Lessons from a Stray Cat

Lessons from a Stray Cat

About two months after our elderly cat died, my husband and I were outside enjoying the flower beds when a cat we’d never seen before materialized at the edge of the yard. Naturally, I walked over to say hello. The little gray cat let me approach and seemed eager for my attentions—so eager she followed me back to the driveway, introduced herself to my husband, then spent the rest of the evening outside the front door begging us to pet her.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

We adopted the cat. She quickly won our hearts with her unabashed affection. So, despite the fact that we knew nothing of her previous life, or previous habits, or whether she might be pregnant with kittens, we decided to open out hearts and our home to her.

We called her Gracie. She filled our home with affection, companionship and graceful poses.

little gray cat

A few weeks ago Gracie died—suddenly and unexpectedly.

She left behind a hole in our hearts, but also a legacy of sorts. Here are a few things she taught us in the brief time we had with her:

Love involves risks. My sons were not enthusiastic when they heard we were planning to adopt a stray. They were concerned she might bring all sorts of bad habits with her. If we had chickened out because of that, however, we would have missed all the joy. Gracie was a very affectionate cat. Whenever one of us would sit down in our favorite chair, she would run over, hop up into our lap and remind us how much she loved us. So glad we decided she was worth the risk.

Love can overcome a habit of fear. But it takes time. When Gracie arrived, she was afraid to come in the house. We could coax her in a few feet because she desperately wanted attention, but then she would bolt back outside, which—in her mind—was safer. We will never know what traumatic experiences prompted those fears, but slowly, over many months, we were able to overcome them. Each time my sons came home they would remark on how much more relaxed Gracie was. Over time she learned to override her old habit of bolting for cover at every sneeze or rustle of paper—because she learned to feel secure, in our home and in our love.

Patience can be eloquent. Once Gracie became accustomed to living inside, we moved her food dish to the laundry room. She was the kind of cat who liked to nibble her food throughout the day, so there was no established mealtime. When her food dish was empty, Gracie would sit precisely in the doorway in a very ladylike pose—her front paws crossed—and stare at me. No meowing. No climbing my legs or doing naughty things to get my attention. She would sit silently and wait for me to get the hint. (Needless to say, I soon learned to interpret that pose. I am a very trainable human.) I wish I had a picture of her in this pose, but sadly I never took one.

Sometimes goodbyes come before you are ready. Our previous cat lived to the ripe old age of twenty-one. Gracie was only about four when she left us. We had her for a year-and-a-half,  yet in that short time she burrowed deep into our hearts. As I grieved her loss, I thought about how precious life is. It reminded me that we should never take our loved ones for granted.

Pets can teach us a lot about life–can’t they?

About Lisa Betz

Lisa Betz writes from an empty nest perched on a wooded Pennsylvania hillside. When not volunteering at the school, church or library, she writes about life, both now and two-thousand years ago.


  1. They absolutely can. I feel like my dog has taught me so much about unconditional love.

  2. I suspect that is why God invented cats and dogs in the first place.

  3. Nice post, Lisa. Our pets–both cats and dogs–can bring comfort like nothing else. They’re sensitive to our moods, seem to know when we’re not feeling well, rarely leaving our side during those times. Their love is such a precious gift.

  4. Amen! Just look at Facebook and how well “liked” are the posts about pets. Our rottweiler passed away three years ago. I still grieve. His unconditional love will never be forgotten.

  5. I was absolutely astounded by the response when I posted Gracie’s loss on fb. Pets are truly something that unites us.

  6. Laurie Driesen says:

    Gracie looks just like our cat who walked into the house one day when my husband left the door open. That was years ago before we were married. He decided to keep the cat after learning it didn’t have an owner. I never knew how much you could learn from a cat until I read your post! Thanks for your insight!

  7. I have a suspicion those cats who walk into our lives do not show up by accident. I am thankful for them, and I hope another one walks into my life soon.

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