He was a good daddy cat. Every day when his little kittens were fed, he was there to supervise. After every tiny tummy was full, and the little ones turned their attention to playing with bugs and grooming the tufts of grass at the sidewalk’s edge, he stretched his limbs and moved over to eat whatever was left.
That is, after mama cat had finished her fill first. He was a polite father cat too.
When we first saw him, he seemed healthy; we hadn’t left food out since our Jennie had been hit by a car, and there was no reason for him cruising through our yard. But for an old beat-up black cat who had been friends with Jennie, there were no other strays that we were aware of in the neighborhood.
He might have been looking for Jennie, not knowing that she’d succumbed to her injuries, that she was buried on the hill where she used to hide her last litter of kittens.
More likely, there was a new mama cat advertising for gents to meet in our backyard. Some mornings there were tufts of cat fur in the breeze from whoever was courting the latest femme feline, a sign that more kittens might be on the loose in a few month’s time.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, to see this handsome fellow making his rounds. We saw him through several of the new mama cat’s litters, aware that he was probably papa to most, if not all, of her kittens.
He did his best to look after them. We did our best to catch his partner in parenthood.
When we did finally trap her, she gave birth to another five kittens within a day’s time, this time in captivity.
Figuring it was for the best, we kept daddy cat fed, but well out of range of mama cat. Papa cat didn’t get to have a paw in raising this batch. He kept up the routine visits but all the kittens and their mama were nowhere he could find them. That was a necessary deception devised to break the cycle of mama cat’s litters. For all we knew, she had been a mother cat longer than she’d been a kitten. In a few short years, she’d had at least two batches of kittens per year, looking perpetually tired and her petite body as bloated as a whale when she was pregnant.
After weaning the four survivors of her last batch of kittens, we had mama cat spayed. Her recovery indoors spanned the winter into spring. When we finally saw that her fur had grown back from her surgery, we left the door open for her to leave if she wanted.
Her courting days over, retired mother cat went missing briefly. A grayed and thinning papa cat had long since walked along the stone wall to the hilltop, never to be seen again.
A few weeks later, she returned to be fed, alone in the outdoors. All the kittens are grown, no longer living outdoors, no one’s company to be with her.
A few months ago, she disappeared again, leaving only this ending tale to tell. Goodbye, Mama cat, farewell.