A band of cats invaded our garage, capturing my dogged devotion

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By Mary Garrison

If you had asked just more than a year ago, I’d have sworn to you I was a dyed-in-the-fur dog person.
I proclaimed my love for all animals — dolphins, dogs, elephants, frogs — but when it came to cats, I was uninterested. Never had a cat. Didn’t understand them — or their people, really. Required a preventative dose of Benadryl to stave off my sneezes when visiting their homes.
But a funny thing happened when I got to know a few felines who were hanging around our neighborhood.
Bandit and his friends let themselves be lured slowly into our garage last spring. Day by day, they followed the tuna trail my husband laid. Until finally, they were eating inside — as long as we didn’t get too close, or move too fast, or make it too obvious we were actually looking at them.
We marked milestones throughout the summer. We could pet them when they were eating. And then even when they weren’t. Shy guy Grayson rolled over at our feet one warm afternoon, suddenly unafraid to request a tummy rub. Sherbert marched proudly and kneaded his paws on my leg when I sat down next to him and set him in my lap.
And, oh, the photos! When one of us was away and the other was hanging out with the kitties, the pictures flew between our phones. Bandit, Herbert and Sherbert snuggling on the couch, grooming one another. Playmates Grayson and Little Gray eyeing each other warily, tails twitching. Scruffy in the lawnmower seat, all green eyes and dark fluff. A rare and celebrated visit from Tahoe, the wanderer.
At last, I understood what fueled the Internet’s never-ending parade of cat pictures!
When winter’s fingers began to wrap themselves around fall, our independent kitties decided they didn’t mind being locked in the heated garage all night. We set them up with a litter box, a few beds (although they mostly preferred piling together the couch), some food and water.
Eventually, we could pick up any member of the clan; however, some were more agreeable to our grabby shows of affection than others.
A couple of clumsy attempts at treating ear mites had turned Bandit into Least Likely to be Held. Even so, he eagerly weaved around our legs and bumped his head against our shins. He arched his back in Halloween-cat pose, ready to be rubbed nearly every time he saw us.
As recently as last week, he still went stiff-legged and crazy-eyed if I lifted his feet off the ground. But once he stood on my lap, he was content. Progress.
No one could be more surprised at how freely I sing these kitty praises. A few months ago, I couldn’t even hear the notes.
But, as we animal lovers know too well, my joy comes with a price.
And now I find myself mourning the death of a young feral cat who taught me that love can seem even more valuable when you have to earn it.
Bandit apparently tried to cross the street at lunch one day last week, but he didn’t make it. He was as adventurous as he was sweet, so his nine lives lasted him just 2 1/2 short years.
I wish I had known, as I rubbed his forehead with one hand and stirred his breakfast with the other that morning, I would be leaving him for the last time when I backed out of the garage.
I could have stayed a little longer. Work could have waited — the way it had to wait when I pulled to the end of the driveway again later that afternoon, looked to my right and saw a motionless mass of black and white in the middle of the road.
I wish I had headed back to the office a little sooner after lunch. If I couldn’t have helped him avoid the car that took his life, I could have been there to comfort him before he took his last breath.
I could have told him how much I treasure his hard-earned trust, now wrapped tightly around my kitty-warmed heart to keep it from breaking completely.

Mary Madden Garrison is the creative director for The Anderson News. Email her at mgarrison@theandersonnews.com.