Gene Hanson Website

 

A Cat Comes Out of the Woods

Sometimes You Choose the Cat, Sometimes the Cat Chooses You

 

Background

For the second year in a row, a small cat came out of the woods in our backyard in Lake Mills. We have a screen porch which we put in a few years ago because the existing deck was both too small and basically unusable because the nearest of the woods made the mosquitoes especially bad. So since we're there in the nice weather time of year we spend a lot of time out there and it's a space our two cats (Tuna, a male and Mystic, a female) like a lot. There are squirrels, chickmonks, but especially birds because Debbie has a feeder for them mainly as eye candy for the cats.

Screen Porch interior
Porch interior, looking out to the woods. Debbie's yoga space is at the left.
Porch Interior
Porch interior, looking toward the sliding door to the house.

Tuna
Tuna
I have to point out that Debbie was not a natural cat person. Her family never had cats growing up (her mom was genuinely afraid of them), but did get a kitten as a gift from her students in her first teaching job. She named it Spicey. But things really changed some 17 years ago when her son, Bill, was attending UW Eau Claire. He took in a cat from some fellow students and before that it was a stray cat that wasn't even remotely feral. We think it was at least a year old and maybe as old as 3 at that point. The name of the cat was King. Bill didn't have any cat food right away, but did have tuna. The cat, of course, loved that and Bill decided to go with the name Tuna. Our joke about this is if he could have afforded salmon, that would have been the name! Bill had to "temporarily" give up Tuna and Debbie took care of it while he was in the army. But then he had an apartment that didn't accept pets, so she needed to keep Tuna for another year. After all that time Debbie was never giving up her cat!

My story is pretty simple. Growing up we had 6 cats so I have a lot of experience. The first two were strays which we adopted, two of (both Siamese) came from the Humane Society, and two siblings that we took as kittens from a family friend. So I was quite used to having cats around and learned about cat personalities and how to approach cats. Debbie has often referred to me as the "cat whisperer."

Debbie with Mystic and Tun
Debbie with Mystic (left) and Tuna (right)
Tuna is not a normal cat in many respects, but anyone who knows anything about cats knows they all have different personalities. You don't have to approach it cautiously and stick out your hand. You just treat it like a dog and immediately start petting it which Tuna loves. When we return home Tuna is almost always there to greet us and rolls over so we can pet its belly. She then got a kitten because her brother took in a calico which he found in his alley (so he gave it the name Alley), but let it go out and didn't get it fixed. So it immediately had kittens, although just 3 as it was so young. Debbie took in one of these in 2009 because it was the last one to be given away. It looked like a very small version of Tuna although they have very different personalities. She gave it the name Mystic. Tuna is a Gray Tabby while the new cat is a Gray Tiger. But Debbie sometimes has issues when approaching a typical cat as she doesn't give them enough space and let them approach. Up until recently she has had trouble petting Mystic whereas I generally can. But visitors to the houses you can immediately tell who knows about cats and who doesn't. Debbie now jokes that she thought Tuna would train the new kitten. Yeah, it doesn't work that way.

2020 - "It Looks Like Spicy!"

Debbie with her first cat, Spicy
Debbie with her first kitten, Spicy

In the summer of 2020 Debbie was going out on the screen porch to do her daily yoga when she calls to me that she hears what sounds like a cat in the woods. It was meowing incessantly and the voice was gravelly, but it was out of view. Suddenly Debbie could see it and excitedly says, "It looks like Spicy!" Spicy was the name of the little kitty that was given to her from her students - seen in the photo on the left. And before I could stop her she's out the door walking toward the cat who was now clearly visible. I'm thinking she's going to scare the poor cat away, but that's not what happened. The cat comes right up to her so it's obvious it isn't a feral cat. The little cat looks pretty skinny so I head in to quickly get some cat food in a dish to see if it will eat. As I'm carrying the bowl it's right underneath me very excited sticking right with me looking directly at the bowl and it was obvious it knew what that bowl meant. I fed it ... a lot! It didn't have a collar so no identification there, so we got some pictures and Debbie was out on Facebook on the Lake Mills Community Page to see if anyone was missing a cat. We then took it to the vet (it did not like going into the carrier and I got scratched) and because it was the middle of COVID, the tech came out to our car. My heart sunk as there was no chip and there was no collar. We learned it was also a male. Back home the cat was eating more and would just jump onto our laps. It was definitely a people cat!

4 hours after the cat came out of the woods we got a response from Facebook with someone saying it looked like their Oliver who had been missing for 10 days. They showed a picture and it indeed did look like the cat. It was from a farm located almost 2 miles away. She finally came with a cat carrier that was in pretty bad condition. Once again I had to put the cat into a crate and fortunately I did better and didn't get scratched. But it was disconcerting that the lady didn't seem excited at all about finding the cat and frankly acted a little irritated. There was nothing to be done as it was hers. The crate was actually broken and as I tried to put it into her truck, Oliver got out and headed for the woods. But it didn't go in and just stood there so I was able to pick it up. This time I just put it in the car. She drove off and that should have been the end of it. At this point I need to point out that Debbie's son, Bill, happened to be living with us, but just for the summer before he would return to Denver. But he was not with us that day as he was up north visiting his father. We told him how friendly it was and it would just jump up onto your lap! He was actually hoping that the cat would go unclaimed because he thought he might want it. In total we had only 6 hours with the cat. What I'll always remember is Debbie saying when it was all done, "That was kinda exciting to have that cat today!"

The name Stonks is from the word Stocks. It is a meme that makes fun of senseless stock trading.

The Rest of the Story

Less than a week later suddenly the cat was back again by the screen porch so had made the 2-mile journey back! Bill was very excited to see the cat and fell in love with it immediately. But it belongs to someone else. We know who to call to let them know the cat came around again, but we got the following response: "Do you know anyone who might want this cat? It's going to just keep running away." We now got "the rest of the story" which was it really wasn't her cat. She agreed to take the cat from a friend and her thought was no problem as they had lots of cats. But these are farm cats and this "Oliver" was clearly not a farm cat. It needed attention and thrived being around people. The cat clearly had chosen us! Bill decided on the spot he would take the cat. This meant getting it chipped, vaccinations, and neutering. He named him "Stonks" (he didn't like the name we liked which was Sammy as in Salmon) and he'd be going back to Denver in just a few weeks.

