New Kid in Town

by Sheila Connolly

Being the new kid in town isn’t easy. I didn’t want to be here at all, and I sure didn’t want to have to meet all the local kids and try to make friends with ‘em. Some of them are okay, but there are others who think they have to show me just how tough they are. I don’t much like to fight, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Wish I could say things were getting better, but I’d be lying.

What is this? The opening to a new cozy, or maybe a YA novel? Nope, it’s about cats.

A few weeks ago an unfamiliar cat showed up in the neighborhood. Ours is a neighborhood that has more cats than dogs, and we’ve met most of them at one time or another. We have two cats, but they’re inside cats, although they know most of the locals because they sit on our screened porch and watch them. Our neighbors next door have a lovely tiger named Henry, who comes over to our house and very politely asks for a snack (yes, his owners feed him well). Softies that we are, we give him one.

The New Cat
The New Cat

But back to the new cat. We think he was abandoned. When he first showed up he was very vocal—he’d wander the neighborhood yowling. While he’s male, we don’t know him well enough to check if he’s had The Operation, but I don’t think he was looking for love–he was hungry. And distressed.

He kept making the circuit of our block, and, as I’m sure you can guess, we started feeding him. He is pathetically grateful. It also became clear that he isn’t a feral cat, because he’s happy to have us pet him, although we haven’t quite reached the sit-on-the-lap stage. But he’s definitely used to humans and contact.

Why am I rambling on about a stray cat? Because I realized that watching New Cat introduce himself to the other cats around here has been kind of a microcosm for species interactions—and useful for writing.

Henry, waiting for his snack
Henry, waiting for his snack

New Cat was spooked at first, since he wasn’t used to surviving on his own. He made his first social overtures to Henry next door, and soon he was sharing Henry’s back porch with Henry occasionally, rolling over and baring his tummy. Submissive behavior, right? Henry is a very considerate cat, so he accepted New Cat politely, and they seem to get along fairly well. Henry still claims first rights to any plate of food, but he’ll leave some for New Cat. New Cat waits his turn.

Then New Cat started interacting with our sibling cats, Dexter and Lila, through the porch screen. Ours are very easy-going and friendly, so they were more curious than hostile. They’d sniff noses through the screen. Our male hissed a few times—this is, after all, his turf—but they quieted down before long. Dexter is the gregarious cat of the pair, and soon enough he was doing the back-roll-tummy-bare thing with New Cat. Lila just watches.

Siblings Dexter (left) and Lila
Siblings Dexter (left) and Lila

I have to say that not all of New Cat’s interactions have been as happy—he came by one day with a bleeding ear, so he got into it with some unfriendly cat (I suspect the chunky all-black one that wanders by now and then, looking like a thuggish Harbinger of Doom).

Maybe there’s a cozy story in here somewhere. You know: stranger arrives in town, not necessarily by choice, and tries to make friends. Some neighbors welcome the newcomer, others are more hostile (like the evil Black Cat, the villain of the tale). So far the only body has belonged to a squirrel, and that was Henry’s doing—or at least, he disposed of the evidence. Fitting in at a new place involves patience, and a degree of politeness. And for a cat, it may also mean fitting in with the humans, so they keep feeding you, which is greatly helped along by a display of gratitude and affection. New Cat is not dumb.

I am in favor of adopting cats in need (and making sure they’ve had The Operation and all necessary shots). But most of our cats have been chosen, with the exception of a pathetic black kitten my husband found in his parking lot at work, years ago, who turned out to be one of the nastiest cats I’ve ever known. Which doesn’t explain why we kept her for twenty years. She didn’t get along with people or other cats. She bullied every other cat we had during her time with us. She also peed on carpets. But we always felt we had an obligation to her, since we’d taken her in.

But I don’t know what we’re going to do about New Cat. My sister-in-law, who has at least six cats ranging from wild to house-bound, says if you name a stray cat, you’re sunk. Uh, I have a name for New Cat. Cozies need happy endings, right?

