The legend of Tombo

Tombo’s Story


Don’t mix a stray cat and a can of tuna unless you want a new pet cat. That’s how we ended up with a long term cat. After the can of tuna he made a point of hanging around and so I started feeding him on a regular basis. You could tell he was always grateful for the leftovers I fed him by how fast he ate them. Hunger was the only thing that came between him and his independence. As time went by I began to watch for him and wondered what he was up to when he’d be gone for a few days. I told myself that having an outdoor cat around was a good thing. He would keep the mice and such from getting too close.


As winter approached he wanted to become an indoor cat. That would have been fine with my wife Cathy but not me. To avoid that I built him a cat house with a removable lid and carpet inside. To sweeten the deal I even put a heating pad in it on a timer. The trick was getting him to stay in it long enough to feel the heat. It turned out he didn’t like the idea of being inside with the roof on so when I took it off he was fine with it.

The cat house had another drawback. The city animal control saw the cat house and left us a license application. Just what I didn’t want – to spend money on a stray cat, especially when it made him ours. Before I could talk to Cathy about it she sent the fee in. 

No use fighting it, we had a cat. I bought some regular cat food and set it out. It turns out that’s a bad idea since every wild animal around shows up for a free meal. At the time we had a wood stove and I had built a rack to stack the wood in. At the end of the rack I built a platform and nailed a plastic cool whip bowl to it. Cathy said “what are you thinking!” He can’t jump that high.”  My response to that was “Don’t feed him”. The next morning I got a new can of tuna, gave Tom a sniff and put some in the cool whip container. Needless to say, Tom easily made the jump and we had established his new eating place (outside). 

I borrowed a live animal trap from the neighbor across the street. He is sort of an outdoors man and had many such things. He showed me how to load the trap and set it up so that when an animal pulled the string it would spring the trap and close the door. I used a rib bone for bait and pretty soon we heard some commotion and went to investigate. We didn’t know what kind of wild animal we’d caught and hoped it wasn’t an opossum. Our fears turned to laughter when we heard the meow coming from the trap.  In fact we caught Tom twice before giving the trap back. 

That winter Cathy had a conference out of town. While she was gone Tom drug a dead squirrel up to the front door. Just for the fun of it I left it there for Cathy to find. It worked great. She came around the corner saw the dead squirrel with its legs up in the air and let out a yelp.   All I had to say to make it alright was “I see you found the present Tom left you.” 

Later in the spring he caught a baby rabbit. He was pretty much done playing with it when we discovered what he had. Cathy felt sorry for “Thumper” and tried to rescue him.  Tom whisked him away when she got too close and we can only guess at the outcome.  

Tom had made his way around the neighbor hood. One of the neighbors told the story of how she opened her closet and there was Tom. She named him Magic since she had no idea how he got in there. 

In the summer my son asked if I could watch his dog while he went to army guard camp. This dog hates cats and already had some notches in his collar. I just figured the cat would leave for a few days like he often did. Boy was I wrong. He arched his back like a Halloween cat and was ready for action. My son’s roommate was holding the dog with a choker chain. The dog seemed oblivious to being restrained and bolted dragging my son’s roommate in flip-flops behind him. There was a skirmish and Tom took off running with the dog in hot pursuit. When we got the dog stopped he had blood on his mouth and we thought he’d gotten the cat. When we examined Tom we found that he was unharmed and in fact had scratched the dog’s nose. My son’s roommate took the dog home with him and Tom had the place to himself. 

Tom’s active time seemed to be at 4:00 AM and he seemed to think that we should feed and play with him then. He knew we were sleeping in our bedroom and would use his claws to bang the screen door on our sliding glass door. To punish him Cathy would get up and feed him and say in a sweet voice “bad kitty”.  I observed that he hated water and proceeded to build a mote in front of the sliding door. I used 4x4’s and put a sheet of plastic to hold the water. It would have been fun to see what happened that night when Tom realized that I had outsmarted him. In fact over time the water evaporated and he still didn’t try to bang the screen. 

Tom seemed to think that my toddler grandkids Elizabeth and Emily were fair game when they came to visit. At one time or another he scratched both of them. They got so they were afraid of Tom and didn’t want to come and visit. One day when they were visiting I noticed that they were sticking really close to me and suggested they go play. They replied that they were afraid of Tom. I found them a squirt gun and told them if Tom came around just squirt him and he would leave. It wasn’t long before they were going around with the squirt gun saying “here kitty kitty” and Tom was nowhere around. 

