Healing the Cat-Shaped Hole in My Heart

Well readers, I apologize that it has been so long since I last posted here, and that my last post was so negative. I haven’t totally abandoned writing during this time. In fact, I have been working on a unique meditation about the Restoration which I hope to finish soon. But first, I have to gush about my new kitten baby who became a member of our family on June 1!

On May 24 of last year, I wrote this post about the passing of Snickers. Even when Snickers was healthy, Mom, Dad and I each commented that Snickers was special and we may not want another cat when she passed away because no other cat would have the personality of Snickers. But as I held Snickers in my lap for the last time on Tuesday May 22, I realized I couldn’t go the rest of my life without a sweet bundle of fur purring in my lap. As long as I was living with my parents, I would try to act like an adult by respecting their wishes if they did not want another cat. But someday, I would hold a cat in my lap again.

Mom wanted to wait a few months before adopting another cat to see if her allergies improved. I realized this would be a good idea for me too as I had been plagued with sinus headaches for years. If our allergies did improve, sadly we would have to accept the reality that we were allergic to cats, although I confess I did look at breeders of Siberian cats which are supposedly hypoallergenic and can be tolerated by many with cat allergies. If our allergies improved without Snickers, my first plan of action was to contact one of these breeders. But around Christmas time, Mom decided her allergies hadn’t improved, and with that revelation, I knew it was safe to reveal my allergies hadn’t improved either. A kitten was in our near future, maybe as a Christmas gift. (I would participate in selecting the kitten of course. I agree with the Humane Society stance that a pet should never be a surprise gift.)

The kitten didn’t end up being a Christmas gift because unbeknownst to us, there really aren’t kittens available at humane societies in the winter months. There is such a thing as “kitten season” which is generally May through August. I remember adopting Snickers in August of 2000, and there were a lot of kittens at that time, but August just happened to be when we were ready to add a kitten to the family back then. But this was just as well, as it occurred to me it probably would be healthy to wait a full year from Snickers’ passing to give the heart time to heal. With some time separating Snickers and the new kitten, hopefully I wouldn’t be comparing the new cat to Snickers. As much as I longed to hear the purring of a cat again, I also wanted to make sure I behaved like an adult and didn’t act impulsively by adopting a kitten too soon. I was heartbroken when my parents decided we had to surrender Kelso in 2003, but seeing this experience from an adult perspective, I realized I played a role in adopting this puppy whose severe behavioral problems we couldn’t handle. It had only been six months since our beloved german shepherd Indy passed away, and I missed her so much that this rambunctious puppy stole my heart. I begged my parents to adopt him, and they relented. But when we brought him home and his severe behavior issues—which we learned were the consequence of being taken from the mother too soon–soon became evident, I was even afraid to interact with him. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t heartbroken about relinquishing Kelso because I loved Kelso. Sadly, he never seemed to bond with us, and I hadn’t really bonded with him either. If I were in my parents’ shoes, I would have made the same dicision. Our family, and this dog would all be better off if we relinquished this dog back to the no-kill shelter where we adopted him, where hopefully he would find a home that could handle his special needs. I was heart-broken simply because I missed the love and loyalty of a dog in the house. When Indy passed away, my dad didn’t want another dog in the house until I was old enough to receive a guide dog. At the time we had to relinquish Kelso, that seemed like an eternity away. I couldn’t imagine waiting that long. Had I been more mature, I would have realized that time flies, and that I wouldn’t have to spend the entirety of those years without puppy love because it would turn out my brother would need us to dogsit his dog Mojo fairly regularly, and my last year of high school, my brother moved back home and Mojo lived with us full-time. All this is to say, I learned the hard way that patience is bitter, but had I practiced it and respected my parents’ desire to wait for sweet Gilbert to come along, I could have avoided a lot of heartbreak. I promised myself I wouldn’t act impulsively when choosing a kitten, and making myself wait a full year before adopting a kitten seemed wise for this reason.

My sister who lives in New York City wanted to be involved in the selection of our next kitten, and I was delighted about this, as that special summer when my sister first got her driver’s license and we snuck off to every humane society in the area while my parents were at work was a special memory we both cherish, and I loved the idea of sort of re-living that experience, even if we were no longer minors and had the full approval of Mom and Dad this time around. My sister would be coming home at the very beginning of kitten season, May 1, to celebrate my Grandma’s 90th birthday. I was a little apprehensive about adopting a kitten that weekend since we were hosting Grandma’s party at our house. I feared that adding a kitten to the family amidst all the last minute busyness that goes into cleaning, decorating and food preparation would fray nerves and start our lives with this new kitten off on the wrong foot, or that a guest would be loud and frighten a kitten who wasn’t used to us yet, or that someone would leave a door open or something and she would run away. My mom and sister assured me we would take precautions so that these things didn’t happen. That weekend, my sister and I agreed we wouldn’t adopt a cat impulsively, but would adopt if we felt in our hearts as though we found the perfect kitten for us.

