It was May 2nd, 2012 and I was in the kitchen when I heard my husband Steve call to me from outside, “Lorrie, come here, you’ve got to see this.”
I went outside and saw a kitten winding its way in and out of Steve’s legs in a figure eight pattern. It was a young, white with gray markings, and it was wearing a collar with a bell on it. While it continued making figure eights around Steve’s legs, it was mewing non-stop. I’m not a cat person – neither is Steve – but even we were able to quickly figure out that the kitten was hungry. Not being cat people, we had no cat food so we gave the kitten dog food – but not just any dog food – giant breed dog food that we fed our Saint Bernard. The little kitten slowly chewed on one piece, chomping on it over and over to break it into smaller pieces that it could swallow. After watching the cat try to eat ginormous-sized dog food, I remembered that I had canned salmon in the house and sure enough, the kitten seemed to like that a lot better. The salmon finally ended its urgent mewing enough that Steve and I could wonder about how this kitten had come to be in our yard.
At first, I accused Steve of bringing it home with him because he had been saying for some time that he would like to get a cat for his new barn. Since he had no rodents in his barn, and more importantly, because I did not need another animal to care for, I was opposed to getting a cat. In fact, I told him that if he wanted to get a cat, he could, but that he would have to take it to the vet, feed it and clean its litter box. That ended the cat discussions. And yet, amazingly, I now had a kitten in my garage. Steve denied that he brought the kitten home and he denies it to this day.
Being dog people, we weren’t real sure what to do with this kitty. In fact, we couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl kitty. We were kitty clueless. But a thunder-storm was brewing and we had to make sure the little thing was safe, so I got our smallest dog crate and made a bed in it from an old towel. Steve had some cat litter that he used to soak up oil spills on the garage floor that we put in a cardboard box for a make-shift litter box. I grabbed some dog dishes and put salmon in one and water in the other and we took the kitty to the new barn for the night. Before leaving it there, I removed its collar because I was fearful that it could get caught on a tractor or something and choke itself.
The next day on the way home from work I stopped at a store and bought some kitten food and a real litter box. The kitty was doing fine and sleeping soundly in its open dog crate when I got home. We checked with all of our neighbors, but no one laid claim to the kitten. Given that we couldn’t find an owner, Steve decided it was time to name the kitty and he named it Hobo, since that is, after all, what he was. Although we still weren’t one hundred percent certain, after looking at kitten genitalia photos online, we were pretty sure the kitten was a boy. We called him Hobo the Wonder Kitty because for as long as we had him, we wondered from where he came. He was an odd-looking little cat. On one side of his body, he had large patches of gray fur; on the other, he had five circles of gray. He had one gray ear and one white ear, yellow eyes, a gray tail and webbed feet that he like to wave at us.
After he’d been with us about five days and no one came forward to claim him, I took Hobo to the vet. The vet confirmed that he was, in fact, a boy and said that he was about four months old and that, from the look of him, he had been out on his own for a while. He was too skinny, she said, and had ear mites. She gave him some vaccinations and gave me medicine for his ears and told me to bring in stool sample. A stool sample was important, she said because he had been living outside for so long on his own that he might have worms. The next day when I got home from work, I collected a sample and drove to the vet’s office.
“Lorrie,” the vet tech said, “This isn’t a stool sample. This is urine.”
I was mortified; I didn’t even know what cat crap was. I’m sure she thought I was dumber than a rock as she patiently explained that I was looking for something resembling a Tootsie Roll. When I got home, I discovered there were no Tootsie Rolls in the litter box, just clumps of urine. Which meant of course, that Hobo was not pooping in his litter box. After much searching, I found Tootsie Rolls, plenty of them, underneath the shelving unit that runs along the wall of the barn. After getting one and taking it to the vet’s office for examination, we were relieved to learn he did not have worms.
