Harry the Wanderer

A few years ago when anyone in our household returned from school, errands, or shopping, we often noticed a ginger cat with tiger-like markings and a beige underbelly and the name Harry on his collar. Besides seeking our attention by rubbing against our legs and meowing, he was trying to get into the house.

Never having owned a cat and nonplussed by Harry’s interest in us, we didn’t know how to react. The tag indicated Harry’s owners lived one street away, so one Sunday I visited them. They are committed cat-people, with two others in their household. Harry’s backstory was that he is a rescue cat, an outdoors cat who is very affectionate to human beings but also a wanderer. Fortunately, Harry had been micro-chipped and, after a number of his excursions, animal services or local vets contacted the owners and they picked him up.

The owners assured us that Harry was friendly and wasn’t destructive and it would be fine to invite him in. As soon as we got the green light, we proceeded to make Harry a member of our household. We bought cat food, a basket, and a litter box. Harry wandered over – a journey that involved crossing a quiet street, walking through a backyard, and crossing a somewhat busier street – whenever he wanted.

After a while, with no disrespect to his owners, Harry often spent daytime in our household. The reason appeared to be that, unlike his owners, my wife and I work at home most days, so a human being is almost always available. Also unlike his owners, there were no other cats in our household, so Harry was top feline.

Harry’s people-orientation is intrinsic to his character. Whenever we were gathered in one room, he was there. When either my wife or I were working in our offices, Harry was often sprawled on top of the desk, computer, or keyboard. We put a basket on the dining room table, and Harry was there for the company, not the food. And of course, we gave Harry lots of attention, with cat food and tummy rubs whenever he wanted.

We and Harry’s owners worked out a cat-sharing agreement. When they came home from work they came by and picked him up, or we drove him over. Harry spent the evening with his birth-family, asked to be let out before dawn, and was waiting on the back patio for us. As we are early risers, he never had to wait long.

We theorized that this two-household lifestyle was good for a wandering cat. If he for any reason wanted to stray from one of his two homes, there was always the other home to go to. So his wanderlust could be satisfied without wandering very far. Harry stopped wearing a collar, but the two-household lifestyle made it unnecessary.

Harry’s owners became friends. We are all third-generation Torontonians – a rare breed – and have quite a few common friends. I also discovered recently that when I was a teenager, I was occasionally invited by one of my friends to Harry birth-father’s parents’ swimming pool.

But Harry didn’t confine himself to two households. He often wandered several houses up the street, looking for adults, especially children, to charm. He was a frequent visitor to the neighbors whose backyard bordered ours. The postman knew him well, as did many other neighbors. Harry was a neighborhood celebrity.

Despite the people-orientation Harry is still a feline. On one occasion, I saw him six doors up the street and he decided to come home, but did it, not walking by my side, but scampering on his own trails through the front yards. Recently, he had a fight with a raccoon, and chased it off our property and across the street. And Harry also killed and brought us a baby rabbit.

A few weeks ago, on an evening Harry decided to stay with us, he asked to be let out in the early hours of the morning, and wasn’t on our back patio at dawn. He didn’t return that day or the next or the one after. He simply disappeared. Inquiries of neighbors and signs posted around the neighborhood haven’t helped.

I want to think that Harry has endeared himself to a third family and decided it was time to move on, and the appropriate thing to do was leave without explanation in the middle of the night. Or maybe Harry got lost the night he went missing, and charmed his way into the heart of some other family. Harry has no collar and they didn’t see our signs, so they concluded that he is a stray; they invited him in, and he has stayed. If that is what happened, we hope Harry has begun a new adventure with new people.

Of course, one can imagine grimmer scenarios. We live close to several ravines where larger predators undoubtedly lurk.

Almost five years ago, Harry unexpectedly walked into our lives. And, equally unexpectedly, he appears to have walked out of lives. In that time, we gave him all the attention, affection, and love that we could, and in his cat-like way he reciprocated. Thank you, Harry.

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