Temporary Cat Lady
by Caitlin Sellnow
My new foster, a little black cat named Gallagher, spent most of our early acquaintance under my bed. On his third night in my apartment though, he emerged without being coaxed. He settled onto the back of the olive-green microfiber loveseat in my living room. I had bought the loveseat hastily, right after I moved into my Evanston apartment. My dad took me to a second-hand furniture store to find something to replace the camping chairs I had set up in front of the TV. I hadn’t intended to keep it at the center of my apartment for six years, but I’d never found a reason to get rid of it. That night, I was happy it was helping Gallagher feel at home. He settled his face on the back cushion and draped his paws over the front. His eyes almost disappeared into his face, except for the thin rings of gold around his pupils. He leaned into my knuckles as I rubbed them under his chin. I figured we could both start to relax. By then, I really should have known better.
I went into the kitchen to microwave my dinner. Gallagher was out of my sight for about five minutes. I came back to the living room with a bowl of stew and glass of wine in hand, ready to catch up on the Great British Bake Off. When I rounded the corner and saw Gallagher again, I froze.
“Oh, God!” I gasped.
Gallagher was still on the loveseat, blinking calmly at me. But now, there was a stream of blood coming from his left eye – bright red against his glossy fur. I grabbed a paper towel and tried to clean him up. Up close, I saw that it wasn’t his eye, but his eyelid that was bleeding. A few years ago, I probably would have reacted with less composure. But at that point, Gallagher’s gothic horror show was only the latest in a series of diseases, disorders and quirks that had padded through my home on little cat feet.
Gallagher was the sixth cat that stayed in my apartment. That’s admittedly a lot of cats for one one-bedroom. In the context of the city’s entire feline population though, it’s almost nothing. According to the Tree House Humane Society, there are at least 700,000 owned cats in Chicago today, and 500,000 un-owned cats living on the streets. The ones that come to me are somewhere between being owned, unowned and owned again.
When I started fostering these animals, I was trying to avoid making a home here in the city. I made sure that everything in my apartment was only here “for now.” When I had to move, I figured, I would just leave my loveseat on a street corner and buy a new one for another $60 somewhere else. But I could not communicate this to the cats. They made themselves at home in spite of me. And eventually, they helped me figure out that “home” and “for now” are not mutually exclusive.
I did not know what the future held for Gallagher as I scrubbed his blood off my loveseat. But I did know that, at that moment, he was in the right place.
I began down this path over five years ago, when a stranger showed me a blurry picture of a cat on her phone. The stranger was Shannon. We met for the first and only time at a dinner with some mutual friends. The cat, which was grey with toffee-colored stripes and green eyes, was Shayla. Shannon explained that Shayla belonged to Chicago Cat Rescue. The founders of the organization met as volunteers for the Tree House Humane Society – Chicago’s largest cat adoption agency. They bonded over their distaste for keeping adoptable cats in shelters. They believed the cats would be better off staying in people’s homes. The cats would be more comfortable and more willing to show their true personalities to potential adopters. So, the volunteers branched off and founded their own, smaller cat-fostering agency. Shannon had been Shayla’s foster mother until Shannon’s landlord had discovered the cat and evicted it. Now, Shannon was trying to find Shayla a new, temporary home.
I was intrigued. I had thought about getting a cat. I didn’t feel lonely, exactly, in my apartment, but I didn’t like how still it was. I constantly had Big Bang Theory reruns on my TV, just for some sound and movement. I’d had pets growing up, and I missed their unobtrusive warmth. At a recent New Year’s Eve party, the host’s cat had hopped on my lap. I did not move for the next 90 minutes.
Still, I didn’t feel ready to adopt – partly because I wasn’t sure if I could handle the stress of caring for another living creature. I’d tried adopting a Ficus in an early attempt to add some life to my apartment. After a couple of months, it started slowly, pathetically withering. Every hour or two, another leaf hit the floor with a soft tick. I heard the tree whispering, “you’d make a terrible mother.” Mostly though, I was wary of the commitment. I knew that in my current apartment, with my current job, at the current moment, I could take care of a cat. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in this moment.