Sleepy Stonks
Sleepy Stonks on the porch.
Yoga Stonks
Yoga Stonks with Debbie
Stonks upclose
Stonks up close.
All three. Top: Tuna and Mystic. Bottom: StonksHow did the cat do with our two other cats? He did absolutely fine and Tuna (our big powder puff) who couldn't have cared less. But Mystic was not happy with the situation. She hissed at Stonks whenever he got close. And I thought Stonks handled it well but it must have been thinking, "What's your problem?" Mystic is a classic bully. She's afraid of almost everything otherwise. Here's a picture I got that actually shows all three of them!

But as much as Mystic would always hiss if Stonks got too close, when Bill left in September for the next week Mystic would meow while walking around the house which was not normal. It was because Mystic actually missed Stonks and was just wondering where it was. But she would get to see Stonks again. When we drive to and from AZ we always stop in Denver to visit Bill and will stay with him for two nights. It's a long drive before and after so it's good to have an entire day off from driving. But of course we have our cats in tow. So about a month later the 3 cats were reunited, if only for a little while. Then in spring they were all together again, although by that time Stonks had filled out considerably, as you can see by the picture below at the left.

Full grown Stonks with Bill It's a nice thought that after so many years when Debbie got a cat from Bill that she returned the favor!

Postscript: A few months later Debbie received a call from the cats former owner wondering how the cat was doing. Remember that the cat really wasn't hers, so we suspect it was the person who gave her the cat who was wondering. Debbie said it was doing fine with her son who is now in Denver. The way Debbie now says how she answered that question, "He changed his name and moved to Denver!"

Stonks is now back in Lake Mills because Bill bought a house very nearby! I am always happy to help Bill out to watch Stonks when he's gone. Stonks is still a real people cat.


2021 - Another Kitten Appears

Now onto 2021. It was on a Sunday, October 3rd with about 3 weeks before we would be making the long drive returning to AZ for the winter when a little kitten appeared in the backyard, but it was a little shy. It didn't dart away, but sauntered back into the woods when it made eye contact with me. It could be feral, but I had the feeling it wasn't, probably because it didn't look full grown. I left a bowl of water in case it continued to hang around. Two days later we spotted it again, but this time stood its ground, although about 30 feet away. Seemingly more confident, but more likely now really hungry. I quickly got some food together and left it. The kitten seemed to know what the bowl was all about and cautiously came over to scarf it down as I kept a distance. From that distance I could see there was no collar which was not a good sign. Coming out with additional bowls of food the cat became my instant friend and petting it became no problem! Me and Debbie thought the kitten was just adorable.

Portia eats for the first time.
The kitten eats for the first time.
Portia sits outside the screen porch door.
The kitten sits outside the screen porch door.
Stonks upclose
The kitten is very affectionate. 
But nothing to get attached to because it might belong to someone. For us that is the best case scenario: it's someone's beloved cat and we'd be heroes for getting it back. My thought, however, is it was an abandoned kitten because of its size, but Debbie disagreed about it being a kitten because the ears weren't overly large. (Kittens have really big ears that they grow into.) She posted it to Facebook and we waited. But my heart sunk as we got no responses. The kitten hung around for the most part but by sundown it was off into the woods. The following day it was back and I marveled at how calmly and dillerately it marched out of the woods. More food and more petting and I found we could pick it up and it loved to be on our laps. After two days of nothing from Facebook (not even someone saying they'd like to take the cat) it was sitting on our laps just loving us when Debbie says, "Do you think we should keep it?" but I interpreted it as "Can we keep it?" It was a pretty crazy idea because we already had two cats and an upcoming 1800 mile drive back to AZ. Our two cats are getting old. Mystic we know exactly when it was born and she's almost 13 years old. Tuna we don't know. It was a found cat in Eau Claire and was easily 3 years old at that point, maybe more. That means it could easily be 20 years old, 17 years at an absolute minimum. So immediately we started to let the cat onto the porch, but limited it because the kitten hadn't had a vet check up as yet and didn't let the other cats to get near to the new kitten.

Debbie uses the porch to do her yoga and while the kitten was inside, she starts to play the music and the kitten literally goes berserk. It's jumping and climbing onto the screens (quite an amazing sight, really) in a desperate attempt to get out. Debbie calls to me and I quickly open the door and it finally found the door and ran off. But this didn't deter Debbie from wanting it and the little cat came back within a couple of hours. Clearly, however, it wasn't a great sign!

A Trip to the Vet

Portia in Mystic's carrier after the vet visit.So now it was off to the vet to see if there was a chip and get a general checkup on the "little guy." I call it that because Debbie thought it was a boy. With the decision to try to keep it we bought a carrier, but it was online and would come a few days later so for the vet trip we'd had to use Mystic's pink carrier. Fortunately, we had some prescription cat calming medicine which I put in the food so it was pretty mellow and the car ride was easy. In retrospect, it might have been good to take it without the medicine to see how it handled being in the car.

At the vets the kitten did fine. I was not surprised they failed to read a chip and the kitten got a rabies shot. They recorded the weight at just 6 pounds. The vet first said he thought it was a boy, but upon closer inspection announced it was a girl! It had ear mites (that he treated) which is not unusual for an outdoor cat, but he said otherwise it appeared to be in great health. And then the big surprise: upon examining the teeth they showed so much tartar he said it had to be at least a year old, probably a year and a half! So our very small female cat was already full grown. And somehow, someway it had survived an entire winter! In was almost uunfathomable to me because just looking at the cat she seemed so helpless. The vet, however, wasn't surprised and said cats are very resourceful. The picture at the right shows the "kitten" after the vet visit.

