Not Right Meow: Deborah Paul on Pet Adoption

I want another cat, but only when a little voice inside me says, “Yes! This one!”
Jojo, the gorgeous Maine Coon mix I rescued as a kitten, has been gone for two years. When an open door proved too tempting, off she went, never to return, and I haven’t gotten over her disappearance. Considering the alternative, I hope she was stolen and receives kindly care. Note to thief: She likes her water bowl filled to the top so she can splash in it like a kid in a wading pool.

I haven’t had good luck with cats since Scooter, a stray tabby I loved for 21 years, passed on. When I brought home Sonny, a rambunctious orange kitten abandoned at the vet, he almost pulled down a window shade and was returned the next day. And you know what happened to Jojo. So here I am, missing feline companionship and considering a new cat to join the household.

This time, I have rules: No kittens that climb the draperies and swing from the breakfast-room chandelier. I will not put away the top to my mother’s 1934 wedding cake, which sits inside a glass dome along with brittle petals from her bridal bouquet. The Lladro figurines of a doctor and a lawyer, representing my two sons, stay where they are. Whatever cat I rescue now must either respect my property or have lost the physical prowess or inclination to jump. If I sound cruel, trust me, I am not. Scooter lived an impossibly long life under my care, including the hospice phase, when I dispensed medicine with an eyedropper and fed her wet food from the end of a spoon.

The nice folks at the Humane Society of Indianapolis are impressed by my record with Scooter and have tolerated my multiple visits with good humor. By multiple, I don’t mean a few times over a season; I mean five times a week. It is a magical place. The adult cats, at least those social and unafraid, roam freely in lovely rooms with screened porches. Soft music plays, reminiscent of a spa. All manner of kitty condos, high perches, and comfy beds dot their habitat. Frankly, I can’t imagine how the adoption fee—$120 for kittens, $20 for cats—can even begin to cover the overhead. If the skilled staff and animal-loving volunteers are sick of seeing me, they haven’t let on. I am told they would rather a prospective owner take pet-parenting seriously than act on impulse.

Cats at the no-kill shelter have cute names like Victory, Lieutenant Dan, Nibble, Jabba the Cat, and siblings Tom and Jerry, Merriam and Webster. The staff doesn’t like to separate bonded pairs, like Kiki and Spooky, and will give them away for free if you take both. Inhabitants are known as “somebody” or “anybody,” never “it.”

The truth is, I need them as much as they need me, which is why the search continues.

I have learned a lot about dispossessed animals and shelter culture from my many visits. Cats with clipped ears were once feral, then trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and, duly marked, returned to the colony. If a cat has been “transferred in,” that often means it was removed from Animal Care and Control—i.e., the pound. I don’t like to think about the ones left behind.

If the description accompanying an animal says “spunky” or “adventurous,” I steer clear (see: “figurines,” above). I just want a nice adult feline who is satisfied wandering around the house, striking stunning cat poses, and leaping into my lap, where he/she will curl up contentedly, purring so loudly it drowns out the incessant buzz of worry in my brain. These traits are not as easy to find as you might think. Many I approach at the shelter rebuff a soft pet or scratch behind the ear—who knows why? Maybe they are merely cautious. People can learn a lot from cats.

Sometimes I become excited by one I discover on the website, and when I arrive, it dismisses me. I lost out on Jasmine, a gorgeous Persian mix with round blue eyes, who was not yet available for adoption. I fell for her looks, her sweet disposition, her velvety fur, and had even decided to call her “Jazzy.” When I returned a few days later, she was gone. If you find one you like, you must stalk it—if necessary, planting a lawn chair hours before the shelter opens, like an eager teenager waiting for concert tickets.

I liked a huge fella with a lion cut who paraded around as though he owned the place (men!), and Sprite, an orange longhaired beauty who jumped on my lap without coaxing and put one paw on either side of my neck, offering a sort of cat hug. Considering this show of affection a sign, I applied to adopt her, but she was moved to the vet clinic that day and did not return. Aubrey Jean, with her silky white coat and matching orange-tipped ears and tail, will not be touched. My sister, enamored of the cat’s beauty, keeps trying to soften her up, to no avail. If only the kitty would market herself better, she’d be gone by now.

I feel guilty that I might be treating the place as a petting zoo, which isn’t right, so sometimes I put $20 in the contribution box. I ask myself why I haven’t left with a cat and have concluded that perhaps I question my late-life ability to deal with a carrier, litter box, and shedding. Or maybe I can’t wrap my head around the creatures’ previous lives. A kitten, you raise. For whatever reason, these cats are castoffs, and because they can’t talk, I doubt them … and myself. I want another, but not until a little voice inside me says, “Yes! This one! Now!”

In my lifetime I have been blessed with many cherished cats, from Casper, Frank, and Tuffy to Doc, Miss Horrible, and Paddy. I like having these “somebodies” nearby, winding around my leg, bumping a hopeful head into my hand for a pet. The truth is, I need them as much as they need me, which is why the search continues.

When—and if—I find the “purr-fect” match (Humane Society lingo), I will know. A girl I will rename Hazel, Gracie Louise, or possibly Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. A boy? Leo or Gus. Cats don’t care. If we’re both lucky, the friendship will last “fur-ever.”

Email Deborah Paul here.