• StevenF

The Miraculous and Melancholy Tale of Milagro

Updated: Apr 12

Those of you who followed me when I was on Facebook are likely familiar with Milagro, an amazing stray (we thought) cat we took care of who ended up affecting in surprising, profound, life-changing, and miraculous way. I have written about him previously here in my blog.

I have some sad news about Milagro, which I will talk about later in this post. Those of you who have followed his saga and have grown to love him as we have can relax—he is still very much alive and well, although this new bit of news has almost felt like a death to Isaias and me.

But first, I want to recap the miraculous influence this amazing cat has had on our lives in very profound and surprising ways.

Milagro, a black and white tuxedo cat, first began showing up in our backyard in early 2019. At the time, we thought that he was a stray because he always seemed to be in the yard scrounging for food, and he was in kind of rough shape. It was clear he had been in some fights with other neighborhood cats.

Although we cared for him and fed and hydrated him, he seemed very much an outdoor cat, and we did not feel he would mesh well with our girls, so we did not try to take him in but cared for him as best we could.

In February 2019, before we had named him anything, it was raining really hard and he was camped out under a hand truck we had in our backyard. He looked like he had been in a fight. His nose was bloody, his left eye was shut, and something was wrong with his paw. He also seemed to be having respiratory issues. He was scared and sick and wouldn't come out from under the hand truck. After the rain stopped when we weren't aware, he limped away and disappeared. Our last sighting of him was one of a frail, pathetic-looking, soaked-to-the-bone cat in great need of aid.

We were devastated when he vanished, and when he didn't come back to our yard as usual, we feared he had died. We looked for him every day to no avail.

Then three weeks later, he showed up again on our back porch patiently expecting his regular meal. He had obviously been on an adventure. He had been neutered and was no longer limping. His eye still looked bad, but somebody obviously had taken care of him. We suspected someone had rescued him, did what they could for him, and then released him in the area where they found him...and he found us again. We felt we had been given another chance to help this guy, and that's when we named him Milagro (or Miracle).

Over the course of many months, Milagro would regularly come to our yard, where we continued to love and care for him.

Milagro in his patio chair.

In late 2019, another cat, a Siamese, started coming into our yard eating Milagro's food. We later discovered that cat's collar carried the name "Morty," so that's what we called him.

Milagro was not crazy about Morty horning in on his action. And although the two cats fought, Morty seemed to be the dominant of the two, so he usually got first dibs. The two would fight sometimes, and we would know it was happening because Milagro's growl was very distinct. Cute, really.

Milagro watches Morty eat his food. Noticed how perturbed he is.

Mialgro's fur sometimes became dirty and matted. Isaias would brush Milagro's fur. Milagro clearly appreciated it and laid on his back while Isaias brushed him, basking in the contact and care.

I remember it bringing tears to my eyes watching my sweet, thoughtful husband caring for this poor cat who likely had no one else.

Isaias brushing Milagro

At the beginning of 2020, another cat came into our yard, and actually we have always believed Milagro brought her to us because he knew we would care for her the way we had cared for him.

This new cat, a tortoise-hair, was in rough shape. Her fur was matted to the point where it was extremely difficult to cut. She had an abcess on her back. She was scared, thin, and cold.

But Milagro was very protective of her. He made sure she ate first, although I know he would have liked that food for himself. He protected her from Morty and made sure Morty didn't take any food before she got some. He watched out for her. It was quite amazing to see.

Milagro and Grizzabella sharing a meal.

We decided to call this cat Grizzabella after a cat from the musical Cats because she reminded us of that character, a mangy, lonely, sad, ostracized cat who is way past her glamour days, but who eventually receives the greatest reward.

Grizzabella, pre-adoption

Grizzabella was very needy and stayed very close to the yard, never leaving. She seemed like an indoor cat that had been abandoned, and we felt she would do well in our home, so we captured her, took her to the vet, and eventually adopted her. But it is very much because of Milagro that she is now ours. And we love our little Glamour Cat.

Grizzabella right after we adopted her. She's happier than she seems in this photo.

We had even joked that Milagro and Grizzabella were boyfriend and girlfriend, and I felt bad that we took her away from him. When I took Grizzabella to the vet, Milagro was looking for her. Her absence made him sad, and I was always worried he felt rejected that we adopted her but not him. Still, in retrospect, I think he brought her to us precisely so we could take her in.

In early 2020, during our first month or two of lockdown, Milagro still came around like clockwork, lifting our spirits. His name reminded me that we can all use miracles in our lives.

And then in May, Isaias' family contracted COVID, sending his mom and two brothers into the hospital and leaving two other nonhospitalized family members seriously ill. These were dark, hard days for all of us.

About the time Isaias' mom went into the hospital, Milagro stopped coming by as often. In fact, the last time I had seen him, he looked so tired and a little worse for the wear. When he stopped showing up we thought either someone took him to the pound or that perhaps someone else who had been feeding him took him in. One morning I went out back to feed Morty. I was playing Michael Giacchino's "There's No Place Like Home" from the TV show "Lost" while I was putting the food out. As I came back from filling the water bowl there he was...Milagro, our little friend.

Milagro visiting while Isaias' mom was in the hospital

Milagro was such a fighter. Resilient. He had been through a lot. He had been on death's doorstep, and he kept coming back stronger than ever to fight another day. He truly embodied his moniker. As Michael Giacchino's music swelled, I looked at this scrappy little fighter and thought of Isaias' dear mom - my Nena - and I thought how fortuitous it was that at the very moment when a song called "There's No Place Like Home" was playing, a Miracle was hungrily eating in front of me, this Milagro who I had not seen in days. And I thought about how Isaias' mom was a fighter, too. A strong woman. That if anybody had the will to beat COVID, she did. Maybe it's silly, but at the time it felt like a sign. I finished watching Milagro eating and then he walked away into the darkness, and I hoped we would find him the next morning sleeping under the patio chair, like we often had.

