Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Cats
Elvira Ever Changing, July 7, 2020
“Is the black cat yours?” a woman asked me as I was weeding between the roses in my front garden. I looked up.
“Your cat is terrorizing my dog!”
The woman tightly held a leash attached to a large German Shepard, a rather imposing one with massive paws.
“Yes,” I responded. I gave her large dog another once over. “How could my cat terrorize your dog? He must outweigh our cat 10 times over.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed as she stared into mine. “Your cat lurks.”
“Your cat hides behind bushes and when I walk my dog, it jumps out at my dog and half scares him to death.”
I quickly put a hand over my mouth to hide the grin that was about to break out across my face. “Um, I’m really sorry,” I finally managed to mutter without laughing. “She’s feral and doesn’t have the best manners. She grew up in the canyons fighting predators to stay alive.”
The woman raised her chin in an authoritative manner and stared at me down her long nose. “I don’t care where she came from; make her stop threatening my dog.”
At this point, I stood up and faced the woman. “Are you serious?” I asked her. “The cat is wild. I can no sooner make her stop bothering your dog than I can change the weather. Besides, your dog could crush Elvira with one swipe of his paw. How could my cat possibly be threatening your dog?”
“Well, she just is, and you need to do something about it!” she snapped at me.
Trying to be neighborly, yet knowing I had no control over my feral cat I suggested that she walk her dog on the other side of the street. That didn’t go over well at all. She tightened the leash on her dog and stomped off, passing my neighbor who was walking her three small dogs toward my house.
“Was she complaining about Elvira?” Joy asked.
I nodded and repeated the conversation. Joy said that the woman had complained about Elvira to her as well. Then I learned something new about our feral girl. Although I was aware that Elvira disappeared after dinner, coming home late at night, and I knew that she often climbed up onto the roof to sunbathe during the day, I didn’t know that she would flatten her body against the dark shingles, waiting until a dog walked in front of our house. Then she would hunch up like a classic Halloween black cat and let out a frightening hiss. Unleashed dogs would take off and the leashed ones would bolt, dragging their owners up the street. I burst out laughing.
“It’s really funny to watch,” Joy said. “Elvira has no fear; she’s such a cool cat.”
When we were moving to a condo in another part of town one of the neighbors asked us to leave her behind and they would care for her. I knew that those neighbors were fond of her, but really, they wanted us to leave behind our cat? I told them that while I appreciated their fondness for our feral girl, I could not possibly leave her behind. She chose us to be her family. Yes, she was wild and had a weakness for terrorizing dogs, but really, I could not, would not leave my cat behind because they too had fallen for her charms.
On moving day, we let her out as usual and the movers went about putting all our earthly goods into their truck. I knew that Elvira embodied resiliency, that she was clever, and a survivor and figured that she would handle the move well. Deep down, I had my doubts. She had never known any home but the canyon and our house. I worried about whether she could adjust to a whole new environment. More importantly, would she be there when we returned several hours later? Had she seen the moving truck and determined that we were abandoning her? I needn't have worried. When we returned to our old home and opened the back door, Elvira shot into the house, crying at a high pitch and frantically running around us, as distressed as we’d ever seen her.
We kneeled down to her level, and rubbed behind her ears. “We weren’t going to leave you behind,” I told her. My husband put her in the cat carrier. She didn’t fuss; she let her body go limp and settled inside. As far as we knew, this was the first time she had ever been in a cat carrier.
Upon arriving at the condo, she began exploring and getting her bearings. We told her that there would be no more going outdoors because of all the coyotes in the canyon that surrounded us on three sides. Although she had survived in the canyon around our old house, she didn’t know this one. Our new neighbors told us that outdoor cats disappeared. Elvira sat and listened, as though she understood. We figured that the first time we opened a door that she would make a run for it. To the contrary, she never did. She seemed to understand that she was now an indoor cat.
It’s now been 11 years since Elvira found us and joined our family. At first, I thought she would always be wild and skittish. These days, not so much, or really at all. She’s become a total bed hog, as talkative as a Siamese, and hangs with us just for the sake of togetherness. When we moved to another state in 2018, she rode in the moving truck as though it was something she did every day. She sat in the passenger seat peering out at the broad landscape in silence. It was as though she knew that we were all in this together. And we were.
Once we settled into our new home, a small neighborhood dog who had none too good a life appeared at our home. He was a sad little mess. Our neighbor didn’t want the dog and asked us to take him. We did, even though we weren’t sure if Elvira would accept him. After all, her forte was terrorizing big dogs. What she would make of a dog smaller than herself?
The first time we let him into the house Elvira sniffed him, turned around, raised and showed him her tail. What did that mean? Was it some feline to canine signal? We soon found out. In the subsequent weeks, on several occasions, she flaunted who was boss, who was the alpha, who he should never ever mess with. Once he tried to challenge her; it took only one swipe of her large paw to reinforce her position. He never tried to cross her again. Of course, it helped that she outweighed him by several pounds. She terrified him. I don’t think she would actually try to harm him. Just like we brought her into our home and gave her a place of love and safety, so it was with him. She seemed to understand that.
In the early years admittedly, I viewed her as simply a cat who needed a home. She certainly wasn’t the first cat we’d take in. Over the years she has proven to us that she is much more than that. She’s magical alright. She’s taught us that magic takes on many forms in ways we had never imagined. We learned that given patience, unconditional love, and compassion, anyone can adapt, even a feral cat who once got her kicks out of frightening big dogs.