To browse a pet-adoption website is to board an emotional roller coaster. Those heart-eviscerating photographs! Those charming kitty biographies! Those opportunities for disappointment when you find the cat for your family and she turns out to be somewhere in Alaska! (No offense, human and feline residents of Alaska; I’m sure you’re all wonderful, but you’re at the end of a brutal commute from New York City.)
I almost always adjust my search filters to focus on cats available through shelters and rescue groups I could visit with my subway pass, but every now and then I leave the distance field wide open — which is how I found Matty. What business did I have considering a cat three thousand miles away in Los Angeles? Well, let me explain.
We lost our cat Chuck to cancer in the spring of 2013. His disease progressed so quickly that we found ourselves scrambling to reschedule a visit to family out West; my husband flew out to see his parents as we’d planned, but we decided I would forfeit my plane ticket and stay behind with Chuck, who died a week later.
I hated almost everything about the summer after Chuck passed away. I’d creep up to the empty coffee can at our local greenmarket’s cat-rescue booth, hoping to slip a dollar to the homeless kittens without attracting much attention, and a volunteer behind the cages caught my eye every time: “You look like you’d be a good cat mama.” The smile fell from my crumpled face, I’d go home to cry, and I’d find myself alone at the laptop, trying to dull the ache of our loss by browsing adoption sites and daydreaming about bringing home a baby. (Hi, I’m the sort of cat lady who refers to kittens as “babies” with zero irony. Judge me all you like.)
My husband, in turn, dreamed of adopting a Siamese after falling in love with a friend’s rescue cat, so I combined our ridiculous parameters in my make-believe searches: “Siamese rescue kitten.” Unsurprisingly, the sites didn’t have any of those. Until, that is, one of them did.
Matisse, a little sealpoint, looked like a macaroon that had been toasted at the edges. I clicked on his adoption profile and turned the laptop around to show my husband, whose face crumpled the way mine had at the greenmarket. I turned the screen back around and read the profile: Matty had been found in a parking lot in Southern California, feral and fleabitten, in the spring. His foster in Los Angeles estimated that he had been born around the end of March; he was still little and skittish, but she was confident that he would come out of his shell for a gentle family.
My eyes went back to Matty’s face in the profile. He’d been born just as I’d made all those miserable calls to hotels and rental car companies in California and Arizona, canceling our reservations because our beloved cat was dying. I still had most of a round-trip ticket to the West Coast gathering dust in an airline account, since I’d skipped our trip to see my family in Los Angeles. What if I was supposed to visit them and Matty? What if the end of Chuck’s story was the beginning of his?
I emailed Matty’s foster mom that night. “This is a long-shot proposition,” I wrote, “but I would be so thrilled if you considered us as potential adopters.” I told her all about Chuck, and my family in California, and the family we hoped to build in New York; I explained that I’d flown cross-country with cats before, and that her little ward would be in good hands with me. My letter practically vibrated with desperate sincerity. She wrote back a few hours later and said … yes! Matty still needed to be neutered and vaccinated, and she wanted a few more weeks with him to get him accustomed to people, but the schedule I proposed would work for her.
I emailed my sister in Los Angeles, too, with a link to Matty’s adoption profile. Her response was immediate: “Come and get your cat.”
A month later, I flew to California. My sister and I drove out to a little house near the airport and met Leslie — not an Internet hoax or a warlord, as I’d feared, but a real and dedicated cat rescuer — and Matty. We left my cat carrier with her overnight so that Matty could approach it in his own time, and in the morning I came back to take him to the airport with me. The TSA officer who patted me down and dusted him for bomb residue asked me what I’d named him. “His foster called him Matisse, so we’ve been sticking with Matty so far,” I said. She raised an eyebrow. “You call that cat Renaissance,” she said.
I’ve been an active supporter of the cat-rescue community here in New York City for as long as I’ve lived here, and I plan to remain one. It’s probable that my cat family will consist of New Yorkers from here on out. One could argue that I had no business crossing the country for a cat when there are so many in need right here. What do I have to say for myself?
Well, when Matty came home with us, I finally let Chuck go. The horror of his decline and passing — so abrupt that I felt like the universe had reached out and stolen him — had left us with broken hearts, a useless ticket to California, and a penchant for tearing up late at night over cat-adoption photos. In deciding that the sum of those things was Matty — the little macaroon, the wildly improbable cat we could reach out and hope for because death had pinned us in place — we wrote our own ending. I’m proud of this one.
Have you adopted an out-of-town cat? Would you? Tell us in the comments.
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About the author: Lauren Oster is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She and her husband share an apartment on the Lower East Side with Steve and Matty, two Siamese-ish cats. She doesn’t leave home without a book or two, a handful of plastic animals, Icelandic licorice mints, and her camera. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.