Of all the cats in my small colony, I knew Big Stripe the longest. I called her Big Stripe to distinguish her from Little Stripe (I am almost certain her daughter). These two looked nearly identical, but neither would be considered big, they were actually quite petite.
I met Big Stripe when she was a kitten in the spring of 2008. I used to feed her mom, a feral gray cat, and soon discovered this cat kept a little kitten stowed away in a neighbor’s overgrown yard. I remember the first time I saw Big Stripe. It was predawn and I saw a little animal playing in the alley. I could tell by its movements that it was a kitten. In the same second I felt joy and fear—it was so little! I watched what then would become a daily ritual, Big Stripe’s mom brought her out of hiding in the predawn hours and then stowed her back before breakfast. Then one day she brought the kitten with her to breakfast. I felt honored that she trusted me enough to show me her kitten and let me feed her. A short time later, the mother disappeared altogether so then it was just me and Big Stripe, the kitten.
Though her mom was gone, Big Stripe followed the same routine as before, each day after breakfast she retreated to the neighbor’s yard. It was so adorable how she stowed herself away, just as her mom would have wished. As she grew, of course, her patterns changed and it was her turn to go off to find a mate and become a mom.
I am not a hundred percent sure, but I think that she had only one kitten in her first litter, Little Stripe. I saw these two together for a short while, then I starting seeing Little Stripe with another litter of kittens about the same age. By then Big Stripe had become a more infrequent visitor, and when she did appear, it was with a fellow we called Rough Customer.
Rough Customer was the epitome of an alley cat, straight from central casting. His thick gray and white fur was dirty and his face was peppered with scars. He had the countenance of a heavy weight boxer, just past his prime. Rough Customer did not walk, he stomped, pounding the earth with his little paws with each step he took, propelling himself down the alley with the bravado of a lion. As soon as he appeared, all the other cats scattered. All except Big Stripe.
Rough Customer became the friend and protector and mate of Big Stripe, and the father to at least one of her kittens. They were not altogether an unlikely couple because Big Strip was the most elusive and feral of the colony. And Rough Customer was not as bad as he appeared. After Big Stripe had her second litter, Rough Customer stayed with her and her three kittens Simba (missing), White & Black (missing) and Little Blackie (the lone survivor) for a very long time—long after I spayed Big Stripe. His son, White and Black, inherited his distinctive markings, including the crown of grey.
They were a family unit, but I also saw them infrequently. Big Stripe had chosen a residence further down the alley—it had a completely secluded back yard where her kittens could remain safe and hidden. Best of all it was the home of a lovely retired couple who literally opened their door to the kittens, feeding them every morning in their sunny kitchen.
Eventually Rough Customer disappeared and Big Stripe remained with her three kittens. As they grew, they too became more independent, except for Simba, who adored and remained very close to her mom.
It is hard to believe that Big Stripe could have been trapped. She was so feral, so wary, even around me—someone she had known and trusted most of her life. But she may have been distraught, if her darling Simba was taken first. And this is another part of the story that is so painful. Nearly every one of these cats had a close relationship with someone else. How stressful and upsetting it must have been for them when that other went missing.