The humane society where we adopted Snickers didn’t have any kittens on May 2, the day my sister and I set aside to look for kittens. I checked online the night before, and my sister even called to verify. She used to volunteer at a humane society when she lived in North Carolina and said there are sometimes kittens available that a humane society does not post online. Another humane society had one kitten, but said she was shy, and we agreed a shy kitten would not be right for our family. The Wisconsin Humane Society had three kittens that day, so we decided to start there. The way this shelter operates is you are supposed to fill out an online profile before you arrive, and then when you get there, you go on a waiting list. While waiting, you can walk around and view animals in their cages, but cannot interact with them until you are sent a text announcing it is your turn and an adoption counselor meets with you. The shelter opened at noon that day, but my sister and I didn’t get there until around 3:00 that afternoon, partly because we didn’t know this shelter’s procedures which incentivize getting there early, and partly because Gilbert was at the groomer that day in preparation for Grandma’s party, and as we were driving to the shelter, Mom called my sister’s cell phone to report that the groomer was finished with Gilbert and it was time to pick him up. I didn’t expect him to be ready so soon. My dad still has a company car, but he needs to keep it clean and thus doesn’t allow Gilbert to ride in it. My sister and I were driving our only other car, so we would have to turn around and either go home to meet up with Mom and Dad who would pick up Gilbert, or go directly to the groomer and pick him up ourselves. I thought it would be quicker for us to pick up Gilbert, forgetting about the fact that my sister has never set up Gilbert’s ramp he uses to get in and out of the car now that he has arthritis, and Gilbert only trusts Mom or Dad to coax him up the ramp. So to make a long story short, Gilbert absolutely would not go up the ramp to get into the car, so we had to call my parents. So my sister, Gilbert and I waited outside the car for the fifteen minutes it took my dad to get there to coax silly Gilbert into the car! I guess my impatience got me in trouble again! It would have been quicker to go home first and meet up with Mom and Dad, but actually this wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of that day, which was that we didn’t bring home a kitten.

When my sister and I finally got to the Wisconsin Humane Society, we filled out a paper version of the online profile and were put on the waiting list, but since counselors only met with one person at a time, we had to wait almost two hours, during which time we only found one potential kitten named Fruit Loops who didn’t seem shy. My sister saw some sweet older cats, but I really wanted to hold out for a kitten. As I wrote when Snickers was a senior, I loved her even more deeply when she entered her senior years and seemed to get sweeter with age, and I still love Gilbert. But I love pets when they are young and full of energy too, and I didn’t want to miss out on the antics of a kitten by adopting a senior cat, a sentiment my mom echoed. At the humane society where we adopted Snickers and Kelso, the adoption counselor would take us to a comfortable interview room with a few chairs to sit, and then bring animals to us, and leave us alone to get to know them. My sister said the room was surrounded by glass so staff could theoretically look in on us if they wanted to, but I really felt like we had the space to observe and interact with the animals. But at this humane society, the adoption counselor stays with you at all times when interacting with the animals, and instead of going into separate interview rooms, the standard procedure is that counselors just unlock a door for people to go right into their living quarters. Fruit Loops may have been a sweet kitten, and I hope she found a loving home, but with the adoption counselor, my sister and me all packed into the kitty’s room, there was absolutely no space to hold her or see how she reacted to toys. The counselor put her on a perch in the room where I could stand and pet her, but she didn’t purr and it wasn’t long before she jumped off the perch, probably and understandably overwhelmed by all these strangers in her room. Adopting her when I really didn’t have the space to interact with her would have been impulsive, and it actually hadn’t been a full year since Snickers passed away. She passed away May 23, 2018, and that day was only May 2, 2019. So we went home, hoping for better luck further into kitten season. My sister’s husband had a business conference in Chicago that weekend, but she said she could take the train up to Milwaukee the morning of June 1. But May 2 wasn’t entirely a wasted day as the counselor gave us a valuable insider tip: Kittens are adopted fast, and the people who are most successful in finding a kitten are waiting outside before the shelter opens.

The next month felt like what high-stakes gambling must feel like. At least twice a week, my sister and I would check the three local humane societies and send reports of how many kittens we saw. I even set an alert on Petfinder that would e-mail me about new kittens posted within a 25 mile radius of my zip code. The first couple weeks of May, there were very few kittens, and my sister actually thought about postponing our kitten search until August. I really hated the idea of waiting so long, and it also occurred to me that my parents and I were thinking of going to Sight and Sound theatre in Pennsylvania around Labor Day. I have been to the company’s sister theatre in Branson, and it is one of the few destinations that is actually worth putting up with the annoyances of travel. But if we adopted a kitten in August, Labor Day would be too soon to leave her home alone. I had to remind myself of my own rule not to be impulsive. If we didn’t find the right kitten until August, I should wait until August and forego the trip to Pennsylvania. But somehow I had a good feeling that we would find a kitten June 1, so I convinced my sister not to postpone the trip.

