This is the story of Freddie Kreuger, the cat who taught me what patience and love are, and what it means to be brave.
Freddie Kreuger and her 3 siblings were born in a neighbor’s backyard in May of 2010. The four kittens were born to a feral mother, who we mistakenly named “Mr. Bond” before we realized she was a she.
Mr Bond was named as such, because she was very sneaky and clearly feral and scared. She would only come to our back porch to eat in the dead of night, and only when other animals were not around.
One evening Mr Bond failed her mission, and a neighbor’s cat, named Cinderella, fell in love with her and gave her babies. Cinderella, a sweet male cat, was jokingly named Cinderella because we knew his owner was a little girl who we could picture dressing this super sweet orange tabby guy in dresses and having tea parties with.
A few weeks later, we started seeing kittens on the other side of our fence.
Our neighbors did not realize the kittens were there, because Mr Bond had sneakily hid them under their tool shed in their back yard, right between the tool shed and the fence. Every so often, we’d see a little kitten fight break out and one of the kittens would accidentally roll out under the fence into terrifying sunlight in our yard, then scramble back to safety.
My wife and I started the kittens out with some baby oatmeal, eventually switching to normal cat food when the time came. Even weeks later, the kittens were deathly afraid of direct sunlight and the big huge world in our backyard that was so much more vivid, and scary, than their 1 foot wide playground of darkness between the shed and the fence.
Even so, it became apparent, almost immediately, which kitten was the bravest.
Every day, little Freddie Kreuger would be the first to tentatively pop out from under the fence and have her meal. She’d eat first, and her siblings would wrestle with each other and avoid the sunlight until Freddie was done. Her siblings were not as brave.
Right from the start, my wife, Amanda, insisted that she would “train” the feral kittens, and be able to pet them and “make them” love her.
Amanda grew up in the high desert in California, a few hours north of L.A. When she was young, she had many adventures in the desert with her friends and family, constantly encouraged by her parents and her surroundings to be brave. Or maybe, maybe she was brave naturally. There’s a story of police men coming to her parents door because a neighbor across the street could hear baby Amanda screaming bloody murder. Amanda wasn’t afraid of the man, even as an infant.
By Contrast, I grew up very cautiously. Reared religiously as a child, learning far too late in life what “fun” was, and learning way too early what “regret” was. As such, I’ve always been a cautious, flippant, and not-so-brave person, like Freddie’s siblings. When my wife told me she’d “Make them” love her, I thought she was crazy, and laughed. Feral kittens are feral, I thought..
Then, this happened:
Amanda would sneak up to the fence ever so slowly and steal pets while a kitten was eating, and the kitten would perhaps pur for 2 seconds at the most, before realizing what was happening and again scrambling to the safety of darkness. Every time this happened I’d laugh to myself, relating with the kittens, it’s a big scary world out there, Amanda, you’re silly, I’d think.
For the next month, as the big vivid world became familiar, the kittens would steadily explore more and more of the backyard. We then moved the food bowl across the yard to the back porch, encouraging the kittens to come find it. I’ll never forget how funny it was to see the kittens inch ever-so-slowly across the shadowed part of the yards, stop at a sunlit area, and scramble like mad as fast as possible across the lighted strip to the next dark patch.
Amanda had already named all four of them. Freddie was named Freddie Kreuger because when she ate, she would eat alone. If any of her siblings came to eat at the same time, she would sink her claws in the top of their heads and either hold them down while she ate or push them away.
By the time the kittens got to the back porch, Freddie had her own bowl, and the other three would share another.
As time went one, the only male of the litter, Jerkface, turned into a feral thing like his mother. We still see him from time to time. The mostly-black kitten was found exploring in a neighbor’s yard, and now she lives a happy life inside that neighbor’s house. Freddie and her sister, Annie, stayed around and lived on our back porch.
Weeks turned into months, and all the while, Amanda kept trying to pet the kittens. Even at six months old, the only way you could pet Freddie was by touching her while she was face-down in food and not realizing what was going on.
Annie was the one that started proving Amanda right, and me.. wrong.
By the time Annie was 6 months old, she was a snuggle bug. Adorably cute to pet and play with, her feral upbringing morphing into this hilarious little habit where she’s cute and cuddly while you pet her, but as soon as you stop she swipes at you with claws, pulling your hand in for more pets.
Meanwhile, brave little Fred was at the same time extremely cautious, and scared. She always kept her distance.
Annie was the content one, basically living on the back porch. She only moved from the back porch when another cat, Blinkers, was giving her hell for being so pretty and desirable. Otherwise she was fine to stay in her little world, perfectly content with a one-back-yard-sized vivid world.
Freddie, on the other hand, was nothing but still. She was constantly exploring the back yard and beyond. We’d often find her standing on fences, walking along them for fun. She was also the first cat that discovered how to open the outside food bin, she was exceedingly clever.
In the Summer of 2011, Amanda and I went on a vacation. When we came back, we saw Annie and Blinkers, but not Fred. After 3 days of not seeing Fred, we told ourselves she must have finally joined her Mom and Jerkface’s feral cat gang, and we’d see her eventually.
4 or 5 days after we came home from vacation. We were watching T.V., and Amanda went downstairs to get a drink of water. It was late at night, pitch black outside, but Amanda could barely make out a kitty feeding on the porch. Amanda screamed with joy across the house, “Freddie’s back!”. I started down the stairs to see our little wallflower, when half way down, Amanda shrieked in the tone of voice I fear most in my life, she screamed “JASON, FREDDIE’S HURT, BAD, COME HERE, QUICK!”.
