Friday, December 31, 2010

The Rescue

When my divorce was finalized in September, four days after I moved into a new house, my 7-year-old daughter Cecelia started bugging me for a new pet.

We already have a 2-year-old Florida king snake, Spotty Dangerous a.k.a. Cosmic Creepers. I am now a single mom. I dreaded introducing a new member, another being to take care of and mouth to feed, into our household.

“Cecelia, if you make your bed every morning and get your homework done on time, get good grades and generally maintain a positive attitude, we’ll see about getting a new pet at Christmas.”

My declaration has haunted me over the past few months. C took my words to heart, and kept up her chores daily. Her bed making skills became exemplary. She dutifully handed over every penny she accumulated in allowance in eager anticipation of a new household member. She became addicted to pet rescue websites, poring over the animal bios searching for the perfect pet.

I have never been a cat person, but I was so worried about the responsibility of walking and caring for a dog that I steered her in the feline direction. They seemed a lot easier to care for. Cecelia discovered a shelter in a town about an hour from our city – it houses over a hundred stray cats, and her daily forays to the website became obsessive, at the very least. I wondered, reading each cat bio, how the workers could possibly nail each cat’s personality into a three sentence summary – they must be manufactured for the consumer.

A couple of weekends ago, true to my word, we headed for Hot Springs to the cat shelter. I took the kids to the local pet store the day before and we loaded up on kitty litter, scratching pads, and cat toys. The last cat I had growing up, Puff, was somewhat brain damaged, I think, and ultimately ended up dying of starvation after getting stuck on a neighbor’s roof. One of my roommate’s cats in college used to bang on my door screeching while I was trying to sleep after an all night shift at the home I worked at for people with schizophrenia. I wasn’t very optimistic. The last thing I wanted was to have a cat sleep in my bed, so I researched the compatibility of cats and snakes on the Internet the week before.

“Cats and snakes are incompatible. They should be kept in separate rooms. Under no circumstances should they be left alone together.”

This was good news for me, so I harnessed my little brother, home for the holidays, into building a fancy aquarium (terrarium) stand with me for Spotty Dangerous to take up permanent housing in my room, therefore wiping out any possibility of the cat spending the night in my room.

As we entered the shelter through a thrift store in front, I wondered what we were getting into. Cecelia summed up the atmosphere in one sentence, “Yup, this must be a cat shelter – I can smell it.” Strangely, when we were thankfully escorted back to the cat shelter after being told it was closed due to lack of volunteers, the smell dissipated – it must have belonged to the items in the thrift store. The shelter was surprisingly clean. We received a brief orientation.

“You can go into each room and play with the cats. You are not allowed to go into the medical ward. The special needs ward is off limits to the public. We’ll start you off in the teenage room. We don’t have kittens, currently.”

We squeezed in through a door that numerous cats tried to exit the moment it was opened. It was a clean room with concrete floors full of scratch pads, litter boxes, and about thirty teenage cats. My five-year old son Jack was temporarily threatened by the ones that jumped on him and clawed through his pants, but the volunteer worker quickly handed him a fishing pole feather cat toy that distracted the cats from him. He laughed maniacally as numerous cats jostled for the feathers. Cecelia wandered around intently focused on finding the perfect cat. I noticed one in the corner of the room lounging apathetically on a scratch pad, neglecting the excitement that Jack was providing for the majority of the cats in the room. Eventually Cecelia made her way over to the cat I was eyeing.

“Look, Mom! Look at this one. She is so sweet. And her name is Caitlyn!”

We came to the shelter with their favorite babysitter, Caitlin. So this discovery was particularly exciting. Of course we had seen Caitlyn on the shelter website, and she had our interest piqued – she was mostly black and it seems that black cats are usually not adopted due to traditional superstitions.

“Mom, this is the one. Caitlyn. Let’s call her Katie.”

We took Katie home, and quickly changed her name to Katybell, at the suggestion of my brother. “It’s more of a cat name.”

Lo and behold, Katybell is just who we needed. She is more like a dog than a cat – following every household member around and snuggling and cuddling every chance she gets. One morning not long after we adopted her, at about 2 a.m., my daughter Cecelia snuck into my room, filled with anxiety.

“Mom, I can’t sleep. She just wants to play. I’m so exhausted.”

“It’s ok, C. Just put her in the laundry room.”

A couple of minutes later I heard Cecelia crying in her room. I wandered in to see what was wrong, crawled into her bed, and held her. “Are you OK?”

