In February of 2003, I was given permission by my lovely and very lenient landlord in *Liverpool, NY to adopt a pet or two. I went over to a rescue that had a nice building (wish I could remember the name. I may still have her adoption contract) and a big cat room with windows nearly all the way around and about 40 or so free-roaming cats in it. There were a couple sets of double stacked cages on wheels that held the special needs/diets cats. My first and second trip, I was immediately greeted by a gorgeous Siamese male who was a total love, but had several adopters already waiting and hoping they would be his family. I think he was my inspiration for Milo in my Library Cat Chronicles series. I was always attracted to the special needs cats in the cages. My first and second trips were educational but no one, other than that hunky Siamese, really drew me in. And I knew I had no chance of getting him. Both of those trips I left empty handed.
Days later, I returned a third time. That Siamese was still there, wrapping himself around my ankles. Then I saw this scrawny little orange cat up on a perch about my shoulder height. I asked the volunteer if she was new.
“Nope. That’s Butterscotch. She and her brother, who is still hiding somewhere, have been here 5 months. They’re 11 months old now.”
She was sitting there, patiently, waiting for me, watching me. I’ve long figured she was checking me out the previous two times. She squeaked at me, started purring as I started petting her. I wasn’t keen on the name. Never liked butterscotch candy.
Then my cell phone rang. It was my friend Dea. I had to answer (back then, she was notoriously difficult to get on the phone). One hand with my phone, one hand petting this scrawny little kitten who did not look 11 months old, maybe half that. I was told she got bullied away from the food bowls by the bigger cats in the room. I got distracted by telling Dea about the cats I was thinking of adopting. I wanted an adult cat. Somewhere along the way, I stopped petting Butterscotch.
Then I felt a paw on my shoulder.
“Um, Dea? Hold on a sec.”
I turned my head to find Butterscotch had put her paw on my shoulder and had tilted her head to one side like the old RCA dog pictures.
“Uhhh, Dea? That kitten I told you about? Her paw is on my shoulder and she’s doing the RCA dog head tilt.”
“Congratulations, you’ve been adopted.”
I only had enough cash on my to adopt an adult, kittens were $5 more. I filled out the paperwork, then headed up the street to pull out more from the ATM. Returned, papers processed, landlord called, and I paid my fee to adopt her. Took her home that day. I didn’t really know much about having indoor cats. The only time we kept our cats indoors were when they were too young to handle themselves outside and after any medical procedure. My parents (I think more my mother, although she always pointed the finger at my dad) didn’t really do the whole “indoor pet” thing. Most had the standard outdoor cat lifespan. Except Skunky. Everyone in the whole neighborhood LOVED her, so no one dared do any harm… I think pitchforks would have come out if she had been hurt by a neighbor. She lived until about 18 or so, and for an outdoor cat, that’s very rare.
So, I opened the cardboard carrier and out bolted a scrawny little orange kitten who now had all kinds of space, but wasn’t really used to humans. She found hiding places. She was a scared young cat with this one human who’d never had an indoor cat before.
The first several nights, she hid under my bed. I learned to pretend to be asleep for a while…. she’d then come out and jump up on the bed. Sit there and watch this human (me) “sleep.” If I twitched my nose, she was back under the bed. She also only came out of hiding to eat and use the box if I was asleep or out of the house. Eventually, she found a perch on my microwave in the kitchen. I tried all kinds of names and she reacted to JoJo, so that became her new name.
Not too long into this, I considered getting a second cat around her age to help. I called the place I adopted her from to inquire about her littermate brother. He had just been adopted. So, I was on the hunt.
Through a private rescue network of foster homes, I found Jack. Named Aaron, but nicknamed Jackrabbit (his back legs were a LOT longer than his front, making him look like those hot rod race cars with the huge back wheels and smaller front ones). He was 6 months younger than JoJo and he apparently almost never sat still for other humans, but he let me pet him for a while. I adopted him that day.
He helped bring her out of her shell, giving her a playmate. It still took months to get her more relaxed with me. She went from always hiding if I was around, to sitting on the couch next to me, to eventually my lap. The evolution of laptime took a while. I would sit cross-legged with my feet tucked under and if my toe twitched, she was gone. It took about a year or so before she was more comfortable with being on my lap.
She chose me as her human, but it still took months and months before that trust and bond became solid. The best way to describe how she was for a long time was “indoor feral” because being a scrawny little thing in a room full of adult cats twice her weight, she learned she had to be feisty to get any food.
Over time, she was possessive about food and her human. She disliked it when Jack, and then eventually Portia, got to my lap first. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen. She was fed first, always tried to steal Jack/Portia’s food as well.
Well, I think that’s enough for now. The summer after I adopted her, we packed up and moved to Chicago.
More on that next round.
*Liverpool is a ‘burb of Syracuse. So I usually just tell people I lived in Syracuse because they generally know where that is, but not Liverpool.