Minou: In Memoriam

Walter Rescue supporters may know that our wonderful cat Minou died this week, felled by cancer. But you may not know how we ended up with Minou, so I've posted this essay that I wrote a few years ago below. While I knew I would have to say good-bye to him some day, I had no idea that day would come so soon. I miss him a lot.


When trapping feral cats, it’s best to use the smelliest fish you can find.

In March 2007, after I had laid out tuna and dripped the oil across my back porch steps, I set four traps and went back inside. It was raining, and my boyfriend Justin and I were curled up watching the NCAA tournament when we heard the first “SNAP” of a trap closing.

I walked outside and was baffled.

“Where did you come from?” I asked a glaring - and dirty - gray and white cat. Out of the half dozen feral cats that were roaming our neighborhood, this was one I hadn’t seen before.

Justin and I had stumbled upon the Maryland Feline Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program largely by accident. In the winter, I had taken pity on a few cats in our neighborhood that I had seen looking hungry, and put out some food. We quickly realized we needed a way to keep them from reproducing.

Some of our neighbors believe it’s better to try to “tame” the cats and find someone to adopt them, or to have them euthanized. Neither is feasible, as there are an estimated 185,000 feral cats roaming the streets of Baltimore. Having enough Animal Control officers to catch these streetwise cats is unlikely, and feral cats are literally wild animals – if they see humans, they’ll run, and if you try to “tame” them you’ll likely end up scratched or bitten.

That evening in March, we trapped another five cats  - and an unamused possum - in addition to our gray and white feline. While the possum was let go, all the cats went to the spay-neuter clinic at the Maryland SPCA, where after their surgery they were vaccinated, brushed and ear-tipped, which is a sign to let others know the cat has been fixed.

We learned our gray and white cat was fairly old, so he became “Old Gray and White. Creative, I know, but Justin and I have a strict rule about not naming feral cats, lest we get too attached.

The five cats we released after they were spayed and neutered scattered quickly, and I’ve only seen them occasionally over the past year. But a month after he was neutered, I’d see Old Gray and White staring at me from across the street, and when he thought no one was home, he’d hang out on the back porch. The turn of the door knob would send him scampering away.

Then, in August, Justin, his mother and I were eating chicken on our back porch. I tossed a piece of fat into the yard, and we laughed as Old Gray and White slinked across the yard like a lion, look at us, picked up the piece of fat, and ran away.

That week, I went out onto the porch, and he didn’t move.

“Come here, kitty, come here minou,” I said softly. Minou is French for “kitty” and I believed in the spirit of keeping with Justin and my “No Name” policy.

Whether Old Gray and White objected to the name or simply wasn’t interested, he getting any closer.

But then, I came out with tuna. He walked slowly towards me and I reached out a hand, using the other hand to dump the food into the bowl. He hissed. I went back inside.

I kept trying, and soon Minou let me pet him, but balked when I attempted to pick him up. Still, by the fall, if I went outside, he’d hop in my lap and drool when I petted him. Between the drooling and his occasional glazed look that made him look like he had cataracts, I felt like I had an 80-year-old man living on my porch.

I began a subtle campaign to let Minou live with us, our other two cats, and puppy. While the puppy was agreeable – what puppy isn’t? – the two indoor cats were having none of it. They would hiss at Minou through the screen door. I was certain they’d become friends in time.

But after a trip to the vet, Minou was diagnosed with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which meant he could only live with our other cats if they wouldn’t fight. Winter was coming, and Minou would try to sneak into the warm house. I made some vague entreaties, asking if my friends would be interested in taking a drooling, motley-looking, FIV-infected, ancient cat. Not surprisingly, there were no takers.

Plus, I had begun to think of our humble front porch and surrounding haunts  as Minou’s home. We inherited a sizable shelter from another feral cat advocate, set it on our porch, filled it with hay, and made sure Minou had fresh wet food and water every day. He became a fixture on our front porch, sitting by the door and acting like a sentry. If he went out on the prowl, he would always come running whenever I called. Anytime I feel down, I am sure to be cheered up by Minou jumping into my lap as I sit on our porch swing.

Still, as an outdoor cat, he lives a dangerous life. Minou has fought with other cats; he has trouble chewing; and he plays chicken with cars coming into our driveway. A friend, bless her heart, spent a lunch hour with me freeing him from a trap, as some of my neighbors feel all outdoor cats should be caught and removed permanently.

Minou is an exception – most feral cats will never learn how to accept humans. But in cases like his, the cat was abandoned and had to become feral in order to survive. When he remembered what human kindness is like, he became friendly.

Now that it’s warm weather in Baltimore, Minou is running around our yard like a cat half his age. Still, I know he has limited time. The vet says his teeth are shot, and he has a heart murmur. I know one day I’ll walk outside and Minou won’t wake up. But I also know the vet is wrong – there’s nothing wrong with Minou’s heart.