Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Four: Bringing the Boys Home

We brought the boys home and, knowing that they would need time to adjust to their surroundings, we set up a foster area in Aaron’s office, complete with food and water bowls, a comfy bed and chair, a litter box, and toys. Initially we closed the door so that all three cats would not be spooked by each others’ presence; later we used baby gates to separate them from Boudicca. (For her part, Boudicca was mildly alarmed when she saw carriers. Otherwise, she was confused as to why we took food into the office, did not share with her, and closed the door.)

At first both the cats hid under Aaron’s desk or bookshelves. It became evident that they were accustomed to eating and using the litter box predominantly at night, presumably because the shelter was quieter during that time. They were incredibly skittish, reacting immediately to noise, sudden movements, and any change. We had to be careful and solicitous in order to not spook them any more than they already were.

Aristotle (Garrus) was highly wary of people and hid under Aaron’s desk when we would first enter the room.

NB: Before we left the shelter, Aaron decided on the name Garrus after the Mass Effect character. That is what we called him before we properly adopted the boys so henceforth I will refer to him by that name.

Tink was initially wide-eyed, jittery, and, a bit agoraphobic, often bunched in a corner or behind whatever he could find.

NB: It took us a few more days to decide on a new name for this handsome guy. Aaron proposed Charlie and we agreed that it simply suited him without further ado.

Stay tuned for Part Five! (If you haven’t already read them, check out Parts One, Two, and Three.)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Three: Free Cats!

Aaron and I continued to discuss the idea of fostering a cat, or possibly a kitten, when Aaron suggested that we visit the animal shelter and determine if we could foster one of the available cats. Incidentally, we visited during the Clear the Shelter event. When I introduced him to the various cats in the room but he was quickly drawn to the two tabby boys. No one who visited the shelter recently or during the Clear the Shelter event had wanted these guys. In fact, people rarely saw Tink since he spent most of the day hiding. Whenever I caught a glimpse of him, I saw two enormous eyes staring back at me–all pupil, almost no iris visible–and a bundle of scared cat huddled in a corner. He had definitely regressed since he had returned to the shelter.

Although Aristotle was occasionally visible, he looked pitiful and haggard. After spending three months at the shelter, he was now gaunt, and his ribs, spine, and hips jutted out. Due to high stress, he had licked off large swaths of fur around his abdomen, sides, and haunches. (This behavior is called overgrooming or fur mowing.) He crouched uneasily, always on guard. Moreover, he had a habit of staring off blankly with these huge, intensely sorrowful yellow eyes and a truly mournful expression. Both Aristotle and Tink were disconsolate.

Aaron discreetly took the boys out, one at a time, into the little rooms we have available for potential adopters to spend quiet time with cats. He spoke soothingly to each of them and let them explore the cat tree and toys available in there. During a lull between visitors, he came up to me with his expression and tone serious. “We have to help these cats.”

Suddenly quite verklempt, I asked, “How?”

“They are obviously not doing well here and look pitiful too, especially this scraggly one.” He gestured to Aristotle, who looked rather sickly with his knobbly back and patchy fur.

“I agree, both of them look absolutely miserable.” Those big eyes pulled at my heartstrings. “I know Tink from his time as a foster in the library. He needs a buddy cat. I don’t think it would be a good idea to separate them. Tink is very shy; having a buddy cat makes him feel more confident. He lost his previous buddy recently too, so there’s been a lot of upheaval in his life. It’s been fortunate that the shelter was able to match him with Aristotle so quickly.”

I took the boys individually out of the condo and into the solo room to spend one-on-one time with them. I had worked with shy shelter cats before so the experience was not entirely new. Tink was jumpy from overstimulation but, if given a chance to settle, did seem amenable to quick, gentle pets. I knew that he could be affectionate if given time, space, and quiet. Aristotle was more interested in exploring the cat tree than hanging out with me but he did stop and seemed to enjoy me petting his back. He might have sneaked in a fleeting tail hug or two as well. When I put Aristotle back into his pen, he resisted (not that I blame him) and gave me such a crestfallen look when I closed the door.

