by Michael McGinnis
My neighbour has a cat named Sylvester. He is a black cat accented with four white paws, and a white nose and tummy. In the summer, he is a great hunter and outdoors cat — but he is a people cat too. I saw him hunting the birds visiting my feeder a few times. Rather than blaming the cat, I raised the feeder so the birds were safer. Hunting birds is part of the business of being a cat — one of the experiences that Soul in the body of a cat often chooses to have. He sees me in the yard sometimes and comes over for a social call. He always had full freedom to come and go, so he trusted me.
A few weeks ago my neighbour asked if I could keep Sylvester with me for a week or so, as they had a visitor who was allergic to cats. Sylvester is an affectionate, easy going cat, so I was happy to have him as a guest. He was delivered to my house, together with his food, dish, scratch toy and covered litter tray. He'd been to my house before, as a free spirit and independent cat of the world, but he soon discovered that now he couldn't leave just by asking politely at the door. I talked to him and explained what was happening and that he would only be with me a short time before going home to his "mom". I thought in pictures so he could get the message more easily.
Sylvester still wasn't happy, and by bedtime on the first night I decided to let him sleep on the main floor, as he was very restless and wouldn't settle down. He also considered that he'd been kidnapped and complained bitterly to his captor about the injustice done to him. When I closed the door to my bedroom to escape his yowling and get a night's sleep, he came upstairs to my closed door, scratched trying to get in, and continued to complain about a man who was not only a kidnapper (or maybe a catnapper), but a coward as well — afraid to come out and face the issue like a cat.
On the morning of the second day, as I left to go to work, Sylvester made a frantic leap for the door and managed to escape to a very short lived freedom. Of course, he ran back to his home and was soon picked up by his mom and returned to my place. Sylvester protested vigorously, but it didn't help him. I learned to watch Sylvester more carefully and designed a routine that let me leave the house without giving the cat the chance to get loose at the same time.
I wanted Sylvester to recognise that I was doing everything that I could for him, and giving him as much freedom as possible. So I decided that all the doors inside the house would be open to him until he showed me that this caused problems. He might race around my bedroom at night or yowl and wake me up, but that was a chance I had to take. Over the next couple of days, Sylvester protested less about his confinement, but he still sat on the window sill behind the venetian blinds and stared longingly out of the living room window across the short space to his real home. He was tolerating me more, and I noticed that he was sleeping on the couch when I was in the kitchen, though when I wanted to sit on the couch, he took off.
When Sylvester knew he could go anywhere but outside, he did not abuse his freedom. He was able to come into my bedroom but didn't disturb me. On the next day, I was very pleased when Sylvester jumped up on the couch when I was lying on it, lay down alongside me and went to sleep. And when the time came for me to go to bed, I told him he was welcome to sleep on the bed if he wanted to. He followed me upstairs, jumped on the bed and made himself at home. For the last two nights he slept on my bed and never moved a muscle all night as far as I could tell.
As Sylvester the cat stayed with me, my decision to completely open my house to him showed him that I had also opened my heart. He learned to accept that love and wanted to give it back to me as well. By the end of our time together, he came over and give my hair a few licks to let me know I was part of the family. The last day I was in a hurry to get to work and didn't notice that Sylvester was near the door. However my neighbour has a good view of my house and told me later what she saw. She could see the cat's head clearly as I opened the door and left the house. He didn't make any move to leave, but was at the door to say "good-bye and see you at lunch". Both of our hearts had opened to love and we trusted each other. Sylvester had found another house he could call home.