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Baxter, Our Time-Share Cat

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By K.B. Owen

 

As I scoop out the litter box and clean the inch-thick ring of cat hair from the vacuum cleaner’s filter, I think back to how our family got to this point.

Because, you see, we don’t have a cat.

Well, we sort of don’t and sort of do.  The cat in question – named Baxter, a short-hair light orange tabby – is positive that he lives here.  He knows he owns the entire block, in fact.

 

Baxter is our next door neighbors’ cat.  He’s always been friendly.  In fact, I’d say he craves attention.  If you pet him, you are his forever.  He loves strolling in and out of people’s homes, and has charmed at least three of us (besides the owners) to keep food and treats for him when he comes to visit.

Fortunately for us, we are all a neighborly bunch, and Tom and Sue, the owners, are good-natured enough to be fine with us letting their cat visit our homes.  However, once Baxter started sleeping here and at my neighbor Debbie’s overnight on a regular basis (Tom and Sue got a new dog that likes to chase him), we had to set up a communication system, so they wouldn’t worry and go looking for him outside late at night or during thunderstorms.  Debbie and I now have signs for our doors: “Baxter is here.”   Great conversation-opener when friends come to visit.

The signs aren’t foolproof, of course – sometimes the kids will let him in without putting it out, or he’s in and out so much we can’t keep up.  That’s when the idea of a cat flap looks really attractive.  We often have to resort to using the telephone or text messaging: “Do you have him?”

It’s funny how often, when I describe our arrangement, I learn how not-so-unusual it is.  As cat-lovers know, cats are a unique tribe all their own, quirky and independent.  No one bats an eyelash when a cat roams loose in the neighborhood, whereas a dog who’s escaped his backyard will attract attention plenty fast.  I can imagine there are many cats out there who have “claimed” a neighborhood as their own.

Our family has grown quite attached to Baxter.  A few months ago, he became lethargic and we knew something wasn’t right.  A visit to the vet brought us the heartbreaking news that Baxter has feline AIDS.  But he’s rallied since then, and seems more his old self.  Still, we know it’s only a matter of time.  We’re all determined to enjoy however long that is.

 

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And we do enjoy him. He’s a pip.  My boys love to play with him, using a rubber pencil gripper tied to a string, and Baxter is a wily hunter.  The gripper never stands a chance (don’t worry; we don’t let him eat it).  We have an open staircase, and sometimes he’ll lay in wait on a step and try to swat at you through the stair.  He likes to drink from the bathtub faucet and will pester you until you turn on a thin stream of water for him (even though he has a bowl of perfectly fresh water downstairs).  When our youngest missed a week of school from the flu, Baxter curled up with him on the sofa every day and kept him company.  He knew.

 

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Baxter makes me feel special, too:  I’m one of the few people who can pick him up without him protesting, and when he comes in the house he walks straight over to me, ignoring everyone else (isn’t it funny how much that feels like a compliment?).   When he wants my attention, he leans back on his hind legs and gently taps me on the knee with his front paw.

I love how he purrs like a motorboat, how he kneads the blanket with his paws before settling down to sleep, how he snores when he’s deeply asleep (I never knew cats snored), how he walks onto our laps while we’re trying to do something, and sticks his face in our way to get us to pet him.  He’s been known to head-butt you if you ignore him for too long.

I’d never had a cat before, not even on a “time-share” basis.  My allergies as a kid were too severe to tolerate any furry pets.  I have fewer of those issues as an adult, thank goodness, but we take the precaution of keeping him out of the bedrooms.  But he’s happy to sleep on the sofa, with the pawprint blanket that Tom and Sue gave us as a Christmas gift.

But, really, the best gift they gave was allowing us to be part of Baxter’s life.

 

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 K.B. Owen is a historical mystery writer who lives in Northern Virginia.  Her first mystery, Dangerous and Unseemly, is available now in all formats.  Check out her web page, kbowenmysteries.com, chat with her on Twitter, @kbowenwriter, or connect on Facebook, kbowenwriter2.

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