Born to be Wild, Thank You Very Much
By Gary Michael Smith
Our backyard is a cat's paradise. The wrought iron fence, so typical for New Orleans
homes, provides just enough room for cats to escape to our sanctuary, leaving snarling
dogs just out of reach. And sometimes the cats run no farther than just inside the fence,
turning the tables from protagonist to antagonist.
Mustache was first. Actually, he beckoned Brenda and me when we were first examining the
house with our realtor. As I was walking around the house performing my expert initial
exterior inspection ("Yep, these are boards."), I heard a faint meow overhead. It was
the first neighbor I met and he seemed to be trying to convince me to buy the house.
We did, and he became a frequent visitor.
He wasn't really ours, however. While I fed him outside -- not wanting to mix him with
our inside-only boys, Chatgris and Hambone, I learned later that he actually belonged to
the next-door neighbor. But he seemed to like our food better so he ended up spending
most of his time on our deck.
Aren't I Handsome?
Photograph Copyright 2005, Brenda Joy Floyd
But as the saying goes, "If you feed them they will come." Okay, maybe that's not exactly
what Kevin Costner said in "Field of Dreams", but in our case leaving food outside soon
attracted a menagerie of felines. Two grays, one jet black, one mostly black with some
white, and another mostly white with some black became frequent visitors to our patio.
But, living in a university area, as students came and went, so did the furry friends.
Even the neighbor gave Mustache back to her daughter who lived in another part of town.
In the early fall a beautiful young domestic longhair, approximately three years old,
appeared. His (and I was guessing at the gender) coat was still a shiny mass that asked to
be caressed. But it was only the hair that asked; personally, he wanted nothing to do with
humans other than to accept our gracious cuisine of either DeliCat or Purina for Sensitive
Stomach. Always keeping a dozen feet of distance, "Fuffy" developed a routine: he appeared
when we came home from work and he appeared when we awoke in the morning-peeking in the
french doors at the rear of the house patiently awaiting his breakfast.
Once the weather turned as cold as it gets in our southern city, Brenda and I began to
feel sorry for our new little buddy-especially when it rained. He would stand in downpours
waiting for his food, yet still would not let either of us approach him. It took more than
six weeks before he would actually let me touch him, but it was only while he was eating.
Still jumpy, he learned that I was not a threat, and eventually let me pet him when he
It soon became obvious that he lacked socialization skills. He seemed overly passive with
other strays that passed through our yard. To be sure, they seemed to enjoy chasing him
-- especially if it ran him away from his food. Plus, he didn't know how to meow. It was
more of a chirp. "Mip, mip, mip" was his only mode of communication when, indeed, he
felt the need to communicate. Otherwise, it was just a broken, faint attempt at normal
More than two months had passed and Fuffy was now sitting in my lap outside, rolling over
to let me rub his belly. He would also follow both Brenda and me around the patio more
like a puppy, nearly bumping into our heels when we stopped. Although he always had
plenty of fresh food and water, he seemed to want more, staring through the wooden
blinds on the french doors, touching paws with our indoor boys, and nearly following us
inside if we kept the door open a second too long.
Enjoying Those Belly Rubs
Photograph Copyright 2005, Brenda Joy Floyd
Having had four cats over the past five years, we felt quite adept and intuitive at the
inner desires of the felix domestica-even if this one lacked the domestica part. We were
left with two now since Brenda's 21-year-old tuxedo, Sylvester, had passed away and my
21-year-old tuxedo, Beet, moved on to the next plane as well. Also, my 16-year-old
Chartreux, Boris, had an unfortunate experience with a rabies shot and died of an
injection site sarcoma only a year ago.
We were thinking that perhaps our Korat, Chatgris-a stray we found living in an
abandoned car-and another Chartreux-mix, Hambone, who we adopted from a rescue center
during Adoption Days, might like a new buddy to chase and cuddle. After much discussion,
Brenda and I decided to make him an indoor-only cat. My rationale was that every cat I've
ever let outside ended up under the wheels of a car, while those I kept inside lived
longer than most marriages. He seemed to want in, especially as the temperatures dropped,
even though he slept every night on the wooden framed screen I'd constructed over the
central air unit to keep leaves from rotting in the machine.
