We had spotted the large but scrawny looking grey tabby scutting along the top of the stone row at the foot of the back yard several times. It was January 2009, a few weeks into coldest winter at the mountain retreat in many years. Wind chills were below zero, but the coal stove was chuffing away when Kimba roused us from our sleep with a late-night yowl. He was on the warm side of the downstairs slider, alerting us that the large but scrawny looking grey tabby was gazing in from the the Arctic side.
Deborah slid a saucer with food and a bowl of water out the door. The obviously malnourished tabby fled, but in the morning the saucer had been licked clean and what little remained of the water was frozen solid. For the next few days, this routine was repeated several times a day, and then Deborah placed food and water in a Havahart trap. The tabby took the bait and we took the tabby, whom we named Mister Taj for reasons now obscure, straight to our veterinarian where he was treated for a serious case of worms, defleaed and snipped after scaling the curtains on an examination room window and trying to skywalk across a transom. It turned out that he did not like going to the vet's.
Mister Taj was a poster boy -- and, as you can see, an exceedingly handsome one -- for cats who are pathologically frightened of people, which was symptomatic of his likely maltreatment and the unforgettable horror of being dumped from a car into the snow and abandoned near our rural home.
It took about a year before Mister Taj would venture outside and about five years before we could even touch him, and only then gently behind his magnificent ears. Perhaps eight years on, he trusted us enough to be petted and then stroked, to which he would respond with a fulsome purr he had kept locked away all those years.
But pick him up? No way. He would panic in a flash.
As Mister Taj's trauma slowly receded, a classy cat emerged. And a helluva hunter. After a few seasons on the prowl, the perennial problem of field mice coming into the house and gnawing on pet food, bird seed and such was eliminated.
Mister Taj had a gentle dignity but loved cavorting with the dogs as they did with him. Our dogs love all our cats, but Mister Taj was their favorite. He and Iggy (photo, above), whom we nicknamed Frankie and Johnny for their hijinks, loved to wrestle and Iggy had his back when he headed out to the woods beyond the stone row to hunt.
Mister Taj had become increasingly frail in recent months. The trauma of his winter sojourn may have shortened his time on the planet, but he was able to leave this mortal coil on his own terms, not on a cold steel examination table in the room where he skywalked lo those many years ago. As he faded away over the last few days before finally leaving his body as the sun set and a gentle rain commenced on Saturday evening, he laid next to the slider that had been his window to a new life, smelling the outdoor smells through the screen door and listening to the birds and night creatures. He was able to keep his dignity to the end.
At the ripe oldish age of 11 or 12 (we really don't know), Mister Taj had become another kind of poster boy for another kind of cat, as well -- the kind that with plenty of patience and lots of love you can wean from the wild side into your heart. And you into his.