A #ClearTheShelters Cat Adoption Story (Part 1)

Meeting Rachel for the first time

A pair of green eyes gazed at me through the bars. The grey tabby blinked, and I walked over to her cage and stuck in my fingers, offering friendship along with my scent. She leaned into my hand, and I gently scratched her under her chin.

“What’s her story?” I asked Janis, who was behind the desk at Bridgewater Veterinary Hospital.

Corinne and I were at the vet with one of our cats; it was time for the kitty’s annual checkup. Nearly every time we’re there (which, with four cats and three dogs is quite often), there’s at least one adoptable cat in the lobby from from St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center. Maybe someone who comes to the office will fall in love with a kitty and want to take her home.

“She’s the sweetest thing!” Janis said. “Everyone loves her. I would take her home if I didn’t have…” She paused, as if embarrassed. “…six cats already.”

Adopt this cat!

Adopt this cat!

“Rachel,” said the sign on the cage. The cat stretched her neck and closed her eyes in enjoyment as I continued scratching her chin.

“She is a mush,” said Janis. “Loves everyone. Great with dogs and cats.”

“Really?”

My voice carried a certain note that inspired my daughter to throw me a look like a hand grenade. Loosely translated, it meant “Don’t you dare adopt another animal. You know you have enough at home. I told you we’d call an intervention if you so much as thought about adopting someone else. I mean it. Don’t. Even.”

“Not for me,” I responded to Corinne’s silent tirade. “For Grandma.”

Look at Penny's sweet face!

Look at that sweet face!

Cats had been a part of my mom’s life for decades

My mom’s birthday was the following weekend. I hadn’t bought a gift yet; she was at that stage in life where “I don’t need anything,” is a common — and truthful — refrain.

For decades, after the last of us kids flew the coop, my parents shared their home with a series of rescued cats: Pussywillow, Opuss, Millie. When Millie died, my mom didn’t look for another animal to take her place. “I’ve got enough with your father,” she said.

My mom didn’t want the responsibility of a pet

She was right. During the last years of his life, my dad required a bit of looking after. Hearing loss. Heart issues. Parkinson’s. A couple of bad falls. And a slow slide into increasing cognitive dysfunction.

After he died, I asked my mom if she’d consider getting another cat to keep her company in the big empty house she’d lived in for more than forty years. I live an hour and a half away, and am not able to visit as often as I’d like.

“No.” She was pretty clear. “I don’t want the responsibility.”

I respected that. She’d taken care of my dad for so long, she deserved a break. Some time where she could focus on herself. A time to grieve. To heal. To find her place.

My dad’s been gone almost two years now, and my mom has fashioned a good life. She goes to movies, plays, and lectures with a group of friends I refer to as “the merry widows.” She travels to Manhattan with Hadassah to see Broadway shows. She works out at the fitness center three times a week, where she’s become friends with some of the regulars. She volunteers with a literacy group, helping immigrants learn conversational English.

An empty house cries out for a pet

Yet when I talked to her on the phone, my mother seemed to have less and less to say. I heard about the movies, the shows, a few anecdotes about the people from the fitness center.

But on bad weather days — snow or even rain — she’d tell me she spent the entire day watching Turner Classic Movies. Not that staying home and binge watching old movies is a bad thing.”I feel trapped,” she’d say. Yet she wasn’t about to move into a senior living complex.

The slightest problem would cause my mom to unleash a stampede of Oys. “Oy, the faucet is leaking!” “Oy, we had six inches of snow last night.” “Oy, did you hear about [insert sick friend here]?”

If I asked her how she was doing, the invariable response would be, “As best as I can.” Usually followed by, “As your Aunt Ada used to say, ‘Getting old isn’t for sissies.'” I could hear the tone of loneliness in her voice.

When my mom visited us, Athena would snuggle into her lap and purr. My mother would smile, tell the cat she was a good kitty and say to me, “I’d take this one home.” She asked for pictures of her grand-dogs and grand-cats to show to her friends at the fitness center.

Athena the cat on Grandma's lap

Athena knows a kind-hearted woman when she sees one.

“Let’s get you a cat, Mom.”

“No.”

I discussed the cat conundrum with my brother Mark — a vet who lives on the west coast. I had read scientific studies that showed the health benefits of living with a cat: lowered chances of heart attacks and strokereduced stress, anxiety and depression, even the bone strengthening power of purrs. Mark agreed that a cat companion would be great for our mother. I looked at it as a prescription, an antidepressant, an antidote for loneliness.

“I saw this adorable cat at an adoption event, Mom.”

“No.”

And that’s where we were when I walked into our vet’s office and saw Rachel.

Making the decision

“She’s purring!” I looked at my daughter. “Even locked up in that cage.” Corinne reached through the bars and joined in the petting party, reluctantly agreeing that she was, indeed, a really friendly cat.

“I told you she was a sweetheart,” said Janis. “Oh, and it’s Clear the Shelter’s Day. Saint Hubert’s is participating. Adopt her today and she’s free.”

“Corinne, she’s on sale!” I said. “And Grandma’s birthday is next weekend.”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, Mom,” she said. “But you know Grandma better than me.”

After the vet was done examining our cat (perfect health!), a vet tech brought Rachel into the room so we could get to know her. The cat strolled around the floor, weaving among our legs, happy to meet two human strangers. She rubbed against Corinne. And me. Hopped up on the bench. Purred.