It was in the fall of 1993 I was looking for a new car. Cathy was at a conference and Tom had got into a big cat fight. He often got into fights, that was nothing new, but this time he didn’t get out of his cat house when I brought his food out. I took a good look at him and saw his eye was scratched. One of my worst nightmares is spending a lot of money on a stray cat. I knew that Cathy was attached to him. I think it has something to do with the mothering hormone women have. I have to admit I was fond of Tom too so I called the vet and asked what it cost for some salve for his eye. They told me that the salve was $15 and an office call was $20. Tom was in luck. I was about to spend $20,000 on a new Ford Explorer and $35 didn’t seem like a big deal to get him fixed up. I made an appointment and brought him inside so I would know where he was. I set about taking a shower and getting dressed. That’s when I saw him come out of my closet. I looked to see what he had been up to and found he had diarrhea on my tennis shoes. He almost died right then but I thought of trying to explain that to Cathy. I got things cleaned up and was about ready to take him to the vet. It occurred to me that he had never been in a car and I had no idea how he would react. I decided to put him in an orange box I had with a lid on it. He didn’t much like that idea so I duck taped the lid down just to make sure he didn’t get out. I went back and locked up the house and when I returned to the car there sat Tom on top of the box. At that point I decided that if he went crazy in the car I’d just open the door and let him loose. He just sat on the box all the way to the vets.


The vet’s office was busy that morning and there were several dogs there but Tom just sat in my lap being good. I knew then he must be pretty bad off. When we got into see the vet I asked how old he thought Tom was. He seemed to think he was 2, maybe 3 years old. He looked Tom over and said that if I really wanted a good pet we should have him fixed and get him his shots. I asked “what’s that going to cost”. The answer was $120 including the salve for his eye. Boy was Tom lucky I was buying my new Ford and that didn’t seem like that much money to have a good pet. When I left the vets I went and bought my new Ford before Tom could cost me anymore money. That plan didn’t fly. As soon as I got home the vet called and said Tom’s eye had to come out but he would be a good pet. I asked “what’s that going to cost” and he said another $100. It was Tom’s lucky day and I said Ok. 

The vet kept him for a few days before I could pick him up. They had shaved his eye and it had stitches where the eye had been and of course we got a tube of salve to fight infection. One of Tom’s favorite things to do was lay on a warm car hood. When I got home he tried to jump on the car hood and “splat” he hit the fender. He was grateful when I placed him on the car hood. Later that day I had to pick Cathy up at the airport. When she arrived I told the story of Tom’s eye right up to the point I told the vet to do it. I found it odd that she didn’t seem very upset that he might be dead. She was surprised that I had saved Tom. I also didn’t tell her I had bought the Ford. She discovered the new Explorer when I set her bags behind it and unlocked it.  It must have sunk in how close we came to losing Tom because Cathy really turned on the mothering thing after that. 

At some point another cat figured out where Tom’s food was and helped himself on a regular basis. We needed to keep his food somewhere even more difficult to get to. Cathy wanted to put a cat door into the house. She didn’t consider that more than Tom would use it and I wondered what her reaction would be to finding an opossum in the kitchen some morning. I take that back I know what her reaction would be and I wanted no part of it. My solution was a cat window in the garage. It seemed simple enough. Just get a piece of plastic cut to the size of the open window and cut a flap out of the piece and wire it so it swung open when Tom went through. Who knew that a piece of plastic that size was $40. The project also required building a shelf in front of the window for him to jump up on to. Cathy really had her doubts about this project. She didn’t see how Tom would ever figure out how to use the cat window. My response was “don’t feed him”. Again I got a new can of tuna, gave him a good whiff, and set it on the other side of the cat door. I think I showed him a couple more times before he had it down pat. 

I think the biggest change came in the winter of 1995/1996 when we left Tom with a young couple who house sat for us while we went to Australia. The man wasn’t much of a cat person to start with. When I got home his wife told me how he had really gotten attached to Tom. In fact that winter he became an indoor cat. I gave up and went with along with that. My only (new rule) was he had to go out to the garage at night (remember the 4:00 AM feeding/play time). 

That stray cat had become a valued pet with annual visits to the vet. I had learned my lesson with the orange box so I bought him a carrying cage for the vet trips. Cathy always insisted that I go on these trips because he minded me and pretty much ignored her. We had some pretty wild experiences at the vets. One time he decided that it was time for a rebellion and in a flash he had scratched all 4 people in the room.  Another time he hopped off the examining table with the thermometer still up his rear end.  One time we had been gone for a few days and when I got home he wasn’t there. A few days later he showed up and looked really bad. I gave him the old standby a can of tuna. He didn’t seem to be able to eat it he just licked at the juice. I was so relieved to see him that I didn’t even whine about taking him to the vet. It turned out that someone had shot him with a pellet gun and broken his jaw. The vet kept him for a few days trying to reset the jaw. Tom didn’t like being penned up and kept the jaw from healing. I asked the vet about it and he said that he’d be fine with the jaw healing without being set but that he wouldn’t look very good. I told him with only one eye he didn’t look very good anyway.  

