It must have been just weeks or close to a month following the purchase of our summer house back in 2005 when we saw a mysterious looking grey cat sitting outside, looking through the glass doors.  Its face, somber, if not sad, had a look as if it had come on some serious, rather urgent business.

Our first thought was it belonged to a neighbor and that it was just visiting out of natural cat’s curiosity welcoming us to the neighborhood –  but it just remained sitting there, looking in, and then we realized we were being rude to our very first guest and had better find something to offer.  As can be expected, we had nothing that resembled proper cat food, so we gave it a plate of our leftovers from the night before.  The dark grey cat which bears some features of a British Shorthair sniffed, looked up at us as if giving an unspoken order to find something better in the kitchen.  We stood there staring back at her, feeling embarrassed.

She ate in leisurely  manner with such finesse you’d think she has wandered too far from the palace where the rest of her royal family resides.  When she finished eating, she left her plate, gave us a look, and walked away with such elegance even Queen Margaret would have approved.  Thus, she ended with the name ‘Duchess.’

Duchess would visit now and then. She would come for food and walk away so quietly. There were times we wouldn’t see her for weeks, sometimes even for a whole summer. Either she had someone who provided food and shelter most of the time, or by being on her own had harnessed essential skills in living from available resources.

After a while, we realized Duchess belonged to nobody. She was her own boss. She comes and goes as she pleases.  All the years outdoors has made her smart enough to avoid the dangers of the road. If she had ever been someone’s pet, it was way too distant in her memory that her way of survival was to keep her distance.   This beautiful, free-spirited feline had survived countless years of harsh weather,  living in abandoned sheds, keeping herself nourished by hours and hours of tedious hunting, and lived a life in solitude where perhaps one of the few luxuries was relaxing in one of her favorite hideaways on the first day of spring knowing that she had survived another winter.

Although she seemed to favor the safety of solitude, the day when we realized she had a litter of three kittens stashed at a neighbor’s shed was the day we decided that it would be her last litter.  Duchess and her babies were trapped, taken to the vet where they all got a clean bill of health, earmarked, vaccinations, sterilised and released.   The kittens were later named, Shadow, Tjin Tjin & Hamish.

Duchess’ story doesn’t end here – it was just the beginning.  Although the cats still enjoyed the privileges of living in the free, our garden became their survival station.   It was here they found food and access to water during all four seasons, and our shed was the place to find warm, clean beds during cold winter.

Our cats’ sanctuary had officially opened.