I first met Lea, though I didn't know her name at the time, in early November, just days after the sale of the house closed. I was in the new kitchen, making notes for the remodel, when I heard yowling outside. I opened up the door, and a scrawny cat with patchy fur and protruding hip bones peeked cautiously at me from the bushes. I called her over and, though timid at first, she climbed right into my lap, purring. The only food I had in the house was half of a burrito, but I scooped out some of the innards, which she gobbled up. The poor thing was clearly starving.
I bought some proper cat food the next day and returned with some in a tupperware, which I left on the front porch. When I visited two days later, it was gone, but Lea was there, waiting expectantly. Over the next month I refilled the bowl and allowed Lea to climb into my lap on occasion, noting that I didn't seem to be too allergic to her (perhaps my allergy shots really were working). When construction started, I handed over kitty food duty to the main contractor, who said Lea was the sweetest cat he had encountered.
I also emailed the previous owners of the house to see if they had any information on this super-affectionate cat that persistently hung around.
"I'm so embarrassed," the previous owners wrote back. Apparently the cat -- Lea -- had been theirs, but when they got dogs 13 years back Lea wouldn't have anything to do with them or the house anymore. She has been mostly an outdoor cat ever since, with food left on the porch for her (and apparently the rest of the neighborhood cats). The owner couldn't even catch Lea to go to the vet in the last decade or so. In the months leading up to their move, they didn't see Lea at all, so they figured she had been taken in by someone else in the neighborhood or perhaps had died. So they moved to the midwest in mid-October with their dogs and other cats.
But Lea was still around. Given her scrawniness when I first saw her, her primary food source had probably still been the food they left out for her, and in the three weeks between them moving and joshbuckler taking possession she hadn't had much to eat. She's since filled out nicely and has a thick, Maine Coon-like coat (though we don't know what breed she actually is).
Lea only came around in the evenings, but I really wanted to get her in to a vet to get her up-to-date on vaccinations and flea treatments. I bought a cardboard carrier and roamed the neighborhood calling her name three afternoons last week, but she would reliably show up just after 6pm, when the last of the local vets had closed for the day. After calling around, I finally found a vet up in Los Altos that was open until 10pm, and took her in for a check-up last Friday. She mewed when the car was moving and looked out one of the holes at me or rubbed against my finger the whole way, but otherwise she tolerated the ride pretty well. Other than dirty ears and a bit of plaque on her back molars, she was in excellent health: 10.8 pounds, muscular, crystal-clear eyes, no fleas in her thick coat, and only a nick in one ear as evidence of past fights and hardship. I estimated her age at 13.5 years, since the previous owners had mentioned getting dogs 13 years back. I opted to get a blood test prior to vaccinating her, since she had been outside for so long and who knows what she had picked up. "Since she's a female, it's very unlikely that she has FIV or FeLV, since those are most common in fighting males, but for a cat that's lived outdoors for so long it's good to check," the vet explained.
Ten minutes later, I could hear the vet consulting with the nurses outside of the exam room door in low tones. Then the vet entered with a practiced expression of gravity. "We have the test results, and I'm afraid this cat is a carrier of FIV," he said apologetically. When I didn't react with shrieks and cries, but just with a "oh, that's too bad," he relaxed. He explained that she must be an indoor cat from now on to avoid spreading the virus to other cats in the neighborhood, but she posed absolutely no health risk to humans. However, her white blood cell count would drop, and a secondary infection would eventually do her in, just like HIV in humans. As an indoor cat, he concluded, she wouldn't need any of the other vaccines I had lined up for her or a microchip. Well, that was that, then. I took her home.
On the way back, I again comforted Lea in her cardboard cat carrier, who was now quite silent after the terrors and indignities of the vet's office. I also consulted joshbuckler about what to do. Would we keep her? Was she litter-trained? Where would we buy litter tonight? Should we -- could we -- get pet health insurance? Should we tell the neighbors to get their cats tested? (It's not an especially friendly "we're your new neighbors!" message ...) At first joshbuckler was ambivalent about keeping Lea, but after a she spent night in the garage (terrifying for Lea because of the noisy furnace and dryer, poor thing) where she successfully used our extemporaneous litter boxes -- Swheat Scoop in re-appropriated Burningman dishpans -- we moved her inside for good and took a trip to Petsmart for more permanent pet supplies and advice from a vet there. She spent the rest of the weekend cuddling with each of us, sleeping on the foofs (her favorite thing), meowing occasionally at the door and being confused and a bit annoyed when we wouldn't let her out, and chasing the laser we got at Petsmart. My allergies still seem to be staying at bay, though we've been restricting her to the front part of the house, not allowing her in the carpeted part which includes the bedrooms. I'll have to stay on top of vaccuming.
We confirmed with the previous owners that at least to their knowledge, Lea hadn't ever gotten a FIV vaccine, which would also create a positive test result. We also found out that she was not 13, but a whopping 16 years old -- old even for healthy cat standards!
So that's Lea. I hope you get a chance to meet her sometime. Though sometimes shy, she's an incredibly sweet cat.