We first met Thomasina Bug six years ago. We were staying at our Pender Harbour cottage and I was out for an evening walk with my husband, Hugh, and our daughter Katie, who had driven up from Vancouver to stay with us for a few days. It was a lovely September evening but the light was fading quickly, and, as we walked by the Sundowner Inn, we noticed a little striped kitten sitting on the steps.
Katie, who had no pets at that time, wanted to take it home, but as her father pointed out, the kitten very likely belonged to someone in the area. However, we did nip back to the cottage, filled a small dish with our own cat’s Fancy Feast and ran it back to the little tabby. She was still sitting on the steps and she gratefully polished off the dish of food, after which she allowed herself to be stroked and petted. Katie was returning to town the next day and she was loath to leave the kitten there, but we headed home, assuring her that we would keep a look out for it and try to find out whether or not it was a stray. However, for the remainder of our stay, there was no sign of the kitten so we assumed she had returned to her home, wherever it was.
We were in town throughout the winter and did not return to the cottage until the spring. Still, a few days after we came back, we were delighted to see a full-grown version of our kitten peering at us from the bushes when we were out for a walk. I took a photograph and sent it to Katie, letting her know that her kitten had survived the winter and was still going strong. We only occasionally saw the cat throughout the summer, but once in a while, we observed her staring at us from a tree or skittering about in the bushes when we walked on the road that led to the pub.
The following year, the cat started to show up closer to our own property, even sometimes streaking across our garden during her morning foray for wildlife. She was a particularly pretty tabby and, in the absence of knowing her origins, I christened her Thomasina. We were staying for the whole summer, and after a while, we realized that she was living in the derelict and uninhabited cottage next door to us. Once we knew where she was based, we began taking treats with us on our morning walk and stopping to give her a snack as we passed by. We were sad that year as our own cat, Minx the Manx, had died the previous September, so we particularly enjoyed our visits with Thomasina.
One day, we saw a car pull up in front of the derelict cottage and our neighbour who lived a little way up the hill got out. Hugh went down to talk to him and saw that he was giving Thomasina a tin of Friskies. Thomasina, it turned out, was his cat. Hugh had been right that the kitten had a home. She had been well looked after for those early years and had given birth to two sets of kittens during that time. However, when her owner had her spayed and kept the second set of kittens, Thomasina left home.
Who knows what decided her to go semi-feral and free-wheel it in an uninhabited wreck of a house? Fed up with motherhood? Bullied by her kittens? An adventurous and independent spirit? It was a mystery. She was certainly affectionate. She loved her visits from her owner, and when Hugh picked her up for the first time, she purred for him too. But only for a moment. Then she wriggled free as if to say, “That’s enough.”
At this point, we also found out that her name was Bug, so that is how she became Thomasina Bug. We continued to give her treats, and our neighbour was happy to know someone else was looking out for his vagabond kitty. He was worried about her living rough and had tried to bring her home, even attempting to keep her in and make her stay, but she simply threw tantrums and demanded to go out, whereupon, she headed back to her chosen spot. Over the course of the summer, Thomasina Bug, when not out on her rounds, would watch us from the roof of her shack, and gradually, she began to venture into our garden.
The treats morphed into bowls of Meow Mix and by the end of the summer, she would come right to our back steps to eat. We would sit out with her and keep her company, and she would sometimes hop onto our laps and purr, although she raced away the moment we opened the cottage door. No way was she going to be corralled again.
However, she became a regular visitor in the garden. She liked Hugh’s vegetable patch. All those bean poles made great cover when she was hunting. She also liked the boot-brush at the foot of our steps and luxuriated in scratching her chin on it. We were very sad leaving her at the end of the summer, although we knew that her owner was still looking after her and she always had the option of going home.
As soon as we returned to the cottage the following spring, we hurried next door and called her name. In a trice, Thomasina Bug hopped out from under her shack and greeted us enthusiastically. She seemed very happy to see us, and she chowed down her treats greedily, though we noticed that she hadn’t lost weight over the winter. If anything, she looked chubbier. The same pattern immediately kicked in: morning-walk treats, afternoon garden visits. We’d often talk with our neighbour when he came to feed her. Thomasina Bug had him well trained.
