Friday, April 12, 2013


On a mild Saturday afternoon a week and a half ago, I hopped into a cab to go meet Eli. I was actually a little nervous. I had called the shelter after first spying him on its website. They had told me that they update the site almost immediately if someone is adopted, and so I found myself glancing at his photo and profile information every single day for almost two weeks, wondering about him and half-fearing that his photo would eventually disappear. He had been there since September -- six long months left unwanted.

I was still grieving the recent loss of my sidekick Zeus. My work schedule since my return from a short stint in the US had become somewhat hectic. Post-vacation pocket change was also scarce with Zeus' vet bill, jumbled numbers on a piece of paper that served as a reminder to me of his final day. When I finally mentioned Eli to friends, they asked "Why are you waiting?" and I cited time and expense, but I was also just too sad to go to the shelter.

I hunkered down with 16-year-old Sammy, spending most of my free time at home with him. When Zeus died halfway through my trip to Virginia, Sammy had been left alone for the first time in the thirteen or so years he's lived with me. During the second half of my trip, thinking of him mostly by himself had left me incredibly anxious to return home. I had tried to secure visits from a friend to provide him with some additional company, but in the end my cat-sitter volunteered to stay with him a few extra hours each day for a tiny increase in her fee, sometimes bringing her husband along with her to give Sammy some extra attention. 
Hiding-beneath-the-futon-cat comes up for air!
During my first week back, each and every time I walked into my apartment after venturing out to go to work or to run an errand I was met with frantic meows.They were invariably followed by the loudest of purrs when I held Sammy to reassure him. I joked to a coworker that Sammy had developed a case of separation anxiety. "You're projecting," she replied. "Cats do fine by themselves." But back when I'd rescued him from a neglectful neighbour, Sammy had entered a two-human, four-cat home and he had always had company of some sort, whether human or feline.

I've written before about the importance of adopting other animals. Up to four million dogs and cats in US shelters alone are killed each and every year, most of them perfectly healthy and suffering from no affliction other than their simply being unwanted. Many are shrugged off as inconveniences, whether in terms of veterinary expenses or (very, very often easily resolvable) behavioural issues. Sometimes some of them are abandoned just because their people found other things with which they preferred to occupy their time. It's strange that it had not even occurred to me up until that point to fear that Eli's photo may have gone down for reasons other than adoption. When that thought did suddenly pop into my head I felt panic, but a local friend reassured me that the shelter was not over-crowded and was not a kill shelter. Nonetheless, I realized that every single day I had spent pining had been a day where someone -- someone like Zeus or Sammy -- had been left sitting in a room or in a cage... waiting. Worse was the thought that this waiting might have prevented someone else from being taken in by the shelter.

"He's probably so lonely," my mother told me one evening, trying to recall which of the six cats she's met over the years had been Sammy. I agreed and realized that my pining over Zeus was doing no one any good. The next morning, I awoke to find a bunch of posts on my Facebook wall, triggered by a friend who had suggested making donations through the PayPal button on my blog to scrounge up a donation to the shelter in Zeus' memory that would cover an adoption fee. Within an hour, another friend 'fessed up that she had, in fact, already made a donation to the shelter in Zeus' memory to cover the fee for a kitten or two adult cats. A few days later, I received a card in the mail from the SPCA to confirm it and to invite me to stop in. So on my first available day, I did. 
A first meeting.
On Saturday, March 30, I folded a soft towel into a carrier, grabbed my bag and called that cab. My first words to the receptionist in the shelter's front room were: "Hi. I've come to meet Eli. I mean, I'd like to apply to adopt..." A volunteer was hailed and she brought me to a small room where Eli was housed with a moody tabby called Kringle. Both were long-time shelter residents, I was told. Eli had been repeatedly overlooked because he was shy and standoffish; Kringle, on the other hand, had come in a mess as a stray with a bad eye infection, months later still receiving treatment for his eyes.

