The November afternoon I took Atticus to the SPCA, I didn’t leave empty-handed. I brought home two boys because a house without a cat isn’t a home. They were in the same condo at the shelter, but their stories are very different.
This is Edison (my name—at the shelter he was called Yogi Bear). His picture and story on the SPCA website tugged at me. If ever a cat needed a home, it was Edison. He and his siblings were brought in as tiny kittens. They were fostered a month, then taken back to the SPCA. One by one, Edison’s siblings were adopted. But not Edison. Never Edison.
Months went by, then years. Edison stayed in the condo with four or five other cats that came and went as they were adopted. No one looked twice at the quiet brown tabby. When I entered his condo that day, he looked at me from his bed, then away. He had no expectations. Why should he, after two and a half years? His life was his bed, a shared food dish, a scratching tree, and shared litter box. A glass door where people peered in but always passed him by.
That brown tabby was mine. When I told the shelter people, you could hear them down the halls. “Yogi’s being adopted!” I brought him home first because his adjustment was the greatest. In my office, he immediately ducked under the dresser.
Then I went back to the SPCA for a second cat. “Blackie” was so new, only there a week, his picture and story wasn’t even posted. I never learned why he was surrendered. Faulkner, as I named him, is the opposite of Edison. Outgoing, a love muffin. He went in my office with Edison, still under the dresser, and settled right in.
Within hours, I began to figure out why Faulkner had been given up. First, he lied about his age. He was not “three years old,” but more like six or seven (bad breath and an I’ve-been-around-the-block look in his eyes). Second, he lives to eat. All. Day. Long. Third, he talks a lot. A lot. Meowmeowmeowmeowmeow. All. Day. Long. Also? He came with the handy skill of opening cabinets, cupboards, drawers, and doors.
I discovered this when I went in the bedroom and found a dresser drawer partly open, the latched cabinet door that covers the middle section of drawers wide open, and one of those drawers open with socks pulled out. From the doorway, I could see into the bathroom. One side of the double vanity cupboard was open. About that time, Faulkner strolled through the other side. Now when I come home, I don’t panic because our house looks like it’s been tossed.
Edison was very hinky and shy at first. Everything was new to him. Furniture. Things to smell. Space to run! And windows. The first time he jumped on the windowsill and watched a leaf fall, his whole body quivered with wonder. I wanted to cry.
Faulkner showed him the ropes fast. I swear they conspire. Edison will whisper in Faulkner’s ear: “I’ll distract her while you get the goods.”
They are best friends and get along great. In the evening when they tear through the house, it sounds like a rumble. They stay in my office at night. At first I wasn’t sure who slept where. I bought Edison a bed because he was used to one and added soft cat mats in chairs for Faulkner. At fifteen and half pounds, he can’t sleep just anywhere.
Then I discovered they slept in the same bed. I imagine this conversation:
Edison: How much did you eat today?
Faulkner: On the count of three, we both turn over. One . . .
Edison: You have to do something about your b.o.
Faulkner: Be still. Just be glad I love you like a brother.
So I got them two beds and pushed them together. They remind me of Lucy’s and Desi’s twin beds on I Love Lucy.
Life in the house with two new cats? They are always three steps ahead of me and somehow they’ve trained me to feed them like hobbits: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, and supper.
Two people. Two cats. Sounds even, but it’s not. Cats will always keep us hopping!
It’s been a long while since I’ve posted any funny pictures of Atticus on Facebook, or even mentioned him. The truth is, Atticus hasn’t lived with us since November. Here is a look back at two years with Atticus, and what happened.
I got him from the SPCA in December 2014 at age five months. He was adorable, fluffy, funny . . . and nearly drove me insane. From the start he would attack us, “play-bite.” I realized early on that I was his mother, sibling, playmate, and prey.
It was a long road with this cat. He was into everything. Everything. And his moods were unreadable. Of course, you’re thinking; He’s a cat. Despite the fact we hadn’t had a kitten in 35 years, I’ve been around cats for 64 years. I know them pretty well.
As Atticus grew, his play-biting became serious. He would stalk us and attack unprovoked. Worse, he held a grudge. If he was about to attack, I’d walk away, or toss him a toy, or distract him with food. Hours later, he’d pounce anyway, when I least expected it. He had to have the last word.
Last summer, as I was getting ready to leave for Hollins, Atticus went beserk. He refused use his cat box. He tore up the rugs. He peed on the rugs. He knocked over dishes and other valuables. We had been through his wild kitten phase, but as a grown cat, he’d settled down from that behavior.
We took up all the rugs, put a litter box in the kitchen (the only place Atticus would tolerate), and I figured I would straighten out whatever was wrong when I got home. I came home to a different cat. He seemed the same funny, sometimes sweet Atticus, but something was different behind those round yellow-green eyes.
It took months to inch his litter box almost into the laundry room, where it belonged. Gradually we put the rugs back down. Meanwhile, he stepped up his attacks and biting.
I took him to the vet twice. Medication didn’t help. None of the behavioral therapy I’d read about helped. I became wary around him. You couldn’t pass him on the stairs, or pet him on his head, without him attacking.
On Halloween, he bit me so viciously, I nearly went to the ER. I knew in my heart that Atticus would have to go. The day after Thanksgiving, I went to the SPCA to discuss bringing Atticus back (it’s policy to return animals to them). The director believed that Atticus needed a “party house,” one with people coming and going and, most important, other animals that wouldn’t take his crap.
Our house was definitely not a party house. I made an appointment for the following Monday to bring him in for an evaluation. He would need to be put in a condo with other cats and learn some manners.
On Monday, Atticus was quiet on the drive over. But when we pulled up in front of the building, he began to shake. I started to cry. When I brought him in, the director took him into the intake room. I opened the door and saw Atticus on the table as she examined him. The look he gave me made me burst into tears. I sobbed in the hallway.
The director said they’d take him. Because he was young and part-Persian, he would go quickly once he’d learned to quit biting. She assured me I’d done everything and putting up with a biting cat for two years was more than most people would do. But I felt awful.
Since November, I’ve worried about Atticus. Finally I contacted the shelter to see if he’d been adopted and learned he had. Yet I still cry because I feel I failed him. Why wasn’t love enough? And if I couldn’t understand and manage a thirteen-pound cat, what makes me think I can understand and manage the changes coming as I turn 65?
I hope Atticus’s new family knows he loves boxes and sunny floors. Gives him pens to steal. Lets him play in the sink. I hope he’s happy. Though he’s probably forgotten me, I hope he knows I still love him, wherever he is.