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Issue 06

Cats: A Blessing of Comfort

Karen Harding

Rev Karen J. Harding is living in New Brunswick, Canada, and is a missionary to Haiti. She has done extensive research in exclusion and authenticity. Photographs of Gorgeous by the author.

Yumeji Takehisa, Ten Themes of Woman, Black Cat

I have always loved cats and have been blessed with so many in my life thus far. Bush Baby was my first. She was a stray, infested with fleas, who was given to me by a friend from school when I had my first apartment. One Sunday, I had to take her with me to church. I hid her in my purse, but her head kept poking out. I took her directly to the Sunday school class where I was teaching. I was only eighteen and would have done anything to protect her. The Sunday school kids loved her and swore to keep my secret. I thought I would go crazy from all the care she needed, but she grew into an absolutely beautiful cat with long whiskers coming out of her ears. As I had to move away, I gave her to a new widow who was completely alone.

Then there was Mugsy, a beautiful calico whom I adored and gave to my new niece after my husband became acquainted with his birth mother for the first time in forty-eight years. So many incredible memories involving cats as pets.

More recently, in 2006, I purchased a small brick home in downtown Hamilton and brought another cat, Boo-boos, with me from Peterborough, Ontario. Boo-boos was a very different cat in that he would ride the vacuum cleaner whenever it was being used, would fetch toys like a dog and would stretch himself over the top of my office chair every morning for a full-body hot-air massage from my hairdryer. He loved the neighbours and would try to make friends, but they were not so eager. They were satisfied at least that he was not a stray. I named him Boo-boos because he was always getting into trouble. Unfortunately, he was hit by a car and died instantly. 

I was devastated and alone. I had just arrived in Hamilton and had no friends there yet. The house was quiet without Boo-boos and I was left alone with my thoughts. My husband had died, my sons were in Ottawa, and I was working on my degree in theology.

Within a matter of days, a stray cat began to try to access my home. There was an old doggie door built on the back wall of my porch and I had barricaded it with bricks, Nevertheless, this beautiful cat would butt the bricks with his head and make his way into my back porch. It didn’t seem to matter how many bricks were piled against the doggie door, he always made his way in. He seemed very hungry and devoured a can of tuna in seconds so I decided that he should stay. He had obviously already made up his own mind in that regard. I named him Fred because he seemed like an “old soul.” My grandfather’s name was Fred and he seemed very wise to me when I was a young girl.

I took Fred to the vet and he received a few injections. The doctor told me that he was very ill with pneumonia and would need a lot of care. His lungs were weak and he was not very active. It must have taken all of his strength to have moved so many bricks with his head. He stayed under my coffee table for over six weeks before regaining his strength. His first sign of feeling better was noticed when he started playing with a piece of yarn that was hanging over the top of the table. I knew he would be okay and my prayers had been answered. 

Fred was extremely friendly with everyone but received ill treatment from neighbours. He came home one day with deep cigarette burns on his hindquarters. I decided he would now be an indoor cat. 

He stayed inside without too much opposition and began to respond very favourably to music. He especially liked the opening music to the movie, The Godfather. Every time it would play, Fred would come to the living room and curl up on the couch. He slept on my bed every night and was very devoted. After eight years he succumbed to a blocked ureter and I had to have him put down. The tears flowed and I felt so very empty and alone. Fred had been such an incredible cat and is sorely missed by everyone who knew him. 

The nights were getting colder and I often attended a lecture at the university in the early evening. The wind chill was predicted to reach minus forty-two degrees and so I placed a cardboard box with an old fur coat in it on my veranda, just in case a cat needed a warm place. 

I had to be careful because I had been threatened with a fine for leaving food out for stray cats. City life was proving to be so contrary to my family home life back east in New Brunswick. Anyway, I was off to the university and the inconspicuous box was left on the veranda.

Upon my arrival home that evening, I looked in the box and, much to my surprise, found a mother cat with four kittens. It was freezing outside so I quickly placed all the kittens in the house. The mother cat looked up at me and took off. She seemed both relieved and confident that her babies would be okay. Three of them were black and were quite feral. The remaining kitten was mostly white and preferred to stay huddled under my Christmas tree. After a few days, I found her sleeping on a branch directly above the nativity scene. She was a keeper and the other three would be put up for adoption.

“Gorgeous” is her name at home, but “Charlotte” is her vet name. She resembled a little doughnut as a kitten and has grown into a beautiful cat. She is now about eleven years old and has only ever preferred her original kitten food. She has never shown any interest in human food … not even fish. I brought her back to New Brunswick with me in 2015 after I purchased a five-bedroomed Victorian style home and she loves the space. I should say “her space” as this home is hers. Lying on top of the heating register is where she spends most of her days and she loves watching the birds and squirrels from the window.

She snores quite loudly now and sleeps most of the day and night but still enjoys her catnip-stuffed toys and her Whiskas Temptations cat treats. She is a true addict and lets me know when she needs her fix.

She loves being close to me. Whether I am watching a movie, typing on my laptop or cleaning the house, she just makes herself “present.” She waits at the door for me to return if I go out and loves soothing music. She still sleeps under the Christmas tree and I am sure she is grateful for a peaceful place to dwell. She has certainly been a comfort and a blessing to me. She is truly a gift and always will be.