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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Rabbits And Groundhogs And Kittens, Oh My! Summer Musings From My Back Porch

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The wide open spaces, the winding country roads and breathtaking sunsets, the deer that live in harmony with the rabbits and the lone stray cat that gets along with the groundhog – these are but a few of my favorite things that make the daily commute from Manhattan (where I am employed) worthwhile.

We don’t know what first induced it to make itself at home on our back deck. The large porch swing must have seemed awfully inviting, because we began noticing an ongoing ritual: a cat curled up on the comfortable cushioned seat, enjoying the breeze, like it didn’t have a care in the world. And it’s not like it came for the food, for we had never fed him (my neighbor, Hindy, a longtime cat-lover, clued us in – it’s a boy). Until, that is, I started to feel that the feline who felt so at ease on our premises deserved at least some of our hospitality.

It started with a bit of milk that I placed in a small plastic container. Lapped it right up. Then the Shabbos chicken leftovers that no human has the slightest craving for come Monday. Never saw a bone licked so clean. Now if I’m caught in a morning rush, I can’t even afford to take a peek out at my wonderful outdoor floral creations, for I’d be incapable of resisting the “what am I, an orphan?” look of the puss that stares at me from the other side of the sliding screen door.

And then I discovered that precisely when I have the most leisure time to pamper my new friend, like on Shabbos, I am not allowed to because he’s not mine. (One is prohibited to feed animals in the wild on Shabbos, for they are not dependent on you for their sustenance.) It was when my visiting married daughter had to bail me out – bravely facing the cat down and explaining to it in gentle but no-nonsense style that it would simply have to wait until Shabbos was over – that I decided to consult with my local rabbi.

I tried convincing him that this cat had taken to home cooking like a bee to honey and might be in danger of suffering withdrawal symptoms come Saturdays, but he wasn’t eating into it. He did concede that I could leave a container out on Friday and uncover it on Shabbos, though it was preferable that the cat do the uncovering.

But the milk will turn sour in this hot weather,” I protested, feeling almost like a pouting six-year-old. To which I was sagely advised that a cat’s stomach is unlike its human counterpart, and that sour milk would not harm an animal that was accustomed to eating from trashcans.

Speaking of lapping it up, the grandkids visiting on weekends are, to put it mildly, enthralled. In fact, I may be making waves with my daughter-in-law who has already informed me that her children want to know why they can’t feed the black cat that visits their Lakewood backyard, “…just like babbi does.” But how sweet it is, to see little noses pressed against the glass as tots of all ages and sizes behold in fascination how a kitten relishes its (kosher, yet) din-din.

Alas, I fear that all this adulation may have gone to kitty’s head. His shtick of late: When it has my attention, it lies on its back with paws up in the air, rolls over on its side and back again in a gyrating motion, all the while looking desperate for my approval. Hindy the cat maven assures me that this performance is but a show of affection. My husband of the hopelessly cynical breed calls it “fleas.” Whatever – as long as the cat and I are in accord: despite having taken a shine to one another, we will continue to maintain a respectable distance between us.

That resolve has been strengthened in the last few days, as an incredible news bulletin broke out in the media. A cat named Oscar, residing at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Providence, Rhode Island, is known to have accurately forecast the imminent demise of 25 of the center’s human occupants. Seems whomever Oscar gets cozy with and curls up next to ends up succumbing to the malach hamoves within two days.

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