Aaron and I discussed how we could help these cats while being cognizant and respectful of a senior resident cat’s needs. Adopting a cat, let alone two, is a serious commitment and we did not take it lightly. Aaron was definitely interested in Aristotle but slightly reluctant to take on the idea of becoming a three-cat household. I, too, had think seriously about this prospect since I had never had boy cats, shy cats, or more than two cats at a time. While I am tenderhearted, I am also practical and know that I simply cannot provide a home for every cat or dog that needs it. I wanted to be sure that these cats were placed in the right home with the right owner, even if that meant it was not my own. That was one of the reasons why I volunteered at the shelter in the first place.

Aaron and I broached the idea of fostering instead of immediately adopting. We had discussed possibly fostering as an extension of my volunteer work before but had never done it. I knew that several of the volunteers and shelter employees regularly fostered cats, kittens, and dogs. I was familiar with how the library fostered cats and the occasional guinea pig and rabbit. I had bottle-raised Nala and was interested in expanding my knowledge of pet care. One of my good friends, Christine, is a foster mom extraordinaire, devotedly taking care of countless shelter kittens. I regularly ask her for advice. I also talk to Tracey about her five cats. I have several other friends with whom we frequently discuss our journeys as pet owners (or as some of us call it, pet parents).

After some discussion, Aaron and I decided that we could foster these cats to (1) get them into a quieter, less stressful environment, (2) have an opportunity to socialize them in said quiet environment, and (3) determine if we were a good fit for these cats and vice versa and, if not, find them a proper home together.

We approached the receptionist and said that we were interested in fostering Aristotle and Tink. Her eyes positively lit up. “Fantastic! They so need a home. I’ll get them ready right now!” While she did that, we filled out placeholder adoption applications. Foster parents get first dibs on the animals in their care. Word spread fast in the shelter; two employees came over and thanked me for fostering the cats.

When the bewildered and nervous cats were brought out to us in their carriers, Aaron turned to me. “Will helping these cats make you happy?”

I could not help but to smile wide. “YES.”

Garrus (Aristotle) would hide but would also remain visible but aloof and wary.

Charlie (Tink) was quite the scaredy cat when we brought him home. He hid under the bookshelf behind a box or under Aaron’s desk.

Stay tuned for Part Four! (If you haven’t already read them, be sure to check out Parts One and Two.)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Two: Becoming Acquainted

I first met Tink in November 2016. He and his buddy Pan were the first cats fostered at the Pflugerville Public Library. We had just started an awesome foster program in alliance with the shelter, and the library director, a huge animal lover and very experienced pet owner, asked for the “hard cases”, or cats that needed socialization or other help in order to find a home. Pan and Tink were exceptionally shy and skittish, so the library staff had their work cut out for them. As a library volunteer, I visited the foster cats and helped socialize them. At the time Tink was a true hidey cat but if presented with rubs, he immediately started to purr. He was a sweet cat that incrementally came out of his shell as long as Pan was around. Having a buddy cat nearby was akin to a security blanket for him. Tink could be quite affectionate and less shy, especially if given sufficient time to get to know someone.

While in foster care, Pan was adopted and returned more than once while Tink remained at the library. Every time Pan left, Tink regressed into himself, despite the valiant efforts on the part of the staff, who offered him lots of love and patience. Some cats prefer to be only cats while others prefer company; Tink was definitely in the latter camp and was noticeably lonely without his buddy. For no fault of his own, Tink, then only two years old, had spent 18 months in the shelter or foster care and had been adopted and returned three times, the last time in May 2017. The longest he spent with any owner was less than two months. So clearly he had not found his furever home yet. To make things worse, he was separated from Pan and regressed to his previous skittish, hidey cat self back at the shelter.

