It’s a common question I get while working in the adoption center. And truth of the matter is, I just don’t.
Maybe it’s because I know that they’re all going to get adopted eventually, most of them going to homes far better than my own. It’s not sad for me, seeing all the caged cats in adoption. For me, it’s a place of transition. Once a cat is in adoption, they’ve gone through the worst of it—abandonment by a previous owner, or a heartbreaking farewell, or life on the streets, or abuse, or whatever led them to be in a shelter. Things can only get better from here. So I don’t feel the need to take every animal home, because they’re already on their way home.
Sure, there are always favorites—cats that you try extra hard to get adopted (currently, mine is Princess; update: Princess has finally been adopted!)—and it’s always extra satisfying when they finally make it out the door.
But then there are the select few, the ones that really take your breath away, the ones that you’d take home with you in a heartbeat, if only you could take them home. It’s different than the cats that I would happily adopt, if I didn’t already have two cats. (Between Smirnoff’s hatred of all cats other than Bacardi and my own allergies, as well as being a poor graduate student, two is all I can manage.) Those are cats you miss when they’re gone, but in a happy way. No, what I’m talking about is something else: the cats whose lives really touch you, who you’ll never ever forget for as long as you work at the shelter. Cats that you try really hard in your head to figure out a way to take them home and make it work, even though it’s impossible. There have only been two of these cats for me over the past two years, and they both hold special places in my heart.
The first, was a cat named Patti (I’ll save her story for another day). The second, and most recent one, was Whiskers.
Whiskers came to the shelter when his previous owner went to a nursing home. The owner had found a new home for Whiskers, but after a move, Whiskers was no longer getting along with the other animals he was living with. So, being thirteen years old (which is getting up there for a cat), he was brought into the shelter to be put to sleep. But our vet saw how healthy and well taken care of Whiskers was. He also had a very unusual coat—a smoke black tabby. Whenever he’d move, Whiskers’s fur would ripple from black to white, since the undercoat was completely white but the outer coat was black. Combined with his distinct tabby markings, he was something the shelter had never seen before. So Whiskers had full blood-work done and was put up for adoption.
I didn’t even take notice of Whiskers until he was on the adoption floor. But upon my first visit with him, I knew he was special. He was shy and didn’t really do anything. He was easy to pick up and it was easy to trim his nails. But he would tremble in your arms if you brought him out of his cage, and he spent almost all his time asleep. So he didn’t really stand out to potential adopters—he’s a loving cat, but he’s not an attention-seeker, which is what most people want. He’d never really purr, and he’d only just lean into chin scratches before settling into the back of his cage for another nap.
His age didn’t help. A lot of people come in wanting young cats (and, of course, kittens). Some people think a 3-year-old is old, which is simply ridiculous. (Smirnoff is currently 3, and he has years and years and years of energy ahead of him!) Indoor cats can live about 16–18 years, sometimes even longer with good health. But the idea of a 13-year-old is usually too much for adopters, and we knew all along that Whiskers’s best chance of adoption was someone who came in wanting to do a good deed.
So for months Whiskers waited patiently. I plastered my facebook wall with photos of him with his information. At one point I had a friend interested in adopting him, but he and his girlfriend ended up choosing a 10-year-old cat named Buddy instead (which was a great adoption, since Buddy has a couple medical concerns). I really wanted a home for Whiskers and I secretly wanted that home to be mine, but I knew I had to think of my own two cats’ happiness above all else (and Smirnoff & Bacardi are my favorite two cats in the world, no question).
And then, after so much waiting, it finally happened:
“I just can’t stop thinking about him.”
An adopter, who had come in and adopted a pair of 3-year-old cats, Cleopatra and Betty, but had spent time visiting with Whiskers, was back. That’s really all I needed to hear.
To know that Whiskers had touched someone else, someone who was able to take in a third cat—an old cat—was the best feeling. I ran out and bought Whiskers a brand new brush, nail scissors, fuzzy mice, and a bag of treats (to be shared with Cleo & Betty, of course). It was a small gesture, but I wanted the adopter to know that we were all so happy he was willing to take on a hard case (because yes, I’ll admit it’s difficult to commit to a cat when you know you’ll grow attached to it and it doesn’t have all that many years left). Whiskers went home last Saturday, and he’s now in a home with someone who will love him, unconditionally, for his remaining years. I’m sure his previous owner would be happy knowing that Whiskers is once again safe and loved.
It’s cats like Whiskers that make volunteering so great. And it’s also why I don’t feel the need to take every cat home. Because as much as I wanted to personally save Whiskers, as much as I tried to convince myself that adopting him would work, knowing that he’s in the best home he could be in, is far more rewarding. Sometimes, being selfless for a cat and not adopting them is the far more difficult choice.
But I’ll never forget him.