That is my cat Duke in the box.

Those of you who know me on Facebook as well as here know that Duke was a feral cat when we slowly lured him closer and closer with promises of food and eventually affection. It turned out that he liked the affection as much or more as the food and once we had seduced him from 150 feet from the house to the back porch, he was all in on the domestic life.

Today you would never know he was feral. He’s fat. Happy. Wanders in and out of the house at will. Settles in at our feet in the night. And can often be found on my lap or chest while I read on the sofa. He has a purr that can be heard in the next county. A good find for a free cat off the city streets of West Pawlet.

He is also the most expensive free cat I have ever had. Last year he ate some tall grass – whole. It got stuck in his throat and an expensive trip to the vet later, we had him home with the long, wide, sharp grass in a baggie. (I have no idea why the vet sent it home with him. Some kind of trophy maybe?).

Duke has a nemesis. A cat that looks a lot like him actually, only thinner with a screwed-up mouth and eyes a bit too close together. If they made cat Bond villains in cat form, this cat, whom we have named “Skeletor”, this cat would be one.

Now, my cats pretty much get along with other cats well. For the past couple of years I left food out on the porch for my cats when they went outside, which was most of most days. The back porch became a cat nightclub, felines of all sorts and sexes lounging around. I expected to see them in lounge lizard suits and cocktail dresses. At one point I had as many as ten of them, and I have no idea where they all came from. All I know is that my clothes were covered in cat hair from petting them.

And then along came Skelator. He came for the foot of course. They all did. But no petting Skelator. He was having nothing of it. And he bullied all the cats. Soon they were gone. And soon I stopped putting food out for him. I hated to do it, but it only seemed prudent.

Now, I think he shows up just for the fights. And fight they do. Regularly I am applying Neosporin to this wound or that wound. Duke is not a fighter.

Well, actually Duke is quite the fighter, but he has one fatal flaw. I discovered it one day watching Duke, and my other cat have one of the occasional skirmishes that multiple cat families know all too well. I never could figure out how my other cat, Sophia, who is much, much smaller than Duke, always beat the crap out him. And on this day, I learned her secret. They rose up on their hind legs like Rockem Sockem Robots and started swinging, claws still in.

Duke had his eyes shut the whole time.

You don’t win many fights that way. Even a cat like Duke, who is biggish, and who has the most wicked claws God ever graced a cat with, is doomed swinging blind at a bad boy cat like Skelator. No one Neosporin is a staple at our house.

I had to take him to the vet this past week again. A Skelator bite had festered, abscessed and exploded. A truly nasty thing, bigger than a quarter, oozing and bleeding. We felt a swelling under the skin but did not have any idea what it was, until it exploded.

Duke’s going to be fine. I have a good vet. She did her thing. Gave me some medicine to drip onto the wound every day. I do it dutifully, but he hates me now, running when I am near, sure I am going to hurt him with my eyedropper of antibiotic. I miss my lovey dovey Duke, but I have another week of this, and another week of not letting him out. Who knows how long after that it will be before he likes me again. A while I supposed.

There’s lessons in everything. That’s my belief. And so everything that happens in my life, I look for lessons. It’s just something I do. Even cat fights.

Lesson number one: Never let things fester, they aways explode.

Lesson number two: Sometimes loving someone means causing pain.

Lesson number three: Even when it causes pain, given time, love can grow again.

I am actually taking lesson number three before it is proven. I suspect Duke will like me again, and at some point, a few weeks from now, he will climb on me and not flee when I walk into a room or flinch when I pet him. But I do believe it can happen. I’ve seen it in my own life with people.

And cats are at least as smart as we are.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. Thank you for the heartfelt reminders, several of them are literal answers to a prayer. And Sophia? As the Bard said “Though she be but Little, she be Fierce.” I’m certain Duke will “come ’round” once the meds are done.

  2. Best wishes to Duke. Poor love. I am sure he will love you again. I don’t think many cats hold grudges. I have 11, the remains of a foster group I once had, plus one or two.

  3. When he’s willing, please scratch Duke’s underchin and tell him he has friends in Texas. I have an extensive cat-caretaker resume, and your back porch full of visitors tugs at some old times I still miss. Gotta say I’ve never encountered a cat closing its eyes in combat – amazing!

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