A month after I moved to the area, my father had died suddenly of a heart attack. I went back to my childhood home in Minnesota for a week. All the doors of our suburban house were unlocked, and all the people we loved osmosed in and out, bearing condolences, stories, and crock-pots full of meat. When I came back to Chicago, the city felt even further away from my family than it had before. A year later, when I met Shannon, it still didn’t really feel like home. The idea of doing anything that might make it more difficult to move away made me feel claustrophobic.
I told an abbreviated version of my concerns to Shannon. She explained that, if I became Shayla’s next foster parent, I wouldn’t have to pay for any vet costs or make any big decisions about Shayla’s wellbeing. Most importantly, I would be free to return her to Chicago Cat Rescue if I ever needed to. It seemed like a way I could play house without actually making a home.
A few weeks later, Cindy, a representative from Chicago Cat Rescue arrived at my apartment with a large scratching post, a paper bag full of cat toys and a cat-carrier. She was a wiry, middle-aged woman with a frizzy knot of hair at the back of her neck. I took the bag and the post from her and let her set down the carrier in my entryway. Both of us crouched down to look in the grate. A pair of green eyes stared at me, unblinking. “Hi Shayla,” I said. Cindy unlatched the grate. Slowly, Shayla emerged, stretching her back legs. Her tail curved over onto her back instead of standing straight up, making a shape like a shark’s fin.
As Shayla slunk around the perimeter of my living room, Cindy told me everything she knew about Shayla’s troubled past. This would be Shayla’s fourth foster home. Cindy said that Shayla seemed pretty resilient but, “You know.” She tilted her head and suddenly sounded sad, “Every move is harder than the last.”
Actually, I didn’t know. I didn’t think it was possible to gauge a cat’s emotional wellbeing. To me, it seemed like their “feelings” were mostly limited to shades of “hungry,” “irritated,” and “asleep”. But I didn’t say that to Cindy. I just tilted my head at the same sad angle and nodded.
Cindy was probably referring to the fact that place is important to cats. In 2011, researchers at the University of Illinois ran a study of 42 outdoor cats – both feral and non-feral. Each cat they studied had a territory that it patrolled, systematically. Every day, the cats visited all the places they already knew. Different cats crossed paths and got into squabbles sometimes, but mostly they just let each other wander their separate, overlapping territories. Where they went was more important to them than the company they kept.
I had no idea where Shayla’s past routes took her, but I knew that she hadn’t really left those places behind. On her third night in my apartment, she coughed up a tapeworm. That was just one, tangible example of the baggage she carried with her from the street. Her other quirks suggested traumas I could only guess at. She had a weary, husky voice that I called her “smoker’s meow.” It evoked an image of her in the shadow of a dumpster, with a tiny cigarette hanging under her whiskers. When I handled plastic bags, she jetted out of the room like I’d sounded a raid siren. With most guests she was perfectly charming. But when my six-year-old cousin Lily came to visit, she disappeared under the bed for three days.
Every once in a while, I got an email from Cindy about someone interested in adopting Shayla. First, there was a mother with a nine-year-old son. She never emailed me back. Then, there was a Russian couple that wrote to ask me if Shayla liked to be “picked and petted.” I responded in the affirmative, but they found a cat they liked at another shelter. Each time this happened, I was surprised by my indignation on Shayla’s behalf. Sure, she had her quirks, but she was also pretty and affectionate and playful, without being too needy. I told some friends about how the Russian couple didn’t want to meet Shayla after all. “She’s a good cat.” I looked down at the floor, embarrassed that my eyes were welling up, “She deserves a good home.”
