We never meant for Ratty Tabby to be named Ratty Tabby, but somehow the name stuck. She showed up in August, skin and bones, eyes glassy and sunken, barely able to walk. We called her Ratty Tabby to distinguish her from the other tabbies who showed up on our porch.
“The ratty-looking tabby is out there again,” and we’d go to the window to peek at her.
If she saw us looking, she’d be gone. Not in a flash like the other feral cats, because of whatever injury made it hard for her to walk, hard for her to sit. But painfully, slowly, she’d make her way down the stairs and out of sight.
Tabby was clever. She kept to herself but watched other cats and did what they did to survive. They led her to our front porch, where there was always a dish of cat food waiting. They led her to a comfy porch chair down the street. It was Minka’s chair first, then when Minka moved into a chair in our backyard, Tabby commandeered Minka’s chair and spent hours there, watching the neighborhood and resting. When Minka moved into our house, Tabby took over the chair in our backyard. When winter hit and she needed more shelter, she moved into our garage onto a heat pad where she spent many happy hours. Food, water, bathroom, and heat pad all within a few feet of each other so she never had to venture far on her wobbly back legs.
Slowly she began to put on weight. Her winter coat filled out. One day, I realized with a start that this rattiest of cats was actually beautiful.
For many months, she hid when I came outside to feed her. I would whisper sweet nothings while she hid behind a box in our garage, waiting for me to leave so she could breakfast. But then, we began to build rapport. She sat at a distance instead of hiding when I came out to feed her. Eventually, she could sit next to the bowl as I filled it. One day in early February, I reached out a hand to tentatively touch her back while she ate. Her coat was so soft! But she didn’t like that one bit. She recoiled and glared at me with suspicion. There was hiding the next couple of days when I brought her breakfast.
I had a hunch about a new way of taming. I knelt down several feet away from her and stroked the air like I was stroking her cheek. I was fully aware of how ridiculous I looked but decided to commit to the experiment for a couple of weeks, just to see what happened.
And it worked. After a week of air petting, she simply stepped into a real pet. There I was, stroking her actual cheek. From there, Ratty tumbled headlong into taming. The next day, a chin scratch. The day after, a swirl and leg rub. Then, her first purr. Finally, full body petting–cheeks, head, chin, down the spine. All in the span of about four days.
One thing we noticed about Ratty: if another cat got into her space, she would simply abandon it. One morning, another cat was in her chair. She abandoned it for a box, even though the other cat never got in the chair again. Then another cat got too close to her box, and she abandoned the garage for the front porch where there was no shelter. During a stretch of twelve-degree nights, I was afraid she was going to freeze to death, so I lured her into the basement.
It was going to be just for a couple of nights, but the cold stretch continued and she was no trouble at all. Used her litter box like a pro, napped in her nest, loved visits and petting time.
Once inside, we could interact much more and we made two discoveries.
First: Ratty Tabby has the loudest, hoarsest, most grating, most horrible meow AND she’s a talker. Now her nonstop swirls were accompanied by the most awful meow I’ve ever heard.
Second, more horrifying discovery: Tabby was declawed! No wonder she was skin and bones when she showed up at our door! She couldn’t hunt to feed herself!
Of course she couldn’t go back outside, so we began the work of finding a good placement for her. A wonderful shelter that was full managed to find room when they found out she was declawed. We went to visit the shelter yesterday and received the most welcome update. The volunteers remembered Chatty Cathy, as she was renamed, very fondly. “A lot of people were interested in her but they were put off by her meow.” I bet they were! But she was adopted a couple of weeks ago by a family that fell in love with her personality and incessant meow! They had just called the day before to update the shelter about her progress. They adore her! She is already a lap cat!
I am so deeply happy imagining Tabby’s new life: a family who loves the awful sound she makes and provides all the lap time she could ever want.
And I’m already plotting which outdoor cat I will try to rescue next.