Fred came into our lives at lunchtime on the last day of February.
We were having one of our many recent picnics in the front yard, enjoying the benefits of living in Alabama (early, lovely Spring), when he ran purposefully up the street, into our yard, caught Ali’s attention, then immediately rolled over to invite her to pet him.
It was love at first sight.
For both of them.
After Ali’s 72-hour ownership of Sam the Cat almost a year ago, she’s been melancholy about her extreme need for another cat.
And Fred seemed willing to comply.
Fred was an immediate puzzle for me to figure out. He seemed well-fed, tame, groomed, flea and infection-free, yet hungry.
He had no collar, but he was clearly used to children.
He seemed pretty happy to be an outdoor cat, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to attempt entry when the opportunity arose.
He was also quite hypo-allergenic, a fact I much appreciated.
But the MYSTERY.
Where did he come from?
How did he know my daughter needed him?
And, most importantly, how long would he stick around?
I reluctantly checked Craig’s List for Lost Cat listings, as well as watching out for signs in the neighborhood, but Fred seems to be wholly unlisted.
After having several neighbors all corroborate my suspicions that he was male (and one going so far as to say he was a neutered male, thank goodness,) Ali gave him the name of Fred, because apparently she likes strong, one-syllable male names for the felines in her life.
Fred immediately set up shop. With Sheldon-Like Analysis, he tried out each of our porch chairs and swing to find the optimal resting spot, then quickly made it clear that this one was Fred’s Spot.
He would disappear sometimes, but normally could be found on our porch.
He happily endured the children, both mine and the neighbor’s, taking part in their games and being the utmost of a gentleman.
He became a regular attender of our picnics,
Didn’t mind at all that Ali pampered him with treats,
And posed willingly for her finger-laden photography.
He even followed Ali up her favorite climbing trees.
Noah, however, was not as convinced of Fred’s Goodness.
Because, he explained, “Gramamma has a cat and her cat is mean.”
Whether Noah had a fry, a car, or his favorite brick (yes brick), if he saw Fred within 1000 feet, he would yell out,
“No Fred! Don’t take my fry! Mooooommmmmy!!! Fred is trying to take my fry!!”
“No Fred! Don’t take my car! Mooooommmmmy!!! Fred is trying to take my car!!”
“No Fred! Don’t take my brick! Mooooommmmmy!!! Fred is trying to take my brick!!”
Because apparently my Mom’s cat also has a problem with stealing bricks?
But Fred didn’t care.
As Noah thawed, he would work up the courage to run up to Fred, pet him, then run away, squealing with adrenaline.
And Fred didn’t flinch.
Fred also has human qualities, picking up food with his paw and eating it like a man – or at least when I rudely fed him straight out of the can.
(He usually gets dry cat food. But they give you one free can with every bag in hopes that your cat becomes a foodie and demands it.)
Ali proved herself to be quite the responsible pet owner in the most meticulous of ways. She fed Fred. She fretted over Fred when he went off on adventure. And she rarely let him eat a meal alone.
Even though Fred managed to daily throw his food bowl off the porch and somewhere in the far reaches of the yard, Ali would dutifully find him another bowl or retrieve and wash his thrown bowls. One morning we woke up and found that four bowls had been retrieved and put in front of the door. We immediately assumed that Fred was especially hungry that day and wanted us to know it. Then later realized that Chris had cleaned up the yard the night before.
Fred seems to be friends with the neighbor’s cat, as well – she steals his food, but he follows her around. In fact, we watched her tromp across the street and down into the storm drain. Fred watched too, then took off to follow.
I don’t know what they were doing in that storm drain, but whatever it was I’m glad they took it to a private place.
He’s recently acquired the habit of napping in my lap on sunny afternoons, and I often stare at the top of his head and wonder what secrets he holds.
Who owned you?
What made you leave?
What kids loved you enough to make you so comfortable with my little people?
Where do you go when you disappear for 24 hours at a time?
Will you leave my daughter one day, too? Once a leaver, always a leaver. And I don’t want any heartbreakers hanging around.
And so, I pet him a little harder, begging him with my fingernails to stay forever. For her sake.
Although I cannot seem to come up with a reasonable explanation for Fred’s very purposeful adoption of Ali, she did.
“Mommy, I think I figured out why Fred came here. I think his old owners had a picture of me and Fred saw it and scratched at it and scratched at it every day. And then one day he just had to set off to look for me until he found me, because he knew I was supposed to be his owner.”
And really, who can argue with that?
Update: The Mystery of Fred was solved six months later – read his story here.