As he said, she had the best of both worlds. Total freedom, but loving humans looking out for her and providing for her needs. It appeared that her morning rounds had increased in area and she had a variety of doting humans on her circuit. But perhaps because we were so close to her base, she became particularly attached to us. Instead of watching us cautiously from her roof, she would bound over the moment she caught sight of us, whether we were in our garden, walking on the street, or out chatting with the neighbours. This time, it was even more of a wrench to say goodbye to her at summer’s end, and it almost seemed as if she understood.
That winter passed quickly. My new play was being produced by Vagabond Players and I was both director and producer, Hugh was building the set, my friend Jacqollyne Keath and I were creating a particularly complicated sound design together, and the time simply whipped by. Before we knew it, it was spring again, and we returned to the cottage even earlier than usual, very eager to see how our semi-feral friend was doing. Once again, she greeted us rapturously, and this time, a little reproachfully.
Before long, we noticed that she was starting to take her midday nap on our back steps, so one day, Hugh opened the screen door and invited her in. She skittered away and kept her distance, but Hugh left the door open. I was on the couch working on my laptop that afternoon, and suddenly I sensed movement on the deck. I looked up to see Thomasina Bug standing at the French doors and staring into our living room.
The moment she saw that I’d noticed her, she scurried away, but within the half hour, she was back again. This time, she made a cautious foray into the room. Then another retreat. Gradually, over the course of the afternoon, she increased her incursions, finally making it all the way round the couch, although she ducked and ran when I bent down to pat her. Still determined not to be imprisoned.
The next day, she was back again. This time, she found one of Minx’s old cat toys. Before I knew it, she was rolling and romping all around the room, tossing and batting the toy with a hilarious mix of ferocity and playfulness. Then, all played out, the hopped onto Hugh’s armchair and settled herself there for the next hour.
Come evening, she was off again for her night manoeuvres, but the next morning, she was back the moment we were up. That afternoon, we found her tucked up on the bed, and that night, she looked at me reproachfully when I shooed her out for the night and reminded her that she wasn’t our cat. The next morning, as we had our tea in bed, we glanced at the bedroom window and saw a little striped face peering through. Hugh got up to open the door and she marched in, jumped on the bed and settled down as if she owned the place.
That night, as I was putting her out, I was talking with Katie on the phone. On hearing what was happening at our end, Katie wailed, “Oh, I can’t stand it! How can you?” My response: “We can’t keep her in. She isn’t our cat and we can’t make her dependent on us.” But of course, two nights later, we broke down and Thomasina Bug spent the night with us—that is, until the early hours of the morning when she decided to chase her tail all over the bed. At this point, she was evicted. But during our morning tea, she was meowing at the window again.
Thomasina Bug soon became a regular presence in the cottage. She discovered Minx’s kitty condo where we set daily treats for her to find. No more need to dispense Temptations during our walks. She became a constant lap cat, always hopping onto whichever one of us was sitting down, and looking quite put out if we were on our feet and no laps were available.
She kept me company when I fired up my laptop, perching on my legs with determination as well as indignation because my lap was taken up with something other than her. The summer went by remarkably smoothly. When Katie came to visit with her dog, Puck, and her cat, Bernice, Tommy Bug would sulkily retire to her old haunt for the day, sometimes glaring from the fence between our properties, but come night, when the grand-pets were tucked up in Arvy, she would hurry back and reclaim our bed for the night.
To our surprise, Thomasina Bug turned out to be a music-loving cat. She was intrigued whenever I vocalized, and would sit at my feet and listen to me sing, unlike Minx, who had always departed in a huff at the first notes. She cracked us up one evening when we were watching a fifties musical on TCM, for the moment Kathryn Grayson burst into song,Tommy Bug turned to look at my end of the couch as if to say, “Is that you?” I found that all I had to do if she lingered outside too late on long summer evenings was stick my head through the double doors and trill a verse or two, and she would immediately race up the stairs, shoot through her cat door and roar inside for bedtime.
