As soon as we mentioned our kitty desire to friends, they suggested using a rescue adoption agency. Why not? And who would say no to us? We were a married, heterosexual, solvent, Jewish couple in our 30s. We would be doing a favor, taking in an abused, stray animal, saving it. Au contraire, as we came to discover, the favor worked the other way around; adopting a cat seemed to be an infinitely more difficult process than procreating.
The agency was in a large pet store, and we arrived early on a Saturday. As we made our way through a crowded salad-bar of dog treats and a fashion section featuring schnauzer bikinis, Jon noted that in England, people like animals in place of people; in NYC, people like them as people. Upon reaching an area of caged kitties, we had to push our way through hordes of potential adopters to even see the cats. And, as I sniffed out right away, we had to shmooze the adoption reps.
My husband tactically used his accent to charm a middle-aged pig-tailed lady who, it turned out, had a day job as a criminal lawyer. After a barrage of questions about how many hours we were home, whether we wanted a loner or a team-player (each cat, she instructed me, has different companion requirements) and what kind/size/color of apartment we had, we found a sweetheart. A shy, fat, scaredy cat who we were told loved mainly to be left alone and eat – preferably organic venison and duck. Perfect for our foodie family. I was ready to buy some local-grown litter and get out of there.
Yet the interview process was just beginning. Reams of papers had to be filled out describing our domestic lifestyle, and our full histories. Thankfully, my husband had had a stray in his garden as a child; my pet virginity was heavily frowned upon. Then came the cross-examination about our expectations. “Are you prepared to commit to this cat for 20 years?” Twenty years? We just met five minutes ago! My ketubah didn’t even say that. I wasn’t ready to commit to Jon for 20 years.
The criminal lawyer sensed our moment’s hesitation and glared at me above the rim of her reading glasses.
“We’re just being cautious,” I explained. “We are honest, cat-loving folk.”
That soothed her for a while, and we went through descriptions of our apartment – the types of rooms, the tiny New York size. I thought I was doing well.
“Do you have windows?” she asked.
Assuming she wanted to ensure we had fresh air, and harboring guilt about the idea of keeping an animal permanently in a room, I blurted out: “Of course! Enormous ones. Our whole apartment is entirely made-up of windows. Windows next to windows next to windows!”
She nearly had a heart attack. “Windows kill!” she screamed. “Do you know how many cats jump out of windows?”
I had to admit, I didn’t. Our building had at least 1000 people, with 1000 pets. But I had never once seen a suicide jump, a rain of cats.
“Put your free-range catnip down,” she ordered. “We’ll need to do a home visit.”
Jon tsking me, we left the shop sans animal, empty-handed.
That Monday, as if preparing for a social worker or a critical in-law, and certainly more so than for a child, I scrubbed the apartment crevice to crevice in anticipation of my cat-rearing judge. The verdict was bad. My windows opened too widely. “But they’re baby-locked,” I pleaded.
“Baby is not good enough for our cats,” the inspector – a tall self-employed designer who seemed to have spare time - declared.
This first visit turned into a full week of inspections. Each time, the cat man suggested a different gadget or locking mechanism that we then had to source, request permission from the building to implement, and trial-use. Each time, the device (a piece of rope, a Velcro screen, a bike chain) would work for a few minutes, keeping those windows at their 4 inch bay. But then, just as the inspector was about to call in a “yes,” it would snap in half and the window would fly open, proving how irresponsible my living choices had been, and what a bad cat-mom I would be.
Finally, he came over with some sticky pads and painting-hanging wires - from Gracious Homes, no less. Lo and behold, they worked. We were approved!
But, he warned us, he would be back soon for a relationship assessment (we never got that from the rabbis after getting married). There were 2 scales - valiance (the cat’s bravery) and gregariousness. He warned us that based this cat’s history - which he was not allowed to divulge except for the fact that she liked to lick her rescuers toes (I could just picture the Birkenstocks) - she might be shy.
They were right about that. For days, the sweetheart spent 98 percent of her time under the bathroom sink. She then spent several weeks in the cupboard. There were no suicide attempts, however, despite my annoying attempts to coax her out into the open (“here poochie mcpoochus, love you, squishburger”).
Shpilkes, as I had taken to calling her, eventually emerged from hiding, sniffed around, and even began to allow us to pet her -- only when she was lying in particular spots. A year later, and we are in love, continuing to be patient with her, feeling guilty when we leave town, trying to understand her needs, and taking responsibility for her health and happiness. It’s all been great preparation for the next big step in our married New York life - getting into a coop.