Saturday, October 20, 2012


I wanted a broken cat. A cat with a clubfoot or an eye patch or an oxygen tank, neglected by kitten-hungry shelter-goers for the furry youngsters of YouTube fantasies. And not for entirely selfish reasons: Olive needed a friend. Olive, uncommonly extroverted and perpetually bored, was adjusting rather badly to my full-time work schedule. Her kitten energy was pent up and all of her human playmates were pre-occupied with petty human things. Rolling little feather toys across the kitchen didn't tucker her out the way it used to and no walk on the cat leash was long enough to settle her yearnings. She took her frustration out on exposed hands and ankles.

Dave and I decided the time had come for us to find another cat, but not just any cat. We needed a playful cat that would entertain irritable Olive when we weren't home. A cat that is gentle with humans but catty enough to resist any bullying from our tuxedoed beast. And this cat would also preferable have hemophilia or an eye patch. If I had a beautiful rainbow of foster children, at least one of them would have an eye patch.

We started browsing cats the day I failed my road test. Dave thought that rooms full of cats would cheer me up. We went to Pets Alive in Elmsford, NY that appeared to be in the middle of a land development project. The area around the shelter was a wasteland of bulldozers and mud with the occasional out-of-place jogger with a pit bull.

In the elderly cat room, tubby cats rubbed up against our shins and shed their dead fur on our pants. I knelt down to pet a black cat and he answered with a roundhouse kick to my hand.

“Some people are put off by that,” said the volunteer who was giving us the tour. “But he’s a really sweet cat.”

We explained that Olive plays a bit rough and we needed a cat that could keep up with Olive’s frenetic kitten energy, perhaps a big, burly adult with fists instead of paws. She introduced us to an affectionate ginger with a pot-belly named Cobb. The shelter has a program where you adopt an older cat and the shelter pays the vet bills for the rest of kitty’s life. Some people are put off of elderly cats by the prospect of extra vet visits.

I cleaned my wounds from the ninja cat and we moved on to the littler monsters. Next to the kitten room, construction rattled the walls and all of the youngsters seemed perturbed. An elegant Russian blue frowning in the corner took a swing at my approaching hand. The kittens all buried themselves under the furniture. One man found success in the bustling kitten room, holding up a robust young adult ginger.

“I want to adopt this cat,” he said serenely. “What is his name?”

“Muffin,” the girl said.

“No. His name is Buster now,” the man said, letting the cat scramble away. “Buster. Do you have another cat somewhere in this shelter that is as insouciant and gregarious as Buster?”

After warding off a case of cat scratch fever in the ladies’ room, Dave and I discussed the possibility of adopting Cobb.

“It’s hard for me to have any strong feelings of affection for these cats when they keep ripping my hands open,” I muttered.

It was time to call it a day and get some Band-Aids. I wondered if we would ever bond with another cat the way we bonded with Olive.

One week later we were in the New Rochelle Humane Society where we once walked out with a box full of Olive. In the first room full of cats, I made friends with yet another tubby ginger cat.

“Maybe a tubby ginger cat was just meant to be,” I sighed.

“He only loves you because he wants to go outside. Look, he’s standing at the door.”

Sure enough, the ginger was only using me for my ability to turn a doorknob. He meowed at the door handle and gave me an urgent look of longing. All the other cats in the room were asleep or indifferent. We moved on to the Sunshine room, a room the size of a closet with cat trees extending high above me. An enormous gray cat looked down at us from above. A brown Maine Coon named Buni with long, luxurious fur rubbed against our legs. She was happy to let us pet her for about five seconds before lashing out with extended claws. Buni is the sort of girl who would kiss you on the first date and then smack you across the cheek and cry, “What kind of girl do you think I am?”

The handsome gray cat, Wolfie, turned out to be a gentle giant and Dave lavished him with attention that shy cats at shelters rarely get.

“I would adopt Wolfie if we didn’t already have a cat. And if I never intended to get another cat. Or any other pets for the next twenty years,” I admitted. A shy cat would surely incur Olive’s wrath.

By the food dishes, a black and white tuxedo cat dipped her paws into the water bowl and licked the dew from between her toes. The mark of a wild cat. There was no information about her tacked on the wall, so we asked a volunteer about her. Her name was Dallas and she was found in a garage with a litter of kittens. She was about eleven months old and all of her kittens had already been adopted. We can adopt our own little teen mom, I thought to myself.

When we adopted Olive, we were at the shelter for hours agonizing over the decision, holding various kittens in the isolation room, trying them on. Adopting Dallas was a split second decision. Just a few minutes after leaving the Sunshine room I was holding a cardboard carrying case and Dave was signing documents. It was exhilarating.

We have since renamed our new kitty Penelope. She frequently drinks out of the toilet and has a meow like a creaky closet door. Penny’s tail is crooked like a lightning bolt and I wonder what kind of bar fights she brawled in before she got knocked up.

Olive slowly is getting used to Penny. At first she hissed and sequestered Penny in the bathroom. Just the smell of my Penny-scented hand would send her into a fit. Now Olive is curious. She tries to play with Penny, but Penny doesn’t trust her after that initial territory war. I wonder what kind of solution Jackson Galaxy, Cat Behaviorist would produce from his magic guitar case and the answer is clear: a feather on a stick. Somebody get me a feather on a stick.