It was a normal Sunday, my partner and I had been running some errands and stepped out of the subway to more snow falling. I like the snow, but even I’ve had enough of this weather. As we were walking home we saw a tiny black blur of fluff dart out of a snow bank and under a parked car. Our Brooklyn neighborhood is unfortunately home to numerous stray cats. Some of our neighbors have tried becoming active in feral cat trap/release programs, the managers at the bodegas on both corners feed the cats, and regular litters of kittens scurry away into alleys. As heartbreaking as it is, we’ve become a little desensitized to darting cats over the years.
But there was something about this kitten — he was too small, and it was too cold outside.
I handed my partner my shopping bag and dug into my coat pocket for a handful of dog treats. I crouched down on the icy, snowy street and started tossing treats under a parked car in the direction of the kitten. He was so small and clearly hungry as he scarfed down each treat. Slowly I started putting the treats closer and closer, and much to my surprise the kitten followed them.
The scariest part was each time I moved, the kitten would scurry away further under the car or worse out on the sidewalk, through a fence, and then back over the ice under the car. It was a terrifying loop that I was afraid would end with him running into traffic and being hit. After about 10 minutes a man from the bodega across the street yelled, “You want that cat?”
Did we want that cat? My partner hadn’t really thought any of this through. We just acted. We responded because we couldn’t imagine leaving the tiny thing out in the falling snow and dropping temperatures. The man from the bodega first tried to help me catch the kitten with the dog treats before heading back to the store in search of cat food. He came back with big handfuls of dry kibble and poured them on the concrete.
I crouched and waited, watching as the little kitten ran his sickening loop across the icy sidewalk and into the street under the car. He was starving and couldn’t resist the food. The bodega owner lunged, and soon his gloved hand held the tiny and now screaming, spitting, angry kitten against the snow. “It’s pretty feral, you still want it?” he asked us.
My partner and looked at each other, sharing a look of “what have we gotten ourselves into?!” But of course we wanted him. The man from the bodega yelled across the street for his employee to find a box, but when they couldn’t find one with a lid, I took off running down the street towards our apartment, where I grabbed a small crate. The kitten screamed and struggled as we slammed the door closed. He was safe, scared and angry but safe. The bodega owner told us about the 20 stray cats in the neighborhood that he feeds, and told us our apartment will never have mice again!
We carried the carrier home, the kitten screaming all the way. Over the next block my partner and I plotted strategy. We would leave the dogs crated and put the kitten in the bathroom to keep him quarantined from our older cats. I ran through the snow to the pharmacy for kitten food, and bought a paint tray from the dollar store to use as a makeshift litter box for his room. When we brought this tiny feral cat off the streets, we didn’t plan to keep him, figuring we’d post something on Facebook and someone in our large social networks would want a kitten, but he had other plans for us. In the 15 minutes I was out getting supplies, the kitten had curled up purring in my partner’s lap. This kitten wanted a home, and he had decided he was going to make us his family.
The kitten (intentionally unnamed as we didn’t want to get attached, especially until we knew the results of the FIV/FeLV test) was filthy. We were surprised he didn’t put up a fight as we washed fleas and filth off his tiny body and examined the fractured tooth sticking out of his face. Not only did he not fight us he was purring. We were terrified that the vet visit the next day would show he was sick (with two older cats we knew we couldn’t take on FIV/FeLV positive kitten) but thankfully the next day at the vet (where I went instead of covering more of the Westminster Dog Show for Dogster — oops!) we learned that although dirty and malnourished the kitten was about 10 weeks old and healthy! Our vet was even able to remove the fractured tooth that first visit. By that point the kitten had worked his charm, and there was no question, he had a home.
We call him Thing, and he has fit into our family astonishingly well. Once we knew he was healthy, we started introductions to the rest of the fuzzy family slowly. The 13-year-old cats (littermates who at a couple times in their lives have lived with other cats peacefully) hissed when they first saw Thing, and then decided he wasn’t worth their time. Now they mostly ignore him, but occasionally when they think we aren’t looking we have seen them playing with him. As of today they were happy to share a lap with the kitten.
Both of the dogs are completely smitten, and the feeling is mutual. Charlotte our big dog, who was herself rescued from the streets with a litter of puppies when she was younger, has decided that Thing is her baby and regularly checks up on him, even bringing her favorite toys (which he mostly ignores). Thing on the other hand has attached himself to Mercury, our little old dog. Mercury is incredibly patient, even as Thing has decided his favorite place to nap is literally on the top of Mercury’s head!
It’s only been a couple of weeks, but Thing has fit himself into our family so well. Already I can’t imagine our little home without him. He’s brought so much laughter, fun and playfulness into the home, and while we certainly weren’t lacking in any of those areas, there’s a little something extra that this guy brings. Although I’m a big believer in careful planning regarding adding a new pet to a household, sometimes it seems like the universe brings you what you didn’t know your family was missing.
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About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats, and a kitten! She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.