The Sunday Magazine·Point of View

'That's not my cat'

If good fences make good neighbours, what does a fickle black feline make? Oliver Gunther tells of a somewhat frosty relationship between people who live side by side, who share only one thing. His essay is called, "That's Not My Cat.”
When the neighbour's cat 'Kitty' first started getting comfortable in Oliver Gunther's house, he would kick it out of the house. This became an almost daily occurrence. (Submitted by Oliver Gunther )

Special to CBC Radio

A black cat came out from in between the planks as a new deck was being built at the back of our house. I gave him a pat on the head and carried on with my tasks of the day. 

He came around again. And then again. I started to see him nearly every day. I'd see him sitting on the fence. I'd see him surveying his turf from a low-hanging, sturdy branch. He would lie under the outdoor dining table, on the flagstones, to cool off on a hot summer day. He would prance across the yard when he was having a good day. He had clearly made our backyard part of his territory.

It was summer, and we always kept the backdoor open.

One day, I went upstairs for something or another and saw a black patch of fur on our big white bed, purring. I kicked the cat off the bed, and then out of the house. We didn't want any pets. I certainly didn't want a stray cat on our fresh, clean bed, in our spotless house.

We didn't feed him, we didn't set up a litter box and we sent him home at the end of every day.- Oliver Gunther

And so, it went on, repeatedly — the black cat would appear on our white bed and we would escort it from the house.  And then, eventually, he broke us. Maria set up a duvet on the ottoman in the sunroom next to the bedroom. It became the cat's crash pad. We called him Kitty as that was the name the neighbours called out when they wanted to retrieve him.     

He was not our cat. He was a guest: we didn't feed him, we didn't set up a litter box and we sent him home at the end of every day.

In the winter, he had to depend on one of us to let him in. And almost every day, he'd be at the door. I'd give him a little pat on the head as he walked through the door, "Hey, Kitty". He would headbutt my leg, rub against my shin, then make his way upstairs to the sunroom and his ottoman. He would sleep for hours. 

The daily appearances of 'Kitty' in Oliver Gunther's home have allowed him to maintain a relationship with his elusive neighbour. 'To keep the balance, we share Kitty to this day. It has been around fifteen years. We perpetuate this strange circumstance of not knowing the other,' writes Gunther. (Submitted by Oliver Gunther)

Every so often, Maria and I had little squabbles over the cat that wasn't ours: she would want to let him in and I would insist he had to go home. Or the other way around. We both knew that he needed to get to his real home in time for his owner to let him in. 

In the summer, the cat would often sit at an open upstairs window, surveying the world below. I assume the owner saw him up there. And I'm sure it would have been a what-the-hell moment, seeing your pet in the window frame of someone else's house. There were consequences.

Many years into our relationship with the cat that wasn't ours, Maria was sitting on the back deck and Kitty hopped up onto her lap. He had a new collar around his neck with a note adhered to it. Maria pulled the tape off and unfolded the note. It read: "Keep my cat out of your house!" 

After telling a friend about the note, he recommended I stick a return note on the collar saying: "Keep your cat out of my house!"

We perpetuate this strange circumstance of not knowing the other. But we are keenly aware of each other's presence.- Oliver Gunther

Perhaps we should have contacted the neighbour whose cat was in our house. We didn't. 

I didn't know the person who owned Kitty. I might not like them. Which would have meant being stuck sharing a cat I didn't plan for in the first place with a neighbour I didn't like. And, if the neighbour didn't like me, he or she might take extreme action, like keeping the cat indoors. 

There's not been another word since.

To keep the balance, we share Kitty to this day. It has been around fifteen years. We perpetuate this strange circumstance of not knowing the other. But we are keenly aware of each other's presence. An odd relationship, to be sure. But one all parties seem to have come to terms with. All for the love of a stubborn, free-roaming and persistent black cat.

Click 'listen' above to hear Oliver Gunther's essay.

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