The cat came to us yowling. That is what cats do when they need, are desperate for, attention, isn’t it? They don’t just meow or howl. They YOWL!
Our two cats, Sassy and Cramer, ignored this interloper for the most part. Occasionally they tried to run her off (“Scat, you don’t belong here!” “This isn’t your place!” “Go on! This is our family!”). But usually they avoided her, never lay down near her, moved if she came near them, never looked her in the eye. If she tried to eat from their dishes before they were satisfied, and sometimes when they were, they turned her away in definite authoritative feline language. Most of the time, to them, she was invisible, a nothing.
Charles, my husband and vet, declared this cat was in heat. That’s why she was rubbing our legs, legs of strangers, and yowling like an injured bobcat. I talked to her about it. “Look, there’s no help for you here. We have one neutered male and a female. You need to move on.” Charles tried to get her in a carrier so he could take her to the office. If we couldn’t learn who she belonged to, he’d spay her and maybe we’d keep her. But this cat resisted being placed in the carrier. She was fast and sharp. Very sharp! She might let us pick her up for one quick minute but no entry into that cage, no thank you!
It became a ritual every morning to see if the new cat was still here. She always was, though she wouldn’t sit on the kitchen window sill with the other cats, whether they wouldn’t let her or whether she knew she didn’t belong. Instead, she came to the breakfast room window and yowled her heart out there. Yes, yowled. I took a picture of her thinking it was a picture of longing to belong. I was sorely tempted to let her in.
But we would not let her in. Charles is allergic to cat fur and long ago we decided his exposure every day to cats at the clinic was enough. Our cats would stay outside.
In due time (about ten days as is normal) this cat stopped yowling and just meowed and sometimes howled. We thought she might try to go back home, wherever that was. She had a flea collar on. Someone had cared for her. She had been an indoor cat, Charles said, that’s why she shamelessly pleaded to come in the back screen. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the need to keep our distance from strangers, we might have tried harder to find out from whence she came. Our few inquiries brought up nothing.
A disturbing result of the new cat’s presence in our yard was that the birds left, all left. Our feeders and bird baths had been busy every day until she yowled into the yard. When I saw her threatening the one or two birds who did perch on the feeders, I lectured her. “Now you just need to move on. I do not want anyone doing harm to our birds.” Of course she purred as if I’d given her a nice stroking. We loved watching our birds. But what could we do? Our other cats, well fed and lazy, no longer were any threat to the cardinals and the chickadees. But this cat!
Days went by. Weeks went by. She was still here. She consistently walked with us around our circular driveway, around and around and around. Twelve circuits equal a mile. Even if she were nowhere in sight when I started out, she would hear the clatter of my walker wheels on the pavement and come springing out of the bushes, beautiful dark grey and white fur a blur, her tail high like a flag. When she slowed down I could see her distinctive markings on legs and very long tail. Her tail drifted along behind her like the graceful train of a lady’s evening gown.
One day as we walked together I told the cat “If you’re really staying here you need a name. What should it be?” Sometimes you name a pet for distinctive coloring or other appearances. I watched her long tail just skimming the pavement as she slowed along making sure to stay close beside me. It could be “Long Tail.” But that did not sound very ladylike. It was the month of October. What about some form of the word October? Maybe “Octy,” or “Octo”? Those names did not fit this cat. So I decided to try the other end of the word. “Ber,” I said out loud. The cat looked at me with her amber eyes and gave a soft “meow.” She may have thought I was a bit chilled by a sudden breeze. Then out of my mouth came the name “Bertha!” She looked at me again as we ambled and rattled along. “Yes, Bertha it is!”
Folks always seem startled when I tell them her name. I don’t think they’ve ever heard of a cat named Bertha.
Bertha now has her regular turn at a feed bowl. The other cats have accepted her, though they sometimes still seem a little aloof. She continues to walk with us. She enjoys the children when they come. Charli can sit on the grass and play with Bertha who climbs in her lap, soaks up a good stroking and all but hugs Charli’s neck. She has a fine coat, is regularly inspected by our favorite veterinarian who picks her up at times and carries her around the circle, or as far as she will allow. And Bertha has earned her ticket to the theater aka the kitchen window sill, a very good place for watching humans.
We speculate sometimes about where Bertha came from, what her back story is. Did her family move away and leave her behind? Did she just walk away one morning and never go back? Could she not find her way back? She is pretty skittish, sometimes bolts like a flushed rabbit. Did someone abuse her? We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know what became of two cats in past years who left us mysteriously. All we can do is love her and give her a bountiful life with cozy places of shelter and plenty of food and affection.
Slowly the birds are coming back. The bird bath out back was rimmed with rusty breasted robins one day this week and cardinals are beginning to visit the feeders again.
So Bertha is here to stay. She has a name. She has been accepted by her peers. She has been forgiven for her trespasses as an enemy of birds.
A couple of things of which the coming of Bertha reminds me: we all long to belong and when we trust in Jesus He accepts us just as we are with our many sins; when we have a name and our name is written in heaven, we have solid security in belonging for eternity.