Okay, one small plug for Razing the Dead (released last month), but only because it’s appropriate to Independence Day just past: the story revolves around one of the nastiest battles in the Revolutionary War, the Paoli Massacre in Pennsylvania. The monument on the battlefield today is the second oldest in the country; only the one at Concord is earlier.Cover Razing the Dead



20 Thoughts

  1. Love this, Sheila. Yesterday morning I wrote in a cat that my protagonist will adopt over the course of the book. Mind if I use your sister-in-law’s line about if you name them? It’s perfect!

    1. It’s yours. S-in-L has always had a multitude of cats (few of whom like strangers, so I never met most of them). Funny, but of my fictional characters, only Meg Corey has a pet (plural if you count the goats): her cat Lolly, short for Lavinia, which was Emily Dickinson’s sister’s name. The original Lavinia really liked cats.

  2. I need to read this book! (Sorry, my TBR pile is huge.) Wayne, PA, is not that far from me, but I know very little about the Paoli Massacre. Valley Forge gets all the attention. I have never seen this battlefield or monument, so I’m thinking field trip in the future. Thanks, Sheila.

    1. Ramona, I’m embarrassed to say that while my family lived in the area for decades, I never saw the battlefield myself until recently. It’s not large, and there’s not a lot to see, but if you know the history of the battle (a bloody slaughter in the dark), it’s easy to picture.

  3. Hi Sheila great blog =) Can’t wait to hear what New Cat’s name is and how he is doing in his new home =) Thanks for a great read and a happy ending, it was purrrfect 😉

  4. I love this, Sheila. When we were stationed in Florida a cat, Lucy, came and lived with us. She’d lived at two other houses on the block before she settled in with us.

    1. I think my family might never have had a pet, much less a cat (both my parents grew up with dogs only), except we moved into a new place and the former renters had left two cats locked in the garage. Of course we ended up with a couple of litters of kittens before we got things sorted out, but one stayed with us for years. Do kids these days ever see very young kittens?

      1. That is awful they left them locked up. When we lived on Hanscom there were some feral cats that had kittens. A couple of neighbors adopted the babies — so sometimes people still see kittens but you are right, not often!

  5. Love this! Our first cat was a stray who had been abandoned. We had her for a long time until she disappeared one day as mysteriously as she had arrived. Our current cat is Layla. She gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “scaredy cat.” She’s an indoor cat, although I do take her out in the yard once in awhile on a leash. As soon as she hears a noise, though, she runs right for the front door. She can’t get back inside fast enough!

  6. The cat of my teenage years, Roo, lived next door, until the daughter of the house returned home to live during her husband’s tour in Vietnam with two young daughters and a giant dog. At that point Roo adopted us, with the neighbor’s permission.

    1. We’re on good terms with our next-door neighbors, and they know we’re feeding Henry. Maybe it’s their way to save money? They used to have a huge dog named Gideon, but he went with a divorce. There’s also a crazy cat that lives in their basement (it was also an outdoor cat, and they think it had a brush with a car–it walked in circles for a while.) But Henry asks so politely!

  7. When my mother lived in L.A., she rescued a neighborhood cat who got her hind foot caught between slats of a picket fence while jumping off. I was horrified, because the poor thing was thrashing around and in awful pain. I was afraid of trying to dislodge her and was going to call the rescue service. My mother, however, calmly grabbed a broom and used it to lift the cat up and off. The cat shook herself and followed my mother up the porch step as if she belonged there. She never left and very quickly adjusted to being an indoor cat.

  8. Love this article! A confirmed outdoor cat adopted us several years ago. She takes one peek at our indoor cats and decides she is coming no closer than the screen door. If the weather is extreme, we bring her into a room by herself. This year we have 2 whole males and a skittish female and now their kittens nearby so my husband is trying to see if any will get friendly enough to be caught for a place that does The Operation free for feral cats (our long term stray already had it before she adopted us). Yes, sounds like a good cozy series there! Thank you for the post; I enjoyed it. Hope iy raises more awareness, and I hope to read one of your books soon. Love the photo of your siblings!

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