We also discovered that she was a great hunter, but not a serial killer. While she delighted in bringing us mice, birds, and even, on one occasion, a bat, all were presented alive. Her habit was to bring her trophy in, open her mouth with a “Tada, look what I’ve got” gesture, and set the terrified critter loose. Hugh became adept at cornering and freeing the assorted prey, and Thomasina Bug would spend the rest of the day searching the cottage and trying to figure out what had happened to her catch. She certainly loved to play outdoors, but more and more, she was becoming dependent upon the shelter our cottage provided, and we noticed that on inclement days, she would luxuriate in tucking up inside where it was warm and dry. Our enjoyment of our lovable visitor became mixed with feelings of guilt over what would happen to her when we returned to town.
It was ridiculous to be so worried about a cat who had coped independently for three years, living rough and clearly thriving on it, but more and more, we worried about her hanging out in the wreck of a house next door for yet another winter. We’d seen rocks and debris appear on the site, and were concerned that someone might have thrown them at her. There was also the worry of fire or instability in the building. Our neighbour was worried about her, too, and expressed the hope that we would adopt Thomasina. He was sure she would stay with us if we kept encouraging her. He also suggested that we take her to town with us when we returned, but we felt she could never adjust to being an indoor cat.
Finally, we compromised. Hugh installed cat doors at each end of our screened-in deck and put a cozy bed for her under the deck table, thus creating a safer space for her than the shack next door. Then we arranged that our neighbour would feed her there in our absence. However, when we returned to the cottage after a week in town, we were told that Thomasina Bug had simply hung around our property and moped in our absence. The following month, we repeated the experiment. This time, when we returned, Thomasina Bug was lying on the deck chair, her head drooping between her front paws and her entire body language dripping misery. When I picked her up, she burrowed into my chest and glued her head to my neck. Our neighbour was right. It was time to adopt her.
He made the registration over to us and nervously, we bit the bullet and did a test run, taking her to the vet to get her shots. Tommy Bug behaved impeccably, making everyone in the Sechelt Animal Hospital fall in love with her. She also survived the forty-five-minute drive each way without much ado. The next step was to see if she’d use kitty litter, which was an essential if we were going to take her to town. We started out by putting a kitty-litter box in the cottage. Tommy Bug ignored the litter box for several days, but one morning, having been outside for hours, she marched in, did her business in the litter box, and then roared back outside to play some more. Okay, so she did know what to do with the box.
We began to keep her in at night and, sure enough, she used her litter box when necessary. Then came the big day and the test run to town. Her former owner saw us as we drove by his house, so we stopped to say hello. He grinned to see his little Bug sitting sedately in her cat cage, all set for her trip to the Lower Mainland. When we arrived at our town home, we rushed her cage upstairs to our bedroom and set down her food and litter box, along with a pile of toys. The moment we let her out, she hid under the bed and remained there for half the day. However, by evening, she had ventured out, and that night, she tucked up on our bed and slept soundly. By the next day, she was exploring everywhere and treating the three floors of our house as her ‘circuit’, skittering by us with a look on her face that said, “Can’t stop, places to check out and bugs to eliminate.” In no time, our house became a no-fly zone.
It’s been amazing to us how this independent little cat has adapted to all the changes and the running back and forth. She’s a trouper now, going between house and cottage, and happily reclaiming her territory at both ends. However, her former owner was right about her strong will and determined nature. It’s obvious that she prefers being at the cottage where she can enjoy the great outdoors as well as the comforts of home.
And that is why I’m having a year that is short on writing time. Thomasina Bug is going to get her way, for we are now in the process of selling up in town and building a new home on our cottage site. It took her six years, but she’s getting that ‘best of both worlds’ in every sense now. Of course, there are other reasons why we’ve decided to move to the Sunshine Coast, one of which is that it is a far better location for me to get on with my writing projects once we survive the challenging year of upheaval, but our daughters take great delight in telling their friends, “Mum and Dad are moving because of a cat!” I wonder if Thomasina Bug was planning this all those times she watched us from the roof of her shack.