A year ago this past summer we became the guardians of a third cat, ZuZu. She was a scrawny one pound kitten found downtown 9th Street scrambling from the traffic and jackhammers. She made her way into my friend’s office building, and somehow found her way to our house. While she loves our male cat, she’s never warmed up to people. She’s not really any trouble, but not really a pet. A bit of a phantom in our house. Our female cat Tanya became more attached to the people as this new kitty wormed her way in. She’d been displaced, but she just insisted on more affection from the humans and she was more or less okay with the arrangement.
Then we left for a few days in June, and when we came back everything had changed. Tanya would not let ZuZu out of Seth’s room. The kitten had burrowed a hole under Seth’s box spring, and stayed in there as if on a hammock, day and night. She’d sneak downstairs for food, but the second Tanya got sight of her, there would be a mad chase back upstairs. The sound of cats howling and fighting woke us every night. It went on for months. It was ridiculous. Clearly someone needed a new home, and if it were up to me it would be Tanya the bully to get the boot, but she’s Riley’s and Riley loves her, and she was here first. Tanya can’t go.
But who would want the kitten, now over a year old? She’s spayed. She’s declawed. She’s really no trouble, but she won’t let you near her. Go to pet her and she vanishes. Corner her and she hisses. She is still terrified of people.
The vet says my best bet is to tame her, and find her a new home. So she’s up in my attic office, locked away from the beast that is Tanya. It is cold up in my room. I work with electric heaters turned on and I shut them off when I’m not up there. Lately, I’ve been bringing tuna upstairs, turning on the heaters, capturing the hissing cat, and sitting with her on my lap in front of a heater, the tuna bowl right there where she can smell it. She’s so traumatized from her earlier life, she can only tolerate being pet if you come from behind. I have to face her outward so she doesn’t see my hand approaching her.
After a few minutes of being massaged, the heat on her back, the smell of tuna wafting through the air, she settles down. She purrs. She rests her head in the crook of my elbow looking out. After a while, I can loosen my grip and she’s beginning to stay even when I’m not forcing her to. ZuZu’s demeanor is that of a wild animal, but I am the whisperer! I am petting her! It is thrilling! Much more rewarding than than petting a “normal” cat. A “typical” cat. I am Jane Goodall. Kitten in the Midst!
It occurred to me the other day as I pet ZuZu, there was a time in my life, when this very moment, petting this “wild” thing would have been enough. When I was a little girl, nothing made me happier than animals. Our neighbor’s house burned down one time and their dog had just had puppies. We got to care for them (Brittany Spaniels) and I was the only one that momma dog would let in the basement. Holding those puppies was a beam of heaven for me in an often bleak childhood. Another neighbor had a German Shepherd (named Jason) tied up outside. He was old, and blind, and every day I inched my way closer, not knowing if he would charge and bite me. He didn’t. After some time I was able to announce my presence and walk slowly up to Jason and hug him and pet him. He stunk to high heaven but I didn’t care.
Riley and I have had some powerful bonding moments lately, petting this frightend kitten. No words are necessary. We look at each other, knowing full well how amazing it is. ZuZu is letting us pet her. I don’t know if ZuZu will ever make the perfect pet for someone (I tell the friend who found her to keep an eye out for a quadriplegic recluse who would just like to be entertained by her from afar). I don’t know if it was right to rescue her in the first place. I don’t know why I am feeding tuna to a wild animal in my attic. I don’t know what else to do, so I do it. It’s really not much trouble.