I love animals. Well, the furry kind anyway. Mark and I quickly added a furry kitten to our family when our three children were just toddlers. Lieblich Lieben was her name. I know that is an unusual name. Mark was finishing his PhD during which he had to study German and French, so I think he was still intrigued with a German name for our kitten! So, our kitten was named for being “sweet, lovely, and adoring”. Our little ones just called her Lieb. The truth was that our children were so afraid of this adoring animal in our home that they would not come down from their highchairs or the table to interact with her. It took a long time to trust her sweetness. It took me a long time to believe this was a good choice for our family!
Way Back When
When I was a little girl, my sister, brother, and I invited a wandering neighborhood cat to hang with us by putting out some milk on the porch. Of course, we did not mention that to our parents. And before long, we were begging to have Susie stay with us. As it turned out, Susie was a male cat who provided wonderful cuddling and playtime. In later years, there was another stray cat that found its way to our backyard. We were well-educated in how to lure this beautiful, fluffy orange cat to stay—milk it was! And Roger eagerly joined our family with our promises to take over all responsibility for him. Well, as it turned out, he was a female. I guess we had some challenges with getting gender identification with proper names sorted out, but then, we were not so interested in those things at the time. I think it was kind of our parents to let our names be what they were.
Throughout the Years
While raising our three children, Mark and I agreed to numerous adoptions of endearing pets for our kids. First, Stripe, our rescued cat from the treehouse in our yard. Then rabbits (guaranteed to be of the same sex from the pet store) which quickly multiplied and multiplied into so many little bunnies that we eventually returned them to the store—which led to some early explanations of sex. We tried gerbils, turtles, fish, and finally, I was persuaded to think about a dog. Mark was the leader of that persuasive team. I agreed to get a dog once all the kids were walking, talking, and more independent. Mark did not forget my promise. The kids were growing–ten, seven, and four–when we entered recovery for his addiction. We all decided a recovery dog was what we needed. We found a two-month-old, incredibly fluffy, Old English sheepdog that looked exactly like Barkley from Sesame Street. It was the perfect dog and the perfect name for her—except that it was a male name! I suppose in trying to unconsciously get this name thing right after those earlier blunders, I suggested Barklianna. So Barklianna it was. Barkley for short.
The Emptying of the Nest
We loved our children and pets, and as life would have it, soon Mark and I become empty nesters. We had so many plans. So much travel. We were free to pursue time in whatever way we wanted. We loved this new season. And yet, Mark regularly wanted to get another dog. I resisted. And resisted. And reminded him of the responsibilities. It did not change his mind. We tried on two different occasions many years apart to adopt a puppy. Did I mention that Mark can be very persuasive?! Both times we knew it was not going to work with our life. We had to find other homes for these little furry friends. It was hard to accept because we both loved animals.
When Mark died last fall, the house we have lived in for over 30 years became very quiet. My son decided to move home with me for a time. It was so comforting to have other life in the house. And yet we were both grieving the enormous loss of a husband and dad. Six weeks or so after the busyness of funeral and memorial gatherings, a Thread of Curiosity floated through my thoughts. Maybe you would enjoy getting a kitten—I mean, a cat. An older cat who would just enjoy cuddling, and napping, and keeping you company. That was a strange thought because I have resisted the responsibilities of animals as I have grown older. I love them. And, I also want my freedom. I do not want to have to get up early to attend to needs. I do not want to have to play when all I feel like is sitting and resting. I want to attend to self-care and heal from the broken-heartedness I feel. But a cat…an older cat…maybe that is a Thread I want to pursue.
When I told Ben about it, he immediately joined in with enthusiasm. He has experience of going to shelters and adopting animals. He knew where to go. He led the way. We explored the bios of hundreds of cats on the Internet. It even led us on a trip to Iowa one weekend. There was always something that did not feel ‘right’. The Thread was not strong. Something was off. After a week or so of hunting, a bio appeared for a cat named Scout at a nearby rescue center. He was 14. He was beautiful and we were sure he was waiting for us. When we arrived, we found out he was dying of cancer. Ben and I knew we could not adopt a cat with the pain we had just watched Mark endure. And then in the window right next to Scout was Cali. She was tiny and looked malnourished. She had been turned over to the rescue center because after 13 years with her owner, she was having accidents from being bullied by another cat and dog they had acquired. We could not imagine how anyone could give up a pet they had had for 13 years. The rescue center was looking for a quiet home with no other little kids or pets. We immediately fell in love with her. We knew we were the perfect home.
When Cali came home that night, she quickly hid behind the piano. She was so frightened. And then we lost her the next day to a dark corner in the back of Mark’s closet. We looked for hours to find her, fearing she had sneaked outside (without claws) and would never be found. Slowly, slowly, our traumatized little kitty began to build trust with us. I call her a kitty because she is so tiny. Initially, she never begged for anything. She did not even meow. They said she was a shy cat and they put her through their “courage program”. She was hesitant to jump up on the couch or chair where we sat. She had clearly been trained to stay away from counters and couches (not necessarily a bad thing, I know). Ben and I were sure if we loved her enough and provided a safe home, she would love her new home.
Today, just 8 months later, she is an amazing companion. She is anything but shy. She meows when she is hungry or wants some attention. She lays on my lap whenever I sit down. She purrs and flaps her tail up and down an arm to stroke us when we are stroking her. Cali lets Ben pick her up and carry her and hold her tight. She sleeps with me every night. Ben asked me one day if I knew that Cali was a Forget-Me-Not rescue cat. The profile hanging from the cage she was in included that phrase. I said I did not know what that meant. He explained to me that if she had not been adopted in a few days, they would have put her down. They were losing hope that there was a home she could go to. Someplace that would love her until the end of her life.
What is true is that Cali brought life into our home when we desperately needed it. When the days were long and the nights were lonely, she brought love that was unexplainable. I know we are promised that God will provide for all needs. I am learning that needs can be attended to in some very small, unlikely ways. This Thread of Curiosity has certainly led to much joy and comfort during a difficult time. We may have saved Cali’s life. It is also true that she saved ours, too.
And by the way, she still has accidents. But then, don’t we all.