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Quasi: A stray's tale


February 23, 2016

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    When the stray cat showed up in our yard, yowling beneath the bedroom windows in the dark of night, we weren’t sure what to think of him. His head was too big for his emaciated body, and his tail was scrawny as a city squirrel’s. One ear was intact, but the other was heavily notched by injury. Fat pink scars stretched across his throat, above the arm. He didn’t clean himself well, and we cringed at his bony, ruffled rump. We thought he was so ugly that we named him Quasimodo. 
    Quasimodo didn’t want us to adopt him. He’d never been in our yard before that night, and didn’t come again without being tempted with lunchmeat and wet food. Every time we saw him somewhere in the neighborhood — hiding beneath one person’s car, or another person’s shed — we trilled our tongues in imitation of a meow, and before long, he began to think that sound was his name. 
    More than a year later, Quasi is finally a regular at our house, coming each morning for breakfast. We call his sound-name into the evening to offer him supper, and coo it to him as he trots across the street or lawn to meet us. And although both of us have come away with bleeding forearms on occasion for having startled him, we have persisted; in fits and starts, we have earned his trust. 
    First, we petted the crown of the head, between his mismatched ears. Later, we dared a slow stroke down the back of his neck. Not long ago, my hand cupped itself to receive his torso for the first time, petting him along the length of his spine and noticing, happily, that the bones there have receded beneath healthy flesh. 
    A few weeks ago, Quasimodo went missing for a number of days. We feared the worst, and checked the glass door over and over again, day after day, hoping he would show up and assuage our fears. After nearly a week, he did, but because we are so ginger in petting him, it took us another couple of weeks to recognize the wound he was suffering from: Something — a possum? a dog? — had bitten his face, and taken his cheek away with it. The sore was massive and deep, oozing pus, unnaturally green and gray in color. He smelled like rot and bled on the sheets we left outside for him to sleep on. The gouge was pretty clearly infected, and based on its size and depth, we were afraid he might die without treatment. 
    And so we went from feeding a stray to medicating him, crossing the boundary into healthcare, thus stewardship, for Quasimodo. He just finished a two-week round of antibiotics, getting one pill, encased in cheese, each morning and night, assuming he comes by twice daily. He still leaves blood on the sheets, which we launder with regularity, but the wound has changed in color to the typical red and brown of healthy scabbing, and has begun to resemble living, healing flesh.
    We’re those people whose menagerie toes the line between eccentric and overkill. When someone we know encounters an animal in need, we are the first people they ask to adopt or foster it. If it were up to my partner, we’d have rescue animals to the rafters. She once adopted a couple dozen rats, fated to be euthanized after laboratory testing, and despite not being a Cat Person, she adopted the three cats we do have when she realized they were having their whiskers burned off at raging parties. 
    Truthfully, I’m not much harder-hearted: A handful of years ago, I drove across the country with a deformed chicken named Felina in a cat carrier, sneaking into hotel rooms while clerks were looking the other way, in order to keep her from being killed.
    There is little in life as gratifying as befriending a surly beast, be it cat, human, chicken, stoat or goat, and sometimes we wonder aloud whether we shouldn’t just let Quasimodo indoors already, which would raise our feline count to four. But our cats hardly like each other, and would certainly behave very badly were we to introduce another.
    One neighbor recently mentioned the line of animals outside our front door in the morning, waiting for food. The other animals are stories for another time, but one of them is, of course, Quasimodo. We’ve shortened his name to Quasi, as we’ve learned to find him beautiful, and we like to think of him now as sort-of-ours, a pseudo-stray. 
    Last week, when he was showing signs of feeling better, I tried to encircle his tail in my hand for the first time. He whipped around like a snake. He could have bitten, but he didn’t, choosing instead to warn me: You don’t own me; we’re not there. Yet.

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