And I hoped Isaias' mom would return home very soon, too. And she did...just not the home we were praying for. She went to her heavenly home instead. While Nena was in the hospital, Milagro kept coming around, and although Nena eventually lost her battle with COVID, Milagro felt like hope to us. He lifted us and sustained us. He symbolized hope, faith, and miracles. He came to be so much more than just a cat to us. We were glad he felt safe in our yard, and we were grateful he made us feel safe too. He became our Guardian of the Backyard in so many ways.

Eventually Milagro and Morty became almost friends or, at the very least, respectful foes, and when Morty eventually disappeared, never to return again, I think Milagro missed him. We always wonder what happened to Morty. We were never able to capture him to help him out.

In January of 2021 Milagro went missing for a few days. The next time we saw him, he was not doing well at all. He would not eat. He willingly let us put him in a kennel and take him to the vet.

It turned out he had two ulcers in his mouth (the vet suspected he accidentally ate something corrosive), and he had a superficial wound below his eye (probably from fighting) and had an infection. Fortunately, none of it seemed life threatening.

He was, however, in a lot of pain and had difficulty eating because of the mouth sores. The vet put him on antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, treatment for the ulcers, and he was also given an appetite stimulant. We kept him in the same room that eventually became Jasper's and later, Franki's.

Milagro knew we were trying to help him. I remember when we caring for him, I thought of the scripture, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me," a philosophy we have tried to apply in our lives, both with animals and humans alike.

I remember also during this time, a friend had recently committed suicide, and it felt like Milagro represented so many who were desperately in need. Helping him gave our life and his life meaning.

He reminded me that compassion, love, and looking out for each other should not be lost arts but basic tenets of humanity.

Milagro convalescing at our house

Milagro eager to get out of the "hospital"

Milagro had been convalescing with us for two weeks when we discovered he wasn't a stray and apparently never had been the whole time we had known and cared for him.

His owner's daughter had been looking for him and was devastated he had come up missing. We found out his real name was Cookies. What a little con artist!

When Isaias got in contact with his owners, he was on the phone with the mother, and he heard the daughter in the background say, "Mommy, I never prayed, but last night I decided to for the first time."

Milagro was reunited with that little girl, who loves Milagro very much. The family was so grateful we took care of him and was even more grateful he was alive and safe. But we now knew who he belonged to and that they were just around the corner if Milagro (he'll always be Milagro to us) ever needed our help again.

Milagro back home with his real family

It was sad, though, to know that Milagro had a family that wasn't us, and now they started keeping him in more often, so we did not get to see him as much as we wanted to, and that felt like a loss.

But Milagro kept popping up on various occasions, often when it felt like we needed hope or comfort.

He showed up on the two-year anniversary of when we saw him, rain-soaked, under the hand truck.

He showed up on the one-year anniversary of the day I last saw Nena in person.

Milagro visiting a year after I saw Nena in person for the last time

He showed up the day Isaias got his second COVID vaccine, thus making both Isaias and I fully vaccinated against the same disease that had taken Isaias' mom.

The day Isaias got his second vaccine shot

After a month of no visits, he showed up on Mother's Day, the anniversary of Isaias' mom first going into the hospital.

Mother's Day

He showed up the day we took our newly acquired, sweet Jasper to the vet for the first time and came by often while we were caring for Jasper.

The day we took Jasper to the vet

He visited us on Father's Day.

Father's Day

He showed up when Jasper was very sick and toward the end of his life.

Giving us strength during Jasper's illness

Milagro and Jasper

Saying hi to Jasper and me

He showed up right after Jasper died when we were deep in grief.

After Jasper died

One time in November of 2021, he brought yet another cat with him, who we later found out was his sister.

Milagro and his sister, Love

And he visited us right after Trooper died.

After Trooper died

It truly felt like he visited us during our hardest, most challenging, grief-stricken moments. And even on days when things were going well, the day just always felt better when Saint Milagro, Patron Saint of the Backyard would appear.

And then in recent months, he just stopped coming. We hoped he was okay, imagining his family was just keeping him indoors. But a long time passed without seeing him.

And then his owner informed Isaias that due to marital difficulties, she and the daughter had moved out of the house and were now in a rental about 3 or 4 miles north of us. She was afraid to let us know because she knew how attached we are to that special cat.

So that's the sad news: We are unlikely to see Milagro in our backyard again. Although if I know Milagro, if he senses we need him, he will find a way back here. In fact, I worry he may try to run away back over here and will get lost or killed. So although I would love to see him again, I want him to stay safe.

But his owner says Cookies is doing well and that her daughter treats him like her own baby. The mom reiterated just how special we are to her and even invited us over to see Cookies if we are ever in the area. I may very well take her up on that offer.

It is bittersweet knowing he will probably not be back. In so many ways, Milagro has felt like our cat. But he is not really ours. He was never really ours. And yet, at the same time, he's always been ours. And we are definitely his.

It may seem odd that we are mourning the loss of a cat that is still very much alive and who never truly belonged to us. But we are. It has been kind of devastating knowing our backyard cat won't be showing up on days when we need him the most.

But maybe Milagro knows we are strong enough to carry on without him. Maybe it's time for him to let us make our own way without his comfort and strength. And maybe, just maybe, there is someone who needs him more than we do right now. And oh, how lucky they will be. If he can help them the way he has helped us, they will be blessed indeed.

We're sure going to miss Milagro. Truly. Deeply. Beyond words.

Bye-bye, you magnificent cat. I pray we see you again.

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