And yet, I was not willing to provide Shayla’s forever home. I had a hard time articulating why. The truth was, I was carrying baggage from past routes with me too. From age zero to 18, I lived in the same two-story house on the curve of a quiet horseshoe-shaped street in Rochester, Minnesota. It was occupied by my mom, dad, sister and brother. We had a backyard and a mini-van and two rhubarb plants that sprouted in the backyard every spring. We also had a gray tabby cat named Phoebe and a sixteen-pound Shih Tzu named Marshmallow. He had an underbite, feet that splayed out to the sides, and a thyroid condition that caused him to lose much of his hair. And he was my best friend.
I did not necessarily want rhubarb plants or a minivan or a quiet suburban street in my future. If I did, I wouldn’t have moved to the city. Still, those things were in the picture that appeared in my head when I thought of “home.” It was the place where my family was a complete and humming circuit. So whatever place I was carving out in Chicago had to be something else. It was not forever, not a place for family or a permanent pet, not home. Shayla was an animal that matched my situation: A temporary city cat for my temporary city life. We had our separate histories and kept our separate patrols.
Finally, after about nine months, Cindy connected me with Bryn – a young graduate student with an asymmetrical haircut and a sweet, dorky demeanor. We made a date for her to come and meet Shayla. Bryn sat on the floor of my apartment, petting Shayla and looking at her the same way a mother in a baby lotion commercial looks at her infant child. It was a look that, I was fairly certain, I had never given to Shayla myself. Within an hour after she left, Bryn called Cindy and told her that she wanted to adopt Shayla.
After Shayla, there was Gunnar and then Dempsey in quick succession. Gunnar was big and gray and built like a bodybuilder, with a big head stacked on a short neck, and broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist. Only his high-pitched, squeaky meow undermined his tough-guy image. He had only been with me a few months when I introduced him to my friend Christa. She was visiting from Madison with her boyfriend. They had recently moved in together and were talking about adopting a cat. We sat in my apartment, and I offered them drinks and snacks and Gunnar’s favorite toy – A plastic wand with a ribbon of felt attached. I asked Christa how she liked her new place and how work was going, but the conversation kept veering back towards Gunnar. She and CP wanted to know all about Gunnar’s likes (wet food, snuggling, a pristine and roomy litter box) and dislikes (dry food, crowds, being brushed for 2.5 seconds too long). The day after they left, Christa e-mailed me: “We haven’t stopped talking about Gunnar…we want to adopt him.”
Dempsey was a brown tabby who wasn’t even one year old. He was all legs and eyes. Cindy would have liked to put him in a foster home with another cat to play with, but she didn’t have any available at the time. Dempsey tore around my apartment, scaling my window screens and chewing holes in my blinds. After two or three months, Cindy proposed a foster-home swap. Dempsey clearly needed a playmate, and Cindy knew of another cat who had turned out to be afraid of the other cats in his foster home. The scaredy-cat’s name, she told me, was Rudy.
Rudy was a small orange tabby with a chirpy meow. His rescuer, Kelly, delivered him to my apartment. Kelly found him near her house in the city, so malnourished that he could barely lift his head. She would have adopted him if he hadn’t been so terrified of her other cats. He wasn’t shy around people though. As soon as she left, Rudy crawled up onto my lap and reached his paws around my neck. My insides thawed a little. I thought, my friends are going to want to see this, and took out my phone.
I had sort of been waiting, since I signed the foster cat-parent forms, for the thing that would trigger my descent into full on cat-lady madness. I had never gotten overexcited about cats before, but I thought things might spiral out of control once I started spending so much alone time with them. I wondered if I would wake up one day, surrounded by portraits of my fosters dressed as various celebrities and historical figures (Alexander Ham-Meowl-ton perhaps, or Cleo-paw-tra). As I snapped my first cat selfie, I thought, I guess it’s starting now. It turned out Rudy did drive me to a new level of mania. But it didn’t have anything to do with how cute he looked in pictures.
