ADOPTING A RETIRED SHOW CAT

by ©Darlene Arden

For two solid years my friend Ray Russo, a veterinarian, had been urging me to get a cat for my mother. My beloved Yorkshire Terrier had died a few years earlier, two months to the day before his 17th birthday, leaving us petless and bereft. We missed the little guy who filled out home and hearts with so much love and happiness. I knew I couldn't take on another dog at the time. Aside from the fact that I'm not the kind of person who can rush out and fill the void with another little companion, my lifestyle is such that I wouldn't have enough time for the training involved. It was just the two of us rattling around in a 7-room house. Ray felt that a cat would be good for both of us and much easier for me than a dog since there is less training involved.

A cat. My mother talked endlessly of Susie, the cat she had when she was a little girl. She adored the orange and white tabby. But there was a good reason we hadn't brought a cat into the house. Something unfortunate, and not of my mother's doing, happened and then one day Susie wandered off, never to be seen again. My mother simply couldn't bear to lose her heart to another cat and so she would never have one in her home.

Last fall, my arms aching to cuddle a loving little companion, and realizing that Ray was right, it would be good for my mother who would certainly enjoy the companionship, I decided to get a cat. I thought briefly about a shelter cat but realized that I wanted something more predictable. I also thought about a kitten but let that thought slip past rather quickly. As busy as I am, I knew I didn't have time to supervise an active kitten. And the activity level of a kitten would be a bit much for my mother. The cat would, essentially, be hers although I would be the one to feed it and clean the litterbox.

Aimee
Grand Premier
Sinaye's Plaisir D'Amour of Ajolie
Chartreux Spay
Photo: ©Helmi Flick

I mentioned my plan to my friend, Susan Conant, best known for having created the genre of Dog Lover's Mysteries. Susan had attended the Cat Writers' Association's meeting in St. Louis and met the cat of her dreams at the International Cat Show, a Chartreux who didn't enjoy being shown. The breeder decided that despite her obvious quality, Pickles would be happier as a pet so she spayed her and sent her off to live with Susan. Susan carried home a photo of the cat who was to arrive later, and could talk of little else on the flight back to Boston. She later acquired a kitten from the same breeder. Little did I know that Susan would be the catalyst for my acquisition of a cat.

As soon as I told Susan, in passing, of my intention to acquire a cat she told me that if I hurried, I might be able to get one of the Chartreux being placed by her breeder, Dru Milligan. Dru is not only a reputable breeder but co-founder of the Orion Foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for FIP, as well as providing whatever information is available on the disease. She was far too young to be so stricken but Dru had an undiagnosed case of diabetes that led to a stroke and her doctors advised that she stop breeding cats and concentrate on her recovery. She knew that she would have to cut down on the number of cats that she had and was seeking exceptional homes for those that would be placed. Susan gave me Dru's e-mail address and then, unbeknownst to me, she told Dru that I would provide an excellent home for one of her cats.

Dru and I exchanged e-mails and then Dru gave me her telephone number. I called, more than once, and we talked about my home situation and which of her available cats would be best, especially for my mother. The added benefit of getting a purebred older cat from a reputable breeder is that not only is the cat going to be predictable in its type and characteristics but a good breeder knows her (or his) cats. The breeder knows which cat will benefit from being the only cat in a household, or one of only two, where the cat's personality can blossom. The breeder also knows their cat's characteristics well enough to match the cat to the potential owner with the greatest amount of accuracy in creating a really good pairing.

"If you are looking for a pedigreed cat, you are really missing a wonderful opportunity if you don't consider adopting an older cat. The breeder can tell you the personality of cat that you will be getting," says Dru. And while a kitten's behavior can change, an adult's behavior is a known quantity. What you see is what you'll get.

Susan was blatantly rooting for Stormy, littermate to her Shadow Celeste. Stormy was definitely in contention, as was a slightly older male kitten. But I thought twice about that kitten. I really didn't need a little one, no matter how cute, climbing the drapes and swinging from the dining room chandelier. Kittens grow up fast, and "cute" can become exhausting.

"Kittens take a great deal of energy." Dru points out, adding, "And they get into EVERYTHING! Most of the time, an older cat will be calmer.