I met Aristotle in the summer of 2017, after he had been surrendered by his owner in June along with his two housemates. The housemates were fostered at the library. These cats were moody, skittish, and quickly shut down when overstimulated. They were apparently unused to being handled or even pet very much, and it was apparent that the trio had not received regular veterinary care prior to their appearance at the shelter. I learned that the two housemate cats fiercely guarded their food. Being less assertive and consequently the least dominant cat, Aristotle had apparently been bullied by his housemates and ate when he could before another cat chased him off. He came to the shelter very thin, with little appetite even after he was no longer exposed to bullying cats.

Animal services employees put a Feliway pheromone collar on Tink and Aristotle (a common practice), which seemed to help somewhat, but Tink definitely did better with a buddy cat. Knowing that Tink loved being with other cats, the shelter director introduced him to Aristotle. Thankfully, both cats immediately hit it off.

I got to know Aristotle that summer when I volunteered in the cat room. When I opened the pen door, Aristotle did not bolt out like many cats did. Occasionally, he was not in the mood to receive visitors; I suspected that he did not always feel well. It took some time for him to size anyone up and determine if he liked them or not, and this included volunteers. If he warmed to a volunteer, he would bunt their hands when they came to pet him. He also followed volunteers around the cat room, not in a clingy “don’t leave me” way but in a polite “I’m helping and supervising” manner, rub against their legs (or rather, polish their ankles), and liked to bat at ribbon toys, although he did not play with toys when I visited.

The cat room volunteers, including myself, were familiar with these cats and felt sorry for them. They had been in the shelter longer than cats usually stay, and poor Tink had spent most of his life in the shelter. While it was fortunate that the boys had one another, they definitely needed a respite and, with luck, a home. However, no one was interested in either of these two tabbies that summer. That is, until the Clear the Shelter event on Saturday, August 19, 2017…

Tink and Aristotle resided in a cat condo very similar to this one. Considering that there were two of them together, the boys were given a large condo with multiple cubbies, which were excellent hiding spots.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Stay tuned for Part Three! (If you haven’t already read it, be sure to check our Part One too.)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part One: Considering Fostering

In January 2017 Nala, my 16-year-old cat, crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It was incredibly difficult saying goodbye to Nala but it was the best thing for her. I had Boudicca, then approaching 17, but I had to realistically start thinking that I would eventually have to say goodbye to her as well since she, too, was not immortal.

Aaron and I started discussing the prospect of fostering cats or kittens as an extension of my volunteer work but had so far never done it. Animal shelters frequently need fosters to take in animals, especially expectant or new mothers, puppies, kittens, or animals with special needs. I was familiar with how the library fostered cats and the occasional guinea pig and rabbit. With the help of my aunt and mother, I had successfully bottle-raised Nala. In the same vein, I was interested in deepening my volunteer work as a foster and expanding my knowledge of pet care.

One of my good friends, Christine, is a foster mom extraordinaire, as she devotedly takes care of countless shelter kittens. I regularly ask her for advice on cat matters and had conversations with her about the ins and outs of fostering.

Aaron and I discussed at length what we had to offer if we decided to foster a cat. This is what we came up with:

  • Quiet household. No kids. 🗹
  • Stable routine. 🗹
  • Moderately experienced cat owners. 🗹
  • Patience. 🗹
  • Safe spaces. 🗹
  • Time. 🗹
  • Abundant love. 🗹

(Don’t worry. I’ll discuss things to consider before fostering and how to foster cats specifically in a subsequent post.)

But who would I foster? A kitten? A cat that needed socialization? A pregnant mama cat that needed a safe place to have her kittens? There were so many possibilities.

In the summer of 2017, I was quite surprised when two tabby cats pulled at my heartstrings…

This was Charlie’s shelter profile picture. At the time he was called Tink.

This was Garrus’s shelter profile picture. At the time he was named Aristotle.

NB: I realized that the boys’ story would be long so I broke it down into a multi-part series of posts. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Change a Pet’s Life Day

Egads! I missed Change a Pet’s Life Day! (Things have been a little hectic because Boudicca was sick on Tuesday. Thankfully, she is getting better now.)

