Lucky Penny: A #ClearTheShelters Cat Adoption Story (Part 2)

Look at Penny's sweet face!

Rachel, the cat I adopted for my mom.

“What have I done?” That’s the question I asked myself on the ride home from Bridgewater Veterinary Hospital a few weeks ago. I had just agreed to adopt Rachel, a seven-year-old grey tabby — but not for me. For my mom. (Read part 1 of the story here.)

The catch? My mom didn’t know she was getting a cat.

In the past, when I told her she should adopt one, she said no. Several times. “I don’t want the responsibility,” she told me.

An animal should never be a surprise gift. Particularly if the person has expressly said she didn’t want a cat. Repeatedly.

A pet is for life. A cat (or a dog or rabbit or guinea pig or cockatiel or anole) is a living, thinking, feeling soul. Not a thing. Not an “it.” Not something to be returned when someone gets bored, or, worse, abandoned when something goes wrong.

Yet here I was planning to surprise my mom with a cat for her birthday next weekend.

I was breaking so many rules.

Don’t try this at home

Sometimes you have to know the rules to break them. Here’s what I knew:

When my mom said she didn’t want the responsibility, what she was really worried about was what would happen to the cat if something happened to her. We had talked about it. “What if I need surgery?” she asked. “What if I fell like your dad? Who would take care of an animal if I wasn’t there? What if the cat outlives me?”

In the almost two years since my dad died, life has changed a bit for my mom. A group of friends stays connected with her — including at least one who is a cat-lover convert. Plus, my mom is still in contact with the woman who used to cat sit for her. A next-door neighbor checks in on her frequently.

As for me, I started my own communication consulting business, so I can work from home or anywhere, like my mom’s house. So what would happen if she was suddenly unable to care for a cat? Between me, the neighbor, the friends, and the cat-sitter, we’d have it covered. Plus, Rachel got along with other cats — and dogs — so if we had to, we could bring her to our house and she’d be able to fit in.

I also knew that my mom didn’t want to move from her home to a senior living complex. For the foreseeable future, she would be staying in her house, one that was as full of memories as it was empty of companionship. She told me she still slept on her side of the bed, not the middle. “I miss having your father next to me,” she said. “The bed feels empty at night.”

And then there’s my mom herself. The woman who rescued three cats, one of whom was diabetic; my mom learned how to test her and give her insulin, adding years to the animal’s life. The woman who got bitten by a stray dog she tried to rescue, and never blamed the dog, knowing how scared he must have been. The woman who cared for our adopted white rabbit (found in the woods!) after we all left for college, nursing her through bladder infections and other illnesses, and grieving when she died. The woman who always finds time to snuggle with, pet, and love every member of my menagerie when she visits, and carries pictures of them in her purse to show her friends and acquaintances.

My mom with Tucker, Jasper and Lilah

My mom loves all my cats and dogs — and they love her.

Just like her mother who rescued and protected a kitten from tenement thugs, earning the nickname Ketsishe Rose, my mom is a kind-hearted woman who could not refuse to help anyone in need – human or not.

Support from our vet

The folks at BVH knew me and my animals. They knew that I wouldn’t adopt an animal unless I was sure it was the right thing. It seemed like the entire staff got behind this adoption, offering to take care of Rachel in the week before my mom’s birthday. This way I didn’t have to bring the cat to our home, disrupting our furry family, and then ripping her out of an environment yet again a week later.

I came back to the vet’s office several times during that week, as both the cats and dogs of our household were due for exams. Each time, I visited with Rachel, and each time,  I was more convinced that she was the right cat for my mom.

Aaron agreed that Rachel was a sweet and beautiful cat.

My son Aaron came with me during a visit to the vet’s office, and fell in love with Rachel. He agreed she was a sweet and beautiful cat.

During one of the visits, I asked Dr. Silvers to do a complete exam of Rachel — including blood work, fecal analysis, and urinalysis — so we would know as much as we could about her health, and also to set a baseline.

I also went shopping. I wanted to walk in the door with more than just the cat; I was going to bring everything she and my mother would need. Everything. Food. Bowls. Toys. Litter. Litter boxes. Litter scoops. Catnip. Beds. I included my favorite products, plus all kinds of things from the various swag bags I received at BlogPaws, BarkWorld, and the Cat Writers’ Association conference. (I think I’ll write a separate post featuring some of the items I included.)

