We adopted our Thomas cat in May of 2015, having lost our previous cat to a car in April, and we were sad and missing him, so we randomly stopped by the animal shelter to pet the kitties. there was a young orange tomcat there, not a kitten, but not fully grown, either. my teen took one look at that cat, and looked back at me with those big, pleading, eyes...and we just had to go back for him the next day. the name on the cage said 'Alvin', but we couldn't have that, so we changed it to Thomas O'Malvin in a nod to both the Thomas O'Malley character in The Aristocats movie, and the Primus song 'Tommy the Cat' (which I believe is based on the Aristocats character as well).
Thomas O'Malley in The Aristocats
'Tommy the Cat' by Primus
Thomas - like most of the shelter cats I've adopted and brought 'home' for the first time - spent about three days hiding under my bed before he decided to give in to our soft calls of encouragement to come out, and be our friend. he was rather skittish, and we had no idea where he had come from, or where he had been, but judging by the way he kept his butt so close to the ground while sniffing out all the new things, I figured he may well have been a feral kitten, rescued off the streets, or from outside. no matter. we did our best to make him feel welcome. when he finally became comfortable with us, and used to his new home, we decided to let him explore the outdoors. it's been awhile, so I don't remember how that went, but suffice it to say that he loved being able to roam the large property we are lucky to be living on, and to hunt. he liked hunting, and while he was very well fed, he still enjoyed killing and eating the small mice and voles that are abundant in our woods. and that baby squirrel...eww.
he wasn't a particularly cuddly cat, but every now and then he would jump tentatively up into our laps, freeze as if we might do something to shoo him, then step ever so gingerly over us until he found just the right spot to settle into. sometimes he liked to lie along my legs when I had them stretched out, other times he would lay himself up along my body and drape his head over my shoulder, and sometimes he'd settle into a furry pile on my chest and neck. he was (still is, I hope) a big, tough guy...he could also be mean, and I would warn small children that he'd rip your hand open if you pissed him off, but he would usually make damn sure to give you a warning with his ferocious growl, first. he was our sweet boy, and could be friendly and loving, but he was not to be trifled with.
when an elderly friend's caregiver's cat had kittens, my son could not resist petting and playing with them (who could?), when we were there for our weekly visit, and so he became enamored of one of them, going so far as to start calling it by a pet name. I warned him that those kittens would be given away when they were old enough, and not to get too close, because he would eventually have to say goodbye, so he decided to preempt that inevitability by asking if he could adopt the one he liked himself. I weighed the decision and gave him the go-ahead, he asked the care-giver, and she gave him a non-committal response which changed from week to week - sometimes more towards yes, sometimes more towards no. in any case, the week came when she said the kittens were ready for their new homes, and when my son stated that he was prepared to take his little friend home, she told him, "I never said you could have him." well...I was furious, and so was my son, who was also hurt and upset. I reacted by remembering another friend with a litter of kittens to give away, so we regrouped, asked if any were left, and went to visit with them.
they were incredibly adorable - and there went those big eyes again, pleading with me to take this one home Right Now, even though we didn't have any kitten food, a separate litter box, or whatever else we might need in order to welcome a new little fuzzball home. didn't matter, we could get all that later, we Needed her! but...what about Thomas? "he'll kill her and eat her," I said, in no uncertain terms. "she'll live in My room," countered the boy who would not be deterred. so we drove the baby home in a box, made up a make-shift litter box, and fed her adult cat food softened with water until we went to the store. when we got home with her, we took her straight into my son's room and closed the door. within the first few hours of her being there, Thomas was at the inch-high space beneath my son's door making the most adorable cooing and chirping sounds at the tiny little paw that was extending out to grab at and play with him. it was too cute, and so we decided to let him in...
while the kitten (Nahiri) seemed to have no fear of him, Thomas was a bit scared of her! it didn't stop him from dropping to the carpet and rolling on his back, though, purring at her, and making sweet little love-noises at her. we couldn't believe it - we'd never seen him behave like that, so we decided to let the little one have the run of the house when we were home, but kept them separated when we went out, for safety's sake. eventually, we found there was no need for that, and they were allowed to co-exist:
|Thomas & Nahiri|
while Thomas loved his new baby kitten, he made it very clear he was the Boss of this house, and there were a few times we scolded him and made him stop chasing her around, or pulled him off of her if she cried out. mostly they were good siblings, and Nahiri adored her big brother, sitting on him every chance she got, and letting him help her groom her fabulous, long, grey fur. we didn't let Nahiri outside until she was over a year old, so Thomas would use 'outside' as his escape hatch if she got overbearing, which she sometimes does...because he knew she wasn't allowed to follow him. she'd watch him, jealously intent, from the windowsill, leaping towards the door every time it opened, in hopes of escaping her confinement to engage with all the wonderful things Thomas smelled of when he returned. eventually, Nahiri grew big enough (and smart enough) to go outside as well, and we lived our happy life as a two-cat/two-human household.
