I was volunteering with an animal rescue group when, one cold February day, they brought an adult male cat to my home for me to care for and prepare for adoption. I took a peak inside his carrier, to see a huddled, scared animal that smelled like an open sewer! His “howl” scared me. He sounded like he should be living in a tropical rain forest, and his face resembled a wild cat, not a domestic one. Later, I learned that he was an F2 Bengal male that was still “whole”. I’ve always been a “cat person”, but, I have to admit, I was a little afraid to touch him. Cautiously, I took him, and his carrier, to the area in my home that I used for foster cats.
When I took him from the carrier, he was sitting in a puddle of the worse diarrhea you could imagine. I was horrified to see an animal that was skin and bones, covered with sores and scabs. I later learned that he was kept in a cage in a barn with an Asian leopard female, and was expected to breed with her. Turns out, F2 males are infertile, something the “breeders” were unaware of. Also, some Asian leopard females will fight with their mates, even to the death! It was clear, that he had been torn up by the female that he was forced to live with. Then, alas, after a year of not siring any litters, it was decided that he was of no use to his captors, and they were going to turn him loose, or worse, shoot him!. So, he was brought to me.
The first night was eerie, listening to him howl and screech. Bengals clearly do not sound like other cats. I called the vet in the morning and took him that same day to be neutered. Then, his healing began. Over the next weeks, his behavior intrigued me. He straddled his litter box, rather than to dig in it like other cats. He played in his water bowl until there was no water left. He cleverly used his paws to open doors in a way that I have never seen a cat do before. He destroyed all of his cat toys in no time at all. What strong claws! He pounced from the floor to the top of my refrigerator with great ease, and quickly learned my routine. His color was unusual to me. What do you call it??? Brown? Red? One thing was for sure, he was smart and beautiful. I fell in love with him. I named him Harley. He lived the remainder of his life with me.
Once his veterinary protocol of tests, vaccinations, and neuter was complete, and he began gain weight, I started to introduce him to the rest of my feline family. Adult cats take longer to integrate into a multi cat household than a kitten does. I knew that. But, Harley was different. Bengal cats form a closer bond with their human family than most domestic cats do. He began to OWN me. He never left my side. Wherever I was, so was he. Every room. Every task. He was right in the middle of it. I began going away over night to cat shows. Harley waited by the door for me to return. He never went to bed without me. But, there was one problem; he would not share me with any of my other cats. He would chase any cat from the bed that wanted to sleep with us. No, he didn’t just chase them, he would want to fight with then. This continued for nearly 5 months until he established his position at the top of the pecking order. Then, only the females could sleep on the bed with us, no males. And, the girls had to sleep at the foot of the bed while Harley slept at my head. It wasn’t enough for him to sleep against me. Nope! I had to hold him, cuddle him, like a teddy bear…. all night long! If I turned over, he would paw at me until I reached for him again.
Harley was 2 years old when he came to me. At age 6, he was diagnosed with cancer. It was in his GI tract, between the stomach and his intestine. We elected surgery, but no chemo treatments were available for his type of cancer. A year later, on Feb. 5th, at age 7, he died from the cancer. I have trouble remembering birthdays and anniversaries. But I remember the day I lost Harley. He was “the one”. The one that I look for in every litter. The one I compare all of my cats to. It was more than a year after his death before I could even say his name. He loved me, and I loved him. Run free, my sweet boy.