When we first moved into our new home here in Cascais, Portugal, we were smitten with the charm of the street. Good weather, good neighbours, beautiful homes, well kept gardens – and then there was the icing on the cake – the plethora of cats that would hang out, lounging in the sun, snoozing under cars when it was too hot, standing like statues at the front gates – cats were (& are) everywhere.
Most of the cats here are ferals, street cats who belong to nobody, yet whom nearly every other person on our street cares for by leaving out a bowl of cat food and some fresh water. It made me so happy to learn that our neighbours looked after cats who weren’t even their own, and even happier to think I could be doing this myself.
But very quickly, the attack of the ants came, and I realized I’d have to get choosy about where I placed cat food bowls. So instead of leaving bits of kibble in the driveway, scattered, like I used to leave out to get Avery to trust us, back when he was a stray, I bought a cute lil green food and water bowl, filled it up, and stuck it on the elevated, paved area in our back garden where there was no evidence of ants, to see if any cats would (quite literally) bite.
They did. Quite a number of feral cats came through our garden anyway (I think we have pictures of 4-5 different tabbies, on top of the 3 “triplets” whom our direct neighbours feed each day). I couldn’t know which cats were eating the grub we left out, but it didn’t matter, I was happy to be feeding any of the feral cats, no matter who ate.
Then we met Porthos. The first of the Three Musketeers.
He was the first Persian we came across, and yes, we naievly assumed he was a stray initially. He’d come over and chow down on the grub left out for the feral kitties if they didn’t get to it first, and pick fights with cats who went on what he deemed “his turf” (our entire property). He was charming, he was gorgeous, we fell in love.
I’ll talk more about Porthos in another article dedicated exclusively to him, but the relevant part to this story is we quickly clued in to the fact that he had a family. The dead obvious sign? He came by by smelling like a perfume shop one evening. It was then that we stopped feeding him completely (and the other strays, since he was munching on grub left out for them). We wanted to make sure he’d have plenty of reason to go back home each day.
Even without the allure of kibble, Porthos still dropped by regularly, daily most weeks, to watch Thomas pace and to watch me trim hedges for passive entertainment, as well as some quality rounds of chase the ol’ hedge branch.
He’d never spend all his time at our place, though often through the course of a day would bounce in and out two or three times.
Then we spotted Aramis, a gorgeous purebred white, fluffy, long haired female, hanging out on the rooftops Porthos frequented. The first time we spotted her, she had a cone around her neck.
It was clear to us that she and Porthos belonged to the same family. She’d come by when he did sometimes, sit on a high ledge, peering out at our garden curiously. When we’d come out of our kitchen to see if she’d let us pet her, she’d sprint away before we made it within a meter of her.
Eventually we decided to shell over some kibble a handful of times – just enough to gain her trust so we could keep her coming back for playtime like Porthos. I’d give her a few bites, then Thomas would pick her up and place her in our garden, and we’d start the fun of dragging the hedge branch across the floor. She’d go crazy for play, even more into it than Porthos, though I’d often play with both simultaneously – side by side.
Once playtime was over, Aramis would have a sniff and a bite of the leaves of our plants, then get bored and hop back to her crib, while Porthos stuck around to nap behind our rosemary bush until the late afternoon, or had a snooze in the sun on our roof so we could spot him and call him over to play if we wanted a break in our garden.
The last purebred Persian “musketeer,” Athos, we never really gained the trust of. Always timid, he’d hang out on the roof with the other two, where we’d spot him from the windows, but he’d never venture out even half as far as Aramis, let alone Porthos.
Possibly even more stunning than the others, he did manage to gain the confidence to stand on the elevated platform Aramis often hung out on. We’d try to gain his trust with food, but he proved too skittish – only accepting a nibble once, and very nervously fleeing soon after.
Which leads me to the impostor musketeer – Bjorn the cat, or Bear as we used to call him.
The first time he hopped over our roof, it was one of the couple times we tried to gain Athos’ trust with kibble. Bjorn swung in, full force with a powerful shriek, completely out of nowhere, demanding we hand the cat food over to him instead.
My first impression of Bjorn was that he was a wildling – at heart, since he still looked like a designer kitty to me. I was ever so charmed by his lack of grace in comparison to the others, and labelled him the “Bear Grylls” cat. The name “Bear” stuck, even though his “proper” name was supposed to be d’Artagnan.
Just like when I naively assumed Porthos had no family when we first met him, again, I naively assumed Bjorn was one of them. But over the months, clues that should’ve been obvious from the start made me realize there was no way he was a musketeer.
Never having read the book itself, and having looked up the characters we named these cats after later, I realized what Thomas (who’d read the book and whose genius idea it was to name the others after the Three Musketeers in the first place) already knew – d’Artagnan was never one of the Three Musketeers, he was simply friends with them; ironic looking back since this was exactly Bjorn’s story and relation to the trio.
Want to find out what happened to Bjorn next? Check out the second half of this story: Our New Cat Knew: Stick Around Long Enough, They’ll Let You In.