Over Christmas, I went home to Minnesota. Rudy stayed at my apartment, in the care of some Chicago Cat Rescue volunteers. The evening I got back to Evanston, my apartment had the same strange, stagnant feeling it always did when I came back to it after spending time in a full house with my family – like a museum exhibit where someone else had tried to make it look like it did when I used to live there. There weren’t enough pictures on the walls or light coming through the windows. This time though, there was a little movement.
Rudy stood on his hind legs and reached his paws up my thigh. I picked him up and let him put his arms around my neck. When I put him down, he went to the litter box. I unpacked and put on my pajamas, and I heard him go to the litter box again. Then again. I stopped what I was doing and followed him to the box. It seemed like he was trying to pee but could only get a few drops out.
I pulled out my computer. I had traveled the dark paths of online pet-health research before. VetWeb had previously convinced me that my foster cats’ excessive meowing was a sign of liver damage; that their staring at the walls indicated brain damage; and that I might have hookworms. This was the first time though, that it informed me that my cat needed to see a vet IMMEDIATELY. Shaking, I looked at a few more sources, and they agreed: If Rudy had a urinary blockage, he could be poisoned from the inside within a matter of hours.
Fat snowflakes had begun to fall outside. When Cindy didn’t answer her phone, I called my friend Tracey. “Rudy is sick,” I told her in a quavering voice. I flashed back to the last time I called her in tears to ask her for a ride, the morning after my dad died. “I think he needs to see a vet right now.” She told me she’d be right there.
The closer of the two CCR-approved animal emergency rooms was about a half hour’s drive south, in the city. That night, as Tracey drove through a thickening layer of slush, it took longer. The three of us, including Rudy, rode most of the way in silence. The clinic was hard to make out through the snow, but the sign was easy to see – lit up on a pole at the corner of the near-empty parking lot.
Tracey and I sat down in the vet’s exam room on a couple of chairs facing a metal table. On the wall to my left, there was a poster of a baby animal that could have been a cat or a dog or a seal. It had a white, pompom-shaped head and two big, unreflecting black eyes.
The vet seemed nice. I don’t remember her as well as the ink-eyed creature on her wall. After a brief exam, she told me that Rudy had cystitis. It was a condition that might lead to a blockage or an infection but hadn’t yet. For some reason – probably stress – his bladder had inflamed, making him feel like it was full all the time. There was no way to really treat it. I would have to wait for it to go away on its own. She gave me a handful of skinny syringes with individual doses of a painkiller and sent me home.
Humans have a long history of letting cats into their lives, and then letting them take over. Early explorers took them on their ships to help with rodent control and spread them across the globe. For some reason, Vikings preferred orange cats – there tend to be more of them along their plundering routes. Unfortunately, cats are an extremely invasive species. They have no natural predators and a high “kill drive.” Every year, cats kill billions of birds and mammals. They’ve wiped out at least 33 entire species. More recently, in 1949, a group of researchers imported five cats to their sub-arctic station on Marion Island. By 1979, there were over 3,000 cats roaming the island, spreading seabird carnage everywhere. Wherever they go, they dominate the environment.
That midnight trip to the vet’s office turned out to be the beginning of Rudy’s takeover of my life. Over the next few months, I ceded more and more territory to him. His cystitis became a chronically recurring condition. He had an episode every three to five weeks. I became terrified he would develop a urinary blockage, and I wouldn’t notice until it was too late. I lost my appetite. When I tried to sleep, impressions of VetWeb warnings flashed on the backs of my eyelids. When coworkers asked, “how are you?” I knew that the correct answer was, “fine, and you?” What I found myself saying was, “Not great. My cat has inflammation of the bladder and the sound of his scratching in the litter box has infiltrated my nightmares.”
