When we decided to get a cat, I was adamant: you don’t buy cats, you get them for free. The residence from the classified that advertised “free kittens” was on Carl Dean Street in Pensacola, Fl. The street must have been paved, but the sides were muddy red dirt I had to step carefully over to get to the path that was cluttered with debris from the live oaks whose crowns met overhead.
There were two structures on the property: a trailer and a half of a trailer. The half-trailer had a “wall” of plastic stapled to its open sides with junk clustered around it, rusted car parts, stacks of fire wood, piles of some sort of cloth—rugs? Towels? Clothes? All of the above? The full trailer, dingy white and forlornly sunken in the red mud, looked like at least someone was trying. There was a deck built on with three planters of impatiens legging their way to what little sunlight could get through the oaks. That was were the people lived, I determined. The half-trailer must be their junk shed.
But as we started to walk to the full trailer, a man poked his head from the half. “What’re you doin’ here?” He hollered.
“We’re here for the kittens?”
“Oh they’re in here. That’s my sister-in-law’s place there.” He gestured to the full trailer then to his half-trailer. “Come inside, we got lots.”
The inside of the half-trailer mirrored its outside. More piles of unidentifiable textiles were scattered about; the floor were warped and mildewed plywood with a strategic hole cut in one corner where cats of all ages entered and exited. Cats everywhere, mewling around scattered dry food, hissing at each other, lazing on the piles. The room boiled with cats. The place smelled like cat piss and something else I still can’t identify. The whole place flickered in the blue glow of a tv that was hidden just around a corner.
From around that same corner, appeared an older woman in a house dress, cradling the tiniest kitten in one hand and a tiny bottle in another. “We had to put the ad in the paper because our sister-in-law said she’d call the SPCA on us if we didn’t get rid of some of ‘em.” She waved around the room. “Go ahead. Pick one.”
Before I’d even entered the place, I had already made up my mind that I would be polite but there was no way in hell I would be taking a kitten from here. Being in the closed room with all the cats confirmed my stance. Even in the low light I could see how scrawny these cats were; how their patchy fur failed to hide their sores and fleas. No freaking way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t communicate this to my husband. I just assumed he’d know we didn’t want a trailer cat.
The man began handing me kitten after kitten of all ages, lifting them from his feet by the scruff of their necks. Their bones grated in my hands while they hissed and tried to pull away from my arms. I’d quickly lift them by their scruff, their slack skin pulling easily away from their frames. No thank you. No thank you. No thank you.
Then the man handed me this little bony ball of thin black fur. She was scaly with scabs and I could see the fleas crusting around her ears and eyes. No freaking way.
Instead of hissing, she instantly tucked her head into the crook of my elbow and began to purr. Still, no freaking way.
But my husband didn’t read my mind. He leaned into me to whisper: “We have to save her.”
So we did. Three flea baths, a flea collar, two dewormings, rotten teeth pulling, and various medical fixes, our “free” kitten was no longer free but was part of our family.