They enjoy naps much more and make excellent companions for those that have a 'slower' lifestyle." An older cat for an older person is an excellent choice. The male was no longer tiny (kittens grow quickly) but he would still have the impishness and activity level of a kitten. And then Dru told me about another cat who had become available. Aimee. GP Sinaye's Plaisir D'Amour of Ajolie. Aimee was purchased by Dru from her breeder, Denise Williams, as a 3-month-old, with the intent of adding her bloodline to Dru's breeding program. A beautiful baby with an exceptional personality, she was a special girl. Unfortunately, before she could be bred, Aimee developed pyometra and had to be spayed. Spaying saved her life. Dru showed her in Premiership where she quickly Granded. One of Dru's friends loved Aimee and asked if she could have her after she finished her show career. While Dru loved Aimee, she also loved her enough to want her to have more individual attention. Sadly, after less than a year, the woman became ill and Dru was asked to come and get Aimee and another cat. Ultimately, the woman did not feel she could care for her cats which was when Dru told me she had another cat who had become available and thought Aimee would be an even better match for us than Stormy.

I was going to be in Texas for the Cat Writers' Association's annual conference, held at the same time as the CFA International. Dru and I were booked into the same hotel. She agreed to bring both Stormy and Aimee so I could meet them and choose which one would come home with me. Meanwhile, I gathered as much information from her as possible: what did her cats eat? What type of litterbox did they prefer? What sort of scratching post? I bought some basics before I left for Texas and set up the litterbox the night before my flight so it would be ready for the newcomer as soon as she arrived. I placed the scratching post next to the sofa in the den. The next morning I boarded the plane and wondered how I could ever make such an important decision so quickly.

Aimee
Aimee
Photo: ©Helmi Flick

I met Dru and the cats that night, urging a couple of colleagues to come with me to see the cats and give me an unbiased opinion. Both were beautiful. Stormy was lively, playful, fun. Aimee was more contemplative and I worried that she had my mother's activity level which might not give my mother enough stimulation. Aimee, however, was the only one to climb into my lap that evening.

The next day was busy. I was moderating a panel and a participant on another panel. As a member of CWA's Council of Directors, finishing a second term, I had much on my plate. I found time to run over to the cat show to shop as much as to see the judging. I needed virtually everything! I left a lot of happy vendors in my wake. There was no time to visit the cats that evening.

The following day was even busier, if possible, and would end with the CWA Awards Banquet. Once again, I attended seminars and then ran to the cat show.

First on the agenda was a safe carrier in which to transport my new family member. Since I've always traveled with my dogs, I knew the cat would be no exception and the carrier had to be one I could trust for many trips. I found one I liked and had it put aside for Dru to see. I wanted to be sure of the size. Good thing I did that because I'd chosen one that was a size too small. I also bought a matching tiny bed that would fit into the back pocket of the carrier and could serve as a litterbox if needed. Dru provided a plastic bag filled with paper litter "just in case...." I brought the carrier to her room that night so that it would be familiar to the cat who would come home with me, and it would pick up the scent of the cats as well as Dru. I stopped to visit with the cats again, trying desperately to make a decision in the few minutes I had before going to my room to change for the banquet. The choice had been on my mind almost constantly, especially at night when I was alone in my room and trying to fall asleep. A decision to last a lifetime. I thought I would take Aimee since she had climbed into my lap the first time we met. But she was so quiet...

I sat down on one of the beds and suddenly Stormy was on my lap, deciding to make friends. I said to Dru, "Maybe I should take Stormy instead...." "Darlene, look down," said Dru. There in front of me was Aimee who had brought one of her favorite pipecleaner toys to my feet, inviting me to play. It was as if she were saying, "But I was nice to you first. And I'll play fetch with you!" That did it. I had been chosen. I knew decisively, in that moment, that Aimee was our girl.

The next morning was a tearful one for Dru. She was sending her special girl across country to a new life. She insisted that I accept the new velux blanket she had bought for Aimee. And some toys. And one very special toy: a rather large stuffed carrot that had once smelled of catnip. As a tiny kitten Aimee had chosen that carrot from a basket of catnip vegetable toys. It had gone with her everywhere and it would come to her new home. I promised Dru that she would never lose track of Aimee, that I would stay in touch and so would Aimee.

Carrying her home onboard two flights with heightened airport security was, well, interesting. And then on a commuter bus, followed by a car ride to the house. Dru had told me to let her see the litterbox so I placed the carrier on the floor facing the litterbox and left her there while I brought in my suitcase and set up her food and water dishes. Then I opened the carrier. Aimee dashed out and headed for the back of the house.