Every time Rudy relapsed, Cindy consulted with the regular Chicago Cat Rescue vet and gave me a new remedy to try. She sent Kelly to my apartment to give him IV fluids. I helped hold him on the bathroom floor and listened to him whimper as she pumped the electrolyte solution between his shoulders. I dosed him with painkillers and antibiotics. I brought home probiotic powders and bottled tonics (recommended by a cat homeopath in California) and pheromone mists and laid them at his feet – like an ancient Egyptian at the temple of Bastet.
My mom encouraged me to ask Cindy to find another placement for Rudy. I understand now that it was not unreasonable for her to prioritize the health of her human daughter over the health of a foster animal. It did not seem reasonable to me then. I told her I couldn’t turn him out now. When he came into my home, I became responsible for his care. The irony – that neither one of us recognized – was that she was the one who taught me that rule.
My mother was not a pet person. She only tolerated the animals in her home for her family’s sake. Yet, when the animals needed her care, she always gave it. My sister had a hamster named Tiger who once bit my mom so hard that, when she lifted her hand, Tiger dangled from the pad of her thumb by his tiny jaw. After that, she kept cleaning his cage – but she wore gardening gloves when she took him out. She cleaned up after Marshmallow in his old age, when he turned senile and started pooping behind the rocking chair in the living room. I was in college when my parents finally decided to put him to sleep. My mom called to tell me the news. “It’s OK to cry if you want,” she said, “I cried a little and I didn’t even think I liked him.” She and my dad both stood with him while the vet put him under.
These were extensions of the same courtesies my parents gave to their human children – Mom and Dad kept us well-fed and up to date on our shots too. They taught me that this is what you do for all the creatures, great and small, under your roof. You are in charge of keeping them well. Even though my place in Chicago didn’t resemble my Minnesota home in any other way, I felt the weight of that responsibility. And since there weren’t any other humans living with me, it all collapsed in on me and one little orange tabby.
Eventually, Rudy went on a prescription diet that seemed to work. I went out of the country for two weeks in the summer and when I got back, he was still using the litter box normally. Shortly after that, Cindy connected me with a young couple interested in adopting him. They seemed un-phased by Rudy’s health history when I told them about it. I gave the woman a laser pointer and told her to turn it on. As soon as she did, Rudy let out a desperate squeak. He raced across the room and Parkoured an arc up the wall to try to catch it. The woman yelped with joy, as though she had just watched a close-up magician reveal that the entire deck was now made up of queens of diamonds.
By now, I knew what was going to happen next.
When Cindy took Rudy to his new forever home, she left me with Paploo. He was a barrel-shaped tabby with a round face that always seemed to say, “Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it.” Our first night together, I crouched down and ran my fingers through the soft fur on his belly. Without warning, he reared back and swiped me across the knee, leaving three white, stinging marks. Beads of blood appeared. “Hey!” I said. I stood up and looked him in the eye. He looked back with his neck short and his pupils so wide his eyes looked black. Then he scratched me again.
Paploo wasn’t totally wild. He rubbed up against my legs when he was hungry, followed me from room to room, and sometimes rested his head on my thigh. He must have belonged to somebody at some point. Cats that aren’t socialized within the first six months of their lives can almost never learn to trust humans. But he wasn’t totally tame either. He never pretended that I made the rules for him. If I rested my hand on him for too long, he would twist around and scratch me. He pooped nonchalantly, then exited the litter box without covering it. Most cats bury their waste to keep predators from tracking them. Paploo, clearly, was not worried about becoming anyone’s prey.
Once a week, I had a few people over for dinner. Paploo liked to hop up on the table and slink between the serving dishes, plates and empty water glasses as though they were prairie grasses. When my friend Matthew caught him on the table, he would yell, “Hey! No! Get down! Caitlin?” while waving his hands in a frantic shooing motion. Paploo would blink at him, and then go back to rubbing his face on the top of the wine bottle.
