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The big, rangy, black cat sprinted through our backyard despite his crookedly healed back leg. Bohannan, Beijing, and Beaucoup all had trodden the same path along the tree line. Somehow, this ferocious guy who silenced the birds in the trees and activated groundling wildlife to evaporate remained nameless.   

An occasional visitor for a couple of years, he often bunked under the heavy branches of a neighbor’s juniper where he could depend on a deli chicken handout. His clipped ear signaled he’d been neutered, and his feats of athleticism demonstrated no disability with the crooked leg, so we’d given up trying to trap him.  

He’d been missing for months when he clawed his way up the deck steps to the slider where I’d been admiring summer’s last greenery. Every bone in his body was outlined by his once glossy coat. Worse, his front leg dangled uselessly and painfully. I slid open the door murmuring “Hello, Dear.” Even in this debilitated state, he commanded me not to come near. A few cans of food scooted to him were immediately gobbled. Finished, he curled himself into a corner of the deck and slept deeply.  

Winter would be cruel. He had to be trapped. It took months, the neighbor and deli chicken to get him to the shelter. When I visited, he was in the middle cage at the end of a bank of cages and firmly in charge. Even his physical challenges and situation had not allayed his fierce defiance.  

Fostering him would allow time to heal the front leg and being altered – the tipped ears were from fights. An empty dog cage in my garage could hold a carrier, litter pan, and food and water bowls. If pulled inside the house, he could mend in it and later be released to his home turf. I’d be cautious, tiptoe around him, and respect his signals.  

Hello Dear was a real surprise. Mornings found no shredded paper or turned over bowls or a blanket strewn over cage contents. When I arrived with warmed food and fresh water, he retreated to the carrier even closing its door while I freshened the cage. Still, I watched him and my fingers.   

A pellet had fractured his back leg and the front leg was in no hurry to get better; he would require lots of time to recuperate. So, he was released into a large bathroom. Now and then, you could hear him playing with toys.   

With good behavior, he was allowed more and more freedom. Soon, my constant companion was under my sewing chair, next to me in the kitchen, beside the bed at night. For a moment, he was called Snowball until I surrendered and continued with the Hello Dear he loved.   

Then, there was Covid and we were all “caged.” Through the gloomiest days and rainiest deliveries, often unable to put weight on his front paw, he loved everything. Curtains, knitting needles, forks, toy mice, all were fascinations.  

He even stood on his hind legs and peered into the sink. Better was admiring himself in a big mirror or playing computer games. He made the best of everything. When he curled beside me and ran his raspy tongue over my arm, he became a cherished gift for Christmas. Hello Dear is home.   

That is how we came to be adopted by the fiercest, meanest cat in town.  

Hello Dear was not alone at the shelter. In the surrounding cages were all stripes of longing cats - some shy, watching with big eyes from the back of their cubicle; others reaching their arms out hoping their paws could touch but all hoping someone like you would stop by to be adopted by them - each a delightful sprite who would share your days joyfully. Christmas is the perfect time to open your heart to such joy. Why not? 

McCarroll writes from Court House. 

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