Last May, MC and I lost our dear furry friend to a rapidly progressing illness. We were both devastated. Our only solace was discovering My Cat from Hell and thinking about the happy memories we shared with our cat. We didn’t plan to adopt again soon, but we were convinced we’d be even better cat parents this time around because we had learned so much about cat behavior from Jackson Galaxy.
In late July, as MC and I were out for a weekend stroll, I happened to see what looked like a cat out of the corner of my eye in the window of a local pet store. This was miraculous for two reasons: I have terrible peripheral vision, and the pet store was the sort that only has fish and gerbils inside. I pointed it out to MC and, upon closer inspection, we realized there were two cats sitting in a crate in front of the window. The cats looked terrified, the crate was much too small, and their surroundings were filthy.
Over the next several days, we were drawn back to this window over and over again. Each time we visited, the situation seemed more dire. At night, the cats were left in the uncovered crate in the window with all the lights on. One slept in the litter box. They appeared weak, skinny, and sad. Though we didn’t feel ready for (up to 20 more years of) pet ownership again, we soon decided we had to adopt these two creatures, if only to take them away from this tortured existence, or the other – worse – possibility.
The pet shop was “fostering” the cats on behalf of a large animal charity, and after about a week of phone calls, we were finally able to adopt – or, as I often say, rescue – these two cats. After bringing them home, we learned more about their history. They were raised in what was described as a “hoarder house” with almost 40 other cats. They had been rescued by “a good samaritan” who soon after became ill and dropped them off at the animal charity’s shelter. From the shelter, they were brought to the pet shop as part of an adoption outreach program. They had been living for several weeks in the small crate under bright lights for 24 hours a day by the time we found them.
As you might imagine given their history, the cats were not well socialized. Their hygiene habits were atrocious. They never purred. They were emaciated and stunk – for weeks. Their claws were black and brittle and came out in chunks on the floor. They fought and wailed for most of the night and hid for most of the day. They growled at each other – or us – while eating. On top of that, they seemed disinterested in forming any relationship with us. Life with these creatures seemed a thankless task – we saved their lives and in return, we were forced to live with them. It only made us miss our dear Mr. Tubby even more.
After a few weeks, the cats gained weight and their fur looked glossy and healthy. The putrid smells also disappeared. The litter box habits improved (just slightly, though) and they came out more during the day time. We finally gave them names – Cappuccino and James Bond. But the interactions were still pretty bad and the nights were still filled with caterwauling.
And then, in early November, it happened. I had the bright idea of getting a new toy to try and play with them. Perhaps, I thought, I could tire them out during the day so they would sleep through the night (or at least be quiet enough to let us sleep through the night).
Before I could even take the toy out of the package, Cappuccino became interested in it. So interested, in fact, that he repeatedly bit me – hard – in an effort to grab it. After several bites, he punctured through my finger. I was shocked, screaming, and bleeding. James Bond hid as Cappuccino continued to play with the toy.
MC helped me to clean the wound, which was painful and looked even worse. I was between health insurance plans and I didn’t want to spend the money to go to the doctor. Within a few days, though, it was clear that something was wrong, and, since the bite was on my right (dominant) hand, I needed to have it checked out. Of course, it was infected and I had to pay for treatment and medication.
MC and I were both angry. And, frankly, I was afraid, too, though I hid it well. (No one wants to be around an animal that senses fear, after all.) What kind of crazy cat would bite you over and over, while you were shrieking, and then play with a toy as though nothing had happened? The worst part was the feeling of isolation. Everyone we spoke to said we should take the cat back to a shelter. This would definitely mean he would be put down, and I couldn’t believe we had discovered these creatures, saved their lives, and spent a full quarter of the year with them only to split them apart and kill one.
I researched sanctuaries and no-kill shelters, and all had notes refusing to take cats who had displayed aggression against humans. It truly seemed like we were out of options and were doomed to be stuck with these dreadful cats forever.
And then, eventually, it started happening. The growling became less and less frequent. The crying over night decreased as they eventually learned to play with some of the toys we brought home. They stopped having stare downs with us and flinched less and less as we approached. This fall, after over a year of living with us, they even began to occasionally sleep on the bed.
MC continues to push Bond’s challenge line by picking him up (though he doesn’t like it) and blocking off his hiding spaces. I continue to carry Cappuccino around and cuddle him, which he now accepts as part of the deal that includes yummy food. Neither one purrs, which is just super sad. But, in many ways, they are turning into “real” cats. We can play with them and even trim their nails. They can fight with each other in a playful rather than terrifying way. They don’t display any aggression towards either of us, even if we move their bowls or approach them from an angle.
I’m sharing this today, which is Thanksgiving in the United States. My mother, who in a protective mode last November encouraged me to return Cappuccino to a shelter, thought I should tell our story on my blog so that other people who rescue pets will know there is hope.
It takes a lot of focused work and dedication, and I’m so grateful to MC for the many nights he stayed up with them and for all of the work he has done with them. I’ve come to love these creatures deeply, even if it isn’t returned in the way that I grew accustomed to with my other cats. There is something incredible moving about looking into the eyes of two creatures who know you saved their lives, and being open to the unique journey you will share with them.