Cats haven’t evolved much since they first wandered into human civilization, 20,000 years ago. It’s another way they’re different from dogs. Over the course of many generations, people have bred most of the wild out of “man’s best friend.” (Consider Pugs exhibit A. They seem like they’d have trouble digesting unfiltered tap water, let alone hunting through forests or dumpsters.) Cats are different. They found their way into human company on their own. The theory is that they stumbled upon ancient Mesopotamia and stayed – not because they liked people, but because they liked all the grains, garbage and rodents people left in their wake. They have shadowed us, on their own terms, ever since.
Since they haven’t changed much to be with us, they can still survive without us. Housecats that wind up on the street are often able to adapt. Their lives will be shorter and harder outdoors, but they know what they need to do to get by. I had a difficult time picturing some of my cats in the urban wild, but not Paploo. I could see him so clearly, prowling around Chicago’s alleys. I couldn’t imagine him getting into a fight he couldn’t win.
I appreciated that about him, because I liked thinking about the other lives I could have lived too. From the outside, it probably looked like I was settling into Chicago. More furniture filled in the space around the olive-green loveseat in my apartment. I now had an Ikea bookshelf, a waxy antique dining room table, and a full-sized mattress. I knew dozens of routes through my neighborhood by heart – to work, to the clean Aldi, to the lakefront bike path, to the coffee place where they still had Pumpkin Spice Syrup in July, and more. I was wearing ruts deeper and deeper into the city. And yet, on the inside, I did not feel settled.
By this point, it wasn’t just because my Chicago life didn’t match the Minnesota standard. It was also because the standard itself didn’t exist anymore. My brother, my sister and the minivan had all moved on from my childhood home. The Shih Tzu and my father were gone forever. Now, where home had been, there was just a house – occupied by my mother and a second generation of pets that me and my siblings left her to begrudgingly take care of.
I did not know how to orient myself anymore. I daydreamed about teaching English in Cambodia, or getting a cooking apprenticeship in Germany, or just packing a few essentials in a van, listing everything else on Craigslist, and moving to some other apartment in some other city. Then, I would think about the tedious logistics of moving and the daydream would evaporate. And I would just be left with the vague feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. But I was beginning to think that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere. Maybe there were only places I might wind up. So, I enjoyed sharing space with another creature who didn’t seem like he was supposed to be in my living room either. Both of us could have wound up somewhere else. We were making do just fine though, on the loveseat we happened to share.
When I first met potential adopter Yiran, I didn’t think she would like Paploo. She was a slight woman with big eyes and long, wavy black hair. She had just begun dual PhD programs in Mathematics and Philosophy. I got anxious, watching her stroke the fur on his belly. Every time Paploo moved, I scooted closer to the edge of the loveseat. I felt a responsibility to warn Yiran about him. I told her that he wasn’t a snuggler, and I couldn’t get him to do anything he didn’t want to. Trimming his nails would be a two-person job. And yet, even as I told her all this, I saw her give Paploo that baby lotion commercial, close-up magician, warm and fuzzy look.
Cindy emailed me the next day to tell me that Yiran wanted to adopt Paploo. I told Cindy I was kind of surprised that Yiran was so taken with him. Cindy thought maybe Yiran wanted a tough, rebellious cat because she liked to think of herself that way. I said I supposed that was possible. I thought to myself, the things people project onto cats…
When it was time for him to leave, I was worried about how Cindy and I would get him into his carrier. But we sprinkled a couple of treats in the back of it, and he walked right in. We closed the grate and he turned around. Now, his expression seemed to say, “Oh well. I’ll be fine, wherever I go.” Or maybe, that was just what I wanted to believe about both of us.
Cindy emailed me Gallagher’s sad story while I was still preparing to say goodbye to Paploo. He had been adopted, but when his new owner brought him to the vet, he tested positive for the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: The Feline version of HIV. So, his forever mom gave him back to CCR. Cindy explained that FIV works differently in cats than it does in humans, and that he wouldn’t need any special care from me. I would just have to keep an eye out for secondary infections. I consulted with my mom. She, remembering Rudy, strongly advised against taking Gallagher in.
