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A stray cat stopped by one recent warm afternoon.

Rob Earnshaw, The Times

The other day I was outside reading when a stray cat hopped on the table to see what was going on. This is one of two young cats that have been hanging around since the middle of winter.

And though I usually won’t feed strays (although I’ve been known to throw some food scraps outside for whoever beast wants them), they were hanging around in the cold and snow and I felt sorry for them so I started putting a little food out.

They’ve been coming around since. I’ve named them after pubs in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. The grey one is Quencher. His sister, a white and grey mix, is Mickey.

They’re mom was this little black cat that used to hang around, and her mom was another stray black cat from the neighborhood. I think there have been a few generations of this cat family. And they may all be tied to this large orange tabby that for a long time seems comes around once a year, from who knows where, looking for fun times.

Sometimes at night it’s like a Stephen King movie outside, with the cats making their scary meow sounds.

The rabbit population has been down around here for several years. I'm thinking it's cats. More than once I've seen a cat with a little rabbit in its mouth. 

I’ve been seeing a lot of cats lately, not just in the neighborhood. Maybe they’re not all strays. Cats like to wander from home, before returning at a later time or day. Just the other day a black cat crossed my path as I was biking along the Oak Savannah trail. I’ve probably seen more cats along the trail in the last year than deer.

Recently stories ran about feral cats being "put to work" to keep the Chicago's rat population down. There’s a craft brewery in the city that uses them for that purpose. I read somewhere that some of these working cats are given cardboard houses. Because cats love cardboard.

Sometimes I don't see any cats around the house for awhile. Especially when I'm babysitting a family member's dog. But then I’ll go outside and see feathers scattered on the ground around the bird feeder. Maybe if I throw some 9 Lives cat food outside it will result in saving a bird or two. But I doubt it.

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Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.