Rex, our 17-lb. black cat, was out all night. Usually, he’s right there when I wake up in the morning, meowing to be let back in and fed, darn it. But this morning he wasn’t. He’d been tangling with Rita, the neighborhood tabby who decided our yard was his yard. Yes, I says “his”. Ruby named Rita but the cat doesn’t act like any female cat I know. Every time I would go outside and chuck some trash or recycling, Rita was lurking in the driveway, waiting and watching. I would catch a glimpse of him prowling through the carport like a fuzzy ghost.
Rex was not amused. And I take back what I said about him being non-confrontational.
Yesterday, he cornered Rita in the front (side) yard. He sat up straight and yowled at Rita. The menacing growl, pitched low and then rising higher, emanated from deep in his kitty belly. Rita stayed put, cowed but not conquered. If he ran, Rex would give chase. Rex leaned closer and closer, tail twitching. Ruby and I watched breathlessly from the window. He lifted a paw and – pounce! – he was on top of Rita and they rolled briefly on the damp, cold ground. Rita always ended up on top. They did this at least 3 times.
“Rex, stop!” Ruby yelled from behind the safety of the window. She likes Rita. Rita is cute and friendly and loves to be petted.
But, I reminded Ruby, this is Rex’s yard. He’s the alpha cat. He does not cotton to interlopers, not matter how attractive. I like Rita, too. He’s a nice silver kitty with beautiful black markings. However, in this case, I had to side with Rex. Keep in mind Rex is neutered, otherwise he might have been even more aggressive. He also just got over being rather sick. I wasn’t too happy about him sustaining bites from a strange cat whose vaccination history is unknown.
When Rex wasn’t at the back door this morning, I felt a wave of gloom wash over me. Was he okay? He was much subdued after his tangles with Rita yesterday. Tufts of fur poked out from his neck and back. His expression was one of exhaustion and resignation. He curled his tired body up under the Christmas tree, a furry black comma of weariness. Yes, the tree is still up. So sue me.
When I got back this morning from coffee and errands, I walked around the yard calling out for him. All I heard was the occasional drip of moisture off the frozen trees, ringing out in the foggy silence. A shiver went through me. Was he dead? Caught in a rat trap, like a couple springs ago? I had no answers.
Meanwhile I was gone to coffee with a friend, unbeknownst to me, Rex had returned. Jonathon let him in before he left for jury duty. Rex limped inside. I found him curled up on the couch. He had not responded to my calls inside or out as I toured the house and looked in his favorite hidey holes. He remains there, snuggled in a blanket, totally worn out. Today, there is no sign of Rita. Rex came, he saw and he conquered.
What hits me about this is that Rex was willing to do whatever necessary to defend his turf. This Rita pushed him to his feline limits. To me, it seems silly. It’s a small yard and we aren’t afraid of stray cats. We have water. Rex gave everything – possibly his health, too – to fight the bad cat. Where are my limits? What is worth fighting for? Do I recognize who or what my real enemies are? What will I lay down my life for? Perhaps a better question is, For whom will I give up everything? I pray to have the discernment necessary to make those decisions.