Michael King, a hard-drinking homeless man, was guzzling cheap booze outside a Portland, Ore., diner late one night when he saw “two glowing eyes peer up at him from under a table.”
They belonged to a cat whose battered appearance upset him.
“Her stripy white fur was covered with dirt and motor oil,” writes Britt Collins in the new book, “Strays: A Lost Cat, A Drifter, and Their Journey Across America” (Atria Books). “One of her eyes was swollen, and she had a raw gash on her face. She looked even more beat up than he was, and she was scared.”
Thus began a 10-month odyssey for King and the cat, who embarked on a cross-country adventure. There was only one problem: The cat had an owner, Ron Buss, who spent the entire time distraught, thinking a neighbor had murdered his beloved pet.
Buss was a shaved-headed guitar dealer in his early 50s. After guitars, his life revolved around his two cats, Mata Hairi and Creto, including throwing them “fancy birthday parties,” making them dinners of “organic chicken and wild-caught salmon from Whole Foods,” and writing songs in their honor. Usually his cats were allowed out of the house during the day but came home before dark.
But when Mata disappeared on Sept. 1, 2012, and didn’t return for days, Buss feared the worst. He suspected his neighbor Jack, a “hulking, muscular ex-wrestler . . . a sketchy character with a hair-trigger temper” who “took perverse pleasure in tormenting Ron, whom he hated for being gay, overweight and a cat fancier,” Collins writes.
But, in fact, Mata had wandered a little too far from home, and eventually bumped into King and his friends at their encampment.
King didn’t want a cat, but when Mata returned to his spot several days in a row, he developed a paternal feeling for the animal. He named her Tabor, after the cafe he found her by, and crafted a bed for her out of one of his old sweatshirts. Within a few weeks, he had…