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Tete-a-tete: A tale of unintentional cat ownership

“Never again.” It’s a phrase most us have uttered at least once in our lives. Never again will we eat a slice of cake that big, leave a project until the last minute, or put ourselves in a position where our hearts might be broken.

Resolute though we may be, sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter. We say “never again,” and circumstances dictate otherwise.

For example, when Cleo, our 22-year-old feline, passed away in Dad’s arms last summer, our family decided that we would never again have a cat. Our resolve held until about a month ago, when 17-year-old Youngest Brother went outside to mow the lawn and was greeted by a sweet little kitty.

We live in a typical New Hampshire small town – we’re not exactly rural, but the trees are definitely more numerous than the people. Deer, wild turkeys, foxes and fishers all make regular appearances in our neighborhood, and it’s very rare to see stray domesticated animals. We’re familiar with our neighbors’ dogs and outdoor cats, and we had never encountered this cat before.

Youngest Brother, who had been begging Mom and Dad for one of his friend’s kittens, informed Mom that God obviously wanted him to have a cat – otherwise, why would we have this feline visitor? Mom was intrigued, but maintained a cautious skepticism.

While Youngest Brother and the cat were getting acquainted, Mom went into the garage to retrieve some gardening tools, only to discover that the kitty had been foraging for leftovers in our garbage. We had some canned cat food left over from Cleo, so Mom fixed up a plate for our furry interloper.

After a few days of this, Dad warned us that if we continued feeding the cat, she wouldn’t have a reason to go home to her owners and would continue to hang around our yard. He then looked out at the darkening sky and suggested we put Cleo’s old covered litter box under the picnic table so the kitty would have shelter if it rained.

In spite of the adorably fluffy companionship afforded by Jinx, our family hamster, the lack of a feline presence in our lives was, shall we say, palpable. This became quite apparent the day Dad called me into the living room and told me that Cleo was refusing to get off the piano. He gestured with a grin to the little wooden box containing her ashes, which he had placed on top of said musical instrument.

Yeah. We missed having a cat.

We hunted high and low for the kitty’s owner, checking ads on Craigslist, posting in our town’s Facebook group and calling local police, veterinary offices, and shelters to see if a cat fitting her description had been reported missing. As weeks passed without any leads and several summer rainstorms, we began to realize that, whether by taking her to a shelter or adopting her ourselves, we needed to take responsibility for Schmitty.

Yes, the cat had become known as Schmitty. Mom had suggested we call her Smitten, because we were all smitten with the kitty, and that was soon shortened to Smitty. Oldest Younger Brother came to visit and mischievously reinterpreted “Smitty” as “Schmitty,” and it stuck for the time being.

Schmitty, for her part, expressed her gratitude and her desire to be part of the family by leaving a dead chipmunk next to Mom’s van and trying to get inside the house every time someone opened a door.

Mom and Dad didn’t want Schmitty indoors, however, until the vet had given her a clean bill of health, an endeavor in which I was recruited to participate.

We were prepared for the worst. Cleo was terrible to take to the vet – she would get carsick, lose control of all her bodily functions and growl at every other animal in the waiting room. When her carrier was opened in the exam room, she would perch arthritically on the window ledge and glare angrily at the parking lot.

Schmitty, in contrast, was a cat owner’s dream. She let the vet examine her without any hissing and took all of her vaccinations like a pro. The vet informed us that Schmitty was 7-10 years old (much older than we had thought) and that she had been spayed a long time ago. It was likely that she was a family pet who ended up on her own due to her owners moving, passing away or being unable to care for her.

With that, Schmitty officially became a member of the family. She was initially very confused that she was allowed in the house, to the point where she was anxious about going outside for fear she wouldn’t be let back in, but she’s adjusting more and more each day.

Now that we’ve become better acquainted with her personality, we’ve given her a more appropriate name: Boots. This has nothing to do with the little white socks she has on all four paws; it’s a reference to her penchant for snuggling up to shoes – particularly 16-year-old Younger Sister’s knee-high boots. Youngest Brother has also since observed that she has big, sweet eyes like Puss in Boots from the “Shrek” movies.

Based on the dictionary definition, “never again” is a long time to go without something, be it a loving relationship with another person or larger-than-normal pieces of cake. Realistically, however, “never again” tends to be a much shorter time period than we think, especially when God Himself decides to intervene and send you a cat.

And as I watch Boots play with a catnip mouse that I thought would never again have an owner, I’m quite thankful for that.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Sept. 3, 2015


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