For most of my adult life, I was one of those people who had no interest whatsoever in pets. If I was at a friend’s house and their dog jumped on me, I was displeased. If a cat tried to climb in my lap, I would reluctantly tolerate it. I felt like my hands were soiled if I lowered myself to petting a cat or dog, and I couldn’t wait to wash them afterwards.
There was no reason to think that I would ever change — until one day I had a dream about a cat. I can’t remember the particular details, but I knew when I awoke that I must adopt one. I started researching cats as pets and began to browse local animal shelter websites. I checked out books out from the library. My teenage daughter and preschool-age son were delighted at the prospect of bringing a cat home.
My husband, not so much.
A common disinterest in pets was one of the few things that my husband and I initially had in common. Neither of us wanted any additional responsibility or expense associated with cats or dogs. But one day, after my dream, my whole outlook changed. My husband did not have the same dream, so when I changed, it altered the state of our already tenuous relationship.
I’m not sure how I got my husband to agree to consider a cat; it probably was just because I wouldn’t stop talking about them. He eventually agreed to make the first trip the shelter with me.
As Mother’s Day 2012 approached, I knew the Seattle Humane Society was offering discounted adoption fees for mothers. I thought it would be a good time to visit the animal shelter. Before the visit, I went to Target and bought a litter box, litter, kibble, food, and water dishes.
I knew from the moment I walked inside the shelter that I would adopt a cat, because there were so many in need of homes. In that moment I transformed into a new person. I knew I could get over my aversion to pet hair and poop. The sheer volume of homeless cats was enough to urge me to action — to step up and become a better person.
After browsing for some time, we all decided to bring home a one-year-old cat named Miko. The kids, quite frankly, would have been happy to bring any animal home, But we selected Miko because my husband liked him, because of his gorgeous blue eyes and pretty, soft grey coat. He’d been surrendered to the shelter by his previous owner.
Even though I was willing to adopt two at the time, our adoption specialist suggested it would be best to acclimate to the responsibility, and we agreed.
At home, Miko was terrified. The moment we opened his cardboard carrier, he ran and hid beneath the couch, and continued to hide for the first couple of days.
After the first few days, however, Miko started to explore the rest of the house, but sometimes it looked like he was bored. We bought cat toys and would play with him but we couldn’t do that all day, every day. We wondered if it would help him to have a feline companion, so decided to get one more cat. Scooping cat poop really was not that big of a deal to me, and the hair was not a problem at all with only one cat.
I read Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett, and though I knew it could be challenging to have more than one cat in the house, I also believed there could be advantages. I followed her instructions to bring home a cat similar in age and of the opposite sex. I knew that we would set up the newcomer in a separate room for the first week or so.
We saw Jasmine, a soft calico, on the Seattle Humane website and went to meet her. She’d been transferred from another shelter where she’d run out of time. She was close in age to Miko, so we thought it would be good for them to have another feline to socialize with.
We enjoyed the new adult feline members of our family so much that we started to wonder what it would be like to raise a kitten. And caring for them was really not that hard. My husband was home during the day while I was at work, so the cats were not left alone for extended periods. We owned our home and were not planning to move any time soon, so we did not need permission from a landlord.
Most of the adoption literature touted the advantages of adult cats, but now that we had gotten a feel for them, we decided we wanted the frenetic energy and quirky antics of a kitten in our lives. Plus, our adult cats were beautiful, but neither of them was particularly cuddly.
At the time, we thought that if we adopted a kitten, we would be able to socialize it to accept human affection more than what happens when you adopt adult cats. That was before I realized that cats have their very own distinctive personalities and that some cats adopted as adults might become very physically affectionate — it’s more a matter of personality than age.
A couple of months later we adopted a sickly white and grey kitten named Nurse. We quickly changed her name to Luna and learned how to administer eye medication.
My daughter and I were the craziest over our cats and really couldn’t let go of our obsession. We were on the shelter websites daily. I started to think that volunteering at a shelter would be a good idea, but none of them allowed children to volunteer.
About three months after we adopted Luna, we adopted a beautiful flame point kitten, who we named Oliver. Now we had two cat couples of roughly the same ages, and it seemed perfect.
Our four cats got along well. In our three-story home, they had plenty of space. Each newcomer was younger than all the other cats. We followed the same transition process, where the newest feline would spend a week or two in my daughter’s room before we’d start to bring them into the common living area, first inside a carrier, to let the resident cats come check them out. We always closely monitored initial introductions and took time with them.
But still, my daughter, Zinnia, and I talked and thought about cats all the time. We were amazed that there were so many homeless kitties, and wanted to do more. Finally we discovered the county shelter would let kids age 10 and older volunteer with a parent.
Zinnia and I started volunteering for Regional Animal Services of King County in the Cat Meet and Greet program, assisting potential feline adopters in finding their match. We have had the pleasure of helping homeless kitties meet the companion humans, and met many wonderful animal control officers who serve King County, Washington.
Fostering ultimately led us to adopt two more cats, even though we weren’t actively looking. Each of the two cats we adopted from fostering had unique circumstances that made those two kitties very hard for us to turn away.
So that is how I became a crazy cat lady. It started with a dream, which led me to adopt, and the adoptions led to volunteering and fostering. This kitty dream changed my life in many profound ways, which I never could have foreseen.
Since welcoming cats into my life at the age of 38, I feel happier and more content than I was before. My cats are like my family. I don’t feel judged by them. I have found a relatively undemanding source of unconditional love, and I feel blessed for it.
This is why I have become a passionate advocate of animal rescue and adoption. I know that there are many human-animal bonds just waiting to happen when the time is right, just like mine did.
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About the author: Kezia Willingham works for Head Start by day and is a freelance writer on the side. She lives with her family, which includes 6 cats and 4 dogs, in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared in xoJane, Literary Mama, and the Seattle Times. You can follow her on Twitter.