Even on May 30, the numbers looked uncertain. None of the three local humane societies had many kittens, and I was beginning to feel guilty for begging my sister to come when we may not find a kitten. But to my astonishment, my sister texted me Friday May 31 while I was at work to announce twenty kittens were listed at the Wisconsin Humane Society! For this reason, despite having a negative experience the first time around, we decided to give them another chance. My sister and I make a good team because I feel awkward asking for favors that deviate from standard procedure, but my sister called ahead to explain my situation and asked if we could meet the kittens in a larger interview room. To my delight, my sister reported that this was an accommodation that could be arranged. So we made a game plan! Dad would drop Mom and me off at the Wisconsin Humane Society, and then head to the train station to pick up my sister and bring her straight over. The humane society opened at 10am, and my sister’s train was supposed to arrive at 9:30, so timing would work out perfectly! To my annoyance, my doctor wanted to re-check a blood test that was slightly abnormal, and asked that I get my blood drawn over the weekend. But we ate a quick breakfast and were the first ones there when the clinic opened at 8am. We arrived at the humane society about 8:30, and there was already one other lady there in line! She was also looking to adopt a kitten, but she was really friendly and I enjoyed talking about our pets with her as we waited for the doors to open. I joked with her that I didn’t mind that she was first in line but “just don’t adopt all the kittens!” She laughed and promised she wouldn’t as her landlord wouldn’t appreciate that!

To my sister’s annoyance, her train was delayed, and she couldn’t get there until 10:30, by which time Mom and I were already meeting with the adoption counselor. Our adoption counselor was fabulous by the way! The adoption counselor my sister and I met with in May was a full-time humane society staff member. The counselor we met with June 1 was a volunteer, but my sister and I suspected she had a background in education or working with people who had special needs, because she did a fantastic job describing each kitten’s body language and what they were doing. Before my sister could get there, I had already met one kitten named Laxie. His siblings were O’Hare and Midway. He stole my heart because he was very vocal in his cage, poking his little head through the peephole and begging for attention. But in the interview room, he was a little shy and more interested in tearing around the room and exploring than being petted. The adoption counselor wisely quipped that he needed a home with a six-year-old boy who could wear him out! But then the adoption counselor, looking at my online profile in which I indicated that I wanted the kitten to be playful, but also enjoy sitting in my lap, and recommended I meet Ronin. He was just over eight weeks old, born March 28, and while he was a little shy around strangers, the counselor saw a note left by the family that fostered him which indicated he loves lying against your chest and feeling your heart beat. My sister arrived just in time to meet Ronin. When the counselor brought him into the room, he explored the perimeter of the room just like Laxie did, but at a much calmer pace. And then he let the counselor pick him up. The counselor put him against my chest and showed me how to put my arms around him, and in no time, he relaxed and started purring! It was over. My heart was thoroughly melted. Ronin, now known as Aslan came home with me.

The humane society where we adopted Snickers and Kelso required an overnight waiting period before taking the new pet home, but this humane society sends pets home the same day. My sister, parents and I walked around while the counselor filled out some paperwork, in which time my sister took pictures of Ronin playing with his siblings one last time. His sister was already adopted, I think by the lady first in line. His brother Hulk, we were told had not been adopted yet, but would be by the end of the day. We checked online the next day out of curiosity, and indeed, he was no longer listed. I wonder if he misses his siblings. He probably had no idea that his whole world would change that day and he would never play with them again. But I know by how loudly he purrs that he loves his new home with us. My sister adored him too. The first day home, my sister was a little concerned because all he seemed to want to do was hide under a bed or in the coat closet, but when we coaxed him out to sit on our laps, he gladly obliged, purring so loud you could hear him from across the room. In fact, she adored him so much that despite having her own kitty to come home to, I could tell my sister didn’t want to leave him, delaying the Sunday afternoon ride to the airport as long as possible.

As we walked out of the humane society that day, with Aslan in his cat carrier which I wore over my shoulder, I could feel the cat-shaped hole in my heart heal in an instant. Of course, Snickers will always hold a special place in my heart, but enough time had passed that I felt ready to make new memories with this little guy. The next morning, my mom reported that the lilac bush we planted to mark Snickers’ grave, which up to that point wasn’t doing well and hadn’t bloomed, suddenly produced two blooms! My mom cut them and brought them in to place in a vase. Mom and I like to think Snickers looked down from heaven and sent those blooms to welcome Aslan, and indicate she approved of this cat to watch over her house and family.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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