When a two-year-old cat named Tookie was surrendered to our shelter in October, his whole life changed. Although that’s really true of any animal that is brought to a shelter, but in Tookie’s case it was a bit different. He was surrendered by his owner (due to moving) and because of this was separated from his best friend in the whole world—a pitbull. According to his former owner, the two animals slept together every night. Tookie loved his pitbull friend, but the girl’s mother would only take her dog; she was allergic to cats.
When Tookie arrived, he had that look on his face that shelter animals sometimes have. It’s the “don’t even look at me because I’m not even here” look. He huddled himself in the corner of the cage and melted our hearts. Slowly, day by day, he started to open up: by leaning slightly into head pets, by giving his little “Tookie cry”—a soulful, squeaky chirp. Then he started to have a major problem.
Tookie didn’t use his litterbox. We took him upstairs to the feline suite (a small room with a couch and several cat trees that gives a more home-like setting away from the noise of other animals). Tookie pooped behind the door. He urinated on the blanket. In a lot of shelters, housesoiling is cause for euthanasia, because no one will adopt an animal that won’t go where it’s supposed to. Some shelters—including the Animal Rescue League of Boston—have barn cat programs where otherwise unadoptable cats (usually for behavior reasons like aggression or chronic housesoiling) are placed in barns where they can live mostly outdoors. It’s a much better alternative to killing an otherwise healthy, wonderful cat. But as winter approaches, cats are unable to grow their winter coats in time. So between late October and early March, the barn cat program is on hiatus. Things weren’t looking good for Tookie, despite the fact we all loved him.
Then along came Terri—a woman who is full of that special kind of unconditional love. She volunteers at the ARL and has adopted a couple cats in need, including Honey Bun—a cat that was semi-feral and not as receptive to being around people—and Max, who possibly has FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease), which makes him susceptible to urinary blockages (an expensive procedure to unblock) and therefore far less likely to be adopted.
Terri took Tookie home. She had been in this situation before. She once had a cat who often urinated outside the litterbox, and it was only through the daily procedure of covering her bed with a shower curtain weighted down with books that the cat was able to live full-time in a home. Now it was Tookie’s turn to go through Terri Bootcamp.
It quickly became clear that Tookie had grown up with a dog. That he had spent every moment with his canine companion. For one thing, he didn’t really know what the whole deal with cats was. Terri had to keep Tookie in her bathroom while she was at work, and Tookie would spend most of his time on the windowsill, or lounging in the sink. Terri then slowly tried to introduce Tookie to the rest of her pride by means of a playpen—a fabric enclosed pen that has food as well as a litterbox. But while there have been minimal “run-ins” with the other cats, Tookie’s instinct is the swat at them and he stares them down as they walk by, much like a dog would. He also takes treats right out of Terri’s palm. Most cats won’t—you have to drop the treats on the floor. My own cat, Bacardi, had to learn to take a treat from my fingertips, but if I just have it in my palm, he can’t figure it out. (Smirnoff, my own dog-like cat, will eat straight from the palm.)
Now comes the important part: the litterbox. Tookie does know what the litterbox is and what he should use it for. In that sense, he’s not a “chronic” housesoiler. What Terri found out, however, is that Tookie prefers the litterbox with a pee pad in it. Yes, one of those pads you use to train puppies. He seems to prefer the softness of the material. But that’s the interesting part–he does not pee on anything else! No blankets are in danger, nor the couch, nor the carpet. Tookie urinates in the litterbox. He just doesn’t like cat litter. Which any cat owner can attest to, is the only bad part about owning a cat—all that litter.
It’s hard to piece together exactly what Tookie’s previous home was like. All owners are asked to fill out an intake form at the shelter, and the owner claimed that Tookie used his litterbox in the standard cat fashion, but the problem with intake forms is that you have to trust that people are telling the truth. Did Tookie use puppy training pads in his former home? We’ll never know.
In other respects, Tookie is like a true, loving cat. He purrs. A lot. He loves nothing more than cuddling in someone’s lap. In fact, he follows Terri around, giving his little Tookie cry and eats his dinner with gusto. Terri’s heart is, undoubtedly, melting.
But she knows her home isn’t the best one for Tookie. Some days he and her other cats get along fine, and he seems to be adjusting more and more to living with his feline friends. But it can’t ever really compare to the warmth of cuddling against a pitbull’s belly.
And we should get one thing straight. Tookie is never going back to the shelter. Terri will keep him if no one else will. But she also wants to be able to take in another needy cat when it inevitably arrives through the shelter doors.
So what would be Tookie’s ideal home? One with a dog, of course. (A dog that enjoys the company of cats.) And with an owner who is open to the idea of using puppy training pads in a litterbox instead of actual cat litter. Which, Terri reminded me, is potentially less expensive if purchased in bulk, and easier to clean up! Because of Tookie’s loving nature and his desire to be around people, he would probably prefer to live in a home and not a barn.
It seems so heartless to say, but many shelters across the U.S. would have euthanized Tookie already. But by the love of volunteers like Terri, who work so hard to save the soul of one animal at a time, we can make a small, but lasting difference.
Tookie is currently located in Boston, Massachusetts (transportation is limited). He is available for adoption to the right home, at the foster parent’s discretion. If interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.