The rain pounded down on Oct. 19, onto roads, onto sidewalks and onto a little lump on a sidewalk along the Abernathy Connector.
The man who noticed the sorry little lump scooped up what turned out to be a cat curled up in a ball, and with it wrapped in a blanket, dashed to the Dewdney Animal Hospital.
The receptionist took the bundle from him, commenting that it appears the animal was dead but they would do what they could.
The cat was put on a heating pad and given IV fluids. It had probably used up more than one of its nine lives, but not all. The female cat, little more than fur and bones, was alive.
The clinic cared for the cat, naming her Matilda, until staff felt she was ready to go to the SPCA’s Maple Ridge branch. The staff asked for one special caveat for Matilda – if she didn’t continue to improve and had to be put down, they wanted to do this one last thing for her.
After having checked websites of local animal welfare organizations (for weeks, okay, months), stopping by the adoption centres in pet stores in Langley and Abbotsford, and hitting the shelters in those two communities, I was in Maple Ridge for an errand and decided to stop by the SPCA shelter there.
Since Squirt, the cat that had been part of my life for 16 years, died in early 2016, I’ve been mulling over my pet situation. I had always wanted to live in a home with a cat and dog that got along but ultimately decided I’m more of a cat person. With erratic work hours, I didn’t want a fur baby with a full bladder and no access to the yard to be stressing out at home.
I knew I didn’t have the energy anymore for a young cat, did not want anything called purebred, and wanted nothing to do with any of the breeds with pushed-in faces. I thought about a bonded pair so they would have each to get into trouble with.
I know from years of covering animal welfare organizations that certain animals are harder to place. The darker an animal’s fur, the less likely adoption is, unfortunately.
I decided I would try and adopt cats most people would never consider.
So at the Maple Ridge shelter to see if any cats there would adopt me, I met Molly, a 13-pound five-year-old tuxedo who was adopted but returned due to overwhelming fear of men. It turns out she’s fearful of men, women, clocks, food, shoes, the fridge motor, in other words, pretty much everything.
In another cat room was Matilda. All I can see is a little tiger-like face. Her profile says she 10 but that’s later revised down to seven or eight when the vet saw her. I knew nothing of her history when I signed the papers on them both.
Both cats were hiding in their cages when I met them so I never got a good look at either and never got to pet them until they were part of my household.
[STORY CONTINUES BELOW]
Let’s do this
If they both come into my home at the same time, it’s neither of their territory and they just might get along, I reasoned. Fingers crossed they wouldn’t fight. So much for visions of two cuties curled up together in a sunbeam.
I’m sent off from the shelter armed with some food, cardboard cat carriers that convert to perches and cat houses, paperwork and two terrified cats – what I call my ‘crazy cat lady starter kit.’
So as the two hid in my powder room with eyes as big as saucers on a Friday evening, I filled the litter box and set out food.
Then I sat on the floor in my front hall and quietly spoke to them as they inched out of the bathroom, the first of many quiet encounters to help them get comfortable in their new home.
I awake and rolled over Sunday morning to find a cat staring at me beside the bed. I quietly start talking to Matilda and reach down to pet her. (I didn’t think this through because I’ve been lying on my right arm which would fall asleep.) After about 15 minutes of this interaction, I take a risk. I gingerly lift her tiny body onto my bed. Would she scurry away? No, it’s like a door opened for her.
Maybe it rekindled memories of being in a home or something positive about humans but she stayed, she cuddled, she purred, she walked on top of me and settled on my chest, and I can’t stop smiling. Breakthrough and circulation restored.
Meanwhile Molly had taken up residence behind my washing machine and could only be coaxed out for eating. Time should help fix her fear, that and closing the door to the laundry room after about 10 days of her being in the house.
I assumed the 13-pound cat, Molly, would be the bruiser, and figured I had to protect poor, wee, widdle Matilda as we all settled into our new home life.
Turns out Matilda, despite being so frail and weighing in at four pounds, is the instigator, charging and swatting at Molly.
Molly tends to bid a hasty retreat when the two encounter each other.
