The two tamest birds come boldly onto the porch now; not only into Cat’s territory, but also to eat his food. I think they’ve learned to come when I’m here, since I won’t let him attack. He sits on my lap and watches them only a couple of feet away. He does twitch now and again, but mostly remains still. If he wants to hunt somewhere else that’s fine, but not in front of me.

— Robert Kull, Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes

To my surprise, I apparently have two cats. Well, what I mean is, there are two cats who hang around my house every day, and I put out food, water and shelter for them and give them flea/tick prevention once a month. They never come inside, and I don’t fuss over them like pets, but I have to admit that they’re part of the household.

Kitteh has been here since I moved in in the fall of 2007, so she’s at least eleven years old now. I suppose the previous owners left her behind. She’s mostly grey, long-haired, with streaks of orange and white. For the first couple of years, I did my best to ignore her and shoo her away whenever I saw her, especially since I had seven dogs at the time, most of whom were not kindly disposed toward cats. But she persisted in hanging around, and eventually I felt that her loyalty, or stubbornness, deserved recognition. I got a styrofoam container and put it on its side, wrapped and filled with blankets, on my porch, so she’d have somewhere warm to sleep during winter, and got her canned food at the local pet store. I addressed her as “Kitteh” merely out of convention, not because I saw the point of naming an animal who never comes when you call it. However, as is often the case, familiarity morphed her name so that it was always pronounced KIT—tehhhh, and she quickly came to recognize and respond to it. It’s very important that you pronounce it just like that — a sharp KIT, followed by a brief pause, and then an exhaled tehhhh. She replies with her omnipresent “meh,” although slightly more nasally. Almost like “mah,” really. She’s very talkative.

Earlier this year, during the winter, another cat, a young orange tabby with the tip of his left ear docked, started hanging around. I felt sorry for him, sneaking scraps out of our compost pile, looking terrified, especially during below-freezing temperatures, so I started leaving him a bowl of kibble under the back deck. It didn’t take him long to learn that the sound of the back screen door opening and shutting heralded the arrival of food, so he would dash a safe distance away and wait until I went back inside before running over and gobbling the food.

After a couple weeks of regular meals, he began to get comfortable enough to think about more than his next meal. One day, we looked out of the office window and saw him sitting under the bird feeder in the front yard, eyeing the chickadees and cardinals. Sure enough, he launched himself upward, but only managed to crown himself with the underside of the squirrel guard, much to our amusement. What a jerk, I said. Give him food, and he repays us by harassing our birds. An orange jerk. Naturally, we started calling him Trump.

Kitteh, being older and much more domesticated by routine, had long since stopped showing any interest in being a typical cat. She would follow us around the yard whenever we were out in it, heeling as faithfully as any dog, but was otherwise content to lie on top of her styrofoam house, like a feline Snoopy, just watching the day pass. (This also allows her to turn and gaze through the window into the great room, shaming anyone heartless enough to sit there without feeding her.) The birds had long since gotten bold enough to raid her bowl — she had eventually started turning her nose up at wet food, even tuna, but she loves kibble with tender centers. The birds do too, apparently. We laughed one day to see a tufted titmouse land on the porch railing, scold Kitteh for her unwanted presence with a few harsh chirps, before swooping in regardless to snatch some food, while Kitteh observed from atop her house a foot away, unmoving, nonplussed by the audacity of this feathered intruder.

I had kept their feeding stations separate, not wanting Trump to harass Kitteh, but it wasn’t long before he was bolting his own food before creeping onto the front porch while she ate, hoping to sneak some of hers. She seemed to be able to scare him off with flattened ears and hisses, though, until she would finally get bored and wander off, leaving him to finish the scraps. Eventually, I started feeding them both out front, and they get along fine. Occasionally Kitteh has to cuff him around the head for his clumsiness and lack of manners, but he accepts his subservient position without complaint. He climbs into the Adirondack chair next to her perch to hang out — when he’s not “sleeping” underneath the hummingbird feeder, that is. Both of them are afraid of another bigger, older, and meaner orange tom who lives nearby and occasionally wanders over here to mark territory and steal food. I named him Tommy the Cat, after the Primus song. He looks like he should have a cigarette dangling off his lower lip, he’s such a grizzled old cuss. I’ve caught him beating Trump up a couple of times, but he hasn’t been around in a while. We run him off whenever we see him.

I hadn’t realized how much I appreciated Kitteh’s laid-back, very un-cat-like demeanor until Trump moved in. Not just for his relentless harassment of the birds and chipmunks (I’ve made him drop two that he was carrying in his mouth), but for his affectionate nature. I know, it sounds churlish to complain about an animal being affectionate, but he’s so needy about it. Kitteh might hop onto the railing while I was out on the porch and accept a few strokes and skritches, but she’s mostly content to just be in the vicinity of her people. Trump, though, is a tangerine frotteur, a creamsicle Pepé Le Pew. Like a magnet, he’s obsessively rubbing against my legs as soon as I walk out the door, even after I’ve filled his bowl. When I try to take a step away or around him, there he is again, forcing me to shuffle along without lifting my feet, lest I trip and fall. After a few minutes, he often gets overexcited and nips my leg, which is especially annoying when I’m wearing shorts. The Lady of the House, a long-time cat person, thinks he’s so sweet and adorable. I notice she leaves me the responsibility of getting cat hair on my calves and socks, though.

I’m pretty sure I have a mild allergy to cat hair, so I’ll never have house cats. I’m fine with maintaining this sort of arm’s-length relationship with them. But it’s nice to have them around. Hopefully, before Kitteh shuffles off her mortal coil, she can teach Trump to behave himself around the birds.