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Ménage à trois

Life with Warren

May 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

One morning about three years ago, Susan gave me a sad, sad look and said, “It appears we may have lost our best friend.”

“We’ve been through this before,” I reminded her.

“That was years ago,” she reminded me. “Before he’d really settled in.”
Susan was referring to Warren, the third member of our household, the one who holds down the papers on my desk and who sits beside me on the couch while I write; the one who keeps Susan company in the garden and who occupies her lap during cocktail hour; the one who joins us at dinnertime, especially if we’re having chicken or fish; and the one who shares our bed at night.

It may sound sentimental to call an animal companion our best friend, but Susan meant what she said, and I shared her sentiment. Friendship and love between members of different species is a real phenomenon, a generous blessing, a warm source of amusement and shared routines, and, at this moment three years ago, a cause for grief and near-panic.


Three evenings before, Warren had walked out into the woods across the lane from our house. It was his regular evening routine, to go into “his office” and do his rounds or take care of his evening affairs, whatever they might have been. He regularly returned about nine o’clock, after dark, to join us in front of whatever movie we were watching.

But that particular evening, he did not come home. That was okay; Warren had spent nights out before. We knew he’d be back in the morning.

But he wasn’t. He stayed away all day, and then again all night and again all day and then another night, and now here it was, time to brace ourselves for sorrow and get used to the idea of living without Warren, our best friend.

Warren was born in February 2000, under the last house on a street that ended with a vacant lot across the lane from the edge of a wood. He and his litter-mate, also a black-and-white, were born to a female cat who had taken up temporary residence under the house. She bore her litter of two tuxedo kittens, nursed them long enough, and then walked off into the woods, where she was either killed and eaten by a predator or met another traveling salesman and moved on to have another litter, perhaps under another house on the far side of the woods.

The two kittens she left behind became the temporary charges of Dirk, the fellow who rented the last house on the street. He already had a number of animals: an orange Manx named Thor, a Rottweiler bitch named Ossa, four chickens, a couple of geese, a few ducks, and a goat or two. And a daughter named Darby, four years old. Two more cats, kittens at that, were easy for Dirk and Darby to absorb. They named these handsome little boys War and Peace.

For reasons we can only guess, when War and Peace grew up they decided they didn’t want to live with Dirk and Darby, with Thor and Ossa, and an assortment of fowl and goats. The two cats moved out, although they stayed in the neighborhood. Peace went next door to live with the Bill family. War chose the life of a hobo, wandering about the neighborhood and the woods, making friends and accepting handouts and shelter wherever they were offered, until he settled semi-permanently with the Fortezzo family across the street. The Fortezzos had six sons, a baby daughter, and a dog named Rosy, and War got along with all of them. They in turn fed him, offered him shelter when he wanted it, trimmed his polydactyl claws, and took him to the vet for shots as needed, a car trip War protested loudly.
When War was three years old, Susan and I came to the neighborhood and moved into the new house that had just been built on the lot next to Dirk’s. We arrived from Santa Barbara with everything we owned and our two elderly tabbies, Daphne and False Daphne.

Not long after we moved in, while I was sitting out on the deck that faced the copse across the lane, I saw a black-and-white fellow emerge from the trees. He strode across the lane, tail held proud and high, then bounded across the yard, leapt onto our deck, trotted right up to where I was sitting, hopped onto my lap, and instructed me to start with the petting.
Which I did. We became friends immediately.

He became a regular visitor and was just as happy to see Susan as he was to see me. We learned where he most often lived, and we learned his name. The Fortezzos hoped that War wasn’t annoying us, and we answered to the contrary that we were honored by his visits. Our Daphnes were not especially pleased to see War; not that they didn’t respect him, but cats tend to have a strong sense of jealousy, and they felt entitled to every bit of Susan’s and my attention.

Eventually Daphne, who had been wise and loving for twenty years, died after three years of renal failure and six months of dementia, leaving False Daphne bereft for about twenty minutes. False Daphne, who had been dumb and selfish for twenty years (but we loved her because we had no choice), continued to hiss at War whenever he came calling, until she, too died and went to wherever cats go, and in her case I hope that place has a heating pad she can sit on twenty-four hours a day for eternity.

Shortly after False Daphne died, the Fortezzos decided to move to Connecticut, taking with them their daughter, as many sons as they still had around the house, and Rosy, the dog. They considered taking War, but since they were traveling by car and War howled bloody murder riding two miles to the vet’s, they decided against that.

Perfect. Susan and I were without a cat for the first time since we had started living together (at which time she had an intense relationship with a noble tabby named Monty, who must have been her lover in a previous life, or maybe will be her lover in a future life, when they will both be humans or both be cats, or maybe parrot fish or great blue herons).