Portia on comfy patio chair cushion.So back home and now the real craziness begins. We now needed to keep it on the screen porch and let it into the house when it desired. And we'd have to get it settled in within 13 days as we'd be leaving for AZ. There wasn't enough time to get the cat spayed so that would have to wait until Arizona. We did ask a couple of friends if they could watch it over the winter, but nobody wanted any part of that. We set out a litter box right on the porch, but "Mittens" (the temporary name Debbie gave to the cat because of the white feet) wasn't using the litter box, but we saw no evidence that it was going anywhere else. The following day I was returning from a condo board meeting and came in through the screen porch door and thought I had plenty of time and room to get in. But Mittens found an opening and darted out and ran into the woods at unbelievable speed. My theory is it really needed to go to the bathroom pretty bad!

We Didn't Need to Buy the Carrier

Debbie was pretty sad as she says, "That's it. Mittens is never coming back!" My thought was more optimistic. I told her it will come back, but it was far from certain. Then she added, "I guess we didn't have to buy the carrier." It was later upon further reflection her comment about the carrier struck me with the sad thought that if this doesn't work out (and at this time I was nearly positive it wouldn't), that carrier would be a reminder. But now we have a new problem. If it will not use the litter box that's a deal killer. We can't take it to AZ with it trying to dart out at every opportunity and where we live in the desert we have a saying that we have no stray cats! It's true because they don't survive as there are too many predictors: coyotes, owls, hawks, snakes, etc. The whole rest of the day I found myself out on the porch and anxiously looking for the cat to return. Maybe I was wrong and it wasn't coming back. At that point I was genuinely okay if it didn't because it now seemed like a hopeless situation. But I left out water and food just in case.

I had lots of time to think about things. What is Mitten's story? Where did she come from? What were her life experiences up to this point? I then got to wondering what is going through the mind of a stray cat as they approach a house. Sure, at a minimum they're looking for food and water. It has to be a scary experience and they must have some sense of trust. Stray cats that have no trust will simply be feral, destined to live outside. But a stray must want to be with a human. Mittens seemed to fit that characterization, but then why has this perfectly adorable and lovable cat not already been adopted? Is it simply that it can't use a litter box so at best must be mostly an outdoor cat? It was a depressing thought.

I wondered where did Mittens go? She must have some safe place, and where did she sleep? How would she stay out of rain? And what would happen when winter arrived? If we lived there year round, we could be sure she had food and we'd make a space for her to sleep. I was relieved when the next day Mittens was back, but not keen on coming into the porch and wouldn't. So I continued to leave food outside and we made two spots for it to sleep and/or get out of the rain.

I was now really thinking there is no way we're taking the cat. We'll be left with only two options: let it stay out there or try to retrieve it and turn it in to the Jefferson County Humane Society where I was sure the odds were that no one would want this cat, adorable as it is, that won't use a liter box. Each day I would see her march out of the woods and it brought a smile to my face every time. But she didn't want to come into the porch. Then on the third day it rained pretty heavily and now Mittens was standing at the porch door and looking so sad to me because she was all wet. Anytime when I opened the door previously she would only enter very cautiously so I'd have to be patient. But not this time. I opened the door and she came right in and immediately rubbed herself against my legs back and forth several times and just seemed so affectionate. I truly believe she now knew the porch meant staying dry, getting food, and getting pet. At that moment I knew it was our cat and she'd never go away permanently. She had chosen us!

Portia the Porch Cat

Portia at the patio door to the house.But had we really chosen her? It was still unclear because what about the litter box? While Mittens was gone, Debbie talked to a good friend who lives on a farmette and has lots of experience with both indoor and outdoor cats about our situation. She suggested throwing in some dirt with the litter. It was like magic. Mittens started using the litter box immediately and then it was a simple matter to start removing the dirt. This was a huge hurdle cleared, but one big one remained. Like Stonks the year before, Tuna did fine but Mystic was not happy with the new cat, hissing at Mittens whenever she got close. Mittens would just recoil and just wanted to get away. It was so bad she didn't want to come into the house. She would often sit at the door looking in, but when I opened it she'd just sit there. When she would come in now and then to explore, she was jumpy, always at the ready to dash back onto the safety of the porch. I wasn't happy that we didn't have enough time for her to adjust. I had nightmares about the upcoming road trip. I wished we could have had more time to get it acclimated to the house, the car, and especially the other cats. But you know the saying, "It is what it is." Debbie thought the cat needed a better name and finally came up with Portia because she called it a "Porch Cat."

Portia on the Lake Mills living room sofa!
Portia inside and on the living room sofa! Maybe this will work out.

At this point we have only a week to go. It's definitely a great "Porch Cat" but is it a good indoor cat? It was now late in October and the nights getting really cold so I didn't want to leave the patio door open. This was not going nearly well enough for me to have any comfort and in fact it was considerable discomfort. It liked resting and sleeping on a padded patio chair, so I brought one in very near the door and we brought up the litter box from the basement so it had one both on the porch and just inside. But Mystic was still being downright hostile to little Portia and I had a lot of sleepless nights continually up and checking on her. She would come in now and then to explore, but she was always ready at an instant to dash back out to the porch which was her safe place.  We would have loved if she would jump up onto our bed, but that was not happening. Maybe that would never happen. The situation was becoming hopeless. With each passing day I was more convinced either we won't be able to take her, or the car ride to AZ will be a ride thru hell. And then how will it go when we arrive in Arizona? It absolutely cannot go outside and the cats all have to get along! What kept stirring in my mind were two bad possibilities: either we let her back out to fend for itself knowing that winter was approaching or taking it to the humane society where more than likely it would be put down. So I rationalized that with us she had a chance so we could give her a much better life than she would have otherwise and probably life itself. I finally realized how attached I'd become to Portia and she seemed to be attached to me. Exactly how attached would now be tested on a 1800 mile drive.

Because I was so confident Portia wouldn't run away for good, several times I tried opening the screen porch door to see if she'd dart out to freedom. She would approach with caution, but each time she wouldn't leave. And with each time I tried this I got to feeling better and better that she wouldn't try to flee both during the trip and when we were finally in Arizona.

