The people who used to live behind us (where we lived before moving here) got a beautiful tiny white fuzz-ball of a kitten one year; born of a farm cat from somewhere in western NC. Their daughter, who was in elementary school at the time, was the primary caretaker of this kitten. He was of Persian descent, and because he shed a lot of long white hair and scratched their drapes, they never let him in the house. He lived in their motor boat, on the carport. Everyday when the daughter got home from school, she would feed and play with the kitten, whom she named Snowball***. A year later, when the daughter got into middle school, she was busy with classes and friends and so she had little time for her cat. He began to venture out of their yard and into ours on a daily basis. We had a cat at the time, named Ping, and Snowball was very interested in the location of Ping's food bowl.
My children used to leave and enter the house through the garage all the time, and Snowball soon learned that if he timed it just right, he could make a beeline for our kitchen and Ping's food bowl, before the storm door closed on his tail. It got to be quite a chore to haul him out of the house, because every single time one of my kids would open the door - Snowball would shoot in like a bat out of hell, run straight to the kitchen and chow down as much as he could before I scooped him up and put him back in the yard. After several weeks of this, I tired of the game and let Snowball stay in the house as much as he wanted. He luxuriated on our beds and couches, he sprawled on the carpet wherever there was a patch of sunlight, he helped himself to food and water - and even Ping got used to him being there - though he was never happy about it. Every night I would put Snowball back outside so he could go home and sleep in the boat and every morning he was right back on our doorstep.
I realized that this cat was not happy at his old home and was choosing to live with us. It was so hard for me to understand why his owners didn't take better care of him; he was the most beautiful white Persian I had ever seen - except he had a few bad habits. He seldom groomed or bathed and so he was covered in North Carolina's ubiquitous red clay most of the time. He had tangles and burrs in his fur too. So one day I spotted him laying on our picnic table, and I decided to have a talk with him. I sat down on the bench, eye to eye with Snowball, and told him that he was too beautiful to be so slovenly, that if he wanted to live with us full time, he had to shape up and start cleaning himself every day; that no one would think he was loved if this was the way he presented himself to the world.
You will most likely not believe what happened, but I swear it is true. A short while later, he bathed and cleaned himself, and from that day forward he was very good about staying as clean as possible. I told his owners about our little talk and they laughed about it, but seemed uneasy at the time. About a month later, they called me to the fence between our yards, and very ceremoniously they handed Snowball over the fence to me and said that from that time on, he was my cat.
My first thought was "It's about time!". He was with us altogether for about 9 years, and while I have had cats for longer periods than that, none was ever loved more than Snowball; perhaps that was because he adopted me.
***Note: had I been naming this cat in the beginning, I would not have chosen "Snowball". With my perversity, I would have probably named him Pepper!