Father’s Day, 2010
Dad and I had just left the cottage when my phone rang. “Hey L, what’s up?”
“It’s kind of a Father’s Day tradition to get Dad cats, right?”
I swallowed past the sudden lump in my throat. The last Father’s Day cat, my Archimedes, had passed away barely two months previously. “I suppose so. Why?” At a look from Dad, I put the call on speakerphone.
“Mom and I are at Petsmart. You know the wall of kitties at the back? Well, Mom found a couple that need a good home….”
For those of you that don’t know, many Petsmart stores have a section of cages in the back. These cages are either rented or loaned (I don’t know which) to local animal shelters. In the Petsmart near my parents’ house, these cages hold an ever-changing cast of felines from various local shelters. Within a couple of minutes, Dad and I agreed to go the following night and meet these potential new pets.
Twenty-four hours later, my family and I walked in to the store and made our way to the back. A representative from the shelter met us there. While my family and I got settled in the little “meeting room”, the shelter rep and a store employee retrieved the two cats from their cage. By the end of the hour, my family had decided to adopt both animals.
On the recommendation of the shelter, the cats spent their first month living in my parents’ bedroom. While they came with the names Mandy and Ragamuffin, I rather quickly began referring to them as Scaredy and Fraidy, respectively, at least in my own head. To call these cats “shy” would be the understatement of the decade. While Scaredy would occasionally try to make friends, Fraidy more often than not stayed hidden under the bed. If you got down on your stomach to look at her, she’d either turn her face away or, if she was in a position to do so, would sit so that the box spring hid her face from view. I spent some time in the room each day, trying to let the cats acclimate to me. Given their respective pasts, it didn’t surprise me that they acted the way they did.
According to the shelter staff, Scaredy’s previous owner had been arrested on charges of animal abuse; this person apparently used to coax Scaredy to them with food, then pick her up and literally throw her. Scaredy is a lovely little girl, half Maine Coon and half Persian. When we first brought her home, her lovely grey and white, long fur was matted and tangled in numerous places. While she’d let us pet her, any attempts to comb or otherwise de-tangle brought a swipe of claws. Actually, reaching for her when she couldn’t see you would earn a swipe, and reaching for her with two hands was a surefire way to make her bolt for cover under the dresser or the TV. But usually she’d be back a few minutes later, sniffing and examining you.
Fraidy, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with humans. Oh, you could scruff her and pull her out from under the bed, but as soon as you let go she’d slink back. Unlike Scaredy, Fraidy is a purebred Maine Coon, which means that she is big. Male Maine Coons can be anywhere from 21 to 35 lbs. Females don’t get quite as large, weight-wise, but Fraidy definitely has the long, muscular body of the breed. White spots mix with her black and brown stripes. The shelter told us Fraidy was part of a litter of kittens dropped off when they were only a few days old. All of the other kittens got adopted, but little Fraidy ended up living at the shelter for the first two years of her life. Because she wasn’t the most assertive cat, she didn’t spend a lot of time with the humans that ran the place. Instead she preferred the company of her foster mom, Scaredy, which is why the shelter asked that the cats be adopted together.
Towards the end of their first month with us, two things happened. In an effort to socialize the cats, Dad built a frame of two-by-fours that went around the outside of the bed, preventing them from hiding underneath. We also started leaving the door open during the day, trying to encourage them to explore the rest of the house. I don’t know that Fraidy ever left the room in the first couple of days, but little miss Scaredy certainly began checking out the other rooms on the first floor. Each night my parents and I would herd her back to the room and shut the door, something that got harder and harder to do. Four nights in, Scaredy simply refused to go back to the room, and that was the end of it. From that day on, the cats had the run of the house.
The past five and a half years have been an excellent lesson in patience. Initially, Scaredy kind of took over the top floor of the house, while Fraidy essentially lived in the basement den, coming upstairs only to eat. For the first year we had them, I attended grad school. I’d converted the bar in the basement into my work area, so I spent a lot of time down there. I barely saw Fraidy at first, but she gradually began to just hang out by the window while I worked. I always greeted her, and would occasionally talk to her while I worked, just to get her used to the sound of my voice. When I needed a break from homework, I’d sit cross-legged in the middle of the floor and rest my wrists on my knees so that my hands pointed towards the floor. Over a period of weeks, Fraidy moved from staring at me to sniffing me to sitting just at the limits of my reach and letting me pet her. Meanwhile, Scaredy began following my parents and I as we went about our business around the house, often just sitting by the door to whatever room we were in. Several months on, she began jumping up on the dining room table. First, when no one was in the room. Then, when people were seated at the table. And so on.
It’s now 2016, and Scaredy and Fraidy aren’t really, anymore. Within two years of coming to live with us, they stopped running out of the room every time a noise startled them. They’ve also learned that cats and people could be on the furniture at the same time. Scaredy, I mean, Mandy, loves to be on the sofa with people, and has recently started sitting on laps. Fraidy, now known alternately as Rags or Squeaky (for her vocalizations), will also sit on the sofa or lie on a bed, but only if I’m the only human there. Both cats love to be brushed (another long-term project); Rags so much so that she will actively push Mandy out of the way. If it’s just the family at home for dinner, Mandy can usually be found on the table, watching and inspecting the humans’ plates. Rags also gets on the table, but again, she prefers it when I’m the only one there. At night, one or the other cat will “haunt” us silly humans until they get their cat treats, a routine that began as a way to promote human-feline interaction. When I’m home, I can almost be guaranteed that I’ll have a furry shadow, usually Rags. In a behavior light-years removed from her old hiding-under-the-bed routine, most mornings she will now hop on the bed and squeak at me until I pet her. It’s amazing what a difference love and patience can make.