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  • Melissa Westemeier

choices

I rarely feature household pets in our annual Christmas letter, but this year I mentioned Rose and Poppy. A week after mailing the letter, I let Poppy outside as usual, and the next morning she failed to materialize on our front porch. It's not uncommon for indoor-outdoor cats to take a break, a vacation from the daily grind of napping and eating and moving to a new spot for another nap. I remember Violet pulling her disappearing act for up to five days at a time. Nevertheless, D and I drove along the roads near our house and checked the ditches. I tromped through fields and woods calling out her name, punctuating my cries with the occasional "Here, kitty-kitty!" As one does.

Part of me wanted to find her for closure, part of me dreaded discovering her remains. We have a variety of alpha predators around our place, but I count on our cats to be smart enough to know the best sanctuary spaces and not travel too far from home.

I found golf balls, baseballs, birds' nests, and animal tracks, but no cat. I looked for days, high and low in thickets and brambles and bushes and when I took a break from criss-crossing our property I searched the lost and found pet posts on Facebook. By the time everyone came home for Christmas I had to announce it: Poppy was a goner. B suggested we get a drone to check the interior of the eagles' nest behind our property, but then he sided with the other men in the household and agreed that Poppy was probably taken in by some other family and continuing to live her best life.

Who am I to destroy their delusions? Especially at Christmas?

However, Rose is used to companionship. G found her in a cornfield when she was a 5-week-old kitten and she basically grew up with Jax, the only dog our family ever had. A year after Jax died, Thorn appeared in our back yard and they lived harmoniously for several years. After Thorn died, Rose howled and yowled. About a year later my sister brought us the neighborhood stray she'd taken in, and with Poppy part of the family, Rose calmed down.

She started expressing her discontent shortly after Poppy's disappearance, but I believe the cat finds the person, so I was ready to wait it out. Another cat would darken our doorstep.


Yet in my online search for Poppy, I became haunted by the sweet faces of lost cats at the animal shelter. Maybe this time I'd go find a cat and offer it a home. My friend Stacy had recently adopted two kittens with great success, my oldest son and his girlfriend adopted a cat from the same shelter.

I mulled over my plan for two weeks. The week before G and B were supposed to return to their respective colleges, I proposed we take a trip to the shelter and adopt a cat. They responded by first mocking me ("Crazy Cat Lady") but expressed enthusiasm for the plan. We packed up our cat carrier and checkbook and headed to the shelter.


People were lined up to adopt that Tuesday afternoon, and we filled out our paperwork and strolled past the available cats. G favored a playful kitten named Nova, I felt a connection with a very fluffy orange and white cat (we never had an orange cat before!), and B set his heart on a huge gray tomcat named Meatball. Fraternal rivalry required G and B to argue over the best option, but since Rose is G's cat, I sided with B and we told the shelter worker we'd like to meet Meatball.

Meatball was amazing. He bumped his head against our legs, purred to beat the band, and even won over G, which is saying something because G was determined to hate whatever cat B liked. I even got D on a video call so he could fall in love with Meatball.

When the shelter worker returned to our room, she told us we couldn't adopt him. Notes in his file suggested he didn't do well with other animals. We were so disappointed, but gamely asked if we could meet my choice. She guided us into the next room over and we did our thing, which is to plop down on the floor and wait for the cat to come over to us, sniff our hands and get petted, and want to be our best friend.

Didn't happen. The orange and white cat took one look at us and hunkered down beneath a bench. After a while, G crawled over to try luring him out. This cat wasn't having it. Since I believe the cat needs to choose the human, I understood we were being rejected. Coldly and firmly rejected.

The shelter worker returned and we told her things weren't working out between us, could we try another? After a long wait, she returned with black and white female and got us situated in the room we'd previously used to meet Meatball. We plopped down on the floor and this cat glanced at us and made for the furthest corner of the room where she lowered her head in fear and possibly distaste. As before, G gave it the old college try, but we had to admit defeat.

The shelter worker returned and invited us to come back another day, they had no more suitable cats for us to meet. We drove home in low spirits, disgusted that we'd wasted our afternoon on this futile excursion.

That weekend the boys returned to college and I resigned myself to living with noisy Rose. Maybe she'd settle down after a while.


Sunday night as I was tucking into my cup of tea and PBS Masterpiece, my phone lit up with a message from our neighbor. A cat had hung around their porch all weekend and was meowing, desperate to get inside. It looks like Rose, was it Rose? No, Rose is on my lap right now. Definitely not her. The neighbor sounded stressed out, so I offered to take it in for the night and then get it checked for a microchip first thing Monday.

Like a flash, our neighbor and her daughter were on our porch with this cat who did look a lot like Rose. I told her I'd post a picture of the cat on Facebook and her daughter had Snapchat covered. In all my searching for Poppy, however, I hadn't seen this cat's face. I doubted it was someone's lost pet, but it was so comfortable with people I had to believe it had a story.


We have protocols for strays at our house. They live quarantined until they successfully eat, drink, pee, and poop. After this proof of their health, I make a vet appointment and take it from there with vaccinations, spaying, neutering, the works. I'd set out food, water, and a litter box in our basement bathroom for this cat. It purred and seemed friendly, so not feral, and it seemed grateful for the square meal and indoor accommodation.

This cat's back was knobby, every bit of its spine showed through its rough fur. I spotted the signs of ringworm and noticed how it gulped down kibble without chewing or breathing. It inhaled a dish of water, which I refilled, then it inhaled more water. I never saw an animal consume so much water, this one was clearly dehydrated and starving.

With surprising ease I got the cat into our cat carrier the next morning and brought it to our vet's office where a tech scanned it for a microchip. No dice. Is it a boy or a girl? Is it fixed? A funny feeling in my gut grew stronger. The tech brought the cat to another room and returned a few minutes later. It's a boy! Unneutered, belly full of worms, about two years old. He sure is friendly. What a sweet boy!

The cat gave me a hopeful look while I regarded his face. We traditionally name our cats after flowers, but a boy cat requires a botanical name that doesn't sound too feminine. I took a deep sigh and asked the tech about their earliest available appointment.

What'll you name him?

The cat and I exchanged another look. I smiled. Woody.

Awwww, that's cute.



Since then, Woody's become fully hydrated and shows gentlemanly restraint at the food dish. He's put on weight, experienced some intestinal distress that stunk up the basement, and I believe he's finally expelled the worms from his system. Of course this dude showed up with a party, a subsequent visit to the vet revealed he carried fleas with him, too. So he's being treated for fleas AND parasites. But his teeth are really good and he's so sweet and friendly, head butting me and eager for attention. We've really bonded. G and B have each returned from college to meet him and approve. D likes visiting him. Rose strolls downstairs to hiss at Woody through the screen I prop across the door while I'm spending time with him, but I bet she'll come around pretty quickly once we let them around each other properly.

Woody's appointment for his surgery is on February 21, which can't come soon enough because he is a pungent young man. Some days are stronger than others, reminding me of the years when Team Testosterone was going through puberty. Ah, hormones.


As you've probably guessed, dear reader, adopting this stray cat cost four times what a shelter cat would've cost me, but what's a gal to do? I don't get to choose the cat, and Woody picked me.

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