A check up and a (slight) hiccup

The day before we were going to pick up Rachel, one of the vet techs called me. “Rachel has giardia,” she told me and quickly explained that it was an intestinal parasite, often found in animals kept in shelters for long periods. There were no sign of cysts, she told me, which are kind of like giardia eggs; that’s a good thing. “We’ve already treated her with a powder, and we’ll show you what your mom needs to do when you come to pick up Rachel.”

It is sometimes possible for humans to become infected with giardia, so I asked if my mom was at risk or if there was anything special she would need to do. I wasn’t going to expose an 80-something-year old woman to a potential health issue. “As long as she washes her hands, she’s okay,” said the tech. My father had been a microbiologist; if there’s one thing my mom knew after living with my dad for nearly 60 years, it was to wash her hands. No worries there.

I called my mom to confirm our plans for the next day. “Could you bring me some bird food?” she asked. She has about a half dozen feeders in her back yard, and the cardinals, blue jays, sparrows — and squirrels — count on the buffet my mom provides. “I’m running out and I don’t feel like lugging the seed from the store.”

Thus the next day, after picking up Rachel up from BVH — where she had been brushed and fussed over, adorned with a cute collar, and given goodbye kisses and pets from the staff — we headed off into a rainstorm toward Pennsylvania and Rachel’s new home.

The part you’ve been waiting for

On the ride, we came up with a plan. My daughter Corinne predicted that her grandmother would be waiting by the door, and would come outside the moment she heard our car pull up; she would want to direct where to put the birdseed. We planned a procession: husband Brian first with the seed, followed by my son Aaron carrying a bag of kitty litter (maybe my mom would notice?) and then me with Rachel in the carrier.

It worked nearly exactly as planned, as you’ll see in the video below.

One look at the carrier, and my mom asked, “Why do we have a cat?”

I caught her eye and said, “Happy birthday!”

At first she thought we brought one of our cats, but Brian told her we wouldn’t do that.

Then, “I’m going to kill you.” This directed at me. I could feel the love; this was going really well.

“Oy vey!” she said. “I didn’t want a cat.”

“You’ll love her anyway,” I said.

Once in the house, I opened the crate door, accompanied by a sales professional’s patter of  commentary on the cat. Rachel strolled out with an air about her that seemed to say, “Thank goodness. Home at last.”

Home at last!

Home at last!

My mom’s first words?

“Hello, Buhbe.” That’s a shortened version of a Yiddish term of endearment: “bubbeleh.”

From zero to Bubhe in one minute and thirteen seconds. That’s when I knew I had her.

Rachel began exploring the house, tail up, interested, alert. Brian and Aaron went out to the car to get all the cat stuff. Corinne and I headed upstairs to set up the litter boxes.

By the time we came back down, my mom was on the phone with Selma, one of her friends. “I joined your club!” I heard her say. “Guess what Susan and Brian and the kids brought me for my birthday! A cat!” Selma has had her cat for 16 years. Not five minutes after we walked into the house with Rachel, my mom was announcing her arrival.

That was fast.

While Rachel moved herself in, I told my mom the story of how we found her, why we thought she was perfect.

“I’m going to kill you,” my mom said a few more times. Usually followed by a question or a comment like, “How old is she?” or “I still have the crate downstairs; you should go look for it” and “What should we call her?” Any sales person worth her salt would recognize those as signals that the deal is closed. It’s just a matter of the paperwork, the details.

My mom had a cat.

Penny seemed to think that our stairs were a series of comfy cat beds.

The cat seemed to think that the stairs were a series of comfy cat beds.

Introducing Penny

We discussed names. “Lucky,” said my mom. Some of us thought that sounded too doggish. I loved the idea, though; it meant that my mom felt the cat was lucky to be here, in her home.

“Natasha” was my suggestion. Mom didn’t like it.

“How about Penny?” she said. We looked at each other, then at the cat, who at that moment came marching down the stairs toward us.

“She looks like a Penny.” I said. “And it keeps your idea of lucky. Like Lucky Penny.”

Everyone agreed it was a perfect name. Penny it is.

Belly up, sleeping: a true sign of a relaxed cat in her home. This was taken less than a half hour after Penny arrived.

Belly up, sleeping: a true sign of a relaxed cat in her home. This photo was taken less than a half hour after Penny arrived.

