First of all, nothing we could ever do would make him a real housecat. He came to us as a feisty, feral kitten one night, and he never left.
We called him Max. Mad Max.
It took several months before I allowed him into the house, as we were providing a home for an aged dowager cat that a dear departed friend had left in our care. So I put a box for him in a camper we had parked in the backyard, figuring he could tough it out.
She: What are you doing?
Me: Fixing a box for the cat out in the camper.
She: Aren't you afraid he'll freeze?
Me: Nonsense! A little cold weather won't hurt him.
She: Oh, O.K. Uh, what's that extension cord for?
Me: His electric blanket.
Nearly nine years ago, Max moved in full-time. Since then, he has developed a few delightful habits, including my favorite, the way he lets me know he's ready to come inside. If he gets bored, hungry, or gives into his understandable fear of raccoons and owls, he’s figured out that, by shinnying up the support post to the small upstairs porch near our bedroom, then climbing the screen door and shifting his weight, he can create a satisfying (to him) slamming sound that’s sure to inform me of his wishes.
KA-WHAM, KA-WHAM, KA-WHAM, KA-WHAM.
She: I think your cat wants in.
Me: Maybe the coons will get him first.
Max the Cat faced a potential life-changing situation when we made the decision to split time between Illinois and the sunny shores of North Carolina. At first, I considered taking him along. But knowing full well how sternly he objects to any interaction not initiated by him, I asked myself a few essential questions.
Would he travel? Would he willingly stay inside a cat carrier? And would he bite me when I tried to get him out for meals and other necessities?
The answers? No, no and yes, yes a thousand times yes.
Anytime I think of trying to get Max to do something he doesn't want to do, I think of the time I took him to the vet. Not the Galva vet, mind you. Those folks know enough to treat him with just the right mix of respect, caution, brute force and outright fear. But when our doctor was away, I was referred to an out-of-town veterinary practice. Now, I'm sure they know all about animals and the things that ail them.
But they didn't know beans about Max.
"I've got a pair of heavy gloves and a leather jacket out in the car," I said. "Do you want me to get him out of the cat carrier for you."
"No," they said. They explained that they were more than capable of getting a cat out of a cage. They told me not to worry and to just come back in a couple of hours.
So I did.
You could tell something had happened in my absence. Then I noticed the Band-Aids.
Everyone, including the receptionist, the veterinary assistants, and even the vet, was wearing at least one. Some wore several.
"Hmmm," I thought. "Looks like maybe Max was a little testy about that whole cat carrier thing."
When I took a peek inside, he was calmly licking a paw and looking a little, well, satisfied.
Suffice it to say, they seemed glad to see us go.
Once the decision was made to not transport the mad one across state lines, We had to come up with an alternate plan. Enter our neighbor Shannon, an animal-loving friend with room in her heart for all four-legged creatures.
She offered to provide the kitty equivalent of meals on wheels, trudging over in all kinds of weather to offer him food and ear-scratching company. Eventually, Max did the math and figured out that he could receive the same food and even more companionship if he would simply follow her home. His behavior at her house has startled us all, as he never bites her, is willing to model the crocheted cat-garments she occasionally fashions for him, and has displayed an entirely unheard of willingness to play well with others, including her dog and cats.
But despite the fact that he has all but moved in with his beloved cat whisperer, he always seems to know when we're coming home. We discovered this interesting fact late one night when we arrived in Galva after a three-month absence. Pulling into the driveway after midnight, we sat in the car for a moment, just to catch our breath.
KA-THWAP-O (note: this is my best possible guess for the sound of a large tomcat landing on the hood of a Ford.)
She: It's Max!
Me: I guess he was waiting for us.
It's a pattern that has repeated itself several times now, and I'm not the only Sloan he shows up for.
When son Colin passed through town awhile back, Max was sitting on the porch when he pulled in at two in the morning, despite the fact that the cat had been firmly ensconced down the street for over a month.
Apparently, he is endowed with the same uncanny instincts that have allowed some animals to track down their lost families over countless months and miles.
Or perhaps his undying love for me drives him to secretly wait, night after night, just in case I decide to come home.
Or maybe he just really needs someone to bite.