18 Years Ago, I Stole A Cat

Tim, his borzoi, Ash, and Gabe, just before  Christmas.

18 years ago, I stole a cat. Yeah, that’s right. I stole someone else’s cat. But bear with me.

I was living in a shit neighborhood with a couple of roommates and we had an idiot neighbor who mistreated his cats. I don’t know that he beat them or anything like that, but they were clearly underfed and left outside for long stretches of time regardless of weather. One cold winter evening, we discovered one of his felines huddled up against our house covered in snow. We brought the poor thing into our home and sheltered him in the garage overnight. We gave him water and leftovers which he scarfed up greedily. We would have taken him in, but one of my two roomies was terribly allergic. A fact that nearly broke his heart the next morning when he opened the garage door and returned the cat to the elements (the bad weather had broken considerably). It wasn’t the first time.

I have always been against the notion of outdoor cats. How could you be a caregiver for a defenseless animal and just let it roam loose? While our neighborhood was not a busy area, it was not far from the highway and also had its share of assholes who I wouldn’t put past being cruel for ‘fun.’ It bothered me even more when that little black and white cat disappeared and our garage went from being a safe haven back to merely a garage again.

Then our village idiot took in another cat. This one was a handsome orange tabby. Despite being poorly cared for, the little guy had moxie. He carried himself with a certain strut and confidence that belied his living conditions. He would learn the dimensions of our garage too. Oh, he was a handsome devil, and after our experience with the “owner’s” previous cat, all three of us were desperate to find a new home for this little scrapper. But what to do? My kind friend’s allergies weren’t going away, and I’m sure many of you know people who either don’t like cats or already have too many. It’s fair to say it was making us a bit nuts. We were three animal lovers and felt sick about the situation. It was a tough spot for us to say the least, but not as tough as it was for the idiot’s kitten.

About 6-8 months before that, I made a new friend. I was running a record store while putting myself through college. We were looking to add staff, when a long-haired DJ walked in and immediately ingratiated me with his music knowledge and goofy laugh. I liked Tim right away. We had much in common. Our musical taste, love of sports and art, and a shared affection for animals. Tim’s longtime companion, Tina, worked for a local veterinarian. Like most people who treat animals, they had too many of them. Well, too many by normal people standards. However, all of their furry companions were well-loved and cared for. As Tim and I became better friends, he called me one night clearly in a state of grief. His beloved cat of 23 years had finally passed. We chatted for a bit and I said all the things you are supposed to say that are of limited value in a moment like that. After a few sad minutes, Tim then informed me that he was going outside to start a small bonfire and soak his sorrows with a bottle of wine. Did I mention that I really liked Tim?

I knew Tim wasn’t ready for another cat, but I knew of a cat that was ready for him. With Machiavellian stealth, I began to perform an end around. I called Tina up and laid on a very true sob story about a cat in need. Tina wasn’t sure if Tim was ready for a cat, but she gave her blessing after a little persistence. I really liked Tina too.

Enter phase two of the plan. My roommate Steve and I began scouring the neighborhood for our occasional visitor. It didn’t take long to find him. He came to us right away. Skinny and dirty, but proud as ever he walked right over to us. We scooped him up, gave him some food and then loaded him up in my car to “surprise” Tim during his shift at the store. No, I didn’t call beforehand.

It was a fairly long drive for a cat that had probably never been in a moving vehicle before. At the end of the 30 minute ride, he was more than ready to get out of my half a beater and onto solid ground. So in we walked through the glass doors, past the magazine rack, and the soda machine to the front counter where my big, hopeful eyes found Tim and introduced him to his new cat, who promptly greeted him by pissing on the counter. Tim half smiled as we ran to get paper towels. Of course, before I went to get cleaning supplies I placed our frightened kitten in Timmy’s hands. I’m a wily Irishman. I knew once Tim held him it was all over. I saw a certain sadness in Tim’s eyes, but it was soon replaced with a sense of bemusement and then with resignation. Tim and Tina had a new cat.

They named him Gabriel. He fit right in immediately with his other 4 legged family members (even the three-legged dog that Tim and Tina had taken in too). Tim and I worked together for about 2 years. We have stayed friends ever since we first met. He was in my wedding and DJ’d my reception. Despite an increased travel distance and occasional lapses in communication, there have been (not enough) dinners and get togethers and phone calls. Whenever we were around each other for any length of time, the subject of Gabe would always come up. We would recount my stealthy guilt trip and Gabe’s penchant for biting Tim’s toes while he slept. Recently we had another such occasion to grab a bite to eat and catch up. Tim and Tina are now married, and my wife Jennifer and I spent a couple of hours reminiscing with them over a plate of food. Of course, Gabe was discussed. It was the first time my wife had heard the story from Tim and Tina’s perspective. I was still the little shit who forced a cat on them. Of course, there was no real animosity in their eyes when recalling my gift of Gabe. They continued to love him well.

Last night, my good friend called me to tell him that after 18 plus years, Gabe’s time had come. Tim referred to him as “wonderful companion” and confirmed that he had cracked a new bottle of wine in his honor. Sympathies and sorrows were exchanged and that was that. Gabe is gone. I liked that frisky little cat very much. He has spanned nearly the entirety of my friendship with Tim and Tina and the world seems like a lesser place without him in it. But as I scratch this out with tear stained fingers, I know that Gabe was well loved and returned that love in kind to my sweet friends.

18 years ago, I stole a cat. I regret it not in the least.

For Tim, Tina, and Gabe.


Author: David Phillips

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