The Cat Formerly Known as Feral

A Handsome Fellow Indeed

Brutus is hands-down our most interactive feline. He wants pets, and he wants them now. He wants to sleep in between me and DMc at night, or even better, on us (he’ll alternate between his personal human pillows, thank you). If DMc is working from home, Brutus spends most of the day trying to lie on the keyboard whilst demanding head rubs. Make sure you close the door to the human litter box room lest ye have a feline helper.

This is Brutus’ story, and it’s a humdinger. It’s long, too, so fair warning.

During the Summer of 2014, we noticed a new feral tomcat visiting to avail himself of our garden catnip patch. He was a big ol’ mackerel tabby, with a giant head and giant … well, he was Fully Intact. He wanted no truck with us, he was here for the Cat Ganja.

Fast forward to February 2016. I was out back dealing with the pool robot when I looked up and saw the most pathetic thing – a battered, broken-looking, skinny cat had drug itself under the gate into our back yard. It hissed at me and staggered over to the side yard, where it crawled under our covered firewood rack. I yelled for DMc, as my first thought was that we’d be able to get the cat into a carrier and take it to the emergency veterinary office. After some evaluation with a flashlight, we realized several things: 

  1. The cat had a surgical shaved spot and stitches on his side, as if he had been badly injured there. 
  2. The cat also had a broken front foot, a freshly clipped ear, no nards, and appeared to be at death’s door.
  3. The cat looked strangely familiar.
  4. Holy shit, it was the tomcat, and he was not doing well at all.
  5. He’d come to our place, where he had so happily gotten high, to die.

It was clear that Animal Control would just drag him out and euthanize him. We decided that we would ease him out peacefully in our own way. We couldn’t bring him into the house because of Alley and Bob – the inside-cat littermates I’d had since 2005. Not that the wounded cat wanted to come inside. He wanted to be left the hell alone to tap out on his own terms, broken but free.

Thus began a 6-week regimen. Every morning, I’d have DMc go see if the cat was dead. He’d come in, tell me the cat was still alive, and we’d deliver shallow bowls of fresh water and soft cat food, all laced with Pet Rescue Remedy. This cycle continued until one day in mid-April, when DMc and I were out on the patio having cocktails. DMc said very softly, “Don’t make any sudden moves. Somebody is behind you checking us out.” I turned my head, and received a vociferous hissing-at. DMc replied, “Et tu, Brute?” The battered boy cat had a name now: Brutus.

He became our Patio Cat. We bought a feral cat house and ant-proof dishes, and set him up as best we could under the patio cover. Throughout that Spring, he’d sleep in his house, drink fresh water, and eat the crunchies we put out for him. Whenever we went outside, he’d hiss at us. However … he edged closer to lambast us, a few inches at a time. One day, he ran up and head-butted my shins while hissing madly, and it hit me: he didn’t know how to meow. That makes sense, as I have read that cats only meow to communicate with humans. He’d never had humans of his own. Eventually, his hisses shifted to meows as his communications skills developed. 

We theorized that Brutus had been attacked by a neighborhood dog, and that dog’s owner had taken him in for medical treatment and a TNR (trap-neuter-release). Something went terribly wrong, though, and he nearly died escaping wherever he was being held.

Our theory was confirmed (enough for us, at any rate) when one day, Brutus was walking around the alley behind our house checking out the scenery while DMc and I washed my car. He started meowing at us from a couple houses down and trotted up, where he stood lecturing us until a lady in an SUV drove past and stopped at our driveway, staring at him with her jaw hanging open. Brutus made eye contact with her, then hauled ass under the gate into the back yard. She asked if he was our cat, and we told her he seemed to have chosen us – that he’d shown up a while back badly injured, made it through, and just stayed. I looked at her more closely and realized her hands were shaking and she was teary-eyed. I asked her if he was her cat, and if she’d like to have him back? She said no, he wasn’t her cat, thank you, and off she drove. Hmmm…

As time passed, Brutus became interested in what was going on inside the house. He’d sit right outside the french doors to the patio and yowl until Alley would walk up, and then they’d converse through the glass. Alley really seemed to like Brutus, or at least the attention he lavished on her. Bob, however, hated Brutus and would have nothing to do with him. So Brutus remained an outside cat, albeit a nicely situated one.

In late 2018, we lost Bob to kidney disease. We grieved for a couple of weeks, but then there were Things To Be Addressed. Over the next little while, I took Alley on several trips to the vet to get all her medical and dental up-to-date. Priorities.

In December, we opened the french doors on a warm day and left them slightly ajar. Brutus edged into the dining room, looked around a bit, decided “Shit, it’s big in here,” and went back outside. Over the next few weeks, we established a daily routine that included keeping a litter box just inside the french doors. Brutus would come in and wander around, eventually making his way through the whole house. He also had no clue what a litter box was. We figured that out one night when it was very cold out and we decided to let him stay in overnight. Ew. The next day I started collecting leaves and some dirt from the side yard and adding it to his litter per my Mom’s suggestion, but no joy. He was really good about waking us up to let him out, though – much like a dog.

Then, it Happened. Alley started using his box, and he figured it out. Yes, Alley essentially potty-trained Brutus. We were there! OK, he was officially an inside cat now. This was January 2019.

We had assumed that Brutus and Alley would be great buddies as they’d spent so much time communing through the glass. Sadly, Alley turned out to be a teasing little tart. She didn’t want him in her space, she wanted him admiring her from behind a barrier. Brutus was sad, because he had nobody to be his BFF. We were sad because he tried constantly to be up-close-and-personal with Alley, and it was starting to have a negative impact on her behavior.

What to do?

Get Brutus his own kitten, that’s what.

We spent the last part of January looking at the shelter and non-profit cat adoption fairs. DMc thought we should adopt a beautiful young cat named Whitney, but Whitney was a bit of a bitch. In short, Whitney scratched the crap out of DMc when he tried to pet her. So on to the next adoption fair we went, and … there she was. The information packet said her name was Carruth and she was 6 months old. A bit of an ugly duckling, the most adorable little voice ever, healthy, strong, and very playful with the other cats. We adopted Ruthie (a/k/a The New Kid) that day, and she and Brutus became a fully-bonded pair within a week.

Alley eventually adapted well to the 3-cat dynamic. It helps immensely that both Brutus and Ruthie recognize that she is their Queen, and govern themselves accordingly. 

Ruthie has grown into a regal beauty as big as Brutus, who our nephew refers to as “That Big-ass Cat.” Just yesterday, The New Kid grabbed The Cat Formerly Known as Feral and body slammed him when he tried to swipe her fresh catnip bouquet. Then they were off on a Stoner Cat Chase, and ended up spooned on our bed having a snooze. All’s well.

We sure do love our Verra Bigga Boy. Et tu, Brute?

Fully Domesticated

Sad Addendum: We lost Big Bru over Labor Day weekend 2022 to terminal oral carcinoma. We had the lovely ladies from Beyond the Rainbow Pet Hospice make a house call to help us usher him over The Bridge, so he could cross in his favorite place in his favorite room, with us holding him. We miss him dreadfully, but are so glad that we brought him inside to live with us for his last few years. *sniffle*

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