From Panther to Smokey

January 5: Cold. Dreary. Panther climbs to the top of the stairs and collapses. I carry my black beauty down the stairs, cradling her in my arms. Crying because I knew this is the end. Not just yet, but I know. So does she.

We were together for 17 years. When she was five, she developed diabetes. We handled that with twice daily injections and a treat after each shot. When she was twelve, she developed hypothyroidism. We handled that with a dermal medication in alternating ear lobes daily. And now, when she is 17, she says, "The fight is over." And it is. I call the vet.

I cry daily. Wet streaks stain my cheeks. Insides ache.

January 12: My husband and I spy a gray stray near the patio. I leave Panther's left-over kibble day and night, hoping to catch another glimpse of this elusive gray. Several days later near dinnertime, we see him slip under our patio furniture covered with a tarp. His hiding place. I put kibble in a bowl near the edge of the tarp. We watch him through the patio door. He sneaks out to eat. I click the latch on the door; he's gone. Back under the safety of the tarp.

For a week I put kibble out first thing in the morning and last thing at night. My husband fills the bowl during the day. The food is always gone.

January 19: Snow and sub-zero is forecast. I stand on the step with the kibble and call, “Kitty. Kitty." I hear a sweet “meow,” and then he appears. He stays at my feet and eats the kibble. Painstakingly slowly I reach down and gently touch the top of his head. Expecting him to bolt, I am surprised when he head-bops my hand. I open the sliding door slowly and start to walk in. I hesitate, and the cat walks in behind me.

Not your ordinary stray, his ears are without rips, his face sweetly unmarred, his eyes wide and clear, and he looks as if he belongs inside, not hiding under furniture on a cold stone patio in January.

I did my duty and called animal control, area vets, the local police, asking if anyone had reported a missing cat. No one had. One policeman, asking if I’d fed the cat, said with a laugh, “He’s yours now!”

And so he is. Our Smokey. Some say Panther led him to us, knowing the void she was leaving behind. Others say it was just meant to be. I'll never know how anyone can simply dump a cat and leave.

We take him to the local vet. He has toxoplasmosis. We treat him three times a day for a month. A recheck and he’s clear. He also gets chipped and neutered, best for his future.

Now he greets me when I come home from work. Later, he sleeps in my lap, stretches when I stroke him, rolls over, and lays, a foreleg overlapping my arm; totally relaxed and content to be home. Home. Panther's gift to heal an aching heart.

Caryl Theilgaard