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Sometimes It’s Not Just About the Vegetables: The Tale of the Cat on the Stoop

By Katie Townsend, Program Director at Angelic Organics Learning Center

Rounding the corner from the garden I heard what everyone else knew. A scream. A wail. Mourning that accompanies the death of a loved one. The foreign sound came from a cat on the stoop of an apartment near the Buddy House, our meeting place at Blackhawk Courts (generously made available to Angelic Organics Learning Center's Roots & Wings program by the Rockford Housing Authority). I concluded that the piercing, desperate cry must be the sound of one left behind. The cat flattened his body so that it resembled a furry pancake plastered to the door. He appeared to be glued to the only home he had ever known. The hours outside had turned to a day with nobody home. 

The tattered tabby’s bleeding face indicated that fear now mingled with loneliness.“He gonna die,” one of youth leaders informed me. “They left him and not comin’ back,” another added. “Dog fought him this morning, but didn’t kill him.” “A lady threw a bottle that hit the kitty in the head.” The neighbors were becoming agitated by the kitty’s incessant wailing. 

Eviction can be a loss for both humans and pets. In a place where this kind of loss is commonplace, it can become easy to turn off one’s heart. But not our young people. They ran toward the cat, telling me it needed comforting. Wearing my programmer hat, I rattled off all the instructions: “do not touch the cat; it is scared and might bite you,” “we will get it to a no kill shelter.” (Like that meant anything to the youth leaders; in their minds, animals that are taken away by the “animal police” die.) Their respect for me stopped the youth leaders momentarily. Yet, once my back was turned, the cat was in their arms. When I returned, they looked at me with expressions that begged me to do something.

The Roots & Wings program is about community leadership as much as urban farming, nutrition, and wellness. In spite of my admonitions, these young people were showing leadership. On the mean streets (which in these times is really everywhere), compassion and mercy can be in short supply. However, at the edge of a garden in a Rockford housing complex, these qualities were in full bloom. So the adults did the only thing we could do: follow the next generation of leaders. 

The displaced animal became silent as it welcomed refuge inside the Buddy House and explored its new surroundings. As destiny would have it, the Buddy House is only two doors down from the newly vacant apartment – the fateful stoop of the crying cat. Being inside was clearly less scary for our furry friend.

Definitions and examples of the words “compassion” and “mercy” were shared around our circle. The session ended with agreement that leaders should be both compassionate and merciful. And a choked promise from me that I would take the cat home with me that evening if the owners did not return.

I let the youth know that I owned a cat carrier and had a supply of cat food. The solution seemed simple: the means to care for the unfortunate creature were in my possession. Miss Katie would surely leap at the chance to be merciful and compassionate. Our discerning group expected nothing less from me. They did not for a minute doubt that I would walk my talk. I wish I could say the same for myself sometimes. These kids never cease to make me a better person.

The atmosphere relaxed; fear and tension were replaced with the comfort in knowing that the cat would not be left to fend for itself. Names for our new friend were suggested. The boys argued for “Chip,” even though they could give no reason for their choice other than that the cat just looked like a “Chip.” The girls had all sort of reasons for their preferred name: it should be “Carrot,” as the cat is orange and skinny like the vegetable. We are the youth leaders of Blackhawk Courts Farm and Garden! Get it? Farming…Carrot. Masters of compromise, the youth settled on the name “Carrot Chip.”

Later in the evening, I returned with my cat carrier. All day the Buddy House had been a beehive of activity. By late afternoon, the number swelled to twenty youth ranging in age from 5 to 14 years old. The staff who had stayed in the Buddy House allowed those who were exercising “compassion” and “mercy” to take turns babysitting Miss Katie’s cat. Some of the impromptu cat-sitters examined my cat carrier for soundness and wanted to see the cat food. A definite “Show me the money!” moment when I had to prove myself worthy of Carrot Chip. 

The once abandoned had become beloved. It was time for good-byes. Children passed by the cat carrier wishing C.C. good luck. After only eight hours, the cat already had a nickname!
I am the lucky one. Today, the work of my hands has connected with my faith. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

This story was edited by Constance McCarthy, board member at Angelic Organics Learning Center.  Thank you, Constance!!!