We would be delighted to give War a home, if he would accept us. Mary and Greg Fortezzo said that was up to War, but he seemed to like us. So Mary gave us his food dish, his shots records, and his claw clippers.

We made only one stipulation, which was accepted by the Fortezzos and by the cat himself. Susan and I, as pacifists, found the name “War” hard to pin on such a likable, friendly fellow. We all agreed that henceforth the boy would be known about the neighborhood as Warren.

Warren moved right in and quickly established some rules and regulations. He taught us the water game, which involved his making a mess in the bathroom sink. He taught us the string game, which involved our dangling a shoelace for him to attack. The main rule of each of these games, and any other games he chose to teach us, was that the cat always wins.

Another stipulation Warren required was that he was free to come and go. He held onto his reputation as a neighborhood hobo, and he often spent his days visiting his friends. He and his brother Peace did gopher patrol together over on the Bills’ front yard. Warren spent a lot of time playing nose-tag with his friend Tiger, who lived with Richard and Elizabeth Sullivan a couple of blocks away. And he had his woods across the lane to patrol, and he occasionally was gone overnight, taking care of business. But he never stayed away from what we offered — food, shelter, and affection — for more than a day or two.

Warren slept at the foot of our bed. He was a fast learner and this may have been a skill he picked up in the Fortezzo household. He quickly adapted to our routines of tuna on Sundays, fish on Wednesday nights, cocktail hours, movies in the evening. He still howled bloody murder when we took him for his shots. I think the ordeal offended him more than frightened or pained him. Warren was a cat with great pride and dignity.
And then one September day, after Warren had been keeping company with us for about three months, he disappeared.

One night, two nights, two weeks, two months…

Gone.

That was the last we saw of him for nine months.

We were sad about this, but we had not lived with Warren long enough to feel we owned his affection. Mainly, we hoped he was all right. There are predators in the woods. We have seen possums, raccoons, foxes, dogs, and skunks, all of whom we consider our neighbors but who might make life uncomfortable for Warren if he stepped across their boundaries. There have even been bear and mountain lion sightings in these parts, but we considered those possibilities too gruesome to entertain. The most likely awful outcome would be an encounter with a car.

We had no option but to put the matter out of our minds, to let our hobo move on, and just hope that he’d found a family to live with who loved him as much as he deserved to be loved. Even if he’d been kidnapped, we were ready to forgive the kidnapper so long as the kidnapper made Warren happy.
We considered inviting another cat to join our household, and even visited the Animal Shelter to shake some paws, but we never carried through. We weren’t done waiting around in hopes that Warren would one day walk across our deck and in through our sliding door.

And that is exactly what happened, nine months from the day Warren had disappeared. He came back and strolled casually into our lives again.
He never told us where he’d been.

So we had our family back. The three of us lived happily together. From time to time Susan and I went away on trips, and we always found responsible and affectionate house-sitters to stay with him. Sometimes he would stay away the first night or two when we had deserted him like that, but in time he adapted to his temporary food supply and even slept with the house-sitters, the little slut. He always forgave us when we returned from our trips, as if he knew that love requires freedom.
And love does require freedom.

We have allowed Warren to go through the door, in or out, whenever he wanted to. And if he wanted to spend a night out celebrating the full moon, he had our permission, perhaps even our envy. He always came back.
Until that week about three years ago when Warren stayed out three nights in a row and Susan and I went into a tailspin of despair. We had become complacent, I suppose. Or we had come to believe that Warren had accepted our lifestyle so wholeheartedly that he would never go wandering again. What pride we must have been guilty of.

And that brings us back to the morning I prepared to go out with posters to pin on kiosks and bulletin boards, our last-ditch hope that we would be reunited with the missing third of our family. Before I left the house that morning, Susan looked at me sadly and said, “It appears we may have lost our best friend.”

I agreed to accept that as a possibility, and then I left the house with my posters, tape, and thumb tacks.

I was in the Safeway parking lot when the cell phone rang.

“Liz Sullivan called,” Susan told me. “Warren’s at her house, hanging out with Tiger.”

I drove home with wings on my wheels. We went to Liz’s house, where Warren looked at us a bit sheepishly, as if to say, “What?”

We picked him up and carried him to his house. It was a short walk, and driving would have been a great mistake.

Warren is back, and has been back for three years, and we hope he’s home to stay. He knows the rules: he is allowed to come and go. He knows we will always welcome him back, and for the past three years, he’s never stayed out longer than one night at a time.

He’s also about sixty years old in cat years now, and perhaps his wandering days are over. Besides, Warren has a job to do: there are papers to weight down, shoelaces to bat, and a grumpy man to wake up every morning at five-thirty by tickling his nose with cat whiskers. •

From the August 2012 issue

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

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