Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Much is That Kitten in the Window?

Yesterday around 3:30 in the morning my phone rang. Good news never comes that early. Jen was on the other end sobbing uncontrollably. In a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, she said to me, "Kitten just died." My heart instantly broke. It came completely out of the blue, as most news at 3:30 in the morning does, but this was particularly hard to believe because Kitten was barely 3 years old. She was always in perfect health and had shown no signs of illness. But it turns out she had an undetectable heart condition that unfortunately took her far too early.

When Jen and I were still together, we shared our home with 4 cats, all with distinct and wonderful personalities, but Kitten was special. She was our cat, the one we picked out together at the Humane Society. Sammy Jo was already Jen's cat when we met, and Baby Kitty was taken in by Jen when her sister Rachel found her under her car one morning. But when Jen and I moved in together a few months later, we decided to add a third to the mix, so one sunny Saturday we visited the shelter and took a look around. I will never forget walking into the cat room and inspecting all the cages that lined both sides of the room. I walked down the end of the line to the last cage on the bottom row and peeked into it. This little furball bounded over to me, stuck both of her front paws against the cage and gave me a tiny "meow." At this point we were still a little unsure about adding to our kitty brood, so we decided to take a minute to think it over. We put her back in the cage and walked out of the cat room. As we passed by the big windows that looked into the cages from the outside, I took another look into Kitten's cage. I couldn't hear her, but she bounded over and stuck her paws against the cage again, looked me in the eye, and gave me another (silent) meow. And that's all it took. From that moment on, she was our cat.

Kitten was unlike any cat I've ever met. She was outgoing, friendly, and wasn't scared of anything or anybody. Whenever people would come over to visit, while the other cats would run and hide, Kitten would just walk over as if to say, "Hey, how's it going? Come on in." She had beautiful, long tortoise-shell fur that was softer than any I've ever petted. And no matter how bad your day might have been, when you came home she was always there to put you in a better mood. It is an understatement to say that Jen took a particular shine to her, which was made very evident one night when we came home from a movie about a year later and discovered our back door had blown open and the cats had gotten out. We found the other 3 right away (Captain Kitty, a stray we discovered living in our back yard, had joined the household by this point), but Kitten was nowhere to be found. We scoured our neighborhood into the wee hours of the morning, but couldn't find her anywhere. Jen was inconsolable and terrified that we would never see her again. Exhausted and teary-eyed, we decided to finally go to bed and resume the search at first light. But as I pulled open my dresser drawer to fetch a t-shirt to sleep in, a little furry head popped up. Shocked, I quickly surmised that Kitten had crawled into the drawer before we left the house for the evening and I had inadvertently shut it with her inside. We had never been more happy to see a cat in our lives.

When Jen and I split up one of the hardest parts was figuring out kitty custody. Sammy Jo had taken a shine to me over the years, so she came with me, along with Captain Kitty. But Baby Kitty and Kitten had become playmates in that time, so it only made sense for them to stay together. And I have to admit, I had no doubt which one of us was going to get Kitten. Jen had a special bond with Kitten, partly I think because they have such similar personalities (well, as much as a cat and a human can be similar). They are both outgoing, friendly, kind, and have never met a stranger. I was sad to see Kitten go, but if there is anyone on the planet who loved that cat more than me, it is Jen. And I know in these last few months with Jen she was loved more than any kitty could dream of being loved. Even though she is gone, I will always remember that little furry face of hers staring back at me at the Humane Society almost as if to say, "Hi, I'm Kitten. Will you take me home?" Rest in peace, Kitten. We'll miss you.