Ready or Not, Here We Go

Before the drive Debbie used the calming drugs to give to Mystic and Portia. Mystic needs the the drugs because it is never happy about the trip. It can sense we're going by the boxes and on the morning we leave, gathering Mystic is always an adventure as it hides. It has an uncanny ability to tell we're about to leave and go on a car ride. Then in the car it meows loudly, sometimes half way through Iowa before she settles down. Tuna doesn't need the calming drugs, but has a prescription of his own because he gets car sick! But getting them to eat their own food just can't be controlled and so Tuna got the calming medicine as well.

Tuna and Mystic in their carriers
Tuna and Mystic in their carriers.
Tuna and Mystic in their carriers
Portia in her carrier.
Tuna and Mystic in their carriers
Mystic next to the "igloo" litter box.

All three cats in the van
All three cats in the van.

As we're about to leave my anxiety is off the charts wondering and fearing what was coming. We got the cats into their carriers with relative ease and got them into the car and with me driving it all starts off well. As soon as we hit the freeway we always let the cats out of their carriers and they get the run of the van. Debbie lets Tuna and Mystic out, but with Portia she decided it was best to keep her in the carrier and put it on her lap. Portia is sleepy and Debbie is euphoric that she was first petting it in the carrier and then when it came out she was just lying on her lap. It just kept getting better. She eventually went exploring around the van and Mystic couldn't help but behave because she was underneath the blanket that Debbie set up. (All the travel boxes are underneath.) She enjoyed looking at the other cars and trucks and seemed at ease. She occasionally came up to eat some kibble and use the litter box. So the first travel day in the van went better than I could have ever imagined. Portia seems to be a much better traveler than the other two cats!

We get to our first planned stop which was outside of Kansas City at a LaQuinta which we always use because they're pet friendly. But staying overnight at a hotel with the cats has its challenges. First you have to get the cats into their carriers and then move their litter box from the car, their food, and an assortment of toys. Mystic has always been trouble in this department, but in the last two years seems to know what's going on and often just gets into her carrier when the car stops. I always do the check in while Debbie gets the cats rounded up. If she's having difficulty I will have to help, but I come out and she has all three in their carriers!

Portia the Hotel Room Cat

So now we find out how Portia fares in the hotel room. I know Debbie shared my considerable anxiety about this because she thought we should get two hotel rooms! That way Portia could be separated and things would probably go much better and we certainly would get a better nights sleep. But my feeling was we should try because they all have to be together eventually. Once again it goes better than I could have ever imagined. Portia actually hopped up on the bed, played with some of Debbie's yarn and we laughed as it was enamored with the TV and would watch it! I almost couldn't believe how well this was going and for the very first time I felt things were really going to be okay, even when we got to Arizona. We got a very good nights sleep.

I wasn't looking forward to the next morning (the start of day two) as there was a problem with the bed. We are experienced with trouble with Mystic because if she can get underneath the bed she can be nearly impossible to capture and on one occasion we had to disassemble the bed to retrieve her. She inherently knows when we are about leave and can disappear underneath. We've gotten good with experience because even though there is a wood frame around the bottom, there are two openings at the headboard that Mystic can get through and into and invariably the netting is torn so she can get up into that area. We now know this and can thwart Mystic by placing towels there to stop her. But at this LaQuinta they had a new base and it was far from perfect. Portia had no difficulty getting underneath from multiple areas and then Mystic joined her. So on the good front the two were being fraidy-cats together. On the bad front it was going to be an adventure getting them out of there in the morning so we can leave. Sure enough, neither were coming out so we had no choice but to disassemble the bed so we could retrieve them.

Portia at the back of the van.But the rest of the day went great although this was the worst day as far as scenery as most of Kansas is boring and that continues through the pan handles of Oklahoma and Texas. And once again the cats traveled well and especially Portia. Our final stop was in Albuquerque at another LaQuinta and I was relieved that the cats simply couldn't get underneath the bed. They found an alternative underneath a reclining chair, but that was easy as all I had to do was tip it over when the time came to round them up. Yeah, we're herding cats!

Albuquerque to Phoenix is the shortest segment of the trip and it went without incident, but Portia was now feeling a lot more free and discovered she could come up from my left while I was driving to be close to me, wanting to sit right on the console. I didn't have a problem with that but it made Debbie too nervous. It didn't deter Portia who would go on to try it several more times!

We got to our house by 3:00PM. Portia seemed to do great and think the reason is the smells in the house are those of Tuna and Mystic. But one problem remained. Would it try to dart out of the house? We do have self-closing doors (every door!) because Tuna always wants to get out. Mystic is afraid of the outside so no problem. So far so good. It doesn't seem to be keen to get out, but does like to look out.

At Home in Arizona

Debbie with PortiaSo everything's fine and the trip was thankfully anti-climatic. And it goes well in the house in Arizona. Portia settles in pretty well, but there's still an issue with Mystic being outright mean to her. Therefore, I'm Portia's protector and let Mystic know that though she thinks she's the boss of Portia, I'm the boss. Dryer drawer safe spot for PortiaPortia eventually found unlikely refuge and safety in the drawer of our dryer! Shown at the left with the drawer open, she's so small she can get behind the washer/dryer and then hop into the closed dryer drawer as it had enough towels to make it very comfortable. Of course, we've made it better for her.

Reflecting on how well it had all gone makes me realize that it did because Portia is not a diva. She somehow managed out in the wild and somehow survived a Wisconsin winter. No matter what happens now she's experienced much worse.

Portia watches TV in Arizona
Portia watches TV in the Arizona living room.
All 3 cats in the living room in Arizona.
The three cats in the living room.
Mystic and Portia in the living room.
Portia and Mystic.
Nothing could go wrong from here, right?

 

A Visit to the Vet

Now because of the timing of things Debbie couldn't get an appointment to get Portia fixed while we were still in Wisconsin. And unfortunately all the vets are extremely busy because a lot of people got pets during the pandemic. She couldn't get an appointment until nearly Thanksgiving and then missed the appointment because her Google calendar had the wrong timezone and the appointment was 1 hour before she thought. That was another nearly 3 week delay. They don't fix a cat until it's received a general checkup and unfortunately Portia went into heat! Fortunately she has a pretty quiet meow, but it wasn't pleasant for her, and certainly not for us. But she irritates Tuna because he's a male, but as he was neutered so has no interest.