We moved in 2001. It wasn’t far from the old house. In fact just across a church field. There is a point to letting you know this. We had a storage shed built at the new house and I had them put in a cat door with steps leading up to it. Again Cathy said he’ll never figure out how to get in there. Won’t she ever learn? I said “don’t feed him”. I didn’t tell her that I put him in the shed and let him figure out how to get out a couple of times before I opened a new can or tuna and showed him how to get in. We left food in there for him and we thought we had replaced the garage cat window at the old house. I think it was on Labor Day that we first left him out at the house while we went on a trip. When we got back he was gone. After getting an “I thought that was a bad idea” from Cathy we set out to find him. It turns out he went to our old house and couldn’t figure out how to get back. 

After a few months he made the new house his kingdom. He would sleep in the street on sunny days daring someone to run over him. It really surprised us that most of the neighbor s liked him and had there own stories to share with us. One guy across the street had a pickup that he kept in tip top shape and Tom insisted on sleeping on it. Another neighbor called him Garfield after the cartoon cat. 

Over the years he managed to generate many more Tom stories. One morning Cathy went out in the garage and heard him meowing but had a hard time finding where it was coming from. Turns out she had left her sunroof open and he had gotten in her Acura and couldn’t get out. Then there was the time a young boy knocked at the door and I asked if I could help him. He said that our cat bit his dog. I said “what?!” and he said that he was walking his dog and our cat came out and bit him in the neck. Then he chased his sister and cousin down the street. I said he’s a cat but that I‘d try and keep him in the back yard. I think he walked his dog somewhere else after that. At night I’d put him in the garage (the 4:00 AM feeding/play time thing) and soon it became a game with him to disappear around that time of night. Cathy worked it out that it was my job to put him out because he minds me better and she didn’t want to get scratched. Tom’s a big cat and most of the time not too hard to find but one night I looked everywhere and couldn’t find him. I think Cathy had been rooting for that night all along. Anyway at 4:00 in the morning he showed up and wanted to play. The next night he hid in the same place and would have gotten away with it again but I saw the gleam of his one eye behind the printer in Cathy’s office. 

In the fall of 2004 we took Tom for is annual vet visit. After checking him over and considering his age they felt he might be better off getting his teeth cleaned than having a bunch of shots. It turns out that they have to put a cat out to clean his teeth and that it’s not cheap. They also did some blood tests while they had him out. They came back and indicated that his kidneys were starting to fail. They had an expensive diet that was supposed to help. They also warned us that he might sleep more. I couldn’t help myself and said “we probably wouldn’t notice since he sleeps most of the time now”. With his nice clean teeth Tom decided he didn’t like the healthy food (almost human). At that point Cathy started him on a strict regiment of tuna and fancy feast. He spent his last year in cat heaven - food wise anyway. 

In 2005 we had a house built in Vancouver Washington and were planning on moving north. We felt that Tom was on his 12th or 13th life by now. He didn’t take to much to moving and had started have some accidents outside the litter box. We both felt that his time had come. Cathy liked the idea that he wouldn’t get sick and suffer as she knew would happen pretty soon. Being the brave soul she is she found a wedding to go to in San Diego and left me to do the dirty work. I was having a moving sale that day so things got pretty hectic. I took Tom to the vet’s office and asked to have him put to sleep. They said “That’s not how it works. You need to see the vet first. We don’t put healthy cats to sleep”. I told her I was in kind of a hurry and she said “take a seat, it’ll only be a few minutes”. Pretty quick they sent us into the exam room followed shortly by the vet. She let Tom out of his cage and started to examine him. He took one last defiant swat at her. With that she put him back in his cage and said that he would be put down shortly. 

When I got back home some people were showing up for the moving sale. I for sure wanted to sell the cat stuff and not move it. We had a lot of cat stuff. Several litter boxes, feeding bowls, cages and so forth. My hopes for selling the cat stuff faded as the day went on. Someone told me about list on the internet and that ads were free. It took awhile to figure out how to say “cat’s gone, stuff for sale”.   I came up with “cat estate sale” and ran the ad. I only had one response but I gave her a good deal and she took it all.   

That stray cat hit the jackpot when he wandered by our place that day a long time ago. Little did we know then that we hit the jackpot too.

They never let me use the car.


I like the litter box better.


I hope drug sniffing cats catch on.


I like tight drawers.