As I was standing on the porch talking to my mailman one recent afternoon, he pointed out that a cat was perched on the top corner of our privacy fence. I glanced behind me and sure enough, there was a solid gray adult cat staring back at us, as if to say “yes, I’m here and I’m hungry.” The moment the mail carrier turned to head back to his truck and be on his way, I trotted over to the fence to greet the stray feline. He quickly hopped down into the wispy grass of the yard next to ours and laid down, as if he had been there all along. Making myself small, I crouched down to my knees and spoke softly to him, hoping to coax him towards me.
I knelt just about a foot away from where he lay and I could tell that his hair- what he had left of it- was incredibly thin. He had countless scars from his tail to his head, his ears were nicked in multiple places from previous injuries. Chunks of hair were missing throughout his gaunt body. He had tall legs and a long body- he should have been a large cat- but instead he was merely a skeleton. His eyes sunk deep into his face and I could see the green mucus that had formed in the corner of his eyes. He needed medical attention. He needed nutrition. He needed water. I inched forward hoping I had gained his trust, but to no avail. He stood up and sprinted in the opposite direction into a fenced yard with two lively dogs. I ran the opposite way hoping he would come back towards me, away from the dogs. Quickly going inside to retrieve some canned/wet cat food- I placed it in the stray bowl on the side of our home, hoping he would come back to find a good meal.
I didn’t know if I would ever see him again, but low and behold, later that evening as I walked through the kitchen and happened to glance out the glass door that leads to our backyard, there he was- walking on top of the perimeter of the fence. He walked carefully, slowly- looking into our yard, hoping to find a meal; hoping, I thought, to find a few moments of peace and safety from his difficult life.
I watched, holding my breath, as the thin gray cat hopped into our backyard and headed up to the deck. A few moments later I walked out slowly, carefully – so that I did not spook him. With two bowls of food in hand, I crouched down and slowly approached him. He let me sit next to him as he devoured the food and drank a full bowl of water. I wanted to grab him, to bring him indoors and take care of him- but I knew I still had to earn his trust. I didn’t want him to flip out in fear when I carried him to safety indoors. I wanted him to know he was safe, I was here to help in whatever way he needed. He was clearly in need.
The next day I came home to find several food bowls placed throughout our yard. I wondered if someone else was trying to catch him. I looked around and as if he were waiting for me to arrive, there he was, laying softly in the grass on the side of our house- basking in the sunlight. I walked softly towards him, hoping he would recognize me and remember that I was safe. He did. Within moments I held him in my arms and took him indoors to safety. The neighbors watched me hold him and came out to ask if he would be okay. They were worried about him too- they, I learned, had placed the bowls around the yard, hoping to provide him with a meal. Hoping he would survive. I let them know that I was making a veterinary appointment and for tonight he would stay in a spare room in our house—we immediately treated him for ear mites, fleas, worms and parasites- all of which he undoubtedly had. I gave him a large bowl of water, a large bowl of dry food and a plate of canned/wet food—a buffet to welcome him to safety. He was slow moving and I suspected that he was elderly, but upon closer inspection, we found he was a young adult cat- estimated to be 4-5 years old. It was clear that he had been out on his own for years, trying to survive the best he knew how. How he found us in his final days, I have no idea- but I am glad he did.
We named him Charlie– it just seemed to fit. You could not just feel every bone in his body- you could see the outlines of each and every bone. He was terribly dehydrated and emaciated. He was weak from years of running, years of being yelled at to get off someone’s property, years of being kicked, years of hiding- trying to simply live. Although in my heart of hearts, I hoped that Charlie would survive- and having been in animal rescue/rehabilitation for more than a decade of my life- I knew miracles could and sometimes did happen- my heart told me that Charlie had found us too late. I hoped, and we did everything we could for him, but hope was not enough. Within 24 hours, Charlie passed away in his private room that we had quickly welcomed him into, he had plush blankets and pillows. He had safety- possibly for the first time in years (maybe, ever). And Charlie, maybe for the first time, had love.
After Charlie ate and drank upon his arrival, he plopped down, as if onto a cloud, on a fluffy blanket we had placed out for him. He placed his head near the cool air of the Air Conditioning vent- feeling the breeze hit his face as he no longer had to worry about the harsh impact of the burning rays of sunlight he could never before seem to escape. I petted Charlie from head to toe, I rubbed behind his ears, and I sat with him- knowing that he was transitioning, and wanting him to know that he could do so here, in peace- and with love.
Charlie passed away of kidney failure- which can happen when a feline has gone too long with starvation and dehydration. I wished more than anything that he could have survived, that he could have stayed with us more than 24 hours- that he could have known what it was like to live the pampered indoor life, to be surrounded by love and laughter, to always have food, water and shelter and never again worry about if there would be safety. But it seemed Charlie had found us to transition into the afterlife in peace and surrounded by love.
We always keep an eye on stray cats in the area- as we want to make sure they are all spayed/neutered and that they always have access to food, water and shelter. Charlie was new, no one in the neighborhood had ever seen him before. We don’t know Charlie’s background or where he came from, we don’t know how or why he found us- but it was clear that he had sought out our home. He had, it seemed, specifically sought out me. I don’t know how he knew I was the person to find, but somehow he did and I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that he found me and was able to pass in peace and surrounded by love. I’m thankful that he had good food and fresh water before he left this Earth. I’m thankful that he knew what it was like to be held and petted, to be safe. Of course I wish he could have stayed with us much longer- I wish we could have saved him, but then I remind myself that maybe we did save him after all. Maybe we did save him from dying alone, from dying on the street and leaving the world wondering if love was merely a myth. Maybe we helped him in the best way we possibly could- we gave him what he came to find us for. A peaceful, safe place to rest in peace.
I didn’t know Charlie very long- but he has left a lasting impression on my heart. I’ve rescued and rehabilitated animals in need since the time I could walk and I feel that every life is truly precious- but there are certainly ones that leave a deeper imprint on your heart- and Charlie was one of those souls. Charlie taught me that finding peace, love and safety at any point in your life is important- and that we all need those elements to be present in every point in our journey. It’s never too late to love, it’s never too late to be embraced with kindness…And as Charlie showed me, it’s never too late to find what you’re looking for- even if what you’re looking for happens to be a safe haven to rest in peace.