With gentle nudges and a tin of food, the volunteer managed to coax Eli down from a high perch as she told me his story. Once he'd settled down on a cushion beside me and had let me pet him for a while, she suggested leaving us alone and did so for well over a half hour. My back to the door, but aware of passersby sometimes stopping at the window, I talked to Eli about Sammy and about Zeus and told him that he his life was going to get a little interesting soon, and he eventually began to purr and to lean into my hand. Eli had been rescued from a neglectful hoarding situation where he and his sister had been kept in a basement along with up to 30 other animals, none spayed or neutered. The volunteer told me that he'd gone into foster care upon arrival and that they had figured he'd had little interaction with humans, since although he was quite comfortable with other cats and dogs, people made him nervous. And he was nervous, flinching each time he heard doors slamming or the loud voices of shelter visitors and volunteers passing through the hallway just outside the door.
Making himself comfortable.
Someone stopped at the window behind me. "Oooh! Look at the pretty white cat! You should get him, Elaine! He looks so friendly!" I didn't turn around, but suddenly found myself shifting to try to block Eli from view. When they'd moved on, I stood up quickly and glanced out the window, hoping to catch a volunteer's attention. I was worried that someone might actually fill out an application for him before I had the chance. He walked over to me and rubbed his head against my leg and I sat back down to pet him, Eli leaning into me now. A couple who'd been walking down the hallway paused and so I heard yet another woman's voice exclaiming how attractive Eli was. It seems that my having won Eli over while sitting there and petting him was garnering him some extra attention. I heard her ask her friend if he thought I worked there. They let themselves into the room and at that moment I stood up, grabbed my bag and carrier, smiled and told them that Eli was coming home with me.

I didn't want to leave him with strangers, but headed straight to the reception desk to tell the volunteer who'd brought me to him that someone was in there looking at him and that I wanted to finalize his adoption. It was obvious to her that I had been completely hooked. She smiled and said "First come, first served" and handed me a sheet. "We wouldn't have let anyone do that while you were in there," she added. Another volunteer came out and was told that I was taking him. She responded with a wide grain and a "Yay! He's finally found a home! He's been here so long!"

Most of his first day home was spent hiding beneath the futon in my spare room. After almost six hours (by which point, I had begun to get a bit worried), he came out and looked around, located the litter box in the corner and used it and then proceeded to gobble down a huge amount of food. We played for around an hour and then he amscrayed back beneath the futon. He stayed there most of the following day, but resurfaced out again in the evening and this time we played for a few hours and he allowed me to brush his fluffy white fur, purring loudly. He and Sammy sniffed at each other from either side of the door, intrigued.
"That cat's probably feral. Wouldn't you rather get a people-friendly cat? It sounds as if he'll be a lot of work."
"Shouldn't you get a kitten? Sammy is probably too old to adjust to a new cat."
"You should keep them separated for at least a week. They're older and you'll end up with both spraying everywhere."
"That cat is going to maul your old guy."
Within less than 48 hours, Sammy and Eli met. They sniffed each other's noses, Eli licked Sammy's cheek. They sat and observed each other calmly for several minutes and then they each seemed to shrug. Sammy headed over to a bowl to have a snack and Eli resumed batting around a wad paper. Within less than 72 hours, Eli had the run of the apartment and a little later that night both curled up with me on the bed to sleep. Less than two weeks later, I often come home from work to find them curled up alongside each other, heads or paws touching. Each has taken turns trying to entice the other to play. Although still skittish in some rooms, Eli is openly affectionate with us both and has been gradually making himself more and more at home, claiming various spots and sunbeams.

A little less than two weeks ago, my family -- Sammy's family -- got a little bigger. It's been less than three weeks and already it's hard to imagine what our home would be like not sharing it with Eli. If you have room in your own hearts and homes, won't you consider stopping by your local shelter this week to adopt one of the many cats and dogs waiting to be welcomed into your lives? If you simply cannot commit to an adoption at this time, consider fostering someone in need. At the very least, sign up to volunteer to lend a hand and to interact with your local shelter's many residents. Lives depend on it. They really, really do.


veganelder said...

Excellent! Thank you for sharing your home with Eli. It's a true "win win" situation for all. Thanks for writing this.

Nadine said...

Thank you for sharing! I got teary eyed :)