When we finally got her to the vet (Dr. Amanda Likewise) all was going well. Even though she was not given calming medicine, she did great in the office. Again, more proof this cat is not a diva. Her weight was now 7 pounds, a full pound above when she came to us. Then the vet got a preliminary test back that showed she was positive for FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. This is just like HIV in humans as it's an autoimmune disease (like AIDS), but it takes longer for symptoms to appear: about 5 years. The vet wasn't happy with part of the procedure and repeated the test, but it, sadly, was also positive. Dr. Likewise went through the risks to the other cats and said Portia's life will be shortened which she said it might only live 12 years with good care. She was totally prepared to take the cat right then and there if we simply gave the word. I was frankly stunned by this and it was surreal. But Debbie and I hardly had to discuss it. Portia had been with us for already too long and our other two cats were fairly old so in the worst case scenario if she did pass the disease, it wouldn't be that bad. And any other scenario would not go well for Portia. We could give her a much better life than she would have otherwise. And in this instance, we really were giving the gift of life because I couldn't see anyone else taking the cat with this disease and it would almost certainly be put down. Only after our decision did the vet say they thought we had made the right decision, but obviously didn't want to sway us either way. As I ponder this after the fact, I have to believe that is their training for how to act in situations like this.

With this knowledge we now know had we chose in WI to take Portia to the Human Society, she would have been put down.

There are only two ways a cat can get this disease. First, from a fight with an infected cat that draws blood. But I think it's the second way that got Portia: she was born with it so it was passed by her mother. This leads me to an interesting theory I have about her. I asked before how did the cat live throughout an entire winter? The simplest explanation is that she came from that same farm as Stonks. But that owner had no attachment to the cat whatsoever and even if she saw the Facebook posting, she wouldn't want to let on that it was from their farm. So this very little cat wouldn't have fared well at the farm and eventually walked away.

Portia under the Christmas Tree.

Portia's first Christmas with Gene and Debbie - 2021. Hopefully many many more.

My Cat

My Portia Coffee Cup - a gift from Debbie.
My Portia coffee cup that Debbie gave to me.
Portia is "my cat" in two ways. The first is a bit of a technicality. In my life with my parents there were 6 cats: Herbie, Little Herbie, Baby, Louie, Earl, and Tansey. And when I married Debbie, she already had 2: Tuna and Mystic. But I had no say-so in the decision to get any of these cats. Portia is the first one.

But she is "my cat" in the traditional sense in that she has totally bonded with me. And it should go without saying after all I've written here I have totally bonded with Portia. Here are the bonding traits for Portia:

  • Exposes her tummy - This is big sign that a cat trusts you. She not only does this, but genuinely likes me to pet it. A typical cat, however, will only allow so many strokes and then let you know that any more are unwelcome. Portia almost never tires of this and will fall asleep if I can continue long enough.
  • Headbutts and rub their face on you - Portia does this a lot.
  • Purring - This is the sound of contentment. Portia is an extremely quiet purr. I often have to put my head right up to here to hear it.
  • Sleeping near you - Portia used to only do this when Debbie wasn't near, but now she does, often sleeping between my legs. But I've noticed she only tends to do this if it isn't hot.
  • Meowing - She doesn't do this a lot, but does it when she wants my attention.
  • Greeting at the door - She does this and also always greets me in the morning.
  • Follows - Portia will do this often. She'll also come when I start playing the piano.
  • Leads - Portia will do this in WI if the porch door is closed or if she wants to be fed. She also likes to go down in the basement.
Portia on my piano.
Portia listening to me play the piano. When I play the piano, I'll often find her underneath listening.
Gene and Portia
Gene holding Portia.
Portia sleeping between my legs in our bed
Portia sleeping in our bed between my legs.
Portia in her egg.
Portia in her egg. It was a gift from Bill how bought it for Stonks, but he wouldn't use it.
Portia in the low cat tree
Portia on the low cat tree.
Portia on the bed.
Portia resting on our bed.

Portia - The Traveling Cat

With our homes in Wisconsin and Arizona we drive back and forth twice a year. Usually we go about the third week in October and return in late April or very early May. But because of my prostate cancer surgery needing to be done in Wisconsin in January of 2023, we took an extra round trip. So for Portia it's already been seven long drives (as of Oct/2023), staying overnight 2 times per one-way trip. She continues to be our best traveler. Not too happy about getting into the carrier, but she settles down pretty fast.

Debbie will get Portia to occasionally sit on her lap while I'm driving, but it is challenging because Tuna will sit in the lap of person in the passenger seat for most of the trip. He'll only relinquish the spot when he needs to go to the litter box or to get a bit of kibble.

She especially likes the "egg" which we got from Bill because Stonks wouldn't use it. Actually, Tuna and Mystic don't use it either so it's really become Portia's. We have it in the car and she spends a lot of time there.

Portia in her egg Traveling
Portia in her egg in the car.
Portia and Mystic in the car traveling.
Portia with Mystic.
Portia in her egg traveling.
Portia in her egg.

Portia - Still the Porch Cat

Portia the Porch Cat Whenever we are back in Wisconsin, Portia becomes a porch cat as it's her favorite place. She can be out there for hours just looking toward the woods as there's always something interesting for her to see. I have to wonder what she's thinking. Does she remember being out in those woods? Does she wish she could go back there, even if it's only for a short look? Of course I can't know for sure, but my guess is no. My worries about her possibly trying to run out never materialized. However, one thing that makes me think she does remember some things is that she doesn't like the rain. And this is the first cat I've encountered who's not really afraid of a vacuum cleaner! Who knows how many times she had to endure the rain and sometimes the cold. But I have noticed over time she's getting less afraid of bad weather.

She also sleeps out there, both day and night. But she'll come every now and then and almost always if she spots me in the kitchen. When we first arrived with Portia in Arizona for the first time, for at least a month after when she would see me she'd be very excited as she would go up on her hind legs, and two very memorable times she actually got airborne. I was a little sad when that stopped, but in retrospect I think she had a lot of anxiety about being in a strange place and I was her comfort.

