Bengal, as you can see from the photos, is a beauty. I know him only from photos, but I hear about him through the stories my mother tells me. Mom is an animal lover. I got part of my passion for animals from her, and the other half from Dad. Dad was the official enjoyer of the animals in our family life, and Mom was the caretaker. Old habits die slowly. Some never do. Dad is long gone, and Mom is still the animal helper at the ripe old age of 87.
She used to care for a small tribe of timid feral cats outside her Novato, California, home, getting them all neutered and spayed after she found good homes for their babies. The cats were fed and cared for first, as were all the animals in our household, all her life. They lived in the creek out her back door, and she and her neighbor fixed them up a place in a garden shed. She cared for them until the day she left the area, and then her neighbor took over. I believe at least some members of that small tribe are still there by that creek, where Mom said goodbye to them a decade ago.
Flash forward to the northern coast of California where my Mom now resides in a senior apartment with Dinky, the black stray kitten she found when she arrived in town. Thankfully, the facility allows their residents to keep a cat or small dog, and Dinky and Mom are inseparable.
When I went to visit them last June, I remember sitting with Dinky on my lap, looking out the window to the parking lot where a woman my mom called “Ann” sat in her car, door open, with a cigarette in her lips and a gray cat in her lap. “That cat is a stray, and Ann brings her food and sits with her when she goes out to smoke. There’s a black cat she feeds, too. You can’t smoke in these apartments, you know.”
I watched the tiny grey calico do patty-paws on Ann’s lap as smoke trails spiraled up like spirits above the parked cars.
A few weeks back, Mom told me she was doing “cat duty” for Ann while she was away visiting her sister. And so begins the story of Bengal.
He just showed up one day shortly after Ann left, she said, while she was feeding the gray calico and the black male down in the parking lot next to Ann’s parked car. “There he was…just sitting there with the other two cats, purring and purring. Did you get the pictures I sent you? Isn’t he the most beautiful, unusual kitten you’ve ever seen? Oh, the markings! He has these swirls and leopard spots and stripes—just like one of those expensive jungle cats. And so sweet! So loving and trusting and sweet! He came right onto my lap!”
It is so much like Mom to get invested in the care of unwanted cats. And so like those cats to recognize and flock to a loving hand. I find there is a purity in the trust of these lost or thrown-away cats. A simple acceptance of any goodwill offered them, and a peace and dignity about them. They remind me of bowed monks, making their quiet, small life on the beggars’ streets, hurting none, blessing all in their own, sacred way.
And so goes the short saga (so far) of Mom and her cherished throw-away, Bengal. Twice a day she goes down to feed all three cats, and to give them all snuggle time. She had the maintenance man put a little doghouse up for the cats, complete with kitty beds, in the parking lot because the rains are starting now, and she wants all the cats to stay dry. When the parking lot and doghouse were not keeping them dry, she moved the setup under the overhang near her apartment facility main door, and put some chairs with pillows out for them.
Why doesn’t Mom take him upstairs, you might ask? Two reasons. For one, there’s Dinky. He’s been king of the apartment for a long time now. After Bengal was neutered last week, Mom did bring Bengal “home” to her apartment after she’d kept him at the vets to recuperate a few days. We were both hoping that Dinky and Bengal might take to each other. Mom described their meeting to me: “Well, I put Bengal down in the cat carrier on the floor. Dinky walked over to look, and Bengal let out a sound like a wild animal. It was a real, loud, shriek. Dinky stood their—frozen—and pee poured out if him. I’ve never seen such a thing before! He was completely terrified.” Even if it had worked out between the two boys, the other more insurmountable difficulty is that residents are allowed only a single pet, and the apartment manager reminds my mother daily that “You can‘t have two cats, Minnie.”
So, between a rock and a hard place, my tiny old mother wanders, taking food out to the cats, making arrangements to get Bengal to the vet for shots after his neutering (“Oh, Susie, you should have seen him at the vet’s! He sat so still in his carrier, just purring away, watching everyone coming and going.”) Mom is his staunchest advocate: “He’s so well behaved and sweet! And everyone comments on how beautiful he is…Susie, I don’t know what to do. Am I supposed to just leave him in the dog house in the parking lot? Oh, I’m just no good at this. I have to stop getting involved like this. I just don’t know what to do. No one around here wants him…” In her voice, I hear myself at 87, God willing I live that long.
Mom said, “Susie, sometimes I just really need you closer.” I know how she feels, when you get into these rescue things and your life gets turned upside down. We all do. And Mom has no friends who share her rescue inclinations that she can commiserate with nearby. There’s just me, on the phone, in Indiana.
So I told Mom I was going to see what I can do from thousands of miles away. I told her I would post Bengal’s story, and that I bet her dollars to donuts that one of my wonderful readers would have the perfect place for Bengal.
Perhaps, dearest reader and kindred spirit, you’ve just lost a beloved cat. Perhaps Bengal and his story and his wonderful spots speak to you. Perhaps you just want to extend the sense of community.
Will someone step forward to be the next chapter in Bengal’s story and give this feline monk his own monastery? I’m betting on you…
Well, I don’t think I can help much (I’m in Nebraska), but I just wanted to let you know that this sounds just like me and my mum. We’ve always rescued cats. Always. There isn’t a time in my memory when we didn’t have several barn cats (usually where we boarded our horses) that we became in charge of caring for- and today- I’ve rescued several abandoned cats, and either taken them in myself, or found homes for them. It’s such a hard situation! For starters, anyone with a heart for animals knows that someone ‘up there’ has given you this responsibility- and sent you this animal. I don’t know how else to describe what happens. But you always sense a divine presence when you open your heart to any other creature.
Anyway- great blog! I’ve just found you and I’ve got you bookmarked now:)
Thanks, Wendy! My mom’s situation is getting worse. The folks in her apartment complex now call her “the cat lady,” and Bengal is starting to slip into the complex and patio to visit folks. The manager is raising a cow, and Mom is no longer happy where she lives, which is agony for us kids. What a mess!!
People don’t stop to think that if there were more cat ladies- the situation wouldn’t be so dire. Of course I’m not talking about the ‘cat lady’ that our media loves to report on. It’s sad for many reasons. Anyway- there isn’t really anything wrong with being a cat lady. I’m one:)
I’m a little thrilled to be conversing with you. Found your blog last night, and read through this piece and the one about the chipmunk- then read a little in the about you section and realized I’ve read some of your pieces- and I own the Intimate Nature book and reference it all the time. Love it! I’m very intrigued with your work- so get ready- I might be the question asking type:)
Wendy, glad you found me! Yes, yes, how sweet would the world be if every elder lady took on the mantel of “cat lady.” Surely, the world would be a better place! Meantime, Mom is holding up in her apartment, except to visit the cats. Sad, what old people can do to each other. What any age people can do to each other, come to think of it!
For the next few weeks at least, may the spirit of the holidays be upon us and upon little Bengal.
I wish I could offer this kitty a home (and the gray calico, and the black tom) but it is just not possible. A) I’m not allowed, and B) I already live with 2 cats, a dog, and 2 gerbils. And I own a brother. (Darn) MY policy is that you can never live with TOO many roomates, but nobody I live with seems to share that opinion. By the way, I am THRILLED that I found your blog. I read your books and decided to try the website. BINGO! “Susan’s Blog”. Yay!