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Short Stories: The Man and Cat Behind the Dumpster

feral kitten 2

Several weeks ago, my wife, Polly, and I drove to Defiance to eat dinner at Sweetwater Chophouse. Prior to our reservation time, Polly drove our car through the car wash and then we headed over to Goodwill to drop off unwanted clothing and household goods. We are in the process of de-junking our home, getting rid of unused or unwanted “stuff.” If we had just collected everything for a few months, we could have had a yard sale this summer, but we just want the stuff gone, so every week or so we drop clothing and household items off at Goodwill in Defiance or Bryan, or take things to Care and Share, a Mennonite resale shop in Archbold. We prefer to use Care and Share, but sometimes it’s closer and easier to drop things off at the local Goodwill stores.

As we pulled around to the back of the Defiance Goodwill, we noticed a pick-up truck sitting next to a dumpster for Fricker’s — a sports bar. We noticed an old man, my age or slightly older, feeding a young feral cat. It was evident the man had spent time with this cat before. The cat was hesitant, as all feral cats are, but with a little coaxing, the old man got the cat to come to him and eat food out of a can. After the cat was finished eating, the man gingerly picked him up, took a tube of medicine out of his pocket, and put some antibiotic cream on the cat’s lame leg.

I wept as I watched this man patiently, kindly, and lovingly care for the least of these. I asked Polly to drive me up to the dumpster so I could speak to the man. I rolled down my window and said to him, “thank you.” He told that he had been caring for the cat since April 2021. Originally, there were four kittens, but only this one was left. He lamented the fact that the other cats were gone, likely dead.

feral kitten

Small acts of kindness to the least of these, be they humans or animals. Our family has been feeding local feral cats (and non-feral cats, raccoons, possums, skunks, grackles, and starlings) with cat food put on a plate inside a fiberglass doghouse for fifteen years. Why? Because, through no fault of their own, these cats face suffering and deprivation. The least we can do for them is provide food, water, and a place to get out of the cold.

Over the years, we have fed and cared for dozens of feral cats. Some we see once or twice, others visit our backyard for months or several years. Rarely do the cats let us touch them, but Bethany, our daughter with Down syndrome, has a knack for befriending them. Some of the cats will run to her when she is outside, rubbing against her leg or even letting her pet them. I suspect the cats sense that Bethany is not a threat to them.

Life presents us with small, insignificant opportunities to lessen harm for both humans and animals alike. Yet, far too often, we are so absorbed with “self” that we don’t pay attention to those in need around us.

Pay attention, and do what you can . . .

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    I like the Dalai Lama’s credo: “Kindness is my religion.” And seeing kindness in action is beautiful and moving. Kahil Gibran, the poet, said, “Kindness is like snow – it beautifies everything it covers.”This man is practicing kindness and so do you, Bruce and Polly. And you don’t need any supernatural help to be kind, either. Just an open heart and empathy. And isn’t there a passage in some old book that says love is kind? 🙂

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Aw, that’s sweet of that man caring for the lame cat.

    Where I work, through the years we have fed some feral cats. The cats come and go, but as long as the cats keep showing up, we feed them.

  3. Avatar
    BJW

    Well, we currently have 5 indoor cats who were either strays or from the shelter. And we are now feeding an outdoor clowder of around 5ish plus an unknown number of newborn kittens. A couple had kittens and the 2 cats that are really friendly and I can pet are going to get spayed/neutered through local humane society (1 boy, 1 girl).

    So anyway, it is so nice of that man to feed that poor kitty. And we now put food out every day to feed whatever cats come along. And we have a lot of rabbits, squirrels, moles, shrews etc that maybe the birds aren’t the first thing to get eaten? Oh well, Bob and I find the older we get, the more we want to help the cats.

  4. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    “Pay attention and do what you can…” Generally a good way to spend one’s life! I have found over my 70 years that dogs and cats and other animals too just plain improve being here. The good deed done by the dumpster man is two-way, I’m sure! I bet he wins all kinds of joy there… As I do, reading of him. Thanks for this one, Bruce. I have an old doggy who can’t hear anymore (and never listened much to me anyway through the years.) Couldn’t buy that love shared over the years even if I had Elon Musk’s fortune. And witnessing the kind of caring you did by the dumpster is such a wonderful gift too. Greater things than we can imagine are accomplished in a bit of paying attention and doing what we can….

  5. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    Thank you, Bruce, and the man behind the dumpster caring for the cat, and all the others here who feed and care for animals, from someone who volunteers at a no-kill dog and cat rescue. There are so many animals in need of homes. Please, spay and neuter your pets, and consider finding (or founding, if you know a vet who would do the surgery) a “trap, neuter, and release” program.

    We had to put our 17-year-old chihuahua with congestive heart failure to sleep today, and I’m pretty sensitive, especially today, about the treatment of homeless animals: Of the remaining dogs and cats in our home, two of the three cats–one of them who started out a feral–and both of the dogs came from the shelter I volunteer for, as somebody else’s discards. Please, do what you can.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Thank you , Bruce, Polly and the man who cares for the cat by the dumpster. (That sounds like the title of a movie or children’s book, doesn’t it?) Of the six cats I’ve had in my life, five–including the one who’s cuddling me now–were rescues. I simply can’t imagine life without cats, or some other animal.

    A few of my neighbors and I feed a colony of feral cats around a local senior citizens’ home. I’m sure the residents appreciate them. One of the cats–orange, like Morris from the Nine Lives commercials– rubs my ankles: She probably had a home once. So, probably, did a black cat who was part of another colony of ferals by an old workplace of mine. I still think about that him sometimes.

  7. Avatar
    Jen

    This man is a hero. Gandhi said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Unfortunately the majority of orphaned kittens that are taken to shelters are euthanized because they need so much care, and there just aren’t enough people and resources to handle them all. I foster orphan kittens through a no-kill shelter and encourage folks to be sure and have their animals fixed and adopt rather than buy.

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Bruce Gerencser