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Sunday, August 23, 2009

My cat Zoey

Zoey came into my life about two weeks ago. She’s a black cat with white paws and white markings under her chin, and roughly 4 months old. Before she found her way into my life she led a random life on the street, preferring to hang out in front of a Port Richmond bar. A friend of a friend “found” her outside the bar and brought her home.
The next day she sent out an SOS: “Cute black cat up for adoption.”
A friend of mine who knew I loved his cat but didn’t want one of my own told me about this woman, and said I should look into adopting the stray.
“Black cats tend to be skittish, suspicious, unaffectionate, cold,” I said. “Plus, I’m not even sure that I like the color black.”
These discombobulating reservations faded fast as the woman in question called me and told me about her find. I agreed to meet the cat in question (and consider adoption) if the woman took the stray to a vet and obtained all the proper vaccinations. I never expected the woman to agree to these terms. In fact, this was my way of making sure that I wouldn’t get a cat, but when she good naturedly obliged, I knew there was no way out: adoption was in my future.
I was suspicious of Zoey. The fact that she had spent a couple months on the street worried me. Had life in the urban jungle given her an untamed, wild streak that would prove detrimental, and even dangerous, to plants and furniture?
One day the woman brought Zoey over for a trial meeting. This was much like a first date. Would we like one another? Would the interspecies chemistry ignite a domestic, nurturing fire or would it generate a dangerous, “Not for me” feeling?
I felt nothing but nervous energy as the woman lifted Zoey out of the cat box.
“She’s cute,” I said, offering the obligatory pet behind the ears. “But are you sure she doesn’t bite or hiss?”
That’s the moment I began to see that I was concentrating on the negative. Zoey, obviously, had none of these behaviors.
When Zoey was delivered to my home on Mercer Street I expected instant feline warmth and gratefulness. After all, hadn’t I saved her from a short life on the streets-- from unwanted pregnancies, fights with other cats, injuries from automobiles and attacks by possums?
Wasn’t I committing myself to a lifetime of purchasing kitty litter, Friskies, and assorted cat treats?
But instead of cuddling (with me) or purring uncontrollably Zoey chose to hide under my sofa and sleep under chairs. At night she made herself scarce and slept in undisclosed locations. While she’d eat the food I placed before her afterwards she’d disappear again. Occasionally she’d look at my from afar with skeptical, suspicious eyes, as if taking human inventory.
Her eyes seemed to say, “Do I really want this person to be my keeper?”
When I awoke one night to find her asleep on my bed I expressed my delight (“Nice kitty!”) by reaching out and offering to pet her. But Zoey, fearing for her life, raced out of the bedroom.
Two, three days passed in which Zoey and I lead separate lives. We were like an estranged couple, she doing her thing on one side of the house and me occupying myself on the other side. There was no bridging the gap, only more suspicious stares and tense silences.
“I’m beginning to think I adopted a lump of clay,” I told friends. “She seems afraid of her own shadow. She jumps and runs when I walk behind her. She gives me dirty looks. When friends come she seems to disappear into thin air.”
My astute cat friends told me to bide my time. “She’ll adopt you when the time is right,” they said. “Give her time.”
I was reduced to sniveling human being mode, begging for a cat’s love. And what if she never comes around? What if she’s one of those cold, permanently skittish cats with whom one never makes a connection? Must I spend ten, twenty years in an estranged pet relationship?
Then, like a thunderbolt, came a total eclipse of the heart.
On the fourth night, Zoey charged me from a nearby chair, where she had been evening me analytically, and sat square on my lap. I began petting her behind the eras, and the rest is history.
Somewhere in that brain of hers she decided that I was okay, and so for the last week she has been on a cuddle and purr campaign, jumping on me every time I sit down, or perching on my leg when I converse with friends. Today we are glued at the bone like interspecies twins. In fact, it is a major chore to shake her lose so I can go about my business as a working, living human being.
Zoey’s happy now with her human stray.

Thom Nickels can be reached at

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