Indeed, Fuffy found my giant screen door a perfect hammock with a continuous warm updraft
beneath. He found this preferable to the expensive Igloo we'd bought so he wouldn't
have to sleep in the dirt under the house. His sheen was now replaced with dusty mats but
he was only becoming trusting enough to endure a cat brushing. A bath is what he needed,
but not until he got a once-over from a local veterinarian who specialized in cats.
However, this Thursday afternoon once over turned into a $320 exam and treatment for hook
and round worms. Full blood work showed no anomalies, and a treatment of Revolution was
given at the clinic to relieve Fuffy of his ear mites and worms. The surprise came when
the vet called to tell me that neutering (he turned out to be male) wouldn't be
necessary since it had already been performed.
So, someone HAD abandoned him. But why? We did notice that before the other cats slowly
disappeared from our backyard, Fuffy did have a tendency to spray. He marked our barbecue
cover and a couple Adirondack chairs, but no harm done. Rains quickly washed off the
scent in our semi-tropical climate. But the vet did ask again if he was to be an
indoor-only cat, and I confirmed "yes," wondering why a) she asked again, and b) why she
didn't say the usual, "He was so good." In fact, I learned that he had to be sedated
just so they could tell that he was neutered.
Okay, so Fuffy is feral for all intents and purposes. But we'll change that. Once home
he was confined to my office. There, we figured the other boys could sniff him under the
door and get comfortable with a stranger in the house before we would let him out to m
ingle. I had visions of Fuffy lounging on the sofa with me and the other boys within
a week-just like I'd seen numerous times in the past with new cats.
But this time was different. Fuffy immediately ran behind my office desk-just out of
reach. After what seemed like an eternity trying to touch him, I let him have his way --
and the room. Future attempts later in the day proved just as futile, but I figured he'd
eventually come around. Eventually came and went and Fuffy had not eaten or had water or
gone to the litter box-all of which were only feet from where he holed up -- for hours and
At bedtime we ensured that food and water and box were unobstructed and that the room was
secure before Brenda and I retired for the night. For a few hours, that is. Around 4 A.M.
Chatgris and Hambone leapt off the bed, and Chatgris -- being an extremely territorial
Korat -- ran toward my office to fight whatever attacker was intruding. Hambone, the
Chartreux that originally was bred in the sedate environment of the monastery, stayed in
the bedroom and trembled at the thought of a monster.
When I opened my office door, no Fuffy was in sight-just the tornado of damage left
behind. Paperwork was scattered on the floor, a bulletin board lay here, a briefcase
there. But it was the strong scent of urine that concerned me. He had sprayed a stack
of expensive prints I'd just had framed, but luckily were still in plastic bags.
What worried me was that Fuffy clearly didn't know how to use a litter box. I straighten
what I could before trying to calm and coax an obviously disturbed Fuffy from behind my
desk. But to no avail; he wasn't coming out and obviously wanted to be left alone. It was
already morning by this time so I got ready and left for work soon after. Luckily, Brenda
was off that Friday.
During the day Brenda said Fuffy just hid in my office, even though the door was left
open all day. She even had to physically carry a still-terrified Hambone into the guest
bathroom where we kept the litter box and wait with him so he could go. When I returned
from work I again tried to socialize with him but had to resort to dragging him from
beneath my desk. He purred and cuddled in my lap, but ran under the desk again 30 minutes
later when I set him on the floor.
Friday night was more of a repeat of Thursday night, with Fuffy quiet in his cubby until
around 4 in the morning when he once again went on his rampage. But this time he had
managed to mangle the new wooden blinds that were now hanging by a thread on one window.
