The Cat of Many Names
Patricia, a Good Samaritan seeking help with a cat in her community, reached out to Our Companions regarding our TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) Program. After being able to trap the cat and seek assistance, Patricia reached back out to OC to share her story and the truly remarkable encounters she’s had over the course of seven years…
“About 7 summers ago, a stray cat with lovely mottled grey/brown/beige fur, a diluted calico, began to appear in our yard. We have a deck with space beneath it, and she could be seen furtively to-ing and fro-ing from under there occasionally. She seemed to be highly suspicious of us but was willing to venture out from under the deck if we put a bowl of pate on the nearby walkway. After a number of weeks of putting food out when we knew she was around, she began to appear purposefully at mealtime. She would skedaddle under the deck but peer out in anticipation. Sometimes she would creep out to see if we were actually going to bring the food bowl, lunging back under the deck as we came down the steps from the back door. We fell for her unusually mottled coat and named her Pumpernickel.
We began to (almost obsessively) look out the back door for her and were so pleased when she appeared. Our indoor cat, Soleil, could not understand what in heaven’s name was getting all this attention! My husband took Pumpernickel’s photo and posted it in a Facebook group for our town, questioning if anyone knew her. Someone responded that they thought she might be a cat who lived a few blocks away. With some detective work via chats with neighborhood folks, John found a family who had tried to bring in and adopt a pregnant stray. They named her Dusty and tried to acclimate her to family life, but she wanted no part of it, eventually tearing through their screen porch and escaping. Though they had created a heated cubby outdoors under their home in case she returned, they never saw her enter it or come around…even though some of her babies had been adopted by neighbors. We thought that Pumpernickel might be Dusty but couldn’t know for certain.
Our feral fur baby remained aloof and skittish despite coming to visit for food fairly regularly for a couple of years. She generally did not appear at all in winter but would show up in spring and be seen through autumn. One spring she didn’t appear. After another couple of years went by without a sighting, we figured she had perished.
Fast forward several years to 2017, when another cat started appearing in our backyard. She looked much like Pumpernickel but to our eyes, not an exact match. We thought that perhaps this cat was one of Pumpernickel’s offspring, so in keeping with the theme, we named this one Rye Bread or RB. Also leery of human interaction, RB slowly warmed up to us to the extent of coming up several steps to look at the kitchen backdoor when she wanted food. When we spied her and made eye contact, she would bolt down the steps, crouch under the deck and wait. Hearing the food dish put down and the door close was her cue to sprint eagerly back up to eat. A couple of times we fooled her by closing the door but not going inside. Boy, was she miffed by our unwanted presence! Little by little we trained her to come up on the back stoop to eat, but she would absolutely not tolerate our being outside with her. She would, however, look at us through the glass of the storm door and got used to our cooing at her with this barrier. Soleil and RB also made eye contact through the door on a number of occasions and surprisingly did not upset each other. This past year RB actually started to come right up to the back door, looking patiently up at the window until she saw that we saw her. We could open the main door to show her the dish, without her moving. When we opened the storm door, she retreated but was willing to stay on the stoop.
RB was coming to us almost every day now and often twice a day. John, who bikes around town daily, chatted with some folks down the street who thought she might be the same cat who had a “home” in a shed around the corner. As winter started, I noticed that RB appeared to have gained quite a bit of weight. Although we didn’t know for sure if RB was male or female, I worried that she might be pregnant. Not wanting her to have to cope with having babies as it got colder, we decided it was time to trap RB for neutering/spaying. Contacting Our Companions was so informative! They talked us through how to humanely trap RB, lent us the trap, and provided guidance on where to bring her. We decided to use the feral cat services at Dakin Animal Shelter in Springfield, MA, about half an hour from where we live.
But first we had to actually nab RB, which proved to be an adventure. She was very wily and cautious. After thoroughly checking out the trap, which we had put on our back stoop, she was willing to access her familiar food dish, placed quite close to the trap door. Every day we moved the dish further inside the trap, finally putting it on the other side of the release plate. But RB was on to us and gracefully stepped over the mechanism, ate the food and left. Several days later we heard a ‘thunk’ and knew we had her! She must have inadvertently sprung the trap as she was backing out. As we had been told, she was quiet and scared as we covered the trap with a sheet and brought her indoors. I had wanted to put her in the garage overnight, but John couldn’t bear for her to be cold. Luckily the trap fit on the landing of our basement steps. I thought Soleil would spend the night scratching at the door to the basement but to my amazement, Soleil did not show any disturbance or curiosity at all.
The next day we got up early to have her at Dakin at 9:15 to line up for their feral clinic. We were certainly not the only ones in line! They took our contact info, saying they would call us after they had worked on her, which would be at the end of the day. I missed the call and listened to the shocking message. RB was indeed a girl but she was already spayed and Dakin could not clip her left ear (the universal sign of a “fixed” feral cat) because she was micro-chipped! They did vaccinate her and we could pick her up the next morning as planned.
Since they discovered her chip late in the day, Dakin staff had not yet called the chip company to get her information but they did so as we waited the next day. To everyone’s amazement, she had been reported missing in 2014! Dakin provided the micro-chip company our contact information, which would be passed on to her original owners. RB was brought out to us in the trap and home we went. We released her by opening the trap’s door as it faced the deck. She catapulted under and then out of the deck and was gone in a flash. John and I were so concerned that RB would associate us with her miserable time being captured and never return, but as the Our Companions staff had assured us, she arrived on our stoop again the following day, giving us her “I’m here and hungry” look.
That afternoon a cheerful voice called and started off by mentioning that we had spoken in the past. I was a bit bewildered until she explained that she was Dusty’s mom! RB and Dusty and Pumpernickel were one and the same cat! Her first owners were delighted to know she was still alive after all these years. Having never seen her again, they had no idea that she had remained in the neighborhood, just a few blocks away. In fact, they were so pleased she was being cared for that they offered to help pay for some of her food. Given her history, John started referring to RB as the Hobo Princess.
Winter had begun in earnest and we no longer were seeing our Hobo Princess. John’s concern led him to walk around the block to scope out the shed where she had been seen. He knocked on the door of the home where the shed was located, meeting yet another of RB’s protectors, who referred to her as Grey Girl. Yes, Grey Girl and a gorgeous black male cat, Joe, lived together in the shed and were given kibble on a regular basis. Neither wanted to live indoors with the other cats that were part of the household. Relieved that our RB’s lifestyle includes a shelter for the winter, we are still disappointed that we aren’t seeing her dear little face right now. However, John created an email group of local folks who are invested in her wellbeing and report sightings. She seems to be faring well and we look forward to seeing Dusty/Pumpernickel/Rye Bread/Grey Girl–our Hobo Princess–come spring!”