There was something about Bandido that made him survive despite several physical ailments and against all odds. Unlike his wild peers, he did not have the mean, street fighter looks into which survival accompanied with mistrust often evolves. Rather, it was his kindly face that did us in. This is a story about how we faced up to the challenge he threw at us.
(Originally published in Cat Fancy magazine; December 2005)
My wife and I watched the lame cat awkwardly hop past our house. It was gone, but only momentarily. We discovered later that a neighbor had recently attempted feeding it, but it fled. It returned surreptitiously and “stole” the food. After multiple attempts to feed the stray, she quit. It was surviving by stealing other cats’ food and dumpster diving. It was terrified of humans and unapproachable. We increasingly noticed the feline as it perched on a flower box and began soulfully peering into our front window, watching us and Missy and Fussi, our female cats. We named him Bandido because he was stealing food. Most ferals look mean. He had a gentle, “honest” face. A con was already underway. We were weakening.I contacted the feral cat society. They sponsor a population control program replacing euthanasia. They “fix” strays for a nominal fee. The animals are reintroduced to their former territory to fend for themselves or to find an “adopter”. We elected to try the program. I built a trap. Nightly, we placed food in the unset trap. Bandido yanked out the food and absconded with it. His lameness was so severe it was obvious he wouldn’t ever catch prey. He was unable to do the slow motion creep before the pounce. Slow movements dictated hopping on his good hind leg. His hopping spooked the prey. Running lickety-split, his disability wasn’t noticeable. We fed Bandido until he ate within the cage. Then, I set the trap. It almost worked. There was a design defect and Bandido escaped. I repaired the defect, but he no longer entered the trap. It took many weeks before he once more began eating inside the trap. I again set it. This time it worked. Up close, we saw Bandido was small, but had massive claws compared to our cats. His deformed left, rear paw indicated he wouldn’t make it on his own without help. He didn’t like being caged and was understandably panicked. He had that cute, honest face. Weakening Phase Two. I took Bandido to the vet and marked the cage “Wild Cat”. In spite of my cautionary admonitions, he escaped from the vet’s staff and required recapture with a fishing net. The vet’s office was a shambles. Bandido was neutered and innoculated. The vet indicated his deformed leg was a birth defect. I brought Bandido back home and released him. He was on his own, but only briefly. He returned at suppertime. I placed food for him without the cage. He bolted, but returned when I retreated inside. Slowly barriers disintegrated. He no longer ran away when food was presented. He knocked the food out of hands that fed him. We wore leather gloves and invited attack. Nightly before retiring, I placed an extra snack outside on the sidewalk for him. Eventually, he expected me. He discovered our cat door and sneaked in to steal our cats’ leftovers. Gloves were used while feeding for one and a half years. Why did we continue? It was that beguiling, honest face.One evening when I brought the snack, he awaited me under our parked car, as had become his habit. He did the feline leg curl for the first time. It’s difficult for him and almost humorous because to do it requires hopping. He began kneading right on the sidewalk. He had finally accepted me. I reached down and picked him up. Surprised, Bandido spread all his claws and extended his legs, but he didn’t struggle. Similar routines evolved on subsequent evenings. Eventually, I carried him inside. He quickly became skittish. I let him back out. As days passed, he remained ever longer. That was seven years ago. We now have three cats. Bandido seldom goes outside. Bandido has multiple health problems. Besides his crippled leg, he has FIV (feline AIDS), asthma, poor vision, and a convulsive all body shudder, probably brought about by near starvation as a youngster. Nevertheless, he’s exceptionally good-natured and extremely affectionate. He never claws or hisses at my “rough-housing” hand. He loves to be petted. He allows petting for hours, if you don’t get bored. Our other cats permit stroking them….for about 10 seconds. Fussi and Missy accepted Bandido. Perhaps they acknowledged his fragile health. They immediately sensed he was “special”. Bandido is our only lap cat. He is contented and appears very grateful to us for rescuing him. He is my buddy.Why did we expend such efforts for a feral with a cute and honest face? Let’s face it. He chose us. He played us like a fiddle. He combined his acute situation with our honestly facing up to the challenge he presented to us.
(See companion article entitled "Cool Cat").
Copyright © 2005 by Frank Koerner