I couldn’t figure out what to call this, and after thinking for a second, I came up with the current title, except at first it was “tale” and not “tail”. And then I was like, ha ha, I’m hilarious and punny, lets make it “tail”. I thought I was so completely clever, until I Googled it and realized I am… definitely not. Oh well; I still like it.
I grew up with cats. I don’t think there was ever a point in my life when I didn’t have at least one. They were so much a part of my history that during a six-week period where for the first time ever I didn’t have one, my friend found a random cat and when I picked her up (the cat, not my friend) I legitimately almost cried. I don’t know, guys, I just really love cats!
Anyway, when I later went away for college, I knew that I wanted a cat. I mean, how else could I sleep at night if I didn’t have a pet on whom to blame mysterious noises at night? After a year of living far from my family and old friends, I knew I didn’t just want a pet, I needed one. That’s how I came to adopt Felix.
I asked my local shelter if they had any cats who were, in a phrase, good emotional support pets and they directed me immediately to a cat they had called Shack. He let Simon (who was accompanying me on my quest) and me hold him without a single sign of struggle or discomfort. He did exactly as he does still and collapsed into my arms like there were very few places he’d rather be. He was a little bit shy for a few days after I brought him home (and renamed him). Despite his hesitance to come out of his hiding spot during the day and engage with us, he still slept with us at night and didn’t shy away from being pet. I laid down on the floor one afternoon for a nap, because apparently floors are where I do that, and when I woke up, he was curled up against my side. From that point onward, all signs of reticence vanished, and he transformed into the crazy loving furball he is now.
Very few things have felt as rewarding as earning his trust and affection. People talk about how cats are independent creatures who don’t need no human, but there is a clear attachment my cats have to me that I’m just going to pretend is not related to my opposable thumbs and their subsequent ability to open food containers. That feeling of happiness and pride I felt upon Felix claiming me as his human was echoed a hundredfold after adopting my second cat, Ivy. I think most cats are better off when they have another feline companion, and I figured Felix and I were ready for another.
Felix, who was about three when I adopted him, had plainly come from a loving household. I don’t know how he came to be at the shelter, but his personality was highly suggestive of good care and affection. Ivy, who was about a year old, came from a lady who fostered dozens of cats. While she was well taken care of and loved by her foster mom, I’m sure there’s only so much attention a single cat can get when her owner has so many others for whom she needs to care.
I took Ivy (previously named Silex) home and set her up in her own private space. While she let me pet her, she was extremely hesitant to ever leave her cozy cat bed. I spent hours sitting quietly near her and offering her occasional treats and toys, but she was too fearful to come out. I had kept Felix separate from her for a while, allowing him only to peer through the crack at the bottom of the door and sniff some of her toys and bedding. After a week of him seeming only curious about her presence rather than aggressive or possessive of his territory, I decided to take a risk.
I carried him into the room where I was keeping her and sat down on the floor. I gaged his attitude before I got comfortable, but he displayed no signs of aggression or irritation. As soon as I sat down, he collapsed onto my legs and lay there completely at ease. Then, to my surprise and complete joy, Ivy emerged from her hidey hole with the first meow I’d ever heard her emit. She came straight up to Felix and began sniffing his face and rubbing her head against his. He was not very certain how to take this behavior, but he tolerated it and didn’t react. As soon as he shoed any signs of overstimulation I’d let him leave the room and Ivy would go back into hiding.
After a week of introducing them to one another at longer and longer intervals, I let her roam the apartment at her leisure. Felix was mostly indifferent to her presence for a while until I woke one night to them chirruping and playfully chasing each other around the living room.
Her comfort with me came much more slowly than her surprising comfort with Felix. I could play with her with a wire toy, but any sudden movement or loud sound would send her fleeing to a hiding spot. Over time she’d let me begin petting her, or rather let herself begin petting me by rubbing her face against my fingers. Still, if I moved too quickly, she’d startle and jump away. When after a few months she seemed comfortable with being pet on my terms and not just on her own, I began trying to pick her up and hold her. At first, she would only let me pick her up a few inches from the floor and would panic if I tried to hold her close to me. At the first sign of any discomfort, I would let her go and only try again a while later if she seemed ready.
