Last weekend I decided to tell the story of adopting my first cat, Dunkin. Today, Isabel takes the spotlight.
As I mentioned in Dunkin's story, when he was a kitten he thought everything and everybody was put on this earth to be his friend. He walked up to each animal or person he encountered without fear, sniffing them and rubbing on them.
It was amazing to watch because he literally seemed to be without fear even of things it should have been in his natural instinct to be afraid of, or at least wary of. Like deer. And dogs. And other cats. And cows. There were times I wished wished wished I had my camera as he went nose to nose with something many many times his size. Remarkable.
It was absolutely clear from Day One that Dunkin needed a friend, but I was already hiding him in my apartment, so I needed to wait. As it happened, I was in the final process of buying my first house, so I knew it wouldn't be long.
I moved into my new house, a cabin in the mountains, on September 7th, 2003. That date is very important because on September 18, 2003 that category 5 Hurricane Isabel rocked Virginia like a canoe in a tidal wave. Being that it was (1) within my first two weeks living in my new house, and (2) the first hurricane I can remember to make it all the way inland and still retain some force, I was freaked out. My friends clued me in to sleep in the basement because of all the tall trees in our neighborhood… thank God… because I woke to the sound of running water at about 1am. Isabel, b***h that she was, had pushed a crack in one of the walls of my basement up to 1/2 inch wide and water was pouring in like a spigot.
I cannot even tell you how depressed I was. Buying my first house was a HUGE mental and emotional hurdle because
of the commitment it took. I was freaked out because of the money. I was freaked out by the responsibility. I was freaked out by living alone. I was just generally already a walking nerve. Then, to have such devastating damage to my house ELEVEN days after I moved in was almost too much. I sat in the basement and cried.
Honestly, I was pretty depressed and numb for about 6 months afterwards. Every time it rained more than 3-4 inches water would come pouring into my basement. It got to the point where I could not sleep at all whenever it rained because I was on alert for the sound of flooding.
I bought a wet vac and would sit on the floor by the crack sucking up water as it poured in. It was not entirely successful, but it was the best I could do.
A lawyer friend suggested I contact FEMA because they were in the area looking at hurricane damage. I did, and a really nice lady came out to look at my house. I am sure she felt sorry for me because I was clearly so sad and depressed. I'm also sure she must have taken pity on me because I was honest with her and did not try to claim a bunch of things not related to the storm damage. Whatever the case, I got a grant from FEMA that paid to repair my driveway, the crack in the basement wall, and most of a drainage system under the floor. All in all, when I had originally thought I was going to be shelling out upwards of $25,000 in repairs that my insurance company would not help with, thanks to FEMA I ended up paying about $1500 out of pocket because the grant covered the rest. I know FEMA has gotten a bad rap over the years, but I am nothing but grateful and thankful.
Before the hurricane, I had already planned that this was the weekend I would find a friend for Dunkin. He had been quite the trooper through his scary transition from his family to my place then moving to a new house. I decided despite the damage, I was going to soldier on and went to visit a local fostering agency. I visited a man who had 24 cats and 16 dogs in foster care. They were friggin EVERYWHERE! In a garage out back, outside in the yard, and in every room of his house. Holy guacamole.
I've gotta admit it was really fun to get down on the floor and get smothered by a gaggle of sniffing, licking cats,
kittens, dogs, and puppies. As it turns out, there were only two cats they were adoptable because I was looking for a female about the same age as Dunkin. What cinched it was the foster dad said "Amy" was the biggest lap cat he had ever seen and would immediately jump in his lap whenever he sat down. SOLD! That's exactly what I wanted – a snuggly, loving cat.
So, Amy, now re-named Isabel to forever commemorate the timing of her entrance into our lives – came home to live with Dunkin and me. It was love at first sight for Dunkin, who took to her immediately and welcomed her into our home with a great show of kitty love, excitement, and playfulness. Isabel blended in right away and she and Dunkin quickly became inseparable.
I live in the world's best location for cats – in the mountains and woods, hardly any traffic, and lots of animals and critters to keep them interested. For the first year, I would let the cats out when I left for work in the morning and call them back in at night. They were usually cooperative and this went on without issue for most of the winter. But there came the night when I called and called and neither cat came home. I tried again an hour later. NO luck. I walked around with a flashlight. Isabel, by some really hysterical force of genetics, absolutely cannot ignore a flashlight. She goes into psycho kitty mode and chases the beam of light. But that night, not even a flashlight could get them back in the house. I went to bed worried because it was cold.
The next morning I made the rounds of my neighbors, describing the cats to see if they had seen them. No one had. That day came and went and still they did not come home. By this time I was worried sick.
The second day a neighbor knocked on my door to tell me he had seen two cats that looked like mine making a
beeline down the mountain towards my house. Literally two minutes later they arrived – together – at my door. I can't tell you how relieved I was and I knew then that as long as they were together they would be ok. Kinda like the Wonder Twins from the old super hero cartoon on Saturday mornings.
