It was October 2001, barely a month after the attack on the World Trade Center that changed the world, when I had the encounter that changed my world.
I came downstairs into the garage, on my way to work. My garage was fully enclosed, but there were several ways in which a small animal could get inside, not least of which was the pet-hole that the previous occupants had carved into the rear door. (There was also an interior door into the rest of the house, usually kept closed.) This particular morning I came down to discover a cat making itself at home on the bonnet of my car. This was not uncommon—there were several cats in the neighbourhood and they all seemed fond of my garage—but usually they would bolt as soon as I opened the door. This one simply stared at me. I shooed it off my car, and it bolted out the hole in the back door, launched itself to the top of the six-foot fence between my place and the neighbour's yard—and paused there just long enough to give me a look that said "you don't get rid of me that easily!" I went to work and thought no more of it.
The next day I came down into the garage again, to find the same cat sprawled comfortably across my bonnet. I shooed it away. Instead of running away, it jumped down, trotted fearlessly across the floor towards me, rubbed itself around my ankles and demanded loudly: MeeOOWWWWW! Feed me!
Only once you feed me!
"But I've got to go to work."
No, you have to FEED ME!
"But I haven't got anything for you..."
Go check your fridge. I'll wait!
So I ran upstairs to see if there was something I could feed a starving cat. All I had were a couple of pork chops that I'd planned for that night's dinner. I took them downstairs, cut one up into bite-sized chunks, and gave it to her. She wolfed the whole thing, and demanded the second; she devoured that in much the same way. Then she jumped up, front paws on my lap, and began nuzzling my beard, and drooling.
"Wow, you are hungry, aren't you?"
What else you got?
"That's it," I told her. "Gotta go to work now. I'll be back tonight."
I'll be here!
And she was. Why would she go anywhere? She'd found a sucker to feed her.
So, I fed her again, thereby sealing the deal. I spent the next few days doing the usual things: calling the RSPCA, speaking to my local vet (and getting her checked out—the cat, not the vet—for general healthiness), and trying to find any possible owner who might be missing her. Knowing her as I came to, I wouldn't be surprised if she'd had her previous owner, uh, disappeared... Either way, I never found anyone else to claim her, so after a month or so I made it official by taking her back to the vet for her first set of shots.
The vet's general feeling at the time was that she was about four years old. It would seem, though, that "about four" is the age they quote when they have absolutely no idea; in that adult stretch there's really no way of telling without cutting them open and counting the rings. Wait, did I get that right? Anyway, I found out it was a guess at best approximately nine years later when I took her in for her regularly scheduled shots, and the vet looked at her and said "is she about four?"
(At the time I decided, on the basis of that, that she was actually immortal and was going to live forever. Of course, she had to prove me wrong...)
However, I'm skipping ahead. Long before I went so far as to make our arrangement official, she was doing her best to prove that I could not live without her.
I decided fairly soon that, while I didn't feel up to looking after a dog—my life was pretty chaotic back then—I could probably handle looking after a cat. After all, cats are low maintenance and generally undemanding, aren't they?
Apparently she never got that memo.
I'd barely had her a week—I was still in the early stages of trying to decide whether I "had her" at all—when I arrived home to find her gone. Almost. Couldn't see her anywhere—but I could hear a distant, pitiful mew mew mew. I looked around everywhere; no sign of her. I went inside, searched everywhere; came back out again. Nothing. Finally, I looked up. And up, and up.
She was on my roof.
My house has two storeys, my roof is a long way from the ground! The first time I ever went up there was to retrieve the cat. I used Mum 'n Dad's extension ladder that they had left behind when they moved out—and with no better plan for getting her down, I took an old blanket up with me. The cat was a little agitated, so I sat with her a while—the roof is high, but has quite a shallow slope—talking and stroking, to soothe her. Then, I quickly bundled her up in the blanket, and dangled her over the edge with some vague idea of dropping her down onto the balcony beneath where I sat.
What happened next seems unlikely, but it's how I remember it. Clearly, she had other ideas about this whole rescue plan. Somehow she escaped from what I thought was a securely-clasped bundle, before I'd released the neck. She came out, headed the wrong way—straight out into open space. Realising her mistake, she turned around in mid air, bolted up my arm and across to the far corner of my roof. I believe they were the first scratches I got from her; they definitely weren't the last.
So I rang Mum, and asked her if I could borrow her cat's carry basket and a length of rope? While I was waiting for them to bring said implements around, I spent ten minutes or so chasing my highly agitated cat around my roof! (Well, I did a whole lot more coaxing than chasing, I suspect!) Finally I got her back in my lap, got her in the box, sealed the box, and lowered it down with the rope.
The next day I went out to the vet to buy a carry case for her.
The next week, I got home to find her on the roof again! That was the second time I went up on my roof...
(For those who are thinking "well, she got up there; she can get herself down"—something I heard from more than one person at the time—she really couldn't. After the first roof visit, I figured out that she must have got up there by climbing my Jacaranda tree—fairly obvious, really. It was a huge old thing, and one of the reasons I eventually had to get rid of it was because it hung over the roof. However, the nearest branch was a good couple of metres above the roof; she would climb up, the branch would bend neatly down to deposit her on the roof, and then whip away out of reach, stranding her there...)