*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I witnessed firsthand; used with permission.
The house next door caught on fire on a hot summer day. It was July, and all the neighbors braved the heat to stand on the sidewalk and watch the flames. When the fire engines arrived, firefighters urged everyone to move farther away, and we did, for the most part.
One of my neighbors spotted something moving in the bushes. She couldn't help herself; she had to investigate. What she found was a dirty, matted cat the color of coal.
Never a cat lover herself, she scooped up the poor animal and paraded him around the remaining neighbors still milling around to watch the diminishing flames. She asked everyone, "Is this your cat?" Then she moved on to asking, "Do you want this cat?"
No one owned up to owning the cat, and no one wanted the cat, either. So my neighbor brought the cat home. "It's just temporary," she told her husband as she lovingly washed the soot from her new pet. "I'll find him a good home."
Once she had cleaned the cat thoroughly and could see what she was dealing with, she realized the cat had an infection and some minor injuries that needed to be handled. She brought the cat to the vet, and then she brought the cat right back home again.
"I thought you brought that cat to the animal shelter," her husband said.
It wasn't before long that the snow-white cat was happy and purring on my neighbor's windowsill. According to my neighbor, he was an excellent cat, and her husband had learned to accept that he wasn't going anywhere under one condition: no more cats.
It just so happened that a neighbor who lived in the back house moved out and dumped his cats unceremoniously in the yard to fend for themselves. By some good fortune, the trio of cats made their way into the yard next door, where a lazy white cat watched them from his sunny windowsill.
"What was I supposed to do?" my neighbor asked me. "They were right there, and they clearly needed a new home. I didn't think they would be any trouble, and I was right." She gestured toward the window where a quartet of cats watched us from their perch.
I had to agree. They didn't look like any trouble at all. I never heard anyone refer to her as the neighborhood cat lady, but they easily could have.
During the time I lived in that neighborhood, my neighbor rescued no fewer than a dozen cats. While she never had a full dozen cats living with her at any one time, she had a respectable number of cats at all times.
It all started with that one soot-black cat, who was actually a snow-white kitty beneath all that dirt. Thanks to that rescued cat, a cool dozen cats were adopted into a home of love and luxury.
I moved out of the neighborhood, and I don't know if my former neighbor is still busy rescuing the neighborhood strays, but I like to think she is. They deserve each other.