Though I had grown up with cats, I had siblings (one quite a bit older than me) and my mom to be part of the socialization process. I had so little faith in my ability to successfully care for a pet on my own. For the first few months I had Felix, I’d take him into the vet at any sign of something being wrong. This occurred so many times with nothing being problematic that the person we regularly saw gave me her personal number and told me to call her if I was worried rather than keep spending money on rideshares and visits. Thankfully I’m much less paranoid now and have learned to trust myself, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel like I was failing Ivy.
Her contentment grew ever so slowly, and I was terrified every day that I was pushing her too far and that she’d never come to feel safe and comfortable around me. I wondered if she’d be better off with a different human or if someone else would take better, more thoughtful care of her. I did not want to adopt her only for her to lose out on the opportunity to thrive with someone else. The main thing that made me feel better was her evident devotion to Felix. Though he remained mostly indifferent to her except during playtime, she took to and stuck with him religiously.
It’s been about ten months since I adopted her, and I still see signs of her growing more comfortable. Some days I see her take a baby step, and I’m reminded of who she was and who she now has become. The timid, terrified little cat that once fled if I held my hand out too quickly can still be seen, especially around loud strangers, but most days she is unrecognizable.
Today she followed me around for twenty minutes practically demanding to be pet. She meows angrily at me if I walk by her without giving her a scritch and bats at my ankles if I leave her petting session before she’s good and ready to be done. I picked her up and held her against me to let her look out the window, and she purred so loudly that the neighbor probably heard her. Where I used to be incapable of picking her up for more than three seconds, she now is completely content to be held for several minutes, but only if I let her sniff and rub her face against my own during the process. If I don’t get out of bed after my alarm goes off, she will run up and down the length of my body, shoving her shockingly cold nose into my ear or face unless I pet her. She still is startled by loud noises, but she only flinches and scurries a few feet away before immediately returning for pets. She has only lain down on me to sleep two or three times, but she will stand on my lap and put her front paws onto my shoulder to sniff at my face or sit behind me on the chair to bat at my hair.
All this to say, sometimes she is so demanding of attention and affection that I worry I forgot to feed her or something. And when I check her food bowl to find it still full and she continues to beg for pets, I am so proud of both her and myself for cultivating such a wonderful relationship.
My cats are so much more than pets. Felix has acted as a lifeline for me when I felt as though I had nothing else onto which to hold. I have never known a cat to be more receptive of attention than Felix. I can’t exaggerate how absolutely content with any form of affection this cat is. I can pet every part of him for as long as I possibly want, hold him in the weirdest positions, scratch between his little toes, or maneuver him around while I try to get comfortable, and he won’t even twitch his tail let alone get irritated. It’s honestly a little bit ridiculous how on the nose those ladies at the shelter were when they told me he’d be a good ESA. I feel so proud of and lucky to have him that I’m kind of sad that more people don’t get to experience his brand of love. I want to show him off to the whole world because he’s that fantastic.
Ivy has been a light for me even on the brightest, let alone darkest, of days. I will stop pretty much anything I am ever doing to give her attention when she wants it, because there was a time when she was too scared to seek it out. I feel genuinely honored every time she shows trust in me. I still question myself quite often, but I’ve come to accept at least most of the time that I am a good cat-mom and provide a good home to them.
I have no idea what my purpose was in writing this except that I like to remember little details like what I’ve written here. I hope that if you take anything away from this it’s that pets, if and when you are ready to have any, can be the most worthwhile companions imaginable. It’s not always easy to have the responsibility of caring for them, but it is, every day, worth it. While they will be around for only a fraction of my life, I am here for hopefully the vast majority of theirs. My gratitude and appreciation for them is something I try to never forget, and while pictures and videos will not immortalize them for me the way they might for someone else, I hope that my words can and will do so.