He was a stray alley cat, not more than two. I caught him making friends with my house cat… sort of. My cat wasn’t nearly as interested in friendship as the stray, and the stray was probably more interested in food than companionship. I decided to befriend the cat.

Making friends with a stray cat isn’t easy, even with tuna or liver to tempt him. It takes patience to befriend a stray.

The stray wasn’t approachable, but he would sit and watch as I interacted with my cat, and slowly, seeing that I didn’t hurt my own cat, he began to come closer. If I’d tried to catch him or pushed for contact too quickly, he’d never have trusted me. He was where he needed to be at that time, 5-10′ away, distant but interested. We have to accept strays as they are, not as we want them to be.

He came in. I left the door open for him. He had to know I wasn’t there to diminish his freedom, but that he was welcome.

His decision to let me touch him came as a happy surprise. Within months he’d become a normal house cat, with some outdoor tendencies. I always let him come and go. He was still cared for, even if he went out sometimes. He was loved.

One day, he jumped on the counter. I picked him up gently, and he began twisting in panic. He thought he was going to be thrown. Then I understood his deep distrust, and it broke my heart. His fear didn’t make me love him less, but more. He’d overcome so much. I respected his fear and never picked him up off the counter again. We communicated “no” in other ways that worked just as well.

Tommy died about a year later. We had moved, and he never got completely used to his new surroundings. He was terrified of the changes, and I didn’t listen to his fears, thinking he would adjust. The night before he died, he sat on the front step with me, leaping and catching bugs between raised paws in a beautiful, joyful dance. The next morning he was gone. But even in death he taught me… it doesn’t matter how long or short a time someone is in our lives, they are there for a purpose. It’s not our place to require them to stay with us. It’s our job to love them, not keep them or hold them too tightly. A life well loved is a life well lived, no matter how long or short. It’s my purpose to love others well.

I’m not a stray, but I have the same tendencies as Tommy did:
It takes time for me to trust you.
Unconditional love and acceptance will create trust.
I’ll actually stay longer if you leave the door open for me. Don’t pressure me to conform or to stay. Don’t make me feel obligated.
I have fears that should be recognized and respected. Don’t love me less for them, love me more.
If I need to leave, let me go. This is part of loving well.

Tommy is gone. I’ve been the care taker for probably 30 cats since. Some have gone, four have stayed. One of those four is missing part of his tail, has scars down his back from a reckless interaction with probably a raccoon, and has a permanent limp. And he’s one of the most loving, trusting cats I’ve known. So one more:

Don’t judge me by my scars. I’m beautiful in spite of them.