This was the window Fuffy apparently choose as his escape route, although it proved too
formidable. While attempting the breakout, however, he managed to shred 12 individual
blinds to pieces.
By the time we cleaned up the room it was daylight-once again. We were at a loss for what
to do. Brenda had an idea and put a new fake-fur-lined kitty tepee in the living room
at the end of the couch. Neither of the other two boys was ever interested in the wigwam,
but Fuffy loved it. After I captured him in my office and set him down in the living room
he ran straight for it and curled up inside. This, however, turned out to present another
problem: he never came out. Hours later, still not having had food or water, I tried to
tip him out of the little opening. He clung to the sides. Trying to gently pull him out
also didn't work since there wasn't enough room for both my hand and his body in the
The entire Saturday passed and Fuffy remained in the foam cone. He simply was too scared
to venture out to the communal Fiesta bowl full of Purina nor the Freshflow water
fountain. I had a plan, though. At bedtime I opened the futon, threw some sheets and
blankets on it, and put Fuffy-tepee and all-next to my pillow. Surely he'd come out to
snuggle during the night. But neither of us slept. I kept waking up only to find him
staring at me with glossy gold eyes deep inside the dark cavern of cotton, foam, and fur.
By Saturday night it was obvious that he was going to need to have my office to himself
if he was ever going to eat, drink, and relieve himself. So we gave him fresh food and
water, and put the litter box near where he hid behind my desk. Then it was lockdown.
But again around 4 in the morning we thought we were being burglarized as Fuffy run amuck.
Now, however, the damage was worse. There was yet more urine spray-this time covering a
nylon briefcase full of expensive book samples. He'd even infiltrated my closet that
contained my inventory and rearranged my stock. Other paperwork and files were seemingly
strewn with leaf-blower force.
Brenda and I sat and talked to each other and to him. What did he want? He still hadn't
had any food or water and evidently was not interested in using the litter box. We didn't
want to give up on Fuffy but were both ready to cry -- for his well being and ours. We were
exhausted physically and emotionally.
And we couldn't figure out why he snapped every morning. Then Brenda reminded me that
4 A.M. seemed to be his time to roam; she'd seen him numerous times in the early morning
running down the street on a mission to somewhere. Apparently, we were keeping him from
We weighed and considered our options. Inside, he could soil our fabric furniture and the
large floor rugs throughout the house, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage in
addition to the hundreds he'd already caused. Moreover, he seemed to really prefer
outside, where he felt the flower garden had a certain je ne sais qua that the little
In the end, we decided to release him from custody. I stretched under my desk and grabbed
him, which he didn't like too much. He was no more the Fuffy who rolled around in my lap
outside; he was Fuffy who deftly smacked the side of my head with an angry paw. He was a
wiggling and squirming Fuffy who barely let me carry him through the house to the back
door to the yard he so cherished. Once we were out on the deck I set him down. He bolted
several yards away, looked back, then dashed down the street, chirping and glaring
back as if to say "good riddance."
Fuffy appeared at daybreak Sunday morning, awaiting his food as usual, as if nothing had
happened out of the ordinary for the past three days. He's come every morning and
evening like clockwork. During the day he lounges on the patio and chases birds and
squirrels that had just begun to return to the once feline-free backyard. And when he
heads for the back door as if to follow me in, I'll pause with the door open. Fuffy will
stop in his tracks and retreat a few feet with a look saying, "I'm not falling for that
old trick again!"
In retrospect, we decided that not all cats want to be domesticated -- despite the
species part of their Latin name "domestica." Brenda reminded me that what we had done
that weekend was akin to grabbing a squirrel from the back yard and saying, "Okay, you're
going to be an indoor squirrel!" Some things just aren't meant to be.
This Way I Know When Dad Leaves
Photograph Copyright 2005, Brenda Joy Floyd
Gary Michael Smith is a writer, editor, publisher, and cat lover in New Orleans. He can
be reached at
www.ChatgrisPress.com, a URL that
translates into Cajun French as "gray cat."