Cat Stairs

In our Wisconsin bedroom we a high dresser next to a window. It sits beside a very tall dresser that Mystic claimed as her own as Debbie was storing a quilt which was comfortable for lying. And Mystic has always liked high places so she's been called our mountain lion. Tuna likes cubby holes and dark places so he's called a cave lion. When we first moved in Mystic was still getting leaping fairly well onto the low dresser so she could then hop up to her high perch.

Now with Portia she will hop up so she can look out that window, even occasionally jumping up to the tall dresser. But Portia has no difficulty and she jumps quietly. On the other hand, the once agile Mystic was incredibly loud in comparison and it was beginning to sound like she was hurting herself getting up. So Debbie got the idea of setting up a couple of shelves to act as stairs.

Debbie's 3 Cat Sleep Shirt

Debbie's sleep teeshirt.

2023

We made it through 2022 without anything happening. I did see from a side window of our bedroom a cat coming and then headed toward the back to the screen porch. I was watching with Portia and she was decidely excited seeing another cat. When it disappeared Portia darted to the porch and I followed, but it didn't stick around. It just kept going. One measure of Portia's excitement was she went to that window much more than usual for the next two weeks, hoping to maybe see that cat or another.

The summer of 2023 was uneventful without a single sighting. That is, until the early morning of Sept. 21st, a Thursday. This was almost 3 weeks before we would be heading to Arizona. It was sometime past midnight and we could hear what sort of sounded like cat meows out our window to the screen porch, but it was a weird sound, one like I've never heard before. We had to check it out so we went out to the porch where it became obvious it was a two-cat chorus. My first thought was that there must be two cats out there. But it soon became clear that there was only one cat outside and the other meow was our own Portia meowing back. She's always so quiet so it's unusual when you hear her.

I turned on the porch light (which is inside the porch) and could see what looked like a somewhat small brownish cat with stripes. I decided I would open the door and step out. There was a good chance the cat would run away, but it did't and instead rubbed its body against my leg. This was clearly a friendly cat and not feral. We got it some water and food and went back to bed.

View of Tigger in the morning through the screen porch door. In the morning I took a look and there was no cat, just Portia sitting on the bench. But later the cat was suddenly there at the porch screen door. Once again, more food and water and the cat was affectionate. We both thought it was a beautiful looking cat with its stripes. We both agreed it appeared to be a male and within an hour Debbie decided to start calling it Tigger. Unfortunately there was no collar. Tigger though small (like Portia) was not a kitten and I figured it was full grown. The odds of it being someone's cat seemed low.

Below, left image is the picture we posted to the Lake Mills Community page on Facebook to see if it might be a missing cat.

Tigger eating

Tigger eating

Our cat Portia enamored with Tigger

Portia enamored with Tigger

Tigger finished eating

Tigger finished eating

Another Cat Appears

Debbie with Juliet and Tigger Portia was genuinely excited to see this cat. And as we waited for someone to hopefully claim little Tigger, the excitement would escalate only two hours later when another cat approached from the south so not directly out of the woods! It was not only small, it seemed a little weird that it was the same size as Tigger. Our thought was these two were sibblings. Debbie thought this cat was a female and immediately came up with the name Juliet.

So it was once again off to Facebook to post a picture and the moment I check there's yet another small cat list listed that someone had just found and turned into the local police department. At this point it seemed too much a coincidence and one response on Facebbok agreed, "So many small cats this morning. It seems like this was a kitten dump." It sounded reasonable, except that these three cats did not have the overly big ears of a kitten. The cats had to be at least 6 months old.

Tigger drinking out of the bird bath The fun with the two cats, however, would not last. Soon Juliet took off back in the direction she came and Tigger followed and quickly the two were out of sight. For a while that seemed the end of it, but a full hour later Tigger was back but without Juliet. More food (kibble) as Tigger was still really hungry. But water was another issue as he didn't seem to touch it. Later in the day I found out the reason was he liked drinking water out of the bird bath! Portia continued to love the sight of Tigger and would lay on her back by the screen with Tigger on the other side. The day ended with nothing from Facebook. I wasn't surprised.

Gene with Tigger on the steps of the porchThe evening was uneventful and in the morning soon Tigger was at the door. Most of the day was me seeing how much food Tigger could scarf down and checking Facebook for anything. Debbie thought it was okay to let it into the porch which was effortless with a dish of food. But the lesson we learned that day was that Tigger was fine being in the screen porch until he suddenly wasn't. I found him climbing the screen to the top of the rafters in an effort to find a way out. I ran to grab a 6-foot step ladder, but by the time I got back Debbie had retrieved Tigger with a simple step-stool.

In the early afternoon I would catch a glimpse of Juliet in the woods. But as soon as Tigger saw her he headed toward her and they both headed north deeper into the woods. I tried to follow, but could not catch up. That would be my last sighting of Juliet.

But this day otherwise showed us that this was a friendly cat. Though he wouldn't jump up on your lap, if you picked it up and didn't seem to mind and loved being petted as you see in the photo at the left. It was beginning to feel like a replay of what happened with Portia just 2 years previous. However, the big difference is that we now had three cats and a fourth was simply out of the question. How could we travel with 4 cats? And there was the additional issue that Portia has FIV. So we couldn't really keep it and we only had maybe two weeks to hopefully find a good home for this lovable cat. If we couldn't we'd be left with the two unthinkable options that we faced with Portia: leave her out to fend for itself knowing that winter was soon coming, or take it to the Human Society where I didn't like the odds of it finding someone who would like to adopt it. A thought that kept running through my mind was that this wouldn't be an issue if we lived here year round.

A Glimmer of Hope For a Happy Ending

Sometime during late Friday our neighbors who share our 2-unit condo arrived for the weekend. They live in Illinois and come up most weekends, but not all. And occasionally they will stay the week. They bought their unit only about a year before we did so they've been with us a while. They have a very friendly girl, Emersyn, who will often talk with us. One memorable time she asked us, "Is this your vacation home? This is our vacation home!" We were simply stunned and couldn't really answer her question. Yes, in a way it was a vacation home, but not like hers. I think we stammered and more or less told her yes. The family had only recently had another baby girl so now Emersyn had a sister. They had a cat for a long time, but it had passed on.

