So, in the end, Your Honor, we mistakenly stole someone’s pet and drove it four states away from its home.
Does that sound like a plausible defense?
The beginning was certainly innocent, but the end is less clear-cut. As to the middle? Allow me to explain:
In what was to be a week of kid-free relaxation, my husband and I set off for Skidaway Island State Park to meet my brother and his wife. We had reserved a pet-friendly cabin so that we could bring along our two dogs. Since our camping companions arrived onsite hours before we did, they had time to scope out our accommodation. We were still cruising down 95 South when the pictures started arriving – first of the campground, then of my brother’s home-for-the-week, and finally a video of our cabin with the cat it included.
Wait now, what?
Yes, the next text read, your cabin comes with its own cat.
No big deal, Camp Cats are not a new concept. Many campgrounds play unintentional host to a variety of stray cats. In fact, I suspect there may be an underground feline messaging network on which updates are sent: Make your home at Campground ABC, the food is meow-valous. Many campers (the people, not the homes-on-wheels) offer these small herds (of cats, not people) a morsel here or a snack there. Of course, that’s never recommended or approved by the campground staff, but it’s never stopped anyone. And so, upon pulling up to our cabin, we were greeted by my brother, his wife, and a very friendly, very happy-to-see-the-new-tenant Camp Cat.
As we unloaded our car, the cat pranced around our legs and purred each time one of us stopped to pet it. In minutes, we had given it the moniker “Savannah”, though we had no idea of its gender – or its backstory.
Free tip: do not name anything you might not want to keep later.
Full disclosure: My husband is a cat person.
I am not a cat person. I am a dog person. Cats are OK, I just don’t find them very useful. They offer little in the range of hilarity, snuggle-ability, companionship, or emotional support. We provide them with food, we clean their toilet bowl (every dang day), and give them multiple soft spots to sleep on. And yet they will swipe an open claw at those very same providers for no reason other than…just kidding, they have no reason.
In our home, I have somehow been suckered into being the prime provider for our three cats. (Note that we already had three cats back home at the time of this adventure.) Each morning, I line up three bowls to fill with whatever the current preferred “wet meat” is (Oh, so we’re not doing faux salmon chunks this week? Perfect, I’ll make a note of that. Thank you for depositing it on the carpet so violently.) I purchase the scratching posts, the catnip toys, and the flea/tick medicines. I do all of these things – I, the non-cat person – and, in return, our three cats ignore my one and only request, which is to leave me alone. Instead, they track me through the house, often locking me down to whichever piece of furniture I land on by settling between my legs, on my pillow, or atop my shoulders.
With each day hour minute, I could see this Camp Cat working its way into my husband’s heart. This was not good. With each day hour minute, my husband became more convinced that this was more than just a stray Camp Cat, this was a cat with excellent manners. It was clearly a domestic pet, probably abandoned in a place where its previous owners could count on it getting fed. And so, by day two, we were feeding the cat on the screened-in porch from its newly purchased bowl and its very own bag of cat food. By day two and a quarter, my husband brought both the bowl and the cat inside.
This was not good.
With inside cats, one must provide facilities. So the next purchase was a roasting pan and a box of litter. In fairness, when my husband introduced Savannah to the box, she pounced. It was as if she (yes, by then we had decided Savannah was a she) had been missing a proper toilet and had saved ten giant doodies to drop into the next one that appeared.
I realised what was happening. And so, at my suggestion, Rich asked a few Park Rangers about the Skidaway Stray Cats. We learned that, yes, there were a few. We discovered that, yes, people fed them, although they were discouraged from doing so. We found that a Park Ranger does not need much prompting to grant permission for a guest to adopt one of the strays as their own. In fact I believe his actual words were, ‘Feel free to take any cat you want with you – or even a couple.’
This too was not good.
By day four, we had a cat-carrier and a bottle of Feliway, the carrier to “test out” on Savannah, the Feliway to calm her as required. Again, Savannah seemed thrilled to see the carrier, hopping in for a nap without hesitation.
And so, our eleven-hour drive back to Virginia in an overpacked car included our two dogs and a cat we knew nothing about. What could go wrong? Nothing, as it turned out. Savannah was a dream pussenger. My only request was that Rich take responsibility for getting her in to see our veterinarian quickly. It was obvious we were not dealing with a stray, but still.
We have yet to surprise our veterinarian. Strolling in with a cat picked up at a campground in Georgia was right in our playbook. And surely the vet would be thrilled that we had opted to give this little orphan a better home? Accolades, prizes…how would they celebrate a family so willing to take an abandoned cat across four state lines with nary a thought?
The first thing our vet tech did was run a scanner across Savannah’s back to see if she had a locater chip. She did. No real surprise there as we were so sure she’d been dumped. The second thing our vet tech did was ring up the pet chip company to determine if Savannah’s owner had reported her missing. Once we had the previous owner’s name, we agreed to make the phone call ourselves, all parties assuming that this would be a non-answer or a denial or something along the lines of, ‘Cat? What cat?’.
While driving home, I hopped onto social media just to see if Savannah’s owner seemed like a nice person, and… oh shite…there she was, splayed out in multiple pictures (the cat, not the owner) and her name was actually Tiki (the cat, not the owner). Turns out Tiki was a Florida resident whose owner had recently been in Georgia, just outside of Savannah. Where her cat had slipped out the door.
The end of this story is still in progress. Tiki-Savannah still lives here with us. Her owner is rather sporadic with communication and certainly not at the level of ‘I’m coming to get my long-lost cat!’. It’s been nearly ten weeks now since we cat-napped her and, the longer Tiki-Savannah stays, the more we love her. She is sweet as can be, loves to be carried around, and may even stop screeching at our own cats someday.
We, of course, want to do the right thing. Last we heard, her owner would like us to keep Tiki-Savannah “for a while” until she can fetch her. We offered to ship her (okay, we felt terrible about it), but the line went blank when we asked for vet records.
Yes, we want to do the right thing, it’s just that the longer Tiki-Savannah stays, the more convinced we become that she belongs right here.
So, in the end, Your Honor, we dyed her fur and changed her name and kept her far away from the windows.
Jyl Barlow is an American writer whose humor is often lost on, well, Americans, but most of all her mother-in-law. Jyl is married with two (step)children and recently began a journey as a beekeeper as that seemed easier than raising teenagers. Jyl’s first book will be out in 2023. Follow her stories on whichwaysup.blog or community.today.com/user/jyl-barlow.