I expected her to disappear under the furniture for two or three weeks, probably appearing in time for my mother's December 11th birthday. Imagine my surprise when she jumped onto my lap that evening. Later, she slept on my bed where she has slept every night. And the very next morning she brought me her beloved carrot and placed it at my feet, a true gift of love.

When I brought my mother home from Respite Care the day after I brought Aimee home, Aimee looked at her as if we had company. At some point, she must have realized that my mother was part of our household. Late that night my mother fell. As soon as Aimee heard the crash, she went dashing up the hall, concerned and determined to see what was wrong. Luckily, there were no broken bones.

Aimee makes a point of going up to my mother, soliciting attention. Unfortunately, my mother often misses her signals and I have to tell her that Aimee wants to be patted. She enjoys watching Aimee play, watching Aimee look out the window, and she loves that soft sweet girl when she comes close for some affection. When she saw Aimee walk into her carrier and bring out the two toys Dru had placed in there, my mother pointed out, "Look! She's unpacking!" Yes, Aimee was home.

There was very little in the way of adjustment. I had to show Aimee her scratching post when she thought a living room chair was appropriate. She understood immediately. Her special blanket that Dru gave her in Texas is draped over the arm of the sofa in the den. She likes it there. It's a warm spot that allows her a nice view of both the sliding glass door (kitty TV) which is her window on the world, and the television. It's also a nice spot for a catnap. Her recently acquired cat tree is also in the den.

Aimee
Aimee
Photo: ©Helmi Flick

With each day, Aimee grows more dear. I knew how she felt about me the morning I awoke to find her trying to put her beloved carrot in my mouth. Then there was the night she sat up on my bed while I was horribly sick. I finally fell asleep for about three hours toward morning. When I awoke, I found one of her favorite catnip toys on the pillow next to me. It was obviously another gift of love. I look at her and wonder how anyone can think that they must get a kitten, that the bond will be somehow different. When a cat is raised with love and care and attention, that bond transfers to the next human. All we need to do is open our hearts to them.

"The most common fear is that the cat won't bond to its new owner, but these kitties usually become more affectionate when they don't have to fight for attention," Dru points out. I only have to look at Aimee to see the truth in that statement.

Aimee fetches with more enthusiasm than most Retrievers. She even does a version of The Singletary Footwalk, a Canine Musical Freestyle step. She kisses, cuddles, headbonks, kneads, purrs whether I'm petting her or she's just sitting near me. She has brought joy and laughter into a very quiet household. She fits in here as if she has always lived with us.

I got her for my mother but she has become my treasure in ways I can't begin to describe. She's in and out of my home office all day, sometimes wanting a game of fetch, other times just wanting to cuddle. Of course, mid afternoon, she determinedly walks right past my office on her way to my bed for what can only be described as Aimee's Power Nap.

Aimee knows my schedule. Two or three days a week I take my mother to the Senior Center, stop for coffee and then come home. Not long ago I had to check out a cats' only boarding facility for the rare times when I can't take Aimee with me. There are none close to me and the one I was seeing is nearly 70 miles away. I didn't return until mid-afternoon instead of mid-morning. As I opened the door I saw Aimee racing toward me. I could almost feel her thinking, "Mama's home!!!!!" She and I share a very special bond.

As for my mother, she occasionally refers to Aimee as "the little dog." With all of that fetching, who can blame her?! And she keeps talking about making Aimee a green sweater. But most heartwarming was when she turned to me while we were discussing this dear cat and said, "I adore her."

I know that it wasn't easy for Dru to part with this very special feline. I am forever grateful that she did. And I'm glad I didn't get a kitten. They don't stay kittens very long. What I got was a very stable girl with a wonderful personality and a great deal of self-confidence. We are her third home, her fourth if you count her breeder. Yes, that's right, her third home. And yet she fits in here so well. And we dote on her. We won't discuss how many toys she has or the fact that she has her own e-mail account. Or that when we're alone I call her my itty bitty kitty girl. Let's just say that she's loved. A whole lot.

There is a lot to be said for bringing an older cat into your home. You know what you're getting with a purebred, that's a given. But a well-raised, well-loved cat can adjust far more quickly than one might think. Perhaps not as quickly as Aimee, her nearly seamless homecoming was very special. But an older cat will fill your home and heart quite quickly, giving you many wonderful years together. I don't know why everyone thinks they have to have a kitten. They're missing something really special when they bypass an older cat. And an older cat can miss out on a loving home with individual attention. It's truly a win/win.

And I'm happy to say that Ray has avoided saying "I told you so," but there's a certain twinkle in his eye...

 


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