My wife, Kate, and I were living in Terrell Hills with three small adorable dogs, Huey, Ivy, and Rusty (substitutes for our grown children who live all over the world), when somehow we found ourselves taking care of a feral cat when she started hanging out in our backyard.

Roxy was a black and white cat, very skinny, but apparently desirous in the cat world. When she had kittens, we put them in my office and took care of them, hand feeding all three from a spoon.

Since we were a house of dogs, Kate said we had to find them all good homes. She attended a training class called Trap, Neuter, and Return, but somehow I inherited the job of trapping, neutering, and returning. I need a better agent.

I waited until the kittens got bigger then I borrowed a trap from the Feral Cat Society and began to trap them one at a time. First the mama, Roxy. She was the easiest to trap. In her cage, she found a quiet place to hide from those mean tomcats and hungry kittens. The others weren’t that hard to trap either. I felt like I was being duplicitous but, despite my hesitancy, I got pretty good at it. I’d do the trapping at the morning feeding and if I caught one I took it right to the vet clinic.

Our real estate agent took Sadie, the calico. Roxy was unfortunately run over by a neighbor. We were down to two: Stella and Shadow. Stella is black and white, slender and graceful. Shadow’s all black with green eyes. You see the eyes before you see the rest of him. Any quick movement and he’ll run off. But Stella’s more social. She even lets me pet her. Eventually, the two kittens got bigger. So much so that I almost changed Shadow’s name to Moose.

We built a fence to keep them safe from our dogs, then a double-decker platform patterned after Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. We called it The Catio.

Nothing was too good for our cats. That’s right our cats. Kate and I had fallen madly in love with them. Research suggests that cat owners are less likely to die of heart attacks. They lower blood pressure and release dopamine and serotonin which reduces stress and improves immune functioning. But what I love most about cats is there are no memories of past slights. If you forget to feed them, they forgive you.   Plus, they have this incredible patience to just sit there while you fumble around with their food bowls. Their mere presence is powerful. I wait, you feed. That’s the deal. 

Things were going along smoothly until my stepson, Emil, who lived in Europe, decided he wanted to buy a house in Alamo Heights. He and his mom found one about a mile from our old house in Terrell Hills. Together with renowned local architect John Grable and local builder Keith Shelly, they created a masterpiece. 

After it was built Emil made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: “You guys can live in the big house.” It was a dream come true for Kate. There was only one problem: the cats. We had no idea what to do about the cats.  

Kate consulted a feral cat expert, who said we’d have to keep the cats confined for two weeks at the new place. We built a big platform and some catwalks, then Kate found a long metal cage online to put on top of the platform. Then we got two dog houses and put them inside the cage. We created a kitty Shangri-La. I wanted to move in. 

All we had to do was trap them and move them on over. Stella was a breeze. While I was petting her, I slid her into the trap. Shadow wouldn’t be so easy since he doesn’t like to be touched. But I was able to trick him with my food scam and I got him on my first try.

We put them in their new large cage, and the first few nights went well. They each went into their separate houses and came out to eat. Then Shadow started to cry at night. His cry turned into a howl. We felt bad for him.

Finally, the two weeks were up and we removed the large cage. They immediately took off to points unknown. We were worried sick. See, by then we had no other life, just the cats. Sure, we lived in a great house, but our friends abandoned us, our family didn’t come around anymore, we forgot our dogs’ names. All we talked about was the cats.

Then one morning as I was watering the plants I heard a familiar meow. It was Stella. She jumped out of the bushes, cold but anxious for me to pet her. I ran and got Kate and we both watched her eat. Kate immediately bought her a cat house with a warming pad. She took right to it. She slept in there snug as a bug.

But as well as Stella was doing, Kate couldn’t forget Shadow. She imagined the worst. Tornadoes, coyotes, raccoons, bears. One month went by and no Shadow. Then another month, and another. Ten months and no sighting. Emil told his mom not to worry, Shadow would return. No way, I thought. We had to put Shadow out of our minds.

Christmas was coming and we had big plans. Our entire melded families were going to stay at the house. Opening presents on Christmas morning was wonderful, and sitting down together for Christmas dinner was glorious. As we were eating, Emil looked out the sliding glass doors.

“Mom, I see Shadow.”

Everyone rushed to the glass doors to see. The green eyes could not be denied.  It was Shadow, all right. The greatest Christmas gift of all.

Ben Cardinale sets food out in his backyard for Stella and Shadow.
Ben Cardinale sets food out in his backyard for Shadow and Stella. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

I told everyone to stay inside and I went out there with two bowls just as I had always done. However, Stella was in the midst of confronting Shadow on the top cap of the fence. A standoff. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to share her space again.

He could have swatted her away, she was no match for him. But instead, he turned away and jumped down on a small landing I made and waited patiently, mournfully. I couldn’t help but think of the Temptations song, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Stella ate her bowl of food and went into her house. 

Shadow made his way to his bowl and gobbled it up all the while looking at Stella peeking her head out from her house.  She had accepted him back.

For a year now they both show up for breakfast and dinner. Together. This is their new home. There are many lessons to be learned here. Never give up hope, but also to open your heart to new things. Maybe, just maybe, you are a cat person. Try it. You might surprise yourself. I certainly did.

Ben Cardinale worked as a writer for Paramount Studios on such shows as "Family Ties." He lives in Alamo Heights with his wife, Kathryn Peters. His upcoming first novel is titled Sunday Dinner.