Both are starting to explore the house a bit more and are very loving, just not to each other.
The more I handle Matilda, the more my heart breaks. She was somewhere long enough to get into such bad shape. All her bones protrude. She’s lost a lot of muscle mass and her nails are all blunted. She stumbles and can’t jump up onto the bed, but gladly uses the pet stairs I had from my late cat.
Technically I am fostering Matilda until I get her fixed. On Nov. 10, I take her back to the clinic that saved her life. They shave her tummy and say she’s already been fixed. That’s when I learn of her history and how she was saved. But I’m miffed at having to force a feeble cat into a carrier and drive there for no reason, and then do the same process in reverse hours later.
One of the advantages of adopting adult animals is they are usually pretty savvy about the human world. They are typically litter trained and know what not to jump up on a toilet because it could mean a soggy surprise.
So far the cats have always used the litter boxes, and what’s going in is matching what’s coming out.
But as I head to bed one evening, I find Matilda has vomited on my bed, spewed out hairballs almost as big as she is. Then it happened two more times within a week. Now that she’s got a bit more strength built up, she’s grooming more, so time to start with hairball remedy. Too bad she won’t eat any of the four brands I’ve purchased. I try to help with brushing but that hurts and end up cutting off the matted fur chunks instead.
She vomits up to three times weekly for a few weeks but by late December, it looks like the hairball crunchy food is doing the trick. Like all cats I’ve known, she has a knack for getting an upset tummy in the worst possible spots – the fabric recliner, the bed, the rug – pretty much anything that takes special cleaning.
I had hoped I wouldn’t have to close doors and keep the cats separated, but Molly is overweight and Matilda is still severely underweight so I want wet and dry food out for her all the time.
A recent trip to the vet showed she had only put on about 300 grams since she was with the SPCA, not enough for my liking. I can’t help but feel that she was adopted out too soon, but she’s stuck with me.
I end up spending a few hundred dollars on medical tests which showed her organ function is normal but she was anemic. The SPCA has a return policy but that was never considered. How much does this girl have to go through?
I decide to forego the Christmas tree and vintage glass decorations this year as I watch how the cats react to everything around them.
They don’t seem interested in most of my vintage furniture and decorations. So far they have not been on counters and tables, at least when I’m there.
I shell out for a cat tree, and little Matilda is the only one brave enough to climb to the top, tempted by crunchy treats.
There’s lots of playing. From past experience with cats, I know to invest in dollar-store ping pong balls. There are 25 somewhere in the house that I hear being played with in the middle of the night. Molly loves them, particularly when they are on the staircase or thrown down a hallway. Matilda enjoys them as well, but her favourite toy remains her own tail.
She’s not stumbling as much, and has the strength to groom her fur and hone her claws. Both are showing their true selves.
Molly is a goof ball and my yoga buddy, although she often plops down right where I need to do fish pose. She’s the cuddler and loves being brushed. Matilda is still skittish of humans towering over her but loves to sleep on my lap.
I talk to them a lot, telling them what I’m doing and using lots of stupid terms of endearment. Initially both were skittish when the TV made noise, but they’ve both come to realize that thing in the corner stays there and won’t come after them.
They know their own names and the name of their arch enemy. They have both learned some instructions so Matilda will drag herself out of my recliner when told ‘move yer bum’ and Molly will come when called. Molly learned the term ‘bedtime’ and will now come to find me at a certain time of the evening.
Both are breadmakers – in other words they both do the kneading gesture, as evidenced by hundreds of hundreds of little pink punctures on my lap.
Like most cats, Matilda and Molly hate when the noisy monster with the long thin tail moves from room to room. They will even tolerate each other under my bed when that thing is out there. But I’m hoping they get accustomed to the vacuum cleaner.
New Year, new life
Molly and Matilda started 2018 with a skirmish. I came down one morning to find tufts of Molly’s hair, but for the most part, they simply give each other a wide berth.
The vet said I could look at using a pheromone to help them get along, something I will consider. For now, I’ll try turning on the noisy monster if they fight.
I bought a kit that teaches cats how to use the toilet instead of a litter box…