Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Jul 19 2014 09:00 AM

HERB BENHAM: It's any porch in a storm for disloyal outdoor cats

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Our cat disappeared recently. Vanished. Left, as if she had met with a better offer.

Blueberry is a porch cat, her world consisting of a green rocking chair, a flat cat scratcher, a soft bed, and a four-foot high porch wall from which to survey the goings- on in the street and sidewalk.

She was named Blueberry because she is round, has blackish-blue fur and a friend had given us a flat of blueberries at the time she came to live with us. Blueberry fit.

Cat names can be situational and food related. Sam, when called upon by Lauren to name his porch cat, was eating pretzels and guess what that cat is named.

Blueberry was not alone long. A few months ago, she was joined by Marshmallow, a cat named for its golden fur, a color that suggests a marshmallow cooked perfectly over a beach fire.

Marshmallow also went by the names of Homer and Flapjack, depending on which neighbor you asked. Marshmallow has a reputation for working both sides of the street and probably has a string of aliases like a Mafia henchman or a Mexican drug lord might.

"Blueberry is about four," said Richard, our former neighbor, who was responsible for brokering the deal -- she lived on his porch, but he already had three cats.

When Blueberry disappeared, we thought she might be older than she looked. Bakersfield will do that to you and maybe she lived to the end of her porch life and slipped away privately to die, an admirable feature in cats or people.

A porch cat is the greeting party for both visitors and residents of a house. She can be like a Lladro, an exquisite Spanish porcelain figurine or deign to come off her throne and meet you halfway up the sidewalk, something both Marshmallow and Blueberry chose to do.

"You are home. Good to see you. Now feed us."

When Blueberry disappeared, Marshmallow became scarce, as if to say, "If your porch is not good enough for her, how could you expect me to stay?"

Silent protest, standing shoulder to shoulder, sisterhood? Who knew? What we did know was we had two plastic bowls, two cat scratchers, two soft cat beds and no cats. Empty- nesters again.

Six days after Blueberry disappeared, I awoke to a meowing on the air conditioning unit that sits on the north side of our house. The meow was plaintive, almost hoarse, as if the cat had been gargling with kitty litter. It was Blueberry.

By the time I went downstairs, Blueberry had moved to the porch. She looked better than she had in years. It was as if she had been groomed, had the benefit of a spa or been improved by the tonic of a good walk-about.

Sitting next to her was Marshmallow, as if she had been talked into coming home and giving life on the porch one more chance.

I felt slightly chastened, as if I were on probation. The cats had reappeared on a trial basis and they would evaluate their continued presence on a day-to-day basis.

In other words, "Be happy but don't get ahead of yourself, big guy."

Porch cats can be like seaweed attached to the ocean floor. They sway back and forth with the currents but unless there is a storm that dislodges the clump, they sway back.

Blueberry is home. Small pleasure, but pleasure nonetheless. Like most good fortune, this is best enjoyed one greeting at a time.

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