Since he did not know where to leave his Tootsie Rolls I decided that I had to litter train him. I moved him into the bathroom of our house. I took down the curtains, the shower curtain and removed anything that he could get into. The only things left in there besides the porcelain features were his food and water bowls and a litter box. It took several weeks but finally, Hobo was leaving Tootsie Rolls where they belonged. Once he was able to do that, which was right about the time he was neutered, he was given full access to the house.
I didn’t want a cat. We weren’t cat people. But now that I had one I trained him the only way I knew how, which is to say… I trained him like a dog. I trained him to come by saying, “Hobo kitty, come!” And when he did, I’d give him a cat treat. It took patience, but once he got the idea, he always came when I’d call him. Because he would come when called, my granddaughter would play hide and seek with him. She would hide and call him, and he’d “find” her and she’d giggle and say he was so smart. No doubt, he was pretty smart. He slept with us in our bed every night and every morning, he’d help me get ready for work and sometimes he’d end up with a mascara mustache as a result because he wasn’t just smart, he was nosey.
My favorite “trick” of Hobo’s wasn’t a trick at all. Hobo waved. He did it all the time. He did it on the day he showed up and he never stopped doing it. But I trained him to wave on request. I’d spread my fingers like he spread his digits, and slowly move my hand from left to right, like he did and hope he did it back. When he did, I’d give him a treat. Soon enough, you could wave at Hobo and he’d wave back. Hobo was a smart, weird, lovable little guy.
In July 2013, Hobo got a stomach virus, which is usually no big deal, except for the diarrhea – that part is a big deal for humans and cats; nobody likes cat diarrhea. The vet gave me medicine and it cleaned up his virus right away. But from that point on, he would not put his Tootsie Rolls in the litter box. Instead, he left them on the carpet, every day; twice a day. I tried everything to break that habit. I locked him back in the bathroom and began training him all over only to find Tootsie Rolls on the bathroom floor. I took him to the vet, who said that he probably associated the litter box with stomach pain, so I tried new litter and multiple litter boxes, I tried additives and calming sprays….nothing worked. This oh – so smart cat would not cooperate. By the following spring, after exhausting all possible solutions, we realized that we were going to have to move him out of the house. It broke my heart because although I wasn’t a cat person and although I didn’t want a cat….I loved that cat; that goofy, waving cat.
It also broke Hobo’s heart, at least at first. We put his litter box, his food, water and a cat bed in the garage. From there, he could come and go as pleased. Except that at first, he didn’t please to go anywhere and stayed in the garage. He was afraid of the outside world and given how he came to live with us, I didn’t blame him. But he was a cat, so of course, his curiosity finally led him outside.
Although he stayed close to the house at first, gradually he wandered further and further away. His favorite spot was a stand of woods at the end of the field, about 200 yards from our home. But even when he was down in the woods, I could go outside and call to him, “Hobo, Hobo kitty, come!” and he would come running home. He came home every evening at 5:30 sharp. That was feeding time and he would come home, eat and then climb into his bed and sleep in the garage. The next morning, generally, he would leave the garage when I left for work. But sometimes he wouldn’t, he’d be content to spend his day in the garage, sleeping in his bed. We never forced him outside even though he still didn’t poop in the litter box. Picking up Tootsie Rolls from a cement floor is not as disturbing as picking them up off of your carpet.
Over time, Hobo stopped going to the bathroom in the garage all together and did his business in the yard. Unlike other cats, he had no interest in covering it. He’d do his business and just walk away from it, like a dog does. Unlike other cats, Hobo liked the water. He’d often hang out at the pool with me; he’d lie on the deck, soaking up the sun, he’d drink the water and he’d even float on a raft with me. Hobo was a weird cat and I loved him and his weirdness.
Of course, cats who live outside face a lot of perils. Outside cats, I’ve read, only live an average of two years. And so it was for my lovely, weird Hobo. In October, 2015, Hobo got hit by a car and died. Although it’s been a year since we lost him, I still miss my waving cat. He was one of the greatest gifts I never asked for.
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