Living in a community means taking care of its creatures—whether one is called to wrangle a leash onto a loose dog sniffing around the alley or to return wandering children to their parents. Even for the quiet ones—our feline community members—it can sometimes take a village.
Around 2010, we began catsitting for Emma and Randy, our neighbors from two blocks away. We had first met them at church and found out we not only shared the same neighborhood but also a proclivity for bringing daughters into the world; we had our three girls, and they had their four. When they asked Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka to check in on their cats, Punkin and Patches, while they were away on vacation one year, the girls were eager to help.
Each time we entered their house, Punkin and Patches greeted us at the door, their purrs as loud as electric toothbrush motors. They both required thyroid meds twice daily, so the girls scooped up the creatures and cradled them in their arms while I gently squeezed the cats’ jaws open enough to drop pills down their throats. They didn’t seem to mind their meds and followed us around while we cleaned the litter box and freshened their food and water.
Over the years, all our visits were alike. Until the day that only Patches met us at the door. Randy and Emma had told us about Punkin’s passing, but after that, our time at their house was never quite the same. Losing a community member of any size leaves a hole for the rest of us.
Veronica, our neighbor from five doors down, one day announced that she and Sergio were leaving on a week-long vacation. She asked if Flicka would provide care for their cat Isis while they were away. The job was pretty easy and would have its perks, she said: Flicka could hang out at their house, order up movies on their TV, and enjoy treats of her choice. There was just one disclaimer, though, and Veronica spelled it out for us in a note:
Isis is kind of a rotten cat, but you’ll get along with her as long as you remember a few things. She’s old and cranky and packs a wallop if she catches you with a claw. She’s nervous around new people, and we’re pretty sure she’s not all there to begin with. She’s curious and will probably be interested in you. The key is to be calm and ignore her at first. Just let her sniff you. She might chirp and act all cute, but she’s not ready yet! Give her less attention than you think she wants. One last warning: she does the Puss in Boots routine from Shrek when she’s playful. If she’s looking extra bubble-eyed and cute, she’s powering up! Don’t be drawn in! Keep your face away from her for sure.
During her catcare week, Flicka heeded the warnings and kept her relationship with Isis professional, doling out a courteous nod when the two of them made eye contact. They got along well, and after performing the cat chores, Flicka indulged in apples dipped in caramel while she did her homework. Isis looked on and approved.
We met Frank—a co-worker of Husband’s—and his wife Lola when they moved into the neighborhood in 2014. They told us about their world travels and then asked if our girls would take care of their cat Moneypenny when they were away on their next trip, a safari to Africa. Ricka and Dicka agreed, thrilled with the offer of employment. The girls instantly fell in love with the cat, who had years earlier lost a leg due to a shoulder tumor. As exuberant as a dog, Moneypenny nuzzled us, and after completing the feeding and litter box duties, the girls snuggled her for an hour each visit.
One day, during one of Frank and Lola’s trips, I drove the girls to their house to care for the cat. We parked and walked up to the front door. As Dicka pulled the house key from her pocket, I saw the door was ajar.
“Girls,” I said, a chill twisting up my spine. “Get back. Someone’s broken into the house.”
Husband had just warned me about the recent rash of break-ins in the neighborhood. And now Frank and Lola’s place. We backed away from the house, and I dialed 911. When the operator came on the other end of the line, I stated the address and our reason for being there. Just then, I heard a thud coming from inside the house.
“Whoever broke in is still in there,” I said, steadying my voice. “I just heard thumping.”
“The police are on their way. Go and sit in your car. I’ll stay on the phone with you.”
While we waited in the car, the operator gave me the play-by-play, updating me on the police’s coordinates every couple of blocks. Soon, a squad car pulled up to the curb, and three officers flew from the vehicle—guns drawn—and entered the house.
On edge, I phoned Husband, away on travel for work.
“Someone broke into Frank and Lola’s,” I said, breathless. “And they’re still in there. I heard noises.”
“Oh, really? You’re there right now?”
“Yeah, and so are the police. They’re inside checking it out. The girls and I are waiting in the car.” I trained my eyes on the front door of the house. “How do we reach Frank and Lola in the South Pacific?”
“I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
One of the officers exited the house and walked toward our vehicle.
“I gotta go,” I told Husband and hung up.
The officer approached my driver’s side window. I rolled it down.
“There was a guy inside. Their contractor,” she said. “He’s doing some work for them while they’re away. He showed us the paperwork.”
So that explained the pounding in the house. Relief washed away my worry.
“No one told me a contractor was coming.”
The officer hooked her thumbs on her gun belt. “He didn’t know you were coming either.”
Just then, thoughts of Moneypenny jarred me. Had the sweet tripod slipped out through the open door? “Did you happen to see the cat?”
The officer tossed me a half-smile. “Yep, the cat’s fine. Now wait here a little longer. We’re wrapping up a few things and then you can go in.” She strode back into the house.
I exhaled and dialed Husband again.
“It was a contractor working in the house,” I said, thankful for the happy ending.
“Oh, that’s right.”
I frowned. “What?”
“I guess I forgot to tell you. Frank said they’re having someone do some work upstairs while they’re gone.”
“Are you kidding me? You knew?” My blood pressure turned up a few notches. “I just called the cops on an innocent guy!”
“Sorry about that.”
The police officers emerged from the house, and the same one approached our car again. I hung up on Husband.
The officer nodded toward the house. “You can go in now.”
“I’m sorry we called you for nothing.”
She shook her head, waving a hand. “No. When you see a door standing open like that, we want you to call.”
I thanked her, and she disappeared into the police vehicle. The three officers drove off.
The girls and I stepped inside the house.
“Hello?” I called out.
The contractor tromped down the stairs to us. We exchanged names.
“I’m so sorry I called the police on you.” Guilt nicked me. “I bet I ruined your day.”
“Naw, it’s okay.” He shook his hair back from his face and shrugged. “They had their guns on me and had me cuffed before I knew it.”
My hands flew to my face. “Oh, no!”
“No worries.” He bobbed his head up and down. “It’s happened to me before.”
The man went back to work, and I sat on the couch and rubbed my temples, trying to massage away the remorse. Moneypenny nudged my hand for attention, reminding me why we were there in the first place.
Even though our feline neighbors are the quiet ones, slinking around their houses often unnoticed by the rest of the world, they deliver some exciting times in the neighborhood too. And with their colorful personalities and needs, they prove they make a community just as much as the rest of us do.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.