Freddie was eating, slowly, and she appeared to be dragging one of her legs. When pet, she tried to get away, but was clearly drained of all energy and very probably close to death, it was one of the most terrifying sights of my life.
We grabbed her, took her inside, and took her to the vet. The next 72 hours were a 72 I’ll never forget, as our entire lives felt upside-down. The vet kept her overnight, to clean her wounds and make her better. The vet discovered Fred was running a super-high fever and pumped her full of antibiotics, but her wounds were already heavily infected and her leg needed to be removed. She sent Fred home with us, telling us to keep a close watch on her, and schedule the surgery immediately.
Fred was in bad shape, really bad shape, and probably terrified. But she was also exceedingly brave. She lived in our bathroom for a couple of days until the surgery, and not once did she bite, hiss, or scratch at us.
A few days later, Fred had her surgery, and, amazingly, she got up and walked around the same day her leg was removed.
With only three legs, Fred was destined to become an indoor cat. She lived her first month of indoor life in our small guest bathroom, healing from her surgery.
Every day Amanda would come home from work, and sit in the bathroom with fred for hours at a time. And every day, Freddie would prove me right. She’d growl and hiss and even spit sometimes when you tried to touch her. All the while Amanda insisted just sitting in the same room with her would go a long way. Amanda was brave, and patient, and loving, which is more than I could say for myself.
In time, Freddie bravely stepped into another big world, 1500 sq feet of kitten bliss. She had two new roommates, our 10+ year old cats.
In some ways Freddie was karma for our youngest indoor cat. Amanda had one cat first, and the second one bothered the first one *all the time*, for life. When Fred entered the picture, Fred became our second cat’s bother, and the first one was left alone. Now our second cat doesn’t bother any kitties anymore, and smarts at the continual pain-in-the-ass of lifelong karma in the form of Fred.
When Fred was released from bathroom isolation, she was still obviously quite feral, standoffish and at times, a pain. She’d almost constantly have those saucer-size eyes and a look of mild-insanity combined with terrible fear, and you’d never know what she’d do next.
If anyone visited the house, Fred would instantly scramble into a little ledge hidden a few feet up in our fireplace, only to emerge hours later covered in soot. Over a period of months, Fred cleaned our fireplace, and nowadays she goes in and out of there without any soot emerging with her on the way out.
Fred’s been our little feral/crazy inside cat for a little more than a year now, and all the while, day after day, Amanda has been loving and patiently working with Freddie to “make her” love us. For many months Amanda continued doing this, all the while occasionally deflecting cold-hearted/critical noise from me about feral being feral and people/animals never changing their true nature.
For what seemed like eons of time, Fred was on my side, more or less. Amanda would pet her, or hell, every once in a while, I’d give it a try. Every time I tried, she’d systematically claw me, possibly bite me, and then scramble around me to safety somewhere (probably the fireplace). Every time I walked into a room, Fred’s eyes would go wide, no matter how far and safe from me she was, and she’d start her scramble to the other end of the house. She was a lost cause, I thought, and she was proving my point.
Still, Amanda, ever brave, peaceful, loving, and amazingly patient, would give fred a go every other night or so, whenever the kitten’s crazy eyes were ever so slightly not-as-crazy.
After a year of effort, earlier this summer, this happened:
Amanda “made” Freddie love her.
Seeing Freddie Kreuger, the kitten who stabbed siblings for food, rub her face on Amanda’s face is a memory I cherish and will not soon forget. It was nothing short of a miracle.
In recent months Fred is even so brave as to sleep on the bed with us, and stay in the same room without the insta-scramble of before. Fred is truly a brave and clever girl, learning against all odds to love and be loved, all thanks to Amanda’s amazing patience, care, and unending capacity for love.
It took some time for my stubborn soul to realize the lessons in Freddie’s story, but the parallels to Amanda’s and my’s relationship are too obvious to ignore. Like Amanda, Freddie was amazingly brave, willing to try anything once, including losing a leg. And yet, like me, Freddie was full of fear, distant and cautious of anything and everything. When Freddie hurt her leg, the moment only re-inforced my inner fear of the unknown, and doubly reinforced my caution about Amanda’s constant bravery.
Through Amanda’s loving care, and above all, her unending patience. Freddie learned to overcome her instinctual built-in fear, be brave, and venture into the unknown. For Fred, the unknown was being loved, and because she was brave, she now regularly experiences the other side of the unknown: the fantastic.
My siblings, friends, and family will not at all struggle to see the parallels of Freddie’s story and my own. I’ve always been, and perhaps always will be, a cautious grumbly stubborn gus jerkface who’s slow to warm and quick to spite. And yet, Amanda walked into my life about 7 years ago, and her effect on me has been as astonishing as that she has on Freddie, albeit, sadly, at a much slower rate, because after all, I am a stubborn jerkface.
The point is this: Venturing into the unknown is scary, but without bravery, you may not ever experience the fantastic. If you’re smart, and exceedingly lucky, like me, you’ll find a better half who can hold your hand, and occasionally drag you by it, kicking and screaming, into the unknown, toward the experiences and memories you will cherish.
Nowadays, Freddie Kreuger is a happy indoor cat. All the time, finding new experiences inside her 1500 sq foot wonderland.
She gets to see her sister from time to time, and one of the greatest moments of the year, every year, is the first day of Fall when we can turn the A/C off, and open the back door so Fred and her sister can catch up on their stories of adventure and bravery.