How an Abandoned Cat Changed My Life

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Cat asleep in bed

When I answered the phone that night in 1986, a six-inch blanket of snow covered the ground in north Texas. That almost never happens—the snow, I mean. I do answer my phone about twenty times a day.

“You busy?” my friend Mary asked. She sounded anxious. I’d met Mary several years earlier at a science-fiction convention. I thought she’d called to read me excerpts from her latest short story. It turned out to be a real-life adventure, and I would claim the leading role. Mary had found a hungry cat trembling next to the front door of her apartment.

Obviously someone had moved away and left the little silver tabby cat behind in the snow to fend for herself. Mary, who was not an animal person but has a heart as big as Texas, brought the starving kitty into her apartment to thaw her out. With a $500 pet deposit threatening her, the Hamilton home could only offer emergency shelter. The sooner the abandoned kitty could go elsewhere, the better.

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“Can you take her? She’s a really nice cat,” Mary assured me. She must be an amazing cat for Mary to take such a risk, I thought. I uttered an uncertain, “Okay . . .” Before the second syllable had completely escaped my mouth, Mary added, “Did I forget to mention the cat’s a little pregnant?”

“How can she be ‘a little pregnant’?” Mary ignored the question and thanked me for taking care of her big problem.

“What, pray, qualifies me to take a pregnant cat?” I asked.

“You already have a cat,” Mary said.

After two weeks it became clear little Mom kitty’s big moment was drawing nigh. Mom began scoping out the house for the perfect nest.

I felt like Prissy in Gone with the Wind who didn’t know nothin’ ’bout birthing no babies! Being an inexperienced midwife, I decided to preempt the cat’s quest by creating a soft nursery of a cardboard box; clean, well-aged (translate that to mean bleached-out) towels; and an old cerise bedspread, the kind that wouldn’t show stains.

Mom immediately hopped out of her lowly box and headed straight for my lingerie drawer. Birthing felines always prefer lingerie simply because silk is by far more difficult to clean than terry cloth. Mom brought six beautiful, healthy kittens into the world. She’d strewn her first three around the house like clues on a treasure map. She deposited one slimy little ball of fur on my desk, making a direct hit on a recently completed 1040 form. I found another one under the commode, and, of course, one comfortably wrapped in my beige silk camisole.

Mom managed to completely avoid dropping any of her bundles in the bedding I had laid out for them. We compromised with her three remaining kittens, and she gave birth to them on the soft blanket spread out in the bathtub.

No two kittens looked alike, nor did they even remotely resemble her. There was one the color of fresh cream, one was all black and a third resembled a patchwork blanket. The one born on the tax form looked like Florida citrus, while another looked like pewter. And the smallest, and my favorite, was black and white.

Within just a few minutes of her final delivery, Mom had once again transferred the whole group back to her silk and lace haven. I gave up. You can’t fight Kitty Hall. Besides, it gave me the perfect excuse to go out and buy a new set of undies. Those kittens weren’t afraid of anything. When they grew big enough, they prowled the house like a pack of wild hyenas.

On several occasions the Wild Bunch cornered my 80-pound Doberman in the utility room and used his hind leg as a climbing tree. They emptied my goldfish bowl, and one even took a swim in my toilet. Whenever I left the house I had to incarcerate the little offenders—or else I’d just have to up the value on my homeowner’s insurance.

When I returned from work I swung open the bathroom door and allowed the prisoners to escape. Every time, the black-and-white one, who I named Chani after the protagonist in my first novel, would prance out the door, look over her shoulder and let out a loud, indignant meow. It soon came time to find homes for Mom and her brood. Like everything else in life, this proved to be much more complicated than I had originally anticipated. Friends and family claimed to have all the pets they needed, so I had to think outside the litter box.

I enlisted the help of the Humane Society of Lewisville, the only no-kill rescue group north of Dallas. McDonald’s in Lewisville was the only place that would give us permission to hold adoption events in their parking lot, so I religiously took the kitties to Adopt-A-Pets, all of us baking under the hot Texas sun.

As I sat in that steamy parking lot with a handful of other cat fosters, I realized that there were so many cats who needed families. The small rescue group simply didn’t have enough foster homes. I was haunted by the kitties the group picked up from animal control but had to return to the shelter, to a short and certain future when they didn’t get adopted. Although it was a small one, the one-afternoon adoption event at least gave those hopeless kitties a chance they wouldn’t have had at the pound. After my second Adopt-A-Pet, Mom and four of the kittens found loving homes.

My two favorites, Chani and Reggie, failed to get adopted, mainly because I kept “forgetting” to take them to McDonald’s. (My two kittens would make it to 17 and 19 years respectively.) Once the kittens went to forever homes, I offered to foster a doomed silver-colored pound kitten I named Seryi—Russian for blue. The little cutie got adopted very quickly. Since Seryi’s adoption made room in my house, I took in another, then another. I couldn’t help just one!

Mom and her babies waltzed into my life 25 years ago. I guess that means I’m now eligible for my silver water bowl. I’ve suffered from foster failure several times along the way, but most of the kitties were adopted into great homes. I even married a guy who had more kitties than I had and who feels as passionate about saving homeless cats as I do. On our third date we rescued a three-week-old abandoned kitten. My full-time job is now editing and writing about cat (pet) care for AdoptAShelter.com, a shop-to-donate website that helps animal charities. And I still rescue. I now take in primarily bottle babies and trauma cases. Today, five eight-week-old kittens are cliff-diving off the back of my antique recliner and torturing the dog. A Siamese coyote-attack survivor is snoozing comfortably in my guest bathroom.

I think back twenty-five years as I look at photos of Chani and Reggie. I can’t believe how saving that one little abandoned mama has changed my life.

Where would I be, what would I be doing had I told my friend to take the cat to the pound? I shudder to think. Mary still calls, but she has never asked me to take another orphan. However, at least once a week I get calls from animal control asking for help. And sometimes, when I open my door, I find a frightened mother-to-be with sad eyes and no collar around her neck. I just bring out the cerise blanket and my silk camisole. Some people never learn.


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