To this day it is the same way. When I take them to the vet, they cry and cry if put in two separate cages but curl up together and seem much more relaxed if they are together in one. They are more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend and it is always fun to watch them together. They are my heart.
Welcome to the world of my two precious cutie-patooties, Dunkin and Isabel. They are the cutest and sweetest cats on the planet. I know some of you cat lovers out there might think yours are cuter and sweeter, but you'd be wrong. You will just have to trust me on that. I've had them tested by the Cute Police and they are officially certified as the best, though I lost the certificate.
So their stories… Dunkin first, Isabel tomorrow…
About 4 years ago an ex-boyfriend who was dreadfully allergic to cats called me. You can imagine the dread I felt when I saw his name appear on my cell since it had been quite some time since we talked, but being a nice person I answered anyway. He had quite a story to tell. He had been driving on a back road from his place to the grocery store and had seen various combinations of two kittens and a mama playing on the side of the road over the course of a week. They appeared to be living in the tire well of a tractor trailer being parked there in between road trips. My ex, being a very smart person and despite his gut-level objection to anything feline, knew that this was not good because (1) tractor trailers move eventually, and (2) roads and cats are not a good combination.
So about day 4 of seeing them, he decided, for some reason I still cannot fathom, to try and catch them so he could… what… move them? Give them to the SPCA? Got me… There was no way he was going to keep them, though. The mere thought of cats sent him into uncontrollable itching and sneezing.
So he gets out of his car and starts calling them. One kitten came right to him purring, the other kitten and mama ran away and hid. My ex tried for a while to get all three but eventually gave up and settled for rescuing the one. I get the call that night and hear this story and despite the residual hurt and anger from the end of our relationship, agreed to meet him in a Wal-Mart parking lot to check out the kitty.
At this point he was only asking for advice, not being a cat person he wasn't sure if the kitten was ok since it was yowling and howling and scratching and spitting. And, in fact, I could hear quite the ruckus in the background. It was pretty funny. The revengeful side of my brain was hoping, just a little, that one of those wayward claws might find his leg. Ha ha, just kidding. No, not really.
So, we meet up in the parking lot. Me, bitter and grumbly but trying to be gracious and nice. Him,
freaked out by the wild ball of fur beating the crap out of the cardboard box he had confined the kitten in. I have to admit I was very impressed by the energy and ferocity of this little guy. He definitely had an amazing will to live and was fighting with everything in him to make sure he did. I got in the ex's car and talked to him for a while until he calmed down a bit then slowly opened the box. He came out like the Tasmanian Devil! A rocket blur of black and white making really lovely vocalizations and tearing around the car like a bat out of hell. Fantastic!
When he eventually calmed down, I picked him up to check him out and he seemed ok to me. The ex and I talked for a while about what to do with him. The ex, clearly, couldn't keep him. I was NOT going to offer up my services that easily, even though I had already fallen for the little pookie fur ball, so I kept the discussion on problem solving and strategizing options for a while. heh heh. Eventually, though, as I'm sure he knew I would, I caved and agreed to take the kitten home with me. I'm sure there was never really any doubt in his mind that I would and he was just playing along until I decided to cooperate.
He was such a tiny little thing. So unbelievably personable and curious.I called him Munchkin for a while which eventually became Dunkin, like Dunkin Donuts. Munchkin… Dunkin Donuts… Get it?
At the time I was living in an apartment in the basement of my landlords' home way out in the country on a farm. The landlords had a no pets clause in the lease, so I had to hide Dunkin. That was not difficult though, because I was already in the habit of hiding from my crazy zealot landlady anyway. Dunkin thought each and every thing he encountered was put on the planet to be his friend. He approached everything (people, other cats, insects, cows) with no fear, only open curiosity. A few years later this also translated into deer, ground hogs, and bears, but that's another story… Dunkin had such an eagerness when meeting others that I knew I would eventually get him a companion. That'll be the next story…
The end of this story is rather sad, so stop reading if you are tender-hearted. My ex, to his credit, kept going back to see if he could catch the other kitten and the mama. But, sadly, within a week he found first the mama dead after being hit by a car, then the other kitten. It was very sad and he felt really guilty. But he did everything he could, even taking cans of tuna out there as bait.
We say that Dunkin really saved himself. Seeing the difference between how Dunkin handled the situation of a stranger suddenly appearing and calling him versus how his mother and sister did, it's easy to see that will to live or that open curiosity shining through strong from him. It's quite remarkable that at such a young age he went right to my ex and allowed himself to be picked up and taken away from his family. Of course, he probably had no idea that was to be the outcome, but THANK GOD it was!
Dunkin is now 4 years old, and a big strong cat. He still looks at the world with an openness that I find to be remarkable and I call him my buddha-kitty. Perhaps my favorite thing about him is this black spot on his otherwise white chest right where his heart is. To me, it looks like he wears his heart out where the whole world can see it. And he does. He's the best kitty ever.