The mercury hit 20 degrees as the wind howled and snow flew. The clock chimed midnight, breaking the silence of the frigid night.

The mercury hit 20 degrees as the wind howled and snow flew. The clock chimed midnight, breaking the silence of the frigid night.

"Mew. Mew." Barely audible, a weak, plaintive sound woke me from my restless repose.

"Russell. Russell." I tried to arouse hubby from his deep slumber.

"Huh?" he responded between snores.

"I think there's a cat outside."

"No cat. Go sleep."

"I'm going to go see."

I threw on my robe and stumbled out of bed. Shivering on the icy, snow-covered deck, peering through the French doors was a rich-colored, brown tabby. His head and feet appeared too large for his body as if he had been deprived of proper nutrition. A look of despair seemed to cloud his face.

I unlatched the door and pushed it against the snow. As I leaned down to pick him up, his forlornness seemed to melt as if he thought, "Someone is coming to help me."

I snatched him up. He felt amazingly light. I held his dwarfish, frostbitten body against mine. He began serenading me, purring loudly as if to express his gratitude.

Our resident 10-year-old cats, King Fuzziferd and Queen Wooltiva, appeared. Hiss. Sputter. Growl. They expressed their extreme displeasure at the near-frozen interloper. They had only two royal subjects, their human servants: Russ and me.

I closed the entrance to the kitchen to keep the royal family at bay and raided the palace's pantry. Although a mere serf, I had the intelligence to realize that another member in this cat family simply would not be permissible under the iron rule of the paw.

As the teeny tabby ravenously finished off his second bowl of food, Russ appeared.

"What are we going to do with him? We can't keep him in the house. The kitties will attack him. It's way to cold to leave him outside. Besides, there are coyotes, bobcats, dogs — maybe even cougars — out there. It's too dangerous."

"We'll put him in the garage for tonight. Then, I don't know."

I racked my brain and picked everyone else's I knew.

"CATS — Committed Alliance to Strays — might take him," someone suggested.

I tried that. Their waiting list exceeded four months.

I tried the Humane Society: "Sorry, we only take owner-surrendered pets." Besides, they had a long waiting list, too.

I tried my friends. I emailed everyone I could think of: "Anyone need a cat?"

The replies flooded my inbox: "No one needs a cat." "Sorry, I already have four." "Wish I could help you out, but "… "

The weather warmed. We let Sam — that's what we decided to name him — out of the garage for a while. He disappeared. This led to many sleepless nights. I fretted. "What if he freezes again? What if he starves? What if a predator eats him?"

This went on for more than a month. I continued to try to figure out what to do with him if he reappeared.

"I knew someone in a similar situation," a friend told me. "She put an ad in the paper: 'Free to good home.' "

I tried it. It worked. An angel called. She'd just lost her 14-year-old cat and happened to see the ad in the paper. Fantastic! Only one problem. I didn't have Sam.

"I'll wait," she said. "I'll put my cat carrier in my car. When you find him, give me a call."

Miraculously, several weeks later at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, a familiar mew awakened me. I called the answer to my prayers. She and her husband arrived before noon to take him home. With tears in my eyes, I said goodbye. We watched Sam being driven away.

"Russ, I don't get it. If people drop off an animal, how do they think it can survive?"

"I don't know, Susie."

"If anyone ever considers it, I hope they'll think about Sam."