This Side of the Pond – June 6

By Sarah Pridgeon

I greet you this week with news of a personal success: I have tamed the wilds of Wyoming. Well, I have tamed a wild of Wyoming, to be more specific. And if I’m going to be absolutely accurate, I should probably admit that all we have really done is slightly domesticate a wildcat.
This story begins many months ago, when a small ball of fluff careened across our yard and came to a skidding halt beneath the deck. Since then, her ginger and black head has popped out from behind trees, appeared through bushes and nosed its way around corners whenever she hears our footfalls. She can usually be found snoozing beside trash cans, waiting for her dinner to be deposited, or sunning herself on the lawn.
We named her Patches and left her to her own devices, occasionally admonishing one or other of the dogs for chasing her down the driveway but largely letting her roam unhindered. She showed little interest in us and usually fled at the first hint of human contact.
Until the day she got lost in the plumbing. The deck she calls home actually belongs to my parents-in-law and through it she discovered how to access the water pipes. Mom-in-Law woke up one morning to the eerie echo of yowling under the floorboards and a feline face peering pitifully between the pipelines.
Worried that she would do herself a mischief and become a permanent part of the foundations, Mom-in-Law set about coaxing her out. It took many patient hours and a full tin of tuna but, eventually, her curiosity to discover what kind of animal lives in a metal can outweighed her mistrust and she skittered outside to investigate.
To the constant surprise of the resident animals, Patches has grown to rather like the plumbing and now often greets Mom-in-Law from her hidey hole. I expect it was rather warmer during the storms than her other potential sleeping spots and she seems to enjoy the company.
We began to wonder if she had had enough of being a wildcat and was hoping to be invited in permanently. I’d never met a feral cat before, so you can imagine what the little devil on my shoulder was encouraging me to do.
I started slowly. Each time I saw Patches, I would chat to her in my most calming tones until she grew bored of my nonsense and wandered away. I chalked up a small victory when she ceased hot-footing it to the tree line and began ignoring me instead.
Spotting her ears in the grass this weekend, I popped outside to perform my usual ritual. I was not expecting her to casually trot up the garden and sit next to me, so there was a brief interlude during which the dog was dissuaded from barking through the window and my own cat broke through the screen door in her urgent desire to make a new enemy.
The lovely new hole in the screen did come in handy for my husband to pass out some cat food, however. Patches was very interested in this part of the proceedings.
For almost an hour, I sat with our wildcat while she gulped down her own body weight in indoor cat food (all part of my cunning transformation plan) and shook with excitement through every bite. She even allowed me to pet her, although I suspect she was too busy to notice.
I won’t be doing it again as I have since been informed that Patches may be carrying some sort of feline disease that, from my understanding, makes her even more cranky than your usual cat. But it was nice while it lasted.
I watched for Patches the next day like a small child waits for a parent to come home, nose pressed against the window and eyes scanning the horizon. She didn’t come to visit. Obviously, because sensible is never my first choice, I ignored my husband’s advice that a wildcat doesn’t need to eat every day and indulged my melancholy instead. I secretly hoped I hadn’t laden her down with so much food that her legs were pinwheeling above a big round belly, preventing perambulation of any kind.
Another day passed and still no sign but, as evening arrived, the dog put forth a frantic bark and the cat pulled out her wire cutters. Outside the door, patiently awaiting her dinner, was our wildcat.
I cannot yet predict where this venture will take us, but we have a few ideas. The husband is hoping that Patches will keep the mice at bay because our cat is an appalling huntress, so lazy that she recently allowed a spider to sit on her paws for a full five minutes and so harebrained that she knocks herself out on a regular basis jumping at flies on the other side of the window glass.
He wants to hang a hammock for her above the deck, because he claims that skunks don’t like the lack of back support and will leave it alone. I am meanwhile envisioning a sparkly collar, possibly in pink.
My own cat is incensed beyond the telling of it. Not only is her Person holding conferences with another feline, these events are catered with the food that belongs in her bowl.
I have paid dearly for my crimes. My cat has implemented a war of attrition, expressing her displeasure through constant loud mewing, the destruction of several shoes and regular and repeated toe biting just as I am falling asleep. I’d like to think it’s because she loves me so much she can’t bear to see me with another, but I know it’s really because she doesn’t want to share her lunch.
Still, the wisest among us have always known that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time, and with cats it’s a miracle to achieve a 20 percent success rate. The good news is that I need not put up with the chewed ankles and slowly depleting sneaker collection because I have a legitimate way to encourage better behavior. I’ve told my cat that, if she’s naughty, I will trade her in for a new model by the name of Patches.