So, I Guess I Have a Cat Now

by on February 11th, 2015
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I wasn’t planning on getting a cat. I mean, I wanted a cat, but with all the house projects and the messy garage that always looks like a construction site, we didn’t really think it was a good time for a cat. We didn’t really want an inside cat, but thought that an outside country cat that caught mice would be okay eventually. We have been thinking about putting up a shop, so we figured once that was built, we could keep a cat in there. There’s a county animal shelter down the road and people always have free kittens, so the plan was to wait for just the right time and pick a cute kitten that needed a home (I pictured a tiger kitten or two).

Well, things don’t always go just like you plan. Sometimes instead of picking out a cat, a cat comes and picks you first. You can deny it all you want, but that cat is now yours. This is how we became the owners of Zinni, a stray who showed up one day while we were working in the garden. My husband pointed her out to me as she was headed for the corn field.

A sucker for animals, and especially cats, I immediately tried to get her to come to me. This wasn’t difficult, because she was very friendly and apparently hungry. She looked super skinny and she kept meowing. This was a much different behavior than I was used to with another neighborhood cat I had been seeing.

For weeks, I had been occasionally petting a gray and white tomcat that roamed the area. He played much harder to get. When I finally was able to get him to come to me, he was friendly enough, but certainly not needy. He didn’t seem hungry and came and went as he pleased. He often visited me in the evenings as I was working in the garden. He would let me pet him and would purr, but then he would get a little feisty and try to scratch me. I would scold him and he would go on his way. I assumed he was a nearby farm’s barn cat who liked to patrol the area. I named him “Thomas the Tomcat” and joked about him being our “Quasi-pet.” I could get all the benefits of having a pet without having any real responsibility. This worked well for me. I never fed him anything, but he sometimes picked through the compost scraps.

This new cat was completely different. Once I scratched her head, she followed me everywhere. I couldn’t shake her. She meowed and meowed. I knew I shouldn’t encourage her by feeding her, but my heart ached for this poor, starving kitty. I went in and found some old deli meat that was past its prime. I was planning on throwing it out in the field anyway, I reasoned. She would find it eventually, so why not just give it to her now? (I know, I know; that’s a stretch).

She scarfed it down as fast as she could, grabbing pieces and running away, afraid I might change my mind. She acted like she hadn’t eaten in days. Kevin wasn’t too happy about feeding her, but softened a little when he witnessed how starving she was. I gave her water and she drank it eagerly.

“Maybe she’ll go away now,” I said, not believing it myself.

“Yeah, right!” said Kevin, “I think you just got yourself a kitty.”

“I can always take her to the shelter,” I said, but I already knew I didn’t want to take her to the shelter when she purred and rubbed against my leg. Dang, I’m a softie.

She looked to be a young adult. She was a black domestic shorthair with tan patches and piercing yellow-green eyes. Since we found her out by the garden and we have Zinnias, I impulsively named her “Zinni” (pronounced, “Zeeny”) and it stuck.

I was talking to my mom on the phone later and told her about Zinni. As I was talking to her, Thomas the Tomcat came to visit and the two cats began to smell each other.

“Uh oh,” I said. “Maybe she’s older than I thought.” I looked at Zinni and said, “No, Kitty. Stay away from boys! Don’t do it! We don’t want kittens!” I asked my mom what I should do to keep them apart.

My mom laughed, and with motherly wisdom gained from real life experience with six kids, she told me, “You can’t tell teenagers what to do! They’ll just do it anyway!”

Crap. She was right. The next thing I knew, the two of them were getting, shall we say, very friendly. I yelled at them to knock it off and they ran to the yard across the road to continue their courtship.

“That’s it.” I said, “I’m not going to feed her anymore. If she keeps hanging around, I’ll just take her to shelter. We don’t need a bunch of kittens.”

The next night, though, she came back and somehow got me to forgive her using some sort of special kitty charm. She meowed and purred and rubbed against my leg. Before I knew how to stop myself, I was getting her a hot dog. Kevin just rolled his eyes.

“She’s kind of ugly,” he said. “Why don’t you take her to the shelter? Then when we’re ready, we can get a pretty cat.”

“She is not ugly!” I said. True, she wasn’t going to win any prizes at a cat show and she wasn’t exactly beautiful, but her friendly personality made up for it. I guess I have a soft spot for the downtrodden and overlooked members of society, including animals. My favorite cat ever started out as an ugly runt with huge eyes. “Don’t listen to him, Zinni,” I said. As if trying to win him over, she went up to him and started working her charm.

“See,” I said, “She likes you. How can you say ‘No’ to that face?”

After fully realizing I wasn’t going to take her to the shelter, I broke down and bought a big bag of cat food on sale. I brought it home, but she was nowhere to be found. Kevin was outside working on his car for hours and I went outside later in the evening to ask if he had seen Zinni. He said he hadn’t. My heart sank. I was already attached.

