Occasionally someone will ask me where I get ideas for this column. Some are long-held views, e.g., that cats should be indoor-only companions and that it is inhumane to declaw. Other columns come from personal experiences such as soliciting in front of a department store or working at a shelter.
So it was that my wife and I were walking down an especially crowded Fifth Avenue in mid-town Manhattan two days before New Year’s Eve when we witnessed a remarkable sight.
A homeless man was sitting on a milk crate with his head resting on his chest. Next to him was a cat! The gray and white feline sat quietly and seemingly contentedly, on a towel next to dishes of water and dry food. We were stunned! Thousands were passing by, including occasional individuals walking dogs. Yet the cat sat stoically without any sort of tether, without as much as a twitch of its tail.
We had seen cats in Manhattan before, of course, but generally in places like outside a Chinatown grocery store or sitting in a bookstore window. We know from our own lives filled with felines that cats are amazing creatures. My wife’s favorite cat rides in a bicycle basket without being tied in as my wife bicycles around our neighborhood. Our cat, Lucky, previously a stray, decided he wanted to join our household one winter night, so he wrapped his two front legs around my leg and wouldn’t let go. But we had never witnessed anything like this cat on Fifth Avenue, not far from where Audrey Hepburn immortalized the character, Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when she, too, befriended a homeless cat.
Our conversation with the homeless man was brief as my wife petted his special feline companion. After saying “God bless you” for the dollars we left in his tin can, he added, “Most amazing cat I’ve ever seen.”
“Take good care of him,” we encouraged, for lack of anything more profound to say, but also reflective of our worry that they would both be okay.
“I will,” he said confidently.
And then we were past them in the bustling crowd.
A couple of hours later, as the sun was setting, we were making our way back to Grand Central Terminal on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue. Looking across the street, we could see through the throng of shoppers and sightseers that the man and the cat were still in the same spot, accepting donations, which would bring them sustenance.
Although the man and the cat seemed settled in their routine, my wife and I continued to worry. How would they both survive in the winter cold? Where would they go at night? What shelter could be found for both a man and a cat? Would the two become separated? We found no answers to these questions, of course.
“How could a homeless man take care of a cat?” my wife asked me.
“I don’t know, but what I do know is that cat wouldn’t stay if there wasn’t a bond of love, commitment, and companionship between them.”
We had but briefly touched the lives of these two homeless souls, from two different species, one called human and the other called feline. We will always remember the man and his companion cat. It is clear that these two beings have a bond of love such as Corinthians defines: “Love is patient, love is kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We wish them both well in their life’s travels together.
For the animals,
by Gregory M. Simpson