Every night he appeared at our door begging for food. It was clear we had to do something.
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
October 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDTThe howl tore through the early-morning silence of the house.
"It's him!" Cheryl shouted, leaping from the bed. As I struggled to sit up, I saw my wife disappear down the stairs, a woman on a well-practised mission.
As she entered the kitchen, our cat Julius was still pacing, still howling, still spitting his rage. And the target? He sat where he had been sitting for the past few weeks — safe behind the glass of the patio door, placidly staring inside.
He was an orange cat who had taken to appearing at our door in the early hours, where he would sit like a tabby Buddha, his large green eyes peering at us. I had begun calling him Lord Marmalade because of his staid bearing and colour. All the fury that Julius would unleash upon the glass did nothing to shake his gaze. That job, unfortunately, had fallen to Cheryl.
As she often did, she pounded on the glass. When that didn't work, I heard the side door open as she resorted to Plan B: The Dreaded Garden Hose. A few quick bursts of water shook the orange interloper's resolve, and he made his usual escape over the backyard fence.
But he would be back. He always was.
To be fair, my wife and I are cat lovers. Since we don't have children, our cats assume that role in our lives, becoming the focus of our love, conversations and worry. A few months earlier had seen us lose our girl, Morrissey, to cancer, and we had become even more protective of Julius. Since this new cat upset Julius, we would do our best to make sure he didn't come around.
Yet as the summer grew hotter, he continued to appear. At first we thought he was a new neighbourhood cat, one allowed to roam by uncaring owners. He wore a cheap, blue flea collar, and he seemed fairly well fed. Even though we felt guilty, it wasn't like he was homeless, right?
It soon became clear that he was. As the summer's heat wave grew more intense, we began to take notice he was losing weight. Those deep green eyes had become a little more sunken. His orange coat began to look like he had been lying in motor oil, all patchy and dirty. And his routine changed. Marmalade began to appear in the evenings at the front door.
We began putting out food for him. Cheryl's anger had faded and was being replaced with something else. Something she was trying to fight.
"We can't afford another cat," she said. "We just can't." We were still paying off Morrissey's veterinarian bills. But clearly we had to do something for Marmalade. For now, a bowl of water and food on the front step would have to do.
We soon learned we weren't alone in feeding him. Another woman down the street had begun to put out food, as had another family a few streets over.
As for Julius, he'd taken to watching Marmalade eat. He would run and meow at us when he appeared, letting us know he was there to be fed.
Yet for all that, Marmalade kept his distance. If we opened the door, he would retreat, looking back warily. Moving toward him would cause him to flee. One night as I went to bed, I looked outside in time to see him running alone down the street, fleeing from who knew what. I pulled the drapes, feeling horrible.
Then he disappeared for a week. Cheryl became upset, now worried for this once-hated enemy. I found myself out at night looking for him.
When he reappeared, he looked even worse. It was October. The nights were getting cold, and we knew we no longer had a choice.
I slowly made my way out onto the front steps, Marmalade peering at me over his food. When I moved closer, he tried to run away.
"Grab him!" Cheryl said, frantic. And I did, wondering if he would tear my hands off. But he simply mewled in fear as we bundled him inside.
After pacing for a few minutes, he curled up on the patio couch and slept. And slept. After months of wanting to come inside, he now seemed to want to spend all his time unconscious.
We brought him to the vet's office, where the news wasn't good. Marmalade's teeth were rotting and would have to be removed. It wouldn't be cheap, the vet said. The only other option was euthanasia, which wasn't an option at all.
And so Marmalade came home, toothless but shampooed. Now we could see just how handsome he was. We also learned he was an old man, roughly 10 years old.
The vet charged us only for her expenses. Later that day, a neighbour arrived with an envelope. Inside was $800 collected from all of Marmalade's supporters on the street, those who were just as worried about him as we were.
That was last year. We've learned far more about our boy since then — that he loves to chase his tail, that he hogs the bed and that he has a fondness for smacking you in the leg as you walk past him. Most nights, Marmalade can be found looking out the front door, Julius at his side, now happily on the right side of the glass.
Sean Twist lives in London, Ont.
Illustration by GRAHAM ROUMIEU.