Penny meets us at the vet.

Getting to know us.

I asked a bunch of questions: How old is she? Is she healthy? Is she spayed? Why was she surrendered? Does she jump up on counters? Does she really get along with other cats and dogs? I wanted to make sure my mom was getting a cat without serious behavioral or health issues. One that wouldn’t knock over all her tchochkes. And one that, in case of emergency, I could bring into our family if needed. I knew that was important to my mom.

“Are you going to take her?” Janis asked as soon as we walked out of the room. I had told her I was thinking of adopting Rachel for my mother.

I looked at Corinne. Smart girl; she wasn’t going to be a part of this decision. It was mine to make, mine to own.

My mother had said no at least a dozen times over the past two years. Yet I had watched her with my cats, wanting to snuggle them, to hold them. I knew she still had litter boxes and a cat carrier; she never gave them away.

Calvin on Corinne's shoulder. Look at my mom's face.

Calvin on Corinne’s shoulder. Look at my mom’s face.

Do not try this at home

I do not believe in surprising people with pets. It is a terrible idea for so many reasons. This is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling soul that you’re dealing with. Not a toy or something that can be thrown away or given back when someone is bored with it or can’t take care of it. Or wasn’t ready. Or didn’t want it in the first place. I knew St. Huberts would take Rachel back; it’s in the adoption contract I signed. But no animal deserves that.

Adoption is for life.

My mother would not come with me to a shelter to adopt a cat. I also knew that a sweet creature like Rachel would bring some life back to that empty house. And I knew that my mom would never turn away an animal in need.

Rachel seemed like the perfect cat for my mother. Friendly. Low maintenance. Older and less likely to get into trouble.

I felt like the universe was offering me an opportunity. A cat with every quality I would have wanted for my mom. Available for free. A week before her birthday.

“Yes.” I told Janis. “We’ll take her.”

“I thought you would,” she said. “I have the paperwork ready for you to sign.”

Read Part 2: Lucky Penny



33 Comments on "A #ClearTheShelters Cat Adoption Story (Part 1)"

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  1. Can’t wait to see what happens with Rachel!

  2. I forgot to mention…so is her name Penny or Rachel?

  3. Connie says:

    Yup.. Horrible idea. But, giving a gift of a pet can actually be done well, especially if you have a plan

  4. Random Felines says:

    While we don’t usually recommend the gift thing….we are all over this one!! Can’t wait for part 2

  5. Daisy says:

    Such a lovely story! Your mom looks and sounds like a fabulous woman.

  6. meowmeowmans says:

    Oh, we hope this is going where we hope it is. We agree about pets not being a good surprise gift, but this sounds different…

  7. There are a lot of statistics (and rescue organizations) against gift-giving pets. But there are also some recent studies showing a higher level of attachment of a pet given as gift because it was a gift.

    I still wouldn’t recommend it in a lot of circumstances, but you clearly thought this through. And it sounds like exactly what your Mom needed. Can’t wait to see the next post!

    • I hadn’t heard about the studies, but I think in some cases it makes sense that there would be a high level of attachment to a gift pet. Just like you might keep an ugly sweater around that your Great Aunt Sally made for you. But it can also work the other way, when a pet was given by someone who you no longer get along with (an ex), and then it gets scary.

      I think there are very rare circumstances under which a pet as gift works — so much so that I would never recommend it. It’s one of those “Don’t try this at home” moments. I felt confident (mostly) that I knew what I was doing. And it really did work out for the best. But I had backup plans as well, which I think are necessary.

  8. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    rachel….we iz on de edge oh R seatz that we due knot
    sit on that yur next storee iz gonna bee a gotcha day one !!
    we haz all 984 pawz crozzed bout this ending in part two
    ~~~~~~~~~~ ♥♥♥♥♥

  9. Sandy Weinstein says:

    clear the shelters was a wonderful event. Safe Haven had no cats/kittens left, only 2 babies that were not up for adoption. there were lines forming the nite b4 at many of the local shelters in my area. by the end of the first day at the local spca, there were no dogs left at all. they need to do this more often. wonderful story, but i know of some people that do this and it backfires.

    • Clear the Shelters worked well for us; it enabled me to take the risk and concentrate on spending the money on the items my mom needed. It’s a great idea, but you’re right; it has to be done well so it doesn’t create poorly thought out adoptions.

  10. easy rider says:

    oh I can’t wait to read pt. 2…. I hope for a wonderful happy end :o)

  11. Ellen Pilch says:

    I love happy endings- great story.

  12. Emma says:

    My Gramma got a cat in the Humane Society Project Meow a while back. It was the best thing that could happen to each of them. They are like an old married couple these days, both happy as clams. Good for you to take that step.

  13. What a great story…we can’t wait to read the rest.

  14. Great story! It’s a very important issue that no one should surprise people with pets. It probably is the reason why not a lot of people adopt animals from shelters, because a lot of people, sadly, consider pets to be more of toy, rather than a personality.

    Anyway, keep up the good work! It’s a pleasure reading your story!

    • Thanks! I actually debated whether to write the story because I feel so strongly that pets should never be surprises. But then I thought I could still deliver that message and explain why it did work, why this was an exceptional case and why it is probably the first and last time I will ever do it.

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