I never thought of myself as a cat person. Then I met Swindle, the feline con artist who swindled his way into my life.
In 2009, I was walking through the park on my lunch break when I saw a little girl with a big cardboard box that said "FREE KITTENS." I like looking at kittens, so I wandered over. They were tiny, definitely too young to be away from their mother, and all of them were fast asleep, except for one: A scruffy black cat with little tufts of fur in his ears, and big round eyes that gazed up at me as if to say, "You're going to take me home, aren't you?"
But I wasn't sure if I wanted a cat, much less a kitten, and besides, I had to go back to work.
A few hours later, the little girl walked into the shop where I was working. She was still holding the cardboard box, but this time only the tiny black kitten was left. "Here," she said, "you should have this." She put the box on the counter and walked out.
So now I had a cat.
I took her to the vet, who said she was a healthy girl. I named her Beatrice. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I realized we'd all been deceived. While playing with her one afternoon, she rolled over on her back, and I was faced with indisputable proof that my sweet little girl was not quite as much of a girl as I thought. So that's how Swindle got his name.
That was only his first con. If I'd known that Swindle would take his name to heart, I would have stuck with Beatrice.
Fast forward a couple years, and Swindle had grown from a little handful into a big healthy armful. In fact, he was getting to be a little too big. Okay, definitely too big. I wasn't overfeeding him, so I couldn't understand why he kept gaining weight. It wasn't until I saw him visiting the neighbors that I realized what was going on.
The neighbors were an elderly couple with no kids. They were pretty reserved, so we hadn't talked a lot, but it turned out that Swindle had the diplomatic relations under control. I watched from my window as Swindle waddled up to the neighbors and rubbed himself against their legs. I continued to watch as the neighbors brought forth a veritable feast for Swindle's consumption. Tuna, cheese, little scraps of chicken and sausage... I think there might even have been some caviar in there.
I had a chat with the neighbors, but I quickly discovered that they liked Swindle a lot more than they liked me. In fact, they accused me of starving him — because why else would he seem so hungry all the time? I tried to explain that Swindle would eat anything you put in front of him, and some things you didn't, but they were convinced that he was being horribly mistreated. Luckily, we moved shortly thereafter.
I put Swindle on a diet (much to his disgust), and at first, it seemed to be helping. He was almost back to his fighting weight when the diet stopped working. Soon his belly swayed back and forth when he walked, and he had to do some pretty gnarly cat yoga to groom himself. Clearly, he'd found another unsuspecting patsy to be his supplier. I tried to follow him on his daily strolls, but all he ever did was inspect his territory and maybe take a nap in one of the empty flower pots a couple houses down.
It wasn’t until his weight ballooned to a whopping 22 pounds that the truth was revealed. I was on my bike, coming home from work, when I spotted a familiar blob sauntering up a stranger's driveway. We were at least a block outside Swindle’s usual stomping grounds, but that colossus was unmistakably my cat.
I slowed down and watched as he went up to the door and waited patiently for a few minutes until a middle-aged woman came out of the house, and gave him a bowl of something. Swindle chowed down while the woman cooed at him, and when he was done eating, he sat on her lap and licked his chops while she stroked him. Then he heaved himself upright and walked off.
Mystery solved! Or so I thought. As I trailed him from a safe distance, he approached another nearby house and ambled up to their porch. This time his target was two kids, who clearly knew him, and happily plied him with lunch meat in exchange for a little feline affection.
When he finished there, he moved on to another house, and then to another.
He only scored at three of the houses, but he checked in at a total of seven, and by then I'd gotten a pretty clear idea of what was going on. My sweet boy was a no-good, double-crossing hustler!
After that, it was just a matter of talking to the neighbors and explaining the situation. Thankfully, these neighbors were much more understanding. Within a few weeks, Swindle started to slim down again, and he's settled at a lean 13 pounds. He's still a glutton, but I think he's pleased with how the weight loss has improved his vertical leap.
Before Swindle, most of the cats I'd met were standoffish snobs who lurked in the shadows. Maybe Swindle was different because I got him so young, or maybe it was just his natural charisma that won me over. There's definitely something special about him. Seriously, not every cat can con an entire neighborhood the way he did. I'd like to think that he's turned over a new leaf, but a tiger can't change its stripes. Also, he's a cat. You never can tell with cats.