I started volunteering at the Catfé Lounge in the summer of 2016. My co-volunteer, Teri Lynn explained to me the responsibilities we had while on duty, and of course introduced me to all of the kitties. I noticed one in particular gracefully laying on one of the highest shelves by the window, gazing outside and watching the world go by. She was a chubby, fluffy ragdoll cat with the most beautiful black and white markings and a big feather duster tail. Her name was Leelu, and from the moment I saw her, I was completely smitten.
Not knowing what she was like, I cautiously reached my hand up to pet her. She hissed and swatted at me, and she proceeded to scurry away across the shelves toward the other end of the Catfé. It seemed to most people that she was not the most personable cat, but I could tell that her behavior towards me was the result of a not-so-great life before finding the Catfé. Right away, I knew she had to have a kind disposition and a big, loving heart underneath that tough girl façade. Every week I would come in, and every week she would still be there, scurrying away from me whenever I came within five feet of her. That didn’t stop me, however, from taking pictures and videos of her to post on social media, begging someone to come adopt this adorable girl. I knew she was just shy and scared, and she deserved to find her perfect forever home.
One day, I came in to find Leelu relaxing on the futon. I couldn’t believe my eyes; in the many months she had been there, it was the first time I had seen her anywhere but on the top shelf, away from people and all of the other cats. I approached her, and to my surprise she didn’t scurry away (despite still being noticeably wary of me). I was dying to hold her. The director, Deanne was there at the time, and she, being the only person who Leelu would let come near her, scooped her up like a baby. “She loves being held like this,” she said to me, as she gently passed Leelu over to me. I was holding sweet Leelu, and she wasn’t biting, hissing or swatting at me! It made my day. Later on, I was gushing about her to Teri Lynn (as I had done, annoyingly, almost every week), saying how happy I was to have finally held her. “Why don’t you just adopt her already?!” she said.
The idea of adopting her had, of course, already entered my mind. However, hearing someone suggest it out loud made me contemplate it even further. I did already have a cat, a Maine coon tortie named Mrs. Norris, and she was not a fan of other cats. I also wasn’t sure I was ready to take on the responsibility of owning two cats. On the other hand, I was working a bit more and living alone for the first time in a few years, and I thought, given enough time and space to adjust, Mrs. Norris might like having a buddy around to keep her company during the day. After dragging my feet for a little over a month, I decided to adopt Leelu.
The first few days were the hardest. I had given my guest bedroom to her, setting her up with plenty of food, water, blankies, toys, and a litterbox. I kept the door shut to help her get acclimated to this foreign new place a little bit at a time, and to allow Mrs. Norris to adjust to her presence and her scent. Around day two, I noticed she hadn’t been eating or drinking. I frantically texted Deanne for advice, contemplating rushing her to the vet and wondering how I would be able to do that, considering this poor, frightened kitty wouldn’t let me come near her. Several people told me to be more assertive with her; they said I had to hold her close multiple times a day, so she would get used to me and become more socialized with humans. However I quickly realized that that was not what Leelu wanted, and that was in fact making her more scared and less trusting of me. My gut was telling me to give her space and let her come to me.
By day three, Leelu started eating and drinking. She was using her litterbox properly, and she was enjoying having her own room. Mrs. Norris had stopped hissing at the bedroom door, and instead would just approach it and sit quietly, occasionally uttering a small grumble. After about ten days, I started leaving the door open. Leelu stayed inside at first, and Mrs. Norris would keep her distance. Gradually Leelu started venturing into other parts of the house, coming closer to me on occasion, and she and Mrs. Norris started interacting with one another.
Before I knew it, I woke up one morning and Leelu was just chilling, in full loaf mode, in my bedroom! Even better, Mrs. Norris was close by, accepting her presence (albeit giving her some serious stink-eye). I carefully walked over to Leelu and reached under the chair for her, and, nervously, she sniffed my hand and trotted away. Progress, I thought!
Eventually, I moved Leelu’s litterbox to the basement with Mrs. Norris’s, and I moved her food and water into the kitchen. She had officially moved out of her own room! One night shortly after, I fed them their dinner and noticed they were eating side by side…in peace! I knelt down to scratch Mrs. Norris’s head, praising her for being such a good big sister. I fully expected Leelu to bolt, as she usually did when I approached. To my surprise, she remained there, unflinching, eating her food. I gently set my hand on her head and started to pet her. Not only did she let me pet her without cowering or tensing up, but she nudged her head up into my hand. There she is, I thought, that sweet, affectionate little kitty I’ve known was there all along. My heart was so full!
Fast forward to the present day: I’ve had Leelu (now Charlie Chaplin) for almost two full years. She and Mrs. Norris run around and play together constantly; I even recently caught Charlie licking and nudging Mrs. Norris’s head, which made Mrs. Norris purr. (Mrs. Norris acts like she merely puts up with Charlie, but I know she loves her.) Every day when I get home from work, Charlie greets me at the door. As soon as I start to kneel down, she knows I’m going to pet her, and she leaps up to meet the palm of my hand. She loves lap time with me, and she receives (read: demands, in the cutest way possible) at least 90 minutes of that every evening. When I have guests over, she initially runs and hides, but after a few moments will usually come out and socialize a bit. My boyfriend Matt recently moved in, and while Charlie is still pretty timid around him, she is warming up a little bit more every day. All she needed was a quiet home of her own, and the time and space to adjust to me, Mrs. Norris, her new surroundings, and now Matt — and she blossomed into the cat I knew she was all along.
I am eternally grateful for the Ferndale Cat Shelter and Catfé Lounge. I cannot imagine my life without this fantastic organization and all the adorable kitties I am blessed to meet, love and care for when I volunteer with them each week. More than anything, I am grateful that they led me to my sweet Charlie. It’s only been two years, but it feels like she has always been with me, because she was always meant to be with me.
If you’re considering adopting a rescue cat, don’t overlook the ones with special needs who need your love and care the most. If you have the patience, the energy, and the financial means, adopt the cat with issues. Adopt the cat who is recovering from trauma. Adopt the cat who might not warm up to you for days, weeks, or months. Adopt them with reasonable expectations of them, and commit to them for life. Adopt your Leelu. You will learn a bit more about yourself in the process, and while you wouldn’t be saving the world, you would certainly be saving a life.