"Quick, I need your help."
My then-boyfriend had just come home and was starting up the stairs. And before I even saw it, I knew.
"Oh my god, you found an animal."
He had almost hit the cat with his car. When he stopped to see if it was alright, the little vagrant practically climbed right in. This was no feral cat.
Thin and lean, the white cat with ginger spots looked at us eagerly, without an inch of fear. This cat liked people. And with squinting, dark-rimmed eyes and a sweet, feminine voice, asked, "Meow?"
Melt. And I turned into a spineless puddle.
"Aren't you pretty," I mused in my specifically-for-talking-to-animals-and-babies voice. I began my investigation, and the cat purred in my arms as I noted an obvious case of ear mites. Fleas darted through the soft white fur and a few had embedded themselves around the eyes and in the nose. One tick. Dirty pink feet.
"Excuse me, Sir. I took you for a lady."
I fed him. He ate like someone who'd been in prison, frantic like it might be taken away. He hadn't eaten in weeks. He was obviously a poor hunter. This was not a stray.
After he'd emptied two full bowls it was time for a bath to alleviate some of his flea problem. As the water hit him and he made futile efforts to escape the bathtub, he let loose with guttural noises that made it clear that we were not friends anymore. But soon he was dry and purring and in about a minute we were totally friends again.
The next day I took him to the groomer for a much-needed flea-dip and then to the veterinarian to scan for a microchip.
"He's registered to the SPCA," said the vet-tech, sounding a little surprised. Neither of us actually expected to find anything.
At home, I called the SPCA and read off his chip number.
"We adopted him out six months ago to a family in Dover," said the woman.
Dover is about 20 minutes away, across a dangerous concrete jungle of crisscrossing streets and highways. There was no way that this cat, so obviously unprepared for life out-of-doors, made it to us from Dover. He had been dumped.
"So you'll need to bring the cat here and we'll contact the owners," she went on.
"Wait, what? He's fine right here, I don't mind watching him for a few days. Just call them and they can pick him up here."
"Ma'am," her tone became immediately irritated, "the cat is our legal property. You need to bring it here and we will deal with it."
"But you're just going to shove him in a cage while you make phone calls! I can —"
She cut me off, even more irritated. "Ma'am, those "cages" as you call them —"
I cut her off. "I've been there and they're cages. It's not like you're a free-range cat farm. Are you telling me you have free-range cats?"
Not one of my more brilliant arguments.
But I had fallen for this little guy and I was pulling out all the stops to advocate on his behalf. The woman stopped just short of threatening legal action against me. She had no idea who or where I was, so she needed me to cooperate, and I reluctantly agreed.
I didn't take him to the SPCA immediately. "I have some things to do today," I stalled. "I'll try to get him there tomorrow." I wanted one more day to fatten him up and snuggle him, in case he was about to be returned to a less-than-optimal situation.
The next day, I plodded into the SPCA and delivered my softly purring cargo. MY HEART. It was breaking. I returned home and determined to file the entire experience away in the part of my brain dedicated to Fond Memories of Stuff That's Over.
A week passed. Then a phone call. It was the SPCA woman. She sounded like she still kind of hated me. "We've been unable to contact the owners. Do you still want him? I'll waive the adoption fees."
"Be right there," I said.
And I gave him a ridiculous name and we lived happily ever after.