The slim calico prowled the neighborhood, checking out the opportunities. This house? That one? There was a nice culvert in the cul-de-sac where she could both hide and find water.
The big, dark car stopped beside her and the door opened. The cat froze, waiting to see what came next. The human made cooing and chirping sounds, and the ones she’d learned to recognize as “here, kitty, kitty.” But she ignored him and sauntered on. You don’t get into a strange car with just any old human, after all.
Still, the human hadn’t appeared threatening. Maybe she’d check out this area again.
Carefully, the calico watched and waited. The big car went by several times a day. If she was hidden well, it passed by. If she allowed the human a glimpse of her bright eyes and sleek tri-colored fur, she might also listen to the low, comforting sounds that spoke of invitation.
Sometimes she strolled past the place she had lived before, just to check it out. Loud dogs barking in the house. In the yard. Not worth trying right now. Maybe some day the dogs would go away, just as she had.
“I’ve seen this little calico around lately,” my husband said. “Doesn’t look like anyone owns it.”
“Her,” I said. “Calicos are almost always female. They need two X chromosomes to get that color pattern.” I knew I was being pedantic, but I wanted to keep the conversation out of emotional realms. Our big gray and white cat Django had died not long before, and I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another feline companion.
A few days later, the calico saw the sign above our door, visible only to cats: SUCKERS LIVE HERE. FREE FOOD. Casually, she picked her dainty way through the garden and up to the front door. Just as the sign had revealed, the man from the car opened the door and brought her an offering of food. She started hanging around the house more. She could smell that there were other cats there. One dog in the back yard, but not a very noisy one. She allowed the man to take her inside.
He gave her a room to herself, with a constantly filled food dish and a container of litter. The man, and sometimes the woman, would visit her and pet her and give her a lap to sit on. There was a window to look out of and a comfy chair and lots of shelves and bins and boxes to explore.
“If we’re going to keep her, we need to take her to the vet for a check-up,” Dan said.
I was still trying to resist. “But are we going to keep her? I’m not ready yet. It’s too soon.”
“Even if we don’t keep her, she needs a vet-check before we can let her mix with the other cats. We can’t leave her in your study. If we do try to find her owner, it could take a while.”
“There was a sign up a couple of streets over about a missing calico. It’s probably this one,” I said.
The neighbor came to see the little calico. I made him describe her before I brought her out. She might not put up with being held very long and turn into a clawed tornado. He neglected to mention the sooty smudge on her chin or her crazy eyes, one gold, one green, and when I did bring her out for inspection, he shook his head sadly. No.
“Good luck,” I said, holding the cat firmly against my chest.
“We’ve got to name her something, if only for the vet records. And we can’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. She’s not so little any more now that she’s eating regularly,” Dan said as we prepared to put her in a carrier. “Do you have any good ideas?”
“Well, there’s Dushenka,” I offered. “It’s Russian and means ‘little soul.’ On Babylon 5, Ivanova’s father called her that as a term of endearment.”
“That’s it, then. She’s Dushenka.”
All Dushenka’s tests were fine. She did seem like she hadn’t been on the street too long – glossy coat, not malnourished, definitely not feral. Just as we were about to take her home for another round of “Should We Keep Her?” the vet said, “I should probably scan her. Lots of cats have ID chips these days.
The quick wave of a wand over her shoulders and – BEEP. Somewhere Dushenka had an owner. And it wasn’t us.
The vet called the chip registry service and the phone number they gave her, but had to leave a message. A few days later, she gave us the address and phone number too. The cat’s registered name was Carmen, and she had lived one street behind us.
We tried. We really did. We called, left messages, even put a note on the door.
And I tried not to love her. I really did. But, truth be told, she had me as soon as I saw the crazy eyes and the smudgy chin.
So we got the vet to write a letter to the chip registry about what awesome pet guardians we are and how all of us had tried to contact the registered owner. And we sent in the $25 re-registration fee. The paperwork done, her ownership officially changed hands. To this day, we’ve never heard a squeak from the neighbors who used to have her.
We’ve seen this meme since, and except for the pronouns, it’s perfect.
She’s OURS now. And we LOVE her.