The stranger moved cautiously across the yard, stepping carefully around sprigs of drought-shriveled grasses. It was a half-hour or so after dinner so members of the resident gang were lolling about. They casually watched the stranger move toward the dishes. The stranger settled down over the remnants of a meal and began to eat.
Hosting a colony of cats with regularly scheduled meals and a tub of Kibbles available around the clock means hanging out a sign that says e komo mai to any feline within sniffing distance. The gang - Cyrano, Tubster, Malone, Baby Black, Zipper, Patches and Tigger - seems to have a second sense about interlopers who might cause trouble. Or, maybe it's just a matter of detecting certain pheromones.
The stranger was female. Calico cats are always female. Although they can be feisty, they tend to be pacifists, unlike intact males. This calico was a long-haired Persian, snubbed face and all. She had garbanzo-bean eyes. Her coat was a mix of russet, tan and dark brown.
She wore a collar so probably belonged to a neighbor who didn't always feed her on time. That's only a theory based on the fact she doesn't come around when the neighbors across the road are home. They often aren't until late in the day.
At first, garbanzo-bean eyes would show up after dinner, walking across the yard well after the gang had been fed. She found another way in when tall grass below the house was cut down. More often than not, she sits at the edge of the house while plates are being put down for the others. 'A'ole pilikia.
That wasn't the case when a terroristic male showed up for several weeks. Fat Face Charlie got his name due to an emaciated frame attached to a large-cat head. He soon filled out and put the fear of god into all the other cats. Patches, a female, seemed to like him and Fat Face tolerated her. Baby Black, another female and the smallest of the bunch, stayed clear of him but wouldn't back down if approached. Everyone else walked softly around 15-pound Fat Face.
Fat Face hasn't been around for a couple of weeks. That's fine. He showed signs of being a good, if cranky, pet for a one-cat family. He might have been intact. Cutting notches in ears is a way of marking wild and feral cats that have been spayed or castrated. It was hard to tell with Fat Face. Both of his ears were ragged reminders of combats past.
"If he shows up all skinny and beat-up, I'll trap him and it's off to the vet," said Sharing, the woman who first established this and other colonies up and down the road.
Cat colonies tend to be self-regulating. Newcomers may or may not be accepted as part of the gang. The main thing is to make sure none of them are able to create new generations of cats. The only way Maui's growing population of unwanted dogs and cats can be held in check is by responsible pet owners spaying and castrating their companions.
The Maui Humane Society needs your cooperation and donations. The men and women at the shelter on Mokulele Highway hate having to put down animals. They'd much prefer finding new homes for the cats and dogs and other animals abandoned across Maui.
Money is always tight and it's become even tighter due to television ads luring money off Maui and into the coffers of Oahu's Hawaiian Humane Society and the national Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Both are legitimate causes, but Maui's animal-care money should stay on Maui.
Just for the record: When Maui's first leash laws were passed, there was a lot of debate about what agency should enforce it. The Police Department wanted nothing to do with it. It was finally decided to contract with the Maui Humane Society to operate an animal control agency. The county money just barely covers the cost of the necessary animal control officers and equipment. The Maui Humane Society - and its shelter - has to rely on donations and volunteers.
End of sermon.
The gang is a great addition to life here in the country. They provide entertainment and companionship. Cyrano, a cat rescued from a colony at Maui Community College, is the indoor cat and soul mate. Tubster, well up there in years, loves to be held and petted. Malone craves attention. Baby Black, Zipper and Tigger all respond to affection. Patches and the Persian? They are lovely creatures and proof positive not all good relationships need to be intimate.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.