Meow Or Never: Deborah Paul On Cat Adoption

Was I up to pet ownership one more time?

In her later years, my mother hung two dog portraits on her wall, of a Scottie and a Westie. Looking at these one-dimensional creatures was as close to having pets in her home as she could get. Actually, Wire Fox Terriers were her favorites—those cheeks!—but whenever we, her children, suggested she get an actual dog, she followed her head rather than her heart. People get emotional when considering pet companionship, dreaming of sunny walks together along a garden path, a fireplace blazing while you sit with a loyal black Lab asleep at your feet. The truth is, there is poop pickup to consider, as well as vet visits, accidents on the rug, and shoes destroyed. As much as Mom wanted a dog, she knew caring for herself was all she could manage. Still, I felt bad for her, wishing for something she couldn’t have.
My own travails with pet ownership include my childhood cat, Casper, who roamed our neighborhood fathering progeny that probably still populate the area today. During my married life, a neighbor stole Benjamin, an apartment move sent Miss Horrible to a friend, Scooter lasted 21 years, Jojo ran off, and Persian beauty Magnolia Blossom missed her home with the breeder so much she starved herself until I returned her. But, like Mom, I continued to wish.
I made a hobby of scrolling through adoptable cats on the Humane Society of Indianapolis website, imagining life with whichever tabby or calico seemed to speak to me through its photo. Then one evening in late May, I discovered “Puffy Wuffle,” as the shelter had named her—an orange-and-brown striped kitten with long white whiskers poking out of her ears and a feathery, medium-length coat, the obvious inspiration for her name. Timidly, I approached my husband and showed him the photo. “Cute,” he responded. “Really cute.”
The next day, my car seemed to drive itself to the shelter, only to find the doors locked. It was closed. My last-minute enthusiasm had dashed last-minute research. Dejected, I headed home, confessing the visit to my sister, who asked why I’d gone there. “To make myself happy,” I said, realizing I could, even at 70 years of age, be happy, and did not have to make do with gazing at pictures on a wall.
At noon the next day, one hour before the shelter opened, my husband, sister, and I patrolled the locked door like desperate teenagers waiting for admittance to a Katy Perry concert. Soon others lined up behind me. I knew competition would be fierce, and by 1 p.m., I was ready for war. When the doors opened, I ran for the lobby cages and cried out (too loudly), “I want Puffy Wuffle!” A sympathetic staff member who had seen me through the glass gently handed me the 10-week-old, who immediately snuggled up in the crook of my arm and began to purr. She was more brown than orange, as the website picture had made her appear, and sported a large shaved area on her neck from previous medical attention. I would not have cared had she been bald; that cat was mine.
I completed the required paperwork, citing past pet ownership, and awaited my interview with the staff member assigned to process adoptions. I expected a quick sign-off, which is not what I received. After questioning several of my written responses, including what exactly had befallen Jojo, the counselor left the room to consult with her supervisor. Here I was, at a shelter brimming with unwanted pets, and the staff was about to turn me down. Me. I panicked and, unbelieving, pleaded with my husband and sister for help. When the counselor returned, she was met with a barrage of family testimonials. “You have no idea!” my sister insisted. “This woman treats cats like people.” Either our troupe wore her down, or she believed I really was capable of caring for Puffy Wuffle, but in any event, the counselor at last relented.
Gracie Louise, as I renamed her, has turned out to be a mighty good girl indeed. She is as affectionate as she is beautiful and, when held—let’s face it, especially by me—purrs loudly enough to be heard across the room. She enjoys hiding under a skirted chair like a lion in the African brush and then pouncing on my feet, scaring the daylights out of me every time. You may have nine lives, missy, I remind her, but I only have one! She waits patiently on the other side of the glass door when I shower, appearing to ignore my plea that a girl needs her privacy. If I don’t wind up tripping over her and breaking both our hips, our history will be long. The fur on her neck has grown back, she eats like a lumberjack, and she poses adorably with her front paws at outward angles like a ballerina in first position.
Gracie Lou’s care is time-consuming, and a few broken picture frames are testament to her vitality. The vigilance required to parent a pet is what worried Mom as she aged, so she settled for her inanimate terriers. At the age of 70, on the other hand, I started over. I am lucky to have a living, breathing, warm bundle cuddled in my lap, an experience for which Mom yearned. Fifteen years after my mother’s death, maybe I adopted this precious pet as much for her as for me.
Editor emerita Deborah Paul’s personal reflections on culture, society, and family have graced the pages of IM since 1981.