There is a stray kitten living in my neighborhood. I know this, because the day before the garbage man come, when the dumpster outside my apartment is bulging with bags, so that the plastic top won’t close properly, this tiny little black and white cat, maybe three months old, appears. She rummages through the trash looking for victuals, and hiding when people come.
It’s getting cold out. I don’t want to think about this little cat shivering outside in winter. I have been trying to draw her out. But she and I speak very different languages. I want to pick her up and take her inside, where I think it is safe. She wants to hide under dumpsters, where she thinks it’s safe.
I went out to the dumpster, under which the cat crouches, armed with a delicious can of wet food, a plate, and a fork. I set the plate on the ground, close to, but not under, the dumpster. I took the fork and put a good-sized chunk of food on the plate. Finally, I tapped the plate with the fork, and then sat back to wait, about a foot and a half away.
The smell of fresh food is almost overwhelming to a cat–but there was a scary, scary person sitting there. She crept to the edge of the dumpster. Then she dashed out and started bolting food like a maniac. When she was almost done, I took the fork, got another piece of food, and slowly, slowly reached out and set it on the plate.
Of course, as soon as my hand reached out, poof! She was under the dumpster again. I tapped the plate with the fork, and sit back.
Hm, she thinks. More food. She darted back to the plate and started eating canned fish.
Repeat the process–reach out, put food on the plate with a fork, sit back. Pretty soon, she starts associating the sound of the tap on the fork with the signal that I’m leaning back, so it’s safe for her to come out. Most importantly, I’m translating from my language into hers: It is good for you when I reach out.
I didn’t manage to get the cat inside last night. But at the point when we’d gone through three cans of wet food, I’d managed to move the dish to inches from my feet. I’d stopped using the fork, and was instead lifting the food with my hands. And at the very end, I stopped, fingers above the plate. She came close, sniffed my fingers–and then licked them. There was a brief moment while we looked in each other’s eyes–and then she realized how close she was, and off she went.
Victory will be mine.