“Caitlin, I know how much you’ll worry.”
I said, “Mom, I already know it’s a bad idea and I already know I’m going to say yes.”
As it turned out, the FIV and the bleeding eye were only the beginning of Gallagher’s health problems. After several vet visits and weeks of trial and error, we figured out that the wound on his eye was a skin infection that had been caused by a food allergy. We put him on a very expensive diet of rabbit and pea pate. Then, Cindy noticed that his eyes weren’t tracking moving objects. While we were trying to figure out why, he stopped eating. After he was taken to Chicago’s dedicated pet-eye specialist, he tested positive for a rare, deadly fungus that is usually only found in the Mississippi river basin. It had caused him to go almost completely blind. He was given anti-fungal pills, an anti-inflammatory medicine to counteract the anti-fungal’s side effects, and two different kinds of eye drops. Then, he also stopped eating his rabbit food for no apparent reason. So, I cooked him a tilapia fillet in the microwave twice a day.
He padded around the apartment tentatively, like the sickly cousin in a gothic novel – meowing at a pitch that reminded me of the sound a car makes when you open the door while the headlights are still on. Still, I didn’t worry about him the way I worried about Rudy. It was partly due to different nuances in his condition, but it was also partly due to the fact I understood my cat caretaker role differently by then. I didn’t feel responsible for keeping these cats alive, so much as I was responsible for giving them space to live – only as long as they need it.
This is the kind of home I made, while I was trying not to make a home. It hangs, tentatively, at the center of a web of connections I have made to the city. Like a cat might bring a sparrow back to its threshold, I bring all kinds of treats and treasures back here: stacks of library books and bags of vegetables from the farmer’s market and playbills and dresses I don’t need from thrift stores. And I leave my door open for other creatures wandering the sidewalks, scavenging, looking for a nest. I welcome in here, and I take care. But my place still isn’t permanent. Even after six years, it feels like it would be easy to lift myself up and go. I’ve realized though, that is part of its draw – especially for the cats. They come here when they need a haven the most. I give it to them, and in return, they make my little one-bedroom feel important in this sprawling metropolis. That will be true as long as I keep welcoming them in and keep sending them out.
Shayla was the first foster cat I said goodbye to. As soon as Cindy arrived to take her to her new forever home, Shayla disappeared. We found her under the bed for the first time in months. Cindy had to grab her by the scruff of her neck and stuff her into the carrier, hind legs first. Shayla desperately rubbed her face on the front grate. “It’s OK,” Cindy told her, “I promise this is the last time.”
For once, I knew exactly what Shayla was thinking: She wanted to stay in the space she knew. For a minute, I wanted to tell her that she could. I had more perspective than she did though. I knew the move would be hard at first, but better for Shayla in the long run. She deserved to live with someone who looked at her like she was the only cat in the world – who could build a home around her. I couldn’t give her a home like that. My place had to be available for the next cat ready to come in off the street.
Cindy and Shayla left through the front door. I closed it behind them then went to the window to watch them leave. As the two of them crossed the street, Shayla’s mournful meow carried all the way up to my second story apartment. Cindy had asked if I would host another cat right away, but I said I wasn’t ready. I told her to ask me about the next one though. As my empty apartment creaked and settled, I hoped it would be soon. My door was open temporarily, indefinitely.
Caitlin Sellnow currently lives in Evanston, Illinois, but she will always be a Minnesotan at heart. Her book reviews have appeared on the TriQuarterly Review website, and she has contributed to Living Lutheran magazine. She earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Northwestern University. By day, she works in nonprofit marketing. By night, she tells stories about city streets, the creatures who live there, and the communities they make. She also collects choral sheet music, potluck recipes and increasingly pathetic foster cats.
This is so sweet! And funny and human and great. As a person who has moved around a lot, I related to that feeling of a slow settling, but resisting it truly being “home,” even though it clearly is. Also, I loved getting to know all of these cats’ personalities. Nicely done!