“Oh, great,” I said, “As soon as I buy a big bag of food, she goes away. Well, that’s a cheap way to get rid of a cat, anyway. Maybe it’s for the best.”

But just then, Zinni heard me talking and came sprinting out of the corn field.

“Zinni!” I squealed.

She ran right to me and started rubbing against my leg and purring.

My husband thought that was pretty weird. Although he had been outside making all kinds of noise, it wasn’t until I came out that she came running from the field. He was convinced she was in love with me. Maybe she knew that Kevin said she was ugly or something, but she wasn’t too concerned with him.

I morphed into someone I didn’t even know, speaking in some sort of baby voice. “Good kitty. Who’s my good kitty? I have some special food for you! Yes, I do.”

“Is this how you’re going to talk to our future kids?” joked Kevin.

“Man, I hope not!” I said, suddenly realizing how ridiculous I sounded. What was happening to me?!

I gave her the food and she gobbled it down, but she would only take a couple of bites before she would come back to me for some attention. She ran back and forth between the food and me, not sure which one she needed more: food or love.

“She seems too nice,” Kevin reasoned, ever the logical one. “You’re probably stealing someone else’s cat by feeding her.”

“Well, if she is someone’s cat,” I said, “they are pretty negligent. Look how hungry she is.”

Still, he might have been right, so I had to find out before I could really claim her. I bought a cheap collar and wrote, “Is this your cat? If so, please call (my #).” She wore it for two full weeks and no one called. I think it’s safe to say that she was a stray. Either that or the owners saw the collar and thought, “Woo-hoo! You can have her!” We don’t know her history or how old she really is. She will forever remain mysterious that way.

So now I had a cat. I made a bed made out of an old box and some towels. She started out just coming by in the evenings, but I soon found her hanging around all day and peering through the glass of the back patio door. It was time to make some decisions. We didn’t want kittens and we already knew it was probably inevitable, so if we were really going to keep her, she had to get spayed.

I was willing to make the investment and figured on it being about $50. At least that’s what I remembered it being years ago. Boy, was I in for a shock! I called every shelter and vet around my area looking for cheap spay and neuter services. The cheapest I could find was $90! Some wanted as much as $180. Many said that if she was already pregnant (a good possibility), then they would charge $50 more. Good grief, what had I gotten into? Then there were the vaccines. If you’re going to invest in spaying a cat, I guess you should care enough to get her vaccinated. The prices varied greatly for these as well, but the cheapest was $35 (for the first round of three)! No wonder the pet population is out of control. In this economy, who can afford that? Still, I can afford it more than kittens that also need to be taken care of and given vaccines.

When I finally took her in to get spayed, she freaked out. I put towels over the carrier to try and keep her calm, but it didn’t help much. She howled and meowed. She knocked against the carrier and scratched the walls. The cheapest place I found was on my way to work, but it was a 30-minute drive. After five minutes, her nerves caused her to leave a nice present in the carrier that about made me gag as I was driving. It was torture trying to get her there. At first I kept the radio off, but then I tried playing Patsy Cline’s greatest hits on low volume. Maybe it was a coincidence, but she actually calmed down quite a bit. Maybe she just gave up, but Pasty does have a soothing voice.

When I got there, the vet wanted me to do a $30 blood test before the surgery and have her tested for feline leukemia for another $30. I gave into the vaccines, but decided I would risk going without the testing. If she already had leukemia, there was no cure anyway and I was getting the vaccine, so what difference did it make? They failed to tell me until later that I would have to come back for two booster shots, at $42 each! Why are the boosters more expensive than the initial shots? She also had ear mites and fleas, so they talked me into medicine for $17 a month. They strongly recommend I use this medicine monthly for at least three months. Kitty, you’re killing me!

Anyway, everything went well, so I picked her up that day. They said, “Um, she had an accident in the carrier, but we saved the towels in this plastic bag. We rinsed them off. Do you want them back?” It didn’t take me long to decide that they could keep them. Yuck.

I took her home and she was so out of it that she didn’t meow much. I was afraid she would hate me for putting her through all that trauma, but as soon as I opened the door, she came to me and started purring. She couldn’t eat that night and was so groggy that she fell asleep on my lap within two minutes. The next day she was eating like normal and seemed fine.

It’s fairly warm outside now, but soon we will need to think about shelter for the winter. Things are getting way too complicated and I had no idea what I was getting into when I gave her that first piece of ham, but that darn cat has her claws sunk in my heart. She sits with me on the swing overlooking the backyard koi pond. She follows me around in the garden, playing with potatoes and attacking corn stalks. She makes me laugh and shows unconditional love. Kevin finally came around too and decided she’s a pretty cool cat, even saying that she was growing on him. He even called me to see if she was okay after surgery. So, welcome to the family, Zinni! Now stay away from the road! You were expensive! But I don’t care if you go see Thomas the Tomcat, because it doesn’t matter now.

Photo credit: Rita Oakleaf

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