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!

Evening Routine

We’re homebodies and like to just chill out at home in the evenings. In the past Aaron and I have watched a particular show together. We’ve watched several Star Trek shows (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), Friends, Downton Abbey, Futurama, Agents of SHIELD, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Lately we’ve been doing video games (well, Aaron has been playing video games while I watch). We started with Horizon Zero Dawn (excellent), Ori and the Blind Forest, Unravel, and now The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its extension packs, Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine.

When we sit on the couch, all the cats assume their preferred locations. Boudicca cannot wait to climb onto my lap, receive pets and smooches, and purr contentedly.

Googly cat is googly.

Charlie often hangs out on the cat tree but if he is feeling lovey he ask to get onto the couch next to me. Then he flops repeatedly, purrs very loudly, and head bunts my hand as I pet him.

Charlie likes to curl his paws over the edge of the platform when I pet him.
We’ve been introducing him to snuggling (with humans) and lap time. He approves.

Somebody was being really cute!

Garrus generally hangs out on the floor on the other side of the ottoman but lately he has been sharing the ottoman with us. Garrus, reserved Gentleman Cat of the house, is most particular about his spot, is slow to warm up, and has an established bubble of personal space. He is slowly learning how to relax around us. We give him space so that he can decide if he wants to engage with us. If it takes him a while, that’s okay.

Isn’t he handsome?

Occasionally, Garrus has been brave and hung out on the couch with us! This has been a lovely breakthrough!

While I certainly hope that the boys will become lap kitties in time, I will not be heartbroken if they are not. They both have made leaps and bounds of progress in the seven months we have had them. They are less skittish, shy, and reactive, and now seek us out for attention. Working with shy cats can be a challenge (it requires a lot of patience) but I have found it worthwhile. Charlie, in particular, has blossomed from a very hidey cat to an incredibly sweet, squeaky boy who frequently looks like he has a blissful smile on his face. Garrus is a bit more inscrutable but when I get him to purr I take that as a win!

Do your cats adhere to a particular evening routine? Do they have preferred spots? Do they like lap time?