While Penny wandered the house, we held what could almost be described as a Welcome Home Penny shower; I went through all the toys and food and treats and cat-related paraphernalia with my mom. I offered to help her get pet insurance and to register Penny’s microchip. Later, we grabbed a bite to eat and, when we came back to the house, enjoyed a visit from Selma, who couldn’t resist stopping by to meet Penny and congratulate my mom on the new arrival.

By then Penny was so comfortable, she came out to greet her newest fan.

Brian and Penny get to know one another.

Brian and Penny get to know one another.

We left that evening, confident that the two grey ladies – Penny and my mom – were perfect for each other.

It gets better

The next evening I called to see how she and Penny were doing.

“I knew that was you!” she said, as soon as she answered. “I wasn’t going to call you because I knew you’d call me.”

Then I got the full report. Penny ate well. Used the litter box correctly.

She doesn’t meow much. Doesn’t jump. Doesn’t hide. What she does do is follow my mom from room to room. Like she wants to keep an eye on her, to make sure she doesn’t disappear.

Penny making herself comfortable on one of the dining room chairs, near my mom.

Penny making herself comfortable on one of the dining room chairs, near my mom.

Penny spent her first night with my mother, curled up next to her in bed in that empty place where my dad used to be. Purring.

Penny sleeping in the bed I brought her. Best part? This picture was taken by my mom with her iPad. I don't think  she had picked up that device in months.

Penny sleeping in the bed I brought her. Best part? This picture and the previous one were taken by my mom with her iPad. I don’t think she had picked up that device in months.

“Why did someone give her up?” my mom asked me. “She’s such a sweet cat. I wonder what happened.” This was followed by a series of questions: “What rescue organization did she come from? How long was she there? What was the cage like at the vet? Was she kept in the cage the whole time?”

Her voice bright, engaged, happy, my mom told me of the places Penny lays in each room of her house. “Penny was even on the dining room table.” She laughed. “Right where Millie used to sit. She was looking at herself in the mirror.”

During our conversation, there was not a single “oy.” Not a one.

Right before we hung up, my mom said,”I really didn’t want a cat. But now that I have her, of course I’ll keep her.” She paused. “We’re a couple.”

The two gray ladies

The two gray ladies

The video

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22 Comments on "Lucky Penny: A #ClearTheShelters Cat Adoption Story (Part 2)"

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  1. Connie says:

    You have brought tears to my eyes.. this is a clear case of doing everything “wrong” coming out to be the most perfect “right” ending.

    • Thanks Connie. I know this is not something I’d recommend to anyone. The old “Don’t try this at home” idea. But I knew my mom, and I thought this cat was special. I knew in my heart this was the right thing for everyone.

  2. zooperson says:

    What a great story. Happy people all around as well as a happy “anipal”. So enjoy your blog with your excellent photos of your fur family and those texts are the best. Haiku also pretty remarkable. My guys haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

  3. da tabbies o trout towne says:


  4. Emma says:

    Good for your mom and the kitty. Sometimes the kids do know best for mom!

  5. YAY!!!! We LOVE this story….the best happy ending. Sure, don’t try this at home, but you have to know your audience…. GREAT job. Cause Penny sure looks like she has made herself at home.

  6. YOU MADE ME CRY! (in the best possible way)
    I’m so happy for your mom – and for Penny.


  7. Leona says:

    Oh, {{sniffle}} I love this happy ending! Yay Bev!

  8. Penny looks very happy in her new home… and your Mom sounds pretty happy about her unexpected family member. Sometimes things done the “wrong way” work out just right, and this is one of those, for sure.

    As a personal note, Penny looks just like Nellie, my mother’s cat who died within weeks of my mother entering a nursing home. I love that another cat who looks — and acts — so much like Nellie is keeping another lonely, older lady company now.

    • Both human and cat seem to be very happy. Which makes me happy. All is good. And yes, it was a risk that I did this “wrong,” but not only did I feel it my heart that it was right, I also did a lot of things to make it work (getting her checked at the vet, ensuring she had the right temperament for my mom, providing everything my mom needed, and timing it in a way that worked for her.)

      Thanks for sharing the story about Nellie. She sounds like a great cat.

  9. We’re glad it worked out for your mom and Penny. But somehow we knew it would. My husband and I have talked to his mom about getting a cat, now that his dad passed away, but just like your mom, my MIL is concerned about what would happen to the cat if something happened to her. Reading your story has given me encouragement to continue pursuing this with her. ~Island Cat Mom

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