Emersyn with Tigger Saturday morning started as it did the day before with a quiet night and then Tigger at the porch door looking for a meal, which we had now set up inside the porch. Tigger came in, eat, explored a little, and then I let it out when it appeared that's what he wanted. I now looked for any climbing onto the screens as the sign it wanted out. It seemed to Debbie every time he was let out may be the last.

Tigger would be back in just a few hours and by that time Debbie was out front talking with Emersyn. When told that there was a new cat hanging around, she was excited at the prospect of seeing it. I went out to tell them and she ran through her house to get to the back. It was definitely love at first sight! The rest of the family then comes out and an amazing conversation starts about them possibly taking the cat! They're going to lunch and will discuss it. When they finally return they've purchased a carrier, litter, etc. I was pretty euphoric.

The day ended with them taking in the cat and we were so relieved. Not only did we find a great home for Tigger, but we would get to see him every now and then. In the morning it was back to my normal routine of getting up around 6:00, checking on Portia who's almost always on the porch, making the coffee, and feeding the cats. Then there was Tigger and after he sees me he comes to the porch door. My heart sunk as I knew something must have gone wrong. I would find out later that it didn't go well. Our neighbor, Mike, got scratched pretty bad bringing in Tigger and it was clear to him this was not going to work out. Then none of us thought about the possibility that it didn't know how to use a litter box!

Grooming Glove That afternoon playing with Tigger I detected a slight change and he was definitely more aggressive. I could still pick him up and pet him, but I needed to be careful. A day or two later he actually bit me, drawing a bit of blood! However, there were no issues with Debbie and day by day she was liking Tigger more. She especially like stroking the cat with a special hand glove grooming device that Tigger just loved.

We were now letting Tigger come into the porch whenever possible. Portia was still fascinated with Tigger and we felt comfortable leaving the two of them on the porch. But we kept the door closed and I would check to see if Portia wanted back into the house. But Tigger wanted out by the night and would go to wherever his special resting place was. It made me wonder if maybe it was the same place used by Portia 2 years previous. Through Facebook, Debbie had another person interested in the cat if it's available, but balks when they're told it's not litter trained. So now we needed to get Tigger litter trained!

Tuesday was a big turnaround day as it started to rain which was going to continue for 3 days and nights. It was now clear Tigger didn't like the rain and was content to stay on the dry porch. Then Debbie started putting dirt into the litter box to see if we could see if Tigger would start using it. With the cat staying in the porch for a long period of time (I would let it out in the morning, but within an hour would be back) we could see if it went elsewhere on the porch, but there was no evidence.

I made a nice place for Tigger to sleep by putting two chairs together and a blank over the two. Debbie put out an assortment of cat toys and Tigger especially liked the banana with catnip inside. And I moved one of our webcams to the porch and had it in a position where I could see if Tigger was on the chair sleeping. This was a big difference than my vigils over Portia getting up and having to get out of bed. Now I could just check the webcam app and seeing him sleep, I could sleep. By Thursday I witnessed Tigger using the litter box!

Tigger with Portia On Friday the rain had cleared and inform the interested individual that it is now using a litter box, but nothing but crickets. The individual must have changed their minds. It seemed like things were going great, but then there was some large noisy truck nearby and it really scared Tigger and he wanted out! And we felt we had to let it out because it was climbing up the screens in order to find an exit! Debbie felt it was gone for good, but I never thought that. It came back, but still had severe trust issues. It basically was just coming in (after pausing for a long time) to eat and not wanting to go more than 8 feet from the door. But by nightfall it was there and just opening the door came in as if nothing happened earlier in the day. I sent another message to our neighbors about the good progress, but felt I had to mention the incident with the loud noise. The real purpose of the message, however, was to let them know we'd be gone almost the entire day on Saturday. We be visiting Jen and Mark and the grandkids at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois.

On Sunday we talk with our neighbors who are not interested, but haven't ruled out taking the cat. We let them know the cat is now litter trained and Debbie thinks the aggression will go away when the cat is neutered. I tell Mike a good plan is if we have to take the cat to the Humane Society they'd get a free check up, shots and neutering. But I'm really skeptical of taking the cat there as I fear it will be a death sentence.

Tigger with Debbie with the grooming glove.

So day after day it was pretty much a routine and every day as Debbie bonded with Tigger ever more, I knew that taking it to the Humane Society was going to be difficult. Tigger was the cat she thought she was getting when we adopted Portia. From time to time she would talk about the impracticality of bringing Tigger to Arizona. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that this was mean. We're only getting Tigger set up for a car ride to an unknown fate.

October 4th - A Trip to the Humane Society

Humane Society checkin form Our wish for a happy ending for Tigger ended as this was the day Debbie decided we needed to take him to the Jefferson County Humane Society. She felt it was now too close to the day we needed to be heading to Arizona and we needed the time. We knew exactly where it was, but neither of us had actually been there and entered. Tigger initially didn't like the carrier but as soon as the car moved Tigger seemed completely calm. Debbie was still dreaming about keeping it and commented that it would be a good traveler. Because Tigger loved getting combed with the special grooming glove, she thought it should be brought along with the cat. Even though I knew this was going to be tough and emotional, I wasn't completely ready. We filled out the entry form and when we were finished, a young girl took Tigger in the carrier back to the quarantine area and would return with our carrier when she was done. We then looked around at a couple of display areas and there were so many cats! It was depressing from the standpoint that Tigger would be competing against these other cats! My other thought is that I couldn't work or volunteer here because we'd have dozens of cats.

Jefferson County Humane Society building

Jefferson County Humane Society

Humane Society Reception Area

Humane Society reception area

Cat display room

Adoptable cats in display room

We drove away wondering if we had made the right decision, but it still seemed like it was the only decision. Our backyard visitor was now in the care of professionals and the only question was whether someone would find this cat more special than all the other cats at the facility.

