. We let him out, and then watched in disbelief as he calmly proceeded to the center of the road and walked away.

The Journey

I don’t know how long I had been walking. The pad on my rear paw was sore. I was tired and hot, and hungry, too. And something hurt in my stomach. But I felt that if I could stay upright and steady for just awhile longer, with the cooler night on its way, this road would take me back to my house and my family. Perhaps, along the way, an easy meal, maybe road kill, would present itself.

A car slowed and moved around me. I just couldn’t seem to garner the strength to avoid it on my own. I heard a human speak. A man, not one I recognized, picked me up. It hurt when he did this, but I was too weak to strike out at him or try to get away. He spoke to a woman, and they took me into their house. I was afraid, but soon realized they would not be mean to me. I couldn’t resist the warm milk and soft bed they provided. My stomach still felt bad, and I missed my children, but at least this night was a more comfortable one than my last few.

I was frightened the next morning when these people forced me into a pillow case. Then I could sense that I was in a moving car. When my soft cage again opened, I found myself in another new place, being poked softly by a man. He looked closely at my eyes, made me open my mouth, and pressed on my tummy. He stabbed me with a sharp needle, and then put me in a fearsome cage. For awhile, the cat and dog noises from other cages made me too nervous to eat, but when I realized they couldn’t hurt me, I ate some dry food, drank a little water, and felt a little better.

For two days I stayed in that place. I was very lonely, and I didn’t understand why I was there. But the humans were gentle, and they smiled when they spoke to me. I drank bitter medicine, and was stuck with another needle; but I had a bed and food and water. On the second day, a young woman gave me a bath and brushed my fur. I looked handsome, and felt happy when my new friends came to get me.

I was a lucky cat. I no longer felt sick, my stomach was full of good food, and I was rested and strong enough to continue my journey home. Just when life was at its dreariest, and I was losing hope of being reunited with my family, a miracle had happened. I had passed the house of a couple who were willing to help me. I thought, “Timing is everything.”