|Best of friends|
again - I did my best to keep my cats in the house, because the anxiety of having them out in the woods while workmen were dropping trees made me crazy. although Nahiri didn't seem particularly bothered by the noise, she did seem to choose to spend those days on my son's desk, basking in the sunshine, while Thomas would make a break for the door, because he'd rather take his chances outside than be trapped inside with nowhere to run when he felt threatened. one day, after having managed to lock him in, I couldn't find him when I came home. I located him a few hours later under the couch, refusing to come out, because they had cut down the dead tree closest to the house, and he must have been terrified by the noise. I felt so guilty, I let him make his own choices as to where he felt safest, which was - outside.
to add to this chaos, there was, until very recently, an abandoned property with its own house and cabins right next door (I suspect that lot and ours used to be one big property). at some point over the summer and fall, during the dead-tree-removal frenzy, a bunch of large trucks and a bulldozer showed up next door and took the buildings all the way down to the ground, as if they had never been there. that was another reason I wanted the cats in - I know Nahiri liked to play over there, so I expect Thomas did as well, though I never caught him at it. as soon as I saw those trucks roll in, it added a level of panic to my 'protect the cats' campaign, and I redoubled my efforts to keep them locked safely In The House, with varying levels of success (see previous paragraph stating Thomas' preference in feeling safe when threatened). the day after the trucks finished demolishing the neighboring property, my kitchen cabinet happened to fall off the wall, smashing a good portion of my dishes and glasses, as well as cooking oils and spices - it made an extremely unholy racket that scared the kid so bad he screamed long and loud... again, hardly a wink from Nahiri, but Thomas had just come inside from his day hiding in the woods, and turned right back around and went out.
I did manage to get him in that night, and he even slept inside the downed cabinet, which I stood upright and left in the middle of the kitchen floor, but he was back out again the next morning. that evening, I called and called him, but he didn't come. I went out to check for him every hour. "Thooomaaaaas!!! Thomas O'Maaaalviiiin!!!" I yelled desperately in all directions, shining my flashlight around the yard...where could he be? well, he could be anywhere, really. he could be under my car, watching my pulse quicken, amused at my distress...but wherever he was, he didn't come. at some point, around 2 or 3 in the morning, I just went and stood on the porch, willing him to Be There, when I heard an owl hoot so close - in the lilac bush next to the house, about 10 feet from where I was standing. that was weird - I'd never seen or heard an owl in the lilacs, what was he doing there? it gave me a bad feeling, like it was telling me something, though I didn't know what. I found myself wondering if it had fought with Thomas, and he was out in the woods injured, but it was still dark out, so I went in to bed. he was a big boy - he'd spent the night out before and still come home, I was just going to relax about it, and be positive. he would come back when he was ready...he would come home tomorrow.
we haven't seen Thomas since early October, and it's now mid-January. we've both seen him in our dreams. we've both decided to believe that he got freaked out by all the tree-cutting, house demolition, and cabinet-falling, and went on walkabout. we want to believe he went yowling at a neighbor's door, and got let in somewhere. we pray that's what happened, in light of the recent sub-zero temperatures. more than wanting him back, we want him safe. people have regaled us with stories of cats returning years later, and I'm not sure if that's supposed to make me feel better, given how often we end up moving, but it does give us some hope, and keeps us from getting another cat to assuage the sadness of missing Thomas. but how do we explain it to Nahiri? she's been super-sad, and was needing to cling to us more than usual for awhile, and now she's sort of lost all her previous playfulness. she sits in the window listlessly for hours, for whole days, moving only to eat, or visit the litter box. I feel so badly for her, and talk to her about Thomas, not sure if the sounds I make to identify him are familiar to her, and if they are something she recognizes in association with him. does it help or hurt her? I can't tell, but maybe she can understand that we miss him, too, and that we are all grieving his loss together as a family.
we also know that if we choose to let our pets be 'outdoor' animals, that we have to deal with the consequences of that decision - they could get hit by a car, they could be eaten by a larger animal, they could get hurt and not make it home, who knows what could happen. but I don't think it's fair to keep them in, and they definitely Love being out, so...I wouldn't choose to lock my kid in all day every day, so I don't. the cats go where the cats want, and we let them. period. we just love the hell out of them while we share our lives together, and do the best we can for them. we hope it's enough. if Thomas is with a neighbor, we hope he's ok, and that he chooses to come back one day (soon!). if he's...gone, we hope it was quick and painless, and that he forgives us for not being able to find him and help him, that we loved him dearly, and miss his purrs and companionship.
with love and remembrance of other kitties I/we have known: Delia, my traveling companion for 5 years,who was killed by a wild dog (she's buried in a pet cemetery, with a headstone and everything). Potato, a feral rescue who didn't want to be rescued, and took off out an open window the first chance she got, and never came back. Little Bear, who disappeared in the woods one night, never to be seen again, about a year after the same thing happened to his sister, Beaner. Molson, who I took in for a friend's brother for a period of time, who now lives with another friend. Sphinx, who didn't come in one night, and may have chosen to take up residence in the nearby mouse-infested barn, but we were never sure. Mr. Spats, who we lost to a car in the road. Petey, who we suspect got into it with a nesting wild turkey mama, and died at home from what appeared to be multiple puncture wounds (we buried him under his favorite bush). Taco, who we lost to a car in the road (he is buried out back of our current residence, by a patch of daylilies). we loved them all ~ may they rest in peace.