On Friday, April 25th, we lost our beloved alley cat, Little Stripe. She had just turned 4 years old, and for the last year or so, she battled feline leukemia.
When I first saw Little Stripe she was about six weeks old and accompanied by Big Stripe. I assumed she was Big Stripe’s kitten, but soon after, Little Stripe was seen with another litter of kittens of the same age. In this litter was Romeo (now an indoor cat), and almost immediately he and Little Stripe became best friends. Where you saw one, the other would not be far behind. Both were brave and adventurous and the first to explore new terrain. They remained almost inseparable throughout their adolescence until Stripe was old enough to have kittens.
Little Stripe is the cat that Old Orange gave his house to in the Spring of 2011, when Little Stripe had her litter of kittens. My sister designed this house and we built it together for another alley cat, Snowy. Snowy never took to the house, but Old Orange loved it. He retreated to his winter abode every night. When Stripe moved in that spring, Old Orange seemed to become her sentinel, staying close to the house. On rainy days, he would lay under the house while Stripe and her five adorable kittens slept inside.
Little Stripe and the kittens made our yard their home, and it was wonderful to watch them as they playfully jousted on the patio or our little patch of grass. When they were about 7 weeks old we brought the kittens inside and socialized them. We were so relieved when we discovered all were healthy and adoptable. Within a few weeks, we found wonderful homes for all of her kittens. Those few weeks with the kittens brought us joy, but also sadness: for days and even weeks we heard Little Stripe’s plaintive cries for her missing kittens, last seen by our basement door. It was heart-breaking separating Little Stripe from her litter. After a while Little Stripe gave up and went into heat again. It was also at this time that we started doing TNR and we got her spayed as quickly as possible.
Like the other TNR-ed cats, Little Stripe soon settled down and began to enjoy her life in the alley with her new best friend, a handsome male we called Creamy Orange. These two became inseparable, and it was good to see that Little Stripe had companionship and protection. Not that she needed the latter because Stripe never fought with anyone. She minded her own business and she seemed to be above the petty politics of the colony. If someone approached her food dish, she would simply walk away, conveying the message that either she was through or she didn’t want it anyway.
In addition to Creamy Orange, Little Stripe remained close friends with Old Orange, as well as another ginger tom, Rough Orange. She clearly preferred the company of male cats and particularly the marmelades. Little Stripe was among the more feral of our alley cats. She was not skittish but she was careful about whom she trusted. This is another reason why I think Little Stipe was Big Stripe’s kitten. Big Stripe was the most feral of the colony, trusting almost no one except me, and even with me, she kept a great distance. Romeo’s litter, on the other hand, could not have been more at ease and trusting. So much so, that eventually I was able to pet Romeo and even lift him off the ground, which one day I did and brought him straight inside. Little Stripe, however, always stayed out of arm’s reach.
I often referred to Stripe as the little general: though petite, she marched along the alley with a commanding authority. On my way to work as I passed the alleyway entrance, I would glance over and see Little Stripe positioned at the top of the alley, overlooking her domain. We probably were responsible for her sense of entitlement because we did not do a good job of hiding the fact that she was our favorite alley cat. We adored Stripe, and she seemed to return our affection. She had such a sweet, sleepy-eyed face, and always a little smile. Though she was careful not to get too close, she was not afraid of us. Even my husband, who not smitten with the alley cats the way I was, had a soft spot for Stripe. She was the only outdoor cat with whom he shared his grilled shrimp.
Last April, Stripe appeared for dinner with what looked like a cut just below her eye. The next morning there were additional cuts and she did not eat very much. That night, she did not come to dinner at our house, but instead went next door. The next day our neighbor told us she looked very bad. With help from a friend we trapped Stripe and brought her to our vet. We were hit hard by the bad news of her health because we knew this would shorten her life and she could not return to her alley.
For the past year, we kept Little Stripe inside to care for her. Thanks to our wonderful vet, Stripe bounced back. Though there have been some ups and downs over the last year, she was doing remarkably well until about 10 days ago when she stopped eating again.
When we get her ashes back, we are going to place them in the alley, which Little Stripe loved and called home for a few short but very happy years. Over the last year, I had grown accustomed to not seeing her in the alley, but every time I pass the gate I cannot help but glance that way, and in my mind I still see her there with Creamy Orange, contentedly overlooking her little realm.