Julian: Throw-away no more
March 14, 2012 2 Comments
This is a guest post by Jennifer McConnell of Old Lyme, Conn. Her kitty Julian, formerly Mousam, was featured in the article, Throw-Aways. She has rescued many cats and dogs over the years.
We have a routine in the morning, Julian and I. I wake up, it’s still pitch dark outside, and I work my way down the stairs with my aging Border Collie. He now needs supervision with the stairs.
Out of the early morning darkness, Julian appears, black as night, only his yellow eyes are visible, then a mournful cry to announce his presence. He has spent the night alone somewhere in the house, and now he is relieved to see us.
I make coffee and prepare breakfast for Julian and Patch. Julian is a very polite cat. He sits patiently by his empty plate from the previous evening’s meal, like a stone statue.
Julian will race into the sunroom and wait for me, coffee in hand, to take my seat in the big chair. We like to watch the morning light, dusky hues of pink and yellow, tiptoe over the trees. Sometimes a full round moon gets hung up in the branches against an ink background before light chases it away. Julian relaxes the full weight of his body against me. He takes a tiny bit of my shirt sleeve between his teeth and kneads his claws into my arm. He purrs loudly as I pat his silky black fur, his eyes half closed. With my eyes, I trace the lines of his triangular nose thinking, “what a specimen you are.”
Julian looks like the cat in an old fashioned Steinlen French poster circa 1896, Le Chat Noir, picturing a black cat on a solid mustard yellow background. Le Chat Noir has become our chat noir!
Julian just appeared one day on a property in Lyme, Conn. He was emaciated, frightened and completely bewildered by his circumstances. No one in the neighborhood could really say where he might have come from. Shawn put food out for him, which he gulped down in ravenous swallows. Bear in mind, there were fox and raccoon to watch out for and compete with. The cat was hardly approachable, but his hunger drew him back to the benevolent stranger who would give him a safe place to live in the garage. Shawn would take him to the vet for care. He was already neutered, about 5 or 6 years of age, with horrific breath. Missing chunks of fur, limping, and coated in fleas and ticks, he was severely underweight, but otherwise healthy.
It was August. He lived in his new home in Shawn’s garage for weeks while we scrambled to find him a new home. It was disturbing to think that this animal had once obviously lived in a home. He was well mannered and affectionate. You could drape him over a shoulder while he drooled prodigiously as he kneaded into flesh. I felt like the whole of his being was saying, “don’t leave me … don’t leave me.”
It takes the concerted effort of many caring and good-hearted people to rescue a helpless cat. Shawn and her husband Tim who initially took him in, and bore the expense of a vet’s visit, including shots, flea medication, food and litter, Petfinders.com who posted an adoption notice, friends who passed the word around through emails. We did find a home for him; a friend’s sister was a veterinarian who had a practice in Pennsylvania. He could be the office cat, or if he could get along with the five cats that lived in her home, he could stay there. And so it was settled, Dr. Laura Holland would adopt him, but not for another month as she was in the middle of vet office renovations.
He couldn’t keep living in the garage; he needed the interaction of humans, socialization, and security. So we offered to foster him in our home and he moved in. At first we restricted him to the sunroom, a bright room with doors that closed. He spent a week hiding behind a chair. He was terrified of Matt, a big man with a heavy footstep. His heart raced, his teeth chattered, his eyes grew wide as saucers when Matt tried to come near him.
The process of re-establishing trust with him was arduous. We didn’t realize just how traumatized he had been. We tried to imagine the life he had before us. Slowly, he explored the rest of house, with each room conquered, a little bit more confidence and a sense of belonging. We were surprised at how comfortable he was around dogs. Both ours and our neighbors’ dog who visits frequently. He rubbed up against our Border Collie, and snuggled into his bed with him, often times falling asleep against him. Our dog was disconcerted with these displays of affection. We thought it was adorable and also very encouraging.
In the first few months, Julian had coughed up unusual amounts of hair balls, and gained about four pounds. We had had every
intention of handing him over to the wonderful and kind Dr. Holland, but at the last minute we just couldn’t. He was making progress; he was beginning to trust us. I felt like I was betraying him. I had made a promise to myself after our Maizie died at the age of 19, the last of our three cats, that if one should fall out of the sky desperately needing rescue, then, I wouldn’t turn it down. Well, that only took six weeks!
Julian continued to be fearful, always with an escape route in mind when approached. He liked to sleep on the chair, tucked under the dining room table, unnoticed, but with advantageous views. It took try after try to approach him without him bolting away.
“What is it?” I would say to him.
I was determined to change this behavior, so I would follow him, as he led me on a quasi-chase through the house, yowling his displeasure. I did this for weeks. It was tiring. I was frustrated with him. I even felt resentment. I wasn’t looking to adopt a new cat so soon after our last one died.
Eventually, he would let me pick him up, though his body was rigid with fear and suspicion, and I would just hold him and talk to him in a soft, gentle voice. I reminded myself of how terrified he must have been, finding himself suddenly turned out into the world, with no street smarts whatsoever.
I really believe, in most cases, that with a massive infusion of love, affection and understanding, animals can blossom.
Julian has become a loving, happy and contented cat. Our relationship has progressed, even since this story began.
Now, when it’s time to go to bed, Julian is the first one in. He moves in tight against me, his body as heavy as an immovable rock. Lately, in the middle of the night, he wraps himself against my head and pecks at my cheek. It’s as if to say, you are still there, right?