Over the years I’ve tried making up for this shortcoming in our home. We’d visit pet stores and animal shelters. We’d play with barn cats at Grandma’s house. But at the end of the day, the problem still remained. My girls wanted their own cat. A cat at our house. Then one summer, without warning, we got one.
“Look Mom, there’s a kitty!” Madison’s eyes widened. She pointed toward the lot next door. An orange cat crouched down, spying on us through the grass. Madison jumped up.
“Wait a minute,” I held my finger to my lips. “We don’t want to scare him.”
“Hey, kitty-kitty.” I inched toward him. Big green eyes stared back at me. “It’s okay, kitty.” The cat straightened and meowed back. Slowly I reached toward him.
From that moment I knew he was friendly. His body arched as I slid my hand across his back. I scooped him up and carried him to the girls. He purred every step of the way.
“I’ll get him a piece of ham,” Taylor said, running toward the house. “Don’t let him go!”
“Now don’t get too attached,” I said, knowing it was too late. “I’m sure he belongs to someone.” I sighed as I thought about the sad reality. We’d probably never see this cat again.
But as the summer continued, Toby stopped by quite regularly. The girls never knew when he’d make an appearance, but his visits always brightened their day. Sometimes during a lazy afternoon a girl would burst through the door and announce, “Toby is here!” Then everyone would drop what they’d been doing to feed him, pet him and celebrate his arrival.
Weeks passed and we began to wonder about this cat. Who did he belong to? Where did he come from? We asked neighbors, but no one had answers. One day we questioned the lady next door as she worked in her yard.
Toby rubbed against her leg as the lady rattled on. “I worry about him with winter coming. I thought about taking him to a shelter.”
I swallowed hard. Of course I didn’t want Toby left out in the cold, but I also didn't want him to go to a shelter. Then we’d definitely never see him again. The lady shifted her gaze to a house down the street.
“I heard Dave was thinking about adopting him,” she said. “Maybe I’ll see what he’s decided.”
I relaxed a bit. “Would you mind letting me know? I’m kind of curious about that cat.” I gave her my number and turned to walk away.
“By the way,” I yelled over my shoulder, “if you talk to Dave, tell him my girls have already named the cat." I couldn't help but smile. "Tell him his name is Toby.”
Later that night she sent us a text message. I nearly fell off my chair as I read it out loud.
“Dave says Toby is a girl – and he’s named her Lucy.”
“What?” Madison’s eyes blinked rapidly. “Toby is a girl?” My entire family looked at me and burst out laughing.
Heat crept across my cheeks. “Well, I guess I never really ...” I cleared my throat, “verified that Toby was a boy.” My response only prompted more laughter. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders and joined them.
A few days later I noticed Madison sitting on the front steps with Toby. I sat down next to her. She looked at me with a thoughtful expression.
“I know.” I said. “I still think of her as a boy.”
Toby purred and moved both paws back and forth in constant motion. Madison looked at me with a sad expression. “I don’t want Toby – I mean Lucy – to go to a shelter.”
“Me either,” I said. “But it would be nice for him – I mean her - to find a good home, don’t you think?”
Madison looked down and nodded. “I just wish I could still see him – I mean her.”
That night the neighbor lady sent another text. This time, her message lifted all of our spirits. Curt read it out loud.
“I knew it!’ I said, pumping a fist. It was great news – not only because I was right – but because Toby would stay in the neighborhood.