By the next day I was on the Humane Society of Jefferson County website checking on Tigger. I had not visited the site previously! We just knew where it was because we drove past it many times. Day after day I checked and there was nothing. I was hoping it would appear on the cats available for adoption page, but I soon realized that it was considered a Found Cat which meant being on that list as they were going to wait to give an owner time to claim it. But seeing a few cats on that list which were still there after 30 days was definitely discouraging.

It was just a couple of days later when Tigger appeared on the Found Cats list:

Tigger appears on the Found Cats page

Clicking on the Tigger link brought up this page:

Tigger's Found Cat profile page

There was not a lot of information and we of course knew all of it except for the chip. As we predicted, there was no chip. But one piece of info was wrong. The cat was actually "found" on September 21st. They were reporting when we dropped off the cat. Were we somewhat unique in first trying to find a good home for a stray cat? I went back to the form we signed, but there was not a space to indicate when the cat was found.

So this would start a near daily vigil for me checking the website to see if one of two things were to happen: (1) Tigger just completely disappears from the listings because an owner has claimed him, or (2) Tigger only disappeared from the Found Cat list because they've given a potential owner more than enough time to claim him and because they've heard nothing, they place him on the available list. On October 11th we started our drive to AZ so the vigil would continue while we were in AZ. No picture ever appeared.

The vigil would continue nearly daily until October 26th, 22 days after Tigger was dropped off. He was suddenly missing from the Found Cats page so I anxiiously went to the Adoptable Cats page and there he was!

Tigger appears on the Adoptionable Cats page

It was great to see Tigger again and wasted no time clicking on the link to see what detail might be there.

Tigger's Adoptable Cats Page

Click/tap here or on the image to see a larger view.

The information sounded great! Here's what it says:


Hi, I'm Tigger - Reduced Fee!!

I'm a 2 year old neutered male brown tabby Domestic Short Hair
  • Estimated to be about 2 years old
  • Neutered male
  • Outgoing and affectionate
  • Gets along with other cats

I'm an extremely handsome boy who definitely knows I'm a looker. I am sweet, affectionate, and outgoing, and I love to be petted and lay on your lap. I'm good with other cats and am just an all-around great guy. If you're looking for a super affectionate companion, you really need to meet me!

With the Pumpkin Spice and Black as Night promotion my adoption fee is half price during the month of October!

My adoption fee is $40.

I have been neutered, vacinnated, microchipped, and I've received routine treatment for internal and external parasites.


The big surprise was they thought Tigger was 2 years old! The listing made Tigger sound really great (actually exceptional) until I started reading other available cats that had almost the same script. But I wasted no time alerted our neighbors about the availability along with a link to the listing. The timing seemed good because they would be in Lake Mills on Saturday. I was hoping to hear anything back, but there was nothing. On the other hand these cats can be available for months so maybe they weren't coming that weekend and assumed they had plenty of time.

I checked on Friday and then early Saturday and the listing was there. But then Sunday morning I looked and suddenly Tigger's listing was gone! How could it be that he was adopted so quickly? A very reasonable assumption is that our neighbors did actually adopt Tigger, but I had heard nothing. But my overwhelming feeling was one of relief. He was adopted and we had the happy ending we were hoping for. Day after day I would wait for anything from our neighbors, but got nothing and I didn't want to inquire. If they were the adoptees, we'd eventually know. I would also keep checking that website to see if the adoption didn't work out and they had returned Tigger. But Tigger never returned so I have to assume the adoption worked out.

It would have been nice to find out who adopted Tigger, but we're happy that Tigger has apparently found a good home.

While checking on the possible return of Tigger, I note that so far Juliet has not appeared! However, there has been a cat posted at that humane society called Frisbee (Shelter Name) that was turned in the right time frame that has been on the Lost list since being turned in on 9/28/2023 within a half mile of our home. Unfortunately there's no indication of why it's never shown up on the reguar adoption list and there's no photo. I'm guessing that the problem is that the cat has FIV and therefore not allowed to be with the other cats. That cat would remain on that list for nearly 8 months. It would never appear on the cats available for adoption.

 

2023 Ends On a Sad Note

Tuna's paw print made just before he passed away at the vet Tuna's paw print made just before he passed away at the vet.
Throughout the year the health of our old cat, Tuna, continued to deteriorate. We've been concerned for over 2 years that he was struggling as the once overweight cat started progressively losing weight. When once we had to keep him on a diet, we were now giving him as much food as we could. But over time he seemed to become just "skin and bones." Debbie was concerned for a very long time and a couple of trips to the vet indicated that there was really nothing specifically wrong with Tuna other than old age. She would say before every big drive to or from Arizona that this would probably be the last trip for Tuna.

He made the long drive from WI to AZ in October, but he was tired all the time and basically slept the entire time we were in the car. And then we noticed that his abdomen was starting to seriously bloat. By November he was really bad and made an appointment, this time with our vet in Arizona. The prognosis was not good, but we got a prescription for a steriod that should make movement easier. But the pills could not work because then he stopped eating. Every morning when we woke up we were prepared, but he still held on. But then he stopped drinking. We could not bare seeing him suffer so made the painful decision on November 28th to take him to our vet so we could relieve his pain. We were with him when he passed.

 

An Arizona Cat Comes To The Backyard

Bobcat visits the backyard in Arizona Just before the end of 2023, we got a treat: a Bobcat strolled through the yard and passed near the window where Portia sits looking at all the birds we get because we put out food for them. Portia's reaction was exactly the same as if it was a stray cat coming by in Wisconsin: excitement! After walking by the window, the Bobcat jumped up on the cinder block fence which is about 8 feet high and stayed there for almost a minute all the while with Portia enamored at the sight. After the Bobcat disappeared, Portia staired at where she last saw it for the next 15 minutes.

The picture of the Bobcat is not particularly good because it's taken through a sunscreen which all the windows have on our Arizona house. I couldn't really get a decent picture of the Bobcat on the wall because the angle would not permit it and to really get a shot at a great picture would mean I'd have to go outside. But I knew that wouldn't work because the Bobcat would immediately flee and thus spoil Portia's fun.