Change a Pet’s Life Day (belated) is a pet holiday celebrated on January 24 and intended to encourage adopting pets from shelters and consequently, raising awareness for animal shelters. As a shelter volunteer, I can testify that there are so many wonderful animals that need loving homes. There are pets that would do well with new pet owners and others that would thrive with experienced pet owners. There are young, old, middle-aged, everywhere in between. If you are not a cat or dog person, shelters often have other pets that might strike your fancy such as guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even pigs and chickens. Here is how you can change a pet’s life:

  1. Adopt. Head to your local shelter and adopt a pet! Many shelters offer special discounts on January 24th while others will hold adoption events throughout the week or on the weekend. Rescue groups will probably have similar events so be sure to look for these. (NB: Adoption is a commitment. One should not adopt a pet without really being sure that this is what you want and that you will be able to care for this pet.)
  2. Foster. Unsure if you want to commit to having a pet? Does your shelter need temporary homes due to space or other needs, such as a pregnant cat or dog? Giving a shelter animal a foster home is a demonstration of compassion and generosity. Whether you foster one time or do it regularly, it does make a difference in pets’ lives!
  3. Donate. Find out what your shelter needs. Does the shelter have a wish list or a Friends of the Animal Shelter organization that could provide this information? Food, toys, collars, leashes, scratch pads or poles, and carriers are commonly asked for items. Money, of course, is always immensely appreciated because it can be used for whatever the shelter needs at the time or for future use.
  4. Volunteer. Do you like to be involved in your community? Do you love animals? Volunteering is a fantastic way to change pets lives on a continuing basis. I enjoy having the opportunity to love on and socialize cats and help out at adoption events so that these lovely kitties get matched to the right homes.
  5. Transform your pet’s life. Would your pet benefit from more exercise or attention? Would a play date with another cat or dog or a new toy make your pet’s day? I’m fairly certain that one of the highlights of Boudicca’s day is when she gets her lap time session in the evening. The boys are equally thrilled by visits and play time.

Rescued Pets in My Life


This is Chiya! She is one of my parents’ two rescue dogs. She is a sassy and independent Tibetan Spaniel. Originally her name was Holly but my mom changed it to Chiya, which is Spanish slang for “crier,” in honor of her distinctive shrill alarm bark. (Tibetan Spaniels were bred to be watchdogs as well as canine companions.) She excels at being a foot warmer too.

IMG_0124 (1)

Here is dog #2, Chiquita! (We call her Chica for short.) She is a Kooikerhondje, which I promise is a dog breed that I did not make up. My parents took her in after her previous owner became very ill with cancer and shortly thereafter passed away. Look at those marvelous ears and that tail! She is such a well-behaved dog and an excellent snuggler as well.

Last year, I volunteered at the Clear the Shelters event on August 19 at my local animal shelter. I intended to show cats and match them to new owners. I did not intend to take home a new cat, let alone two, but I am SO GLAD that we decided to foster and later adopt Charlie and Garrus. They have made a lot of progress since then and both are happier, healthier cats.

In this photo you can see hints of how skinny and scraggly Garrus (then known as Aristotle) was. When he stood up, swaths of fur along his sides were missing (licked it off due to stress in the shelter) and in general his coat looked haggard. He was so skinny that his ribs and knobbly spine were clearly visible. Both he and Charlie looked SO pitiful at the shelter. We quickly learned that Garrus was not eating much and in a lot of pain due to dental issues, which we promptly fixed.

This was the first time Charlie (then known as Tink) emerged from behind or underneath furniture for a significant length of time. A huge scaredy cat when we brought him home, he was highly reactive to people (us), sudden movements, many noises, new objects, and any change. Both boys bolted whenever we stood up; they would only timidly approach if we sat down on the floor and remained very quiet.

Fast forward four months: here are the boys sprawled in the sun. (I took this photo in late December 2017.) Rather than fleeing when I approached, they stretched, slow blinked, trilled and squeaked (Charlie), welcomed scritches, and purred.

Lastly, look at Queen B! In November 2000, a lovey five-month old tuxedo kitten chose ME as her person at the ASPCA. Seventeen years later she is still my girl!

How can YOU change a pet’s life today?