I always said I’d never be on of those people. Yet, here I am blending up organic pumpkin with salmon souffle flavoured fancy feast in an effort to get a cat to poop.
We bought a house last year. Calling it a fixer-upper is an understatement—but it’s our home. It’s a two bedroom rancher that was built sometime in the 50s. On our first walk through with the realtor, there was rat poison and rat droppings everywhere. Tobacco stains dripped from what used to be a white ceiling fan. The kitchen had (what we later learned to be asbestos-based) peeling yellow linoleum with several burn marks. The fridge and stove looked original to the home and also like they had never been cleaned—we didn’t even try.
The bedrooms had hardwood floors trapped beneath years of garbage, neglect, and water damage. There was a random electric organ in the living room circa 1975. The bathroom was by far the worst part of the home’s interior—even taking into account the 1/2 inch of rat feces we found under the stove in the aforementioned kitchen.
The bathroom had pepto-coloured paint peeling off of every surface. The floor around the giant steel and enamel bathtub was soft, indicating severe water damage. There was no exhaust fan to relieve the moisture. The tub surround was plasticized plywood; it had plastic paint on one side and was cedar 1/8th of an inch board with no drywall underneath. The toilet was literally falling through the floor.
This was still not the worst thing.
The horror came from the garage. The previous owner’s son had been squatting on the property. The backyard was filled with tents, bike parts, tools, and garbage. The back door to the garage had been broken into. Inside there was a microwave, a kettle, and a hotpot stacked against one wall amongst boxes, shelves, and drug paraphernalia. Under what appeared to be an endless mountain of clothes (8 feet tall, 8 feet long, and 5 feet wide) was a mouldy mattress and box spring.
Later, throughout the cleanup process, we discovered multiple used needles hidden between layers of clothes. Sometimes we found pictures of children that seemed to be from the 80s or 90s. We set those aside should the squatter ever return. Those memories seemed important. Eventually, we carted away three industrial sized dumpsters of refuse from the house—mainly the garage.
On a break, we sat on the front step of the house and a large calico cat came over to investigate. We remembered the cat from the window of the living room that first day in October 2017. We had done a drive-by to view the house before setting up a walkthrough and this same cat had been perched behind heavy drapes in the main front window. It took months of putting food out and calling to him (using whatever name we could think of) before he trusted us enough to let us touch him.
One of our neighbours a few months after we moved in said, “So, you’ve decided to keep George.” GEORGE! He had a name! The neighbour informed us that George had been here as long as they could remember, and that was 11 years.
We’ve spent the year building trust with George. He’s had a hard life. He was left behind. He was starving. He had worms. He was dehydrated. Now, he is warm. He is cozy. He gets a lot of attention—and I puree his food into a pumpkin bisque because he damn well desreves it.