PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – His name is Kevin.
Kevin, with gray, black and white tiger stripes, his furry underbelly white, his eyes bright yellow. “What is your cat called?” We asked our neighbors. “Kevin.” “Kevin?” Yes sir.
A random and perfect name for a cat.
In the nearly ten years we’ve lived here in our apartment building, my husband Dave and I neither knew nor saw Kevin. For years it existed in the crevices of our neighboring house, a hazy ball of affection waiting to be discovered. As an indoor and outdoor tabby, he apparently visited other people in the neighborhood, but not us.
Last year when my job as a college senior writer switched from working in an office to working remotely from home due to the pandemic and my creative life as a musician stalled, Kevin stopped by a couple of times when I did sat at a tiny outdoor table next to our seat. He rubbed my leg. Then – washed – he disappeared.
Then, this year, in mid-March, we saw Kevin on our porch.
He came over to me and stared up with those big, yellow, serious eyes. He fell on his back and made me scratch my head. I documented the moment on social media: “Found a new friend today. Kevin, our neighbors’ cat. It is comforting to stroke him and he loves the attention. “
Kevin came by regularly from day to day. His routine was always the same: he suddenly appeared, stared at us with a silent, haunted meow, and then paced back and forth on our wooden porch bench, rubbing his face. He allowed us to bend down and stroke him with long strokes. It always seemed a privilege to pet him: that deeply loving neighbor cat who was just as shiny and new to us as we were to him.
In mid-April, Dave went to a pet store and bought Kevin a squeaky toy – a little mouse with gray faux fur and a thin feather tail. Kevin would pounce on it for joy. Squeak, squeak, squeak! At that point I was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and Dave a month later. Kevin’s owners were also vaccinated.
At night we sometimes heard a thud through our living room blinds, and there was Kevin sitting on the outside window sill, staring at us with large, black, dilated pupils, his face almost pressed against the pane of glass. We never fed Kevin or let him in. We give him a bowl of water every day.
It went on until one momentous afternoon in early April when Kevin was sitting on my lap. He jumped up as I sat on our porch bench wearing a black dress with white curlicues and continued to shed me all over the place. It was a big step in our human-cat relationship.
He wasn’t back on my lap until a few weeks later when I was sitting on the porch floor with my legs outstretched, wearing my neighborhood walk outfit (blue leggings and a gray T-shirt in honor of the late great soul singer Sharon Jones). Kevin stretched across my lap while I stroked him for 20 minutes. I wanted to cry, I was so happy.
During this pandemic, when so many of us feel isolated and insecure, random new connections – like Kevin strolling into our lives on his terms – feel deeper and more comforting.
But let me stand back for a moment.
Being affectionate to neighbors’ pets and animals in general is nothing new to me or Dave. Dave grew up with three dachshunds and two cats. I grew up with a white, fragile cat named Kitty, which we had after my mother – who was allergic to animals – died of cancer when my brother and I were children.
While Dave and I don’t have pets of our own (we love French Bulldogs and we hope to have one one day), we were friends with our back door neighbor’s English Bulldog, Bella, and our neighbor across the street. English bulldog Buddy and I were close to Tess, a Labrador Retriever owned by my father, stepmother, and sister.
Bella was put to sleep last year after a long life of belly rubbing. Dave and I petted her that morning. Buddy moved away with his owners, our friends, at the beginning of the year. This June, I watched Tess, who had cancer, be put to sleep by a veterinarian while my stepmother and father cried and held them.
Kevin filled a void.
On that day in April that Kevin was sitting on my lap, disastrous news soon followed. He was mangled by two coyotes that night and ran up a tree to escape. Kevin was taken to the vet by his owners. Miraculously, he survived.
We haven’t seen him for three weeks. I said to myself, “If we never see Kevin again, that’s fine. I am glad that he is alive. ”
Then, while we were talking to his owners on a bright May day, Kevin crawled through their front door and onto their porch, saw me, and ran over to be petted. From that day on he visited us again and his affection was overwhelming.
When spring turned into summer, he came by every morning and afternoon, and I took breaks from work to cuddle him outside. We opened the door and he meowed “Hello”. I started calling him “Lil Meow Meow”.
With Dave, Kevin would do what we found out, what is known as a “headache” – a sign of cat affection. Instead of banging his head affectionately against Dave’s head, he jumped onto Dave’s lap and buried his face in Dave’s beard, which is gray and white, like Kevin. He jumped onto my lap with me, laid his face on my chest and wrapped his paws around me. We have always told his owners how much we like Kevin – knowing, of course, that he is not our cat. Kevin often didn’t leave our porch, so we would walk him home at night.
Now that the scum from the summer heat engulfs our porch during the day, Dave and I have noticed another change in Kevin. He comes by to cuddle his lap, but not that long, and scurries to another neighbor during the day to sleep under a car. We continue to put a bowl of water in front of him.
Although I still work from home, I go out on the porch at various times and expect to see him, but he’s not there. When he visits, Dave and I look forward to his presence. In other words, he’s a cat with cat’s whims. He does what he wants, goes where he wants, and his affection is a pleasure and a privilege.