“Mom, she’s crying. She needs me, but I’m so tired. I can’t handle it.”

Lord, I had so much empathy for her. I remembered when she and Jack were babies mewling quietly in their rooms and I was trying to catch some sleep before a busy day of residency. Since I had just been with them an hour or so before I told myself that they were all right, not urgently in need of anything, and fitfully tried to catch a couple of hours of sleep. I consoled her.

“It’s all right, C. She knows you love her, and she will be OK in the morning. Your sleep is just as important to her well being as it is to you. Stop worrying and try to get some rest.”

Cecelia finally dozed off, and I wandered back into my room to sleep. True to my word, Katybell held nothing against us when we let her out of the laundry room in the morning. She has become a permanent fixture in our household, after only a couple of weeks. She is an amazingly laid back kitty, indulging Jack in carrying her around the house like a sack of potatoes and pleasing both kids in long morning games and charades over the Christmas holidays. The TV might as well go out the window. She loves us, and we love her. So much so, it makes me look into her soulful questioning green eyes and wonder who rescued who.


  1. Adorable post! I'm also really amused by the "snake in the bedroom" maneuver, because that's seriously something I would do.

  2. What a cute story!

    Katybell will be so good for your family. We are a total cat family - we have 3, 2 of which are black cats. When we adopted them as kittens (sister and brother), we heard the same story about nobody wanting "unlucky" black cats.

    My son ADORES those cats. Sable sleeps with him every night. We wish we could have more, but these three are all we can handle right now. Thank goodness, his devotion to the cats helped defuse his desire for a hamster... visions of cats batting a terrified hamster in its exercise ball down the stairs and around the house!

    There is seriously nothing as relaxing at the end of a long day as a snuggle with a purring cat. Enjoy! :-)

  3. What a sweet story. I've had at least one feline friend since I was very small, and I'm one who's a sucker for a black cat too. The one I had as a teen was named Howard. My parents have a black one named, of all things, George. He's wacky but awfully cute. My two (Jerry, litter-mate of George, and Miss Phantom, who's quite senior) are spoiled rotten. Hope you guys get as much joy and love from your kitty as I've received from mine over the years.

  4. Animals are a lot of work, but are good for the soul. I'm so glad your kitty is working our for you. Getting our dog was one of the smartest things we've done. If only she didn't chase cats, we might get one of those too!

  5. I had so many cats when I was little. I can't wait until I'm in a place where I could get a pet. Unfortunately, I have a husband who is allergic to fur, so I may have to wind up with a snake, which aren't really cuddly, or exciting creatures.

  6. Thanks, all!
    Yes, despite my bad history with cats, I am finding myself enjoying her curling up on my lap at night when I am reading on the couch. I expect she will settle in the next few months and be a better bed-mate to Cecelia.
    medrecgal - I love the name Miss Phantom!
    Brit - Snakes are very exciting. Slithery, but not cuddly, I agree.

  7. I must say I can't imagine taking care of another being at this time. Congrats to you for finding that balance, slithery and cuddly.

  8. I'm with T. I find my 3 children are very much like pets already--snuggly and warm, constantly in need of feeding, occasionally in need of major hygiene interventions, wake me at night, the works! I can't imagine adding a "conventional" pet on top of this chaos in our house, but I too am happy for you, and I'm sure Cecilia is over the moon!

  9. I love the above 2 comments! When my children pester me for a pet, I say "we had a baby instead, Annabel is our pet".
    Seriously though, glad you found something (someone?) that you all love and that you can cuddle with at the end of the day.

  10. Awww, how wonderful! We would probably have a cat if we weren't allergic. Luckily so far my husband has cooled off on his cries for a dog. "Just tell me we're done having kids so that I can go out and get a dog." LOL.

  11. T, Tempeh, and anon - I was totally with you. Kids were enough. But Katybell has added such a rich dimension to our lives in such an incredibly short time. The kids are old enough to be responsible and care for her, and the snuggles she returns are a thousand fold worth the little effort. She distracts all of us from ourselves and our own worries at the end of the day - a welcome addition that leaves me wondering why I waited so long.

    Kelly - hope you find the energy to care for a dog soon! I agree that small kids are enough to handle and am pleased that I fostered responsibility and savings before we took the plunge. It was worth the wait so we all had enough energy to handle the new house member.

  12. Congrats to you for finding that balance, slithery and cuddly.This link might be more helpful.


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