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The Shelter Cat
by Betsy Gallup

She came to us as a four-weeks-old foster child. A shelter cat born a few hours before her mother died of a respiratory virus that was running rampant throughout the shelter. Margo, the shelter coordinator and head of the local Humane Society, hoped to save her and her two sisters by removing them from the infected area.

The two sisters, picture-perfect, long-haired calicoes with big yellow eyes, half dollar size patches neatly offset with a white underbelly, elicited ohs and ahs from everyone who saw them. They were quiet but alert. And then there was their sister. The genetic misfit created to absorb the imperfections, saving her sweet sisters from anything vaguely resembling a flaw.

Her fur couldn’t have been more than a quarter inch long and there was no pattern, no symmetry, no primary color. She was a cross between a tortoiseshell and a tabby with one side of her belly black from the front paws to the midsection, before it abruptly took on a stripped brown, orange, and black. The fur on her chin too broke pattern to the opposite side with one side striped and the other a dab of cream blemish leading to a black neck. Thin orange stripes against a mud brown background circled her midsection, legs, and tail. And, her tail had broken and healed at a 90-degree angle sometime during her short life.

Even the most forgiving cat lover would have deemed her ugly, but she had twice the personality of her sisters. She followed my husband, Tom, around the house crying for attention. While her sisters preferred a box made into a cat bed with old towels, she preferred our bed and would wait for lights out to crawl up between us. So stealth-like were her movements, yet her meows sirened a warning of her approach. What she lacked in grace and beauty, she more than made up for in purr-ability.

They were foster babies, destined for other homes. We loved them as best as we could for the time they were with us, but we also looked forward to them moving on to more permanent arrangements. After all, we already had our quota of animals—two dogs, two cats, and an unhappy lizard. And, other animals needed our help.

Her sisters didn’t live long enough to make it to the first adoption. Their genetic makeup made them physically perfect, but their immunities were not strong enough to fight off the virus they had contracted at the shelter. But she did, and week after week she would go again. Each time the story was the same. She would curl up in her litter box and ignore the people. The volunteers asked us if she liked people. Incredulously, we would tell of her sleeping habits, and how she would try to crawl into Tom’s mouth when he relaxed on the couch. We would tell them how she played with the dog and purred at the neighbor, but they never saw that side of her. She would come home with a fever, exhausted from the experience. The next day, she would revert to her old self, playful, demanding, following us around like a lovesick puppy.

The volunteers voiced concerns because she did not have a name. What could we say? Nothing would stick. All our other animals had names like Joseph, Hillary, and Aeon, but the best we could do for her was Monster or Heathen—neither were conducive to drawing adopters to her side. It was the eyes. Most cats have expressive eyes that are sometime curious, evil, alluring, sleepy. Her eyes were a heathenistic cross between a snake ready to strike and a goddess at a satanic ritual. No matter her mood, the eyes were still evil.

By the time Heathen was six-months-old, she had a broken toe, thanks to a recliner incident, to go with the broken tail, and it was obvious she wasn’t going anywhere. She had found her home when she was four-weeks-old and had just lost her mother. We were home. We final succumbed to her stubborn assertion that she had a home and made one finally trip to the pet adoption. We filled out the paperwork, paid the fee; there was no interview to see if we were an appropriate fit. After six months, the volunteers knew better than we did that we belong to Heathen.

That was four years ago. She still follows us to bed, and she still doesn’t have a real name just a title, but she is happy and playful and alive.

See Also:

Holisticonline.com Pet Therapy Infocenter

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 I will never forget the look in this kitty's eyes as she looked back at me at the receptionist's counter. We were her last hope. If, as I've always heard, the eyes are the mirrors to the soul, Cassie reflected something to me that day, a vision of the commonality of spirit of all living beings.

Find an Excuse to Love
"Some children just need more love." I don't know how many times I heard Mrs. Tucker say that. Mrs. Tucker was a 73-year-old woman who worked with me in an after-school daycare program. She rarely missed an opportunity to show warmth and affection to a child.

Betsy Gallup is a full-time mother. She has had several articles, essays, and short stories published. She is now writing a non-fiction book under contract for publication. With what time she has left, she operates http://www.whimsplace.com/, a showcase for the work of talented writers.

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