Originally posted by drood at Ruby
After the death of our cat Sarah, who had a very satisfying nearly twenty-three years on this earth, I was really reluctant to adopt again.
By now I know how it works with pets. We adopt them into our homes, we take care of them and love them and feed them. We put up with their ridiculous quirks like their licking their butts spread-eagled on the floor during a fancy dinner party, or upchucking at the drop of a hat. They tolerate our strange affinity for oddball, deviant activities like vacuuming the house free of the perfectly good cat hair they've taken time to distribute on the furniture, or gently requesting that they not throw up inside the grand piano. When they’re sick, we care for them. When the end is near, we try to be there, and to console ourselves with the notion that we’ve given them as good a life as we could. With Sarah, we could easily say that she’d never wanted for love or affection or, god knows, Meow Mix.
After Chloe’s unexpected death a couple of years ago, and after Sarah died in my arms, though, I just didn’t have the heart to sign up for it all over again. I privately decided that we just didn’t need to adopt another cat. Not in the raw couple of months afterward, and not in the future.
The household changed after her death, though. Our one remaining cat, Fred, got progressively more weird. It was as if when Sarah disappeared, Fred decided that she had to double her annoying behaviors to make up for her absence. She would hole herself up in out-of-the-way places and yowl loudly, forcing us to find her. She’d wander around restlessly and knock things over. Although she’d always slept all the night through before, she took to waking up at four in the morning and screaming at the top of her feline lungs in the darkness, which always woke me up thinking that someone was being killed in the next room. It didn’t take a genius to see that she was lonely, and missing Sarah, too.
So we started looking at cats up for adoption. We specifically wanted a female cat who was between nine months and year old, because we reasoned that it would be easier to introduce into the household a cat who was still recognizably young and less of a threat than an adult cat, but who’d lost the endless rambunctiousness of young kittenhood. We visited an animal shelter in Norwalk that had dozens and dozens of cats in its care. Their application form for adoption was longer than my masters’ dissertation. They had a screening interview in which they sat us in a room with a few of their more complacent and lethargic cats so they could see how we interacted with them, and then proceeded to ask us a number of (I thought) insensitive questions about how our previous pets had died. And then finally they allowed us, grudgingly, to walk through the cat cages while they insinuated to us that not only were we never going to be allowed to take one of their cats home, but no one else anywhere was ever going to be good enough to adopt one, either.
We went to a shelter on Long Island to look at the cats there. They were all either quite old and set in their ways (“Does not get along with other animals”) or at the stage of kittenhood in which they’d barely just opened their eyes. We went to a few pet stores that offered adoption events. At one in Port Chester, we encountered a female cat named Skittles who was the right age—about nine months—and whose temperament was sweet. She was a pretty calico who purred in our arms and blinked at us with enormous brown eyes, and we might have adopted her on the spot if we’d had any way of getting her from the store home. It was that night, when we stowed in Craig’s trunk a cat carrier “just in case," I realized that adoption was going to be inevitable.
It was a week or two later—a year ago this week, in fact—that we ended up going back to that Port Chester pet store to see if Skittles was still up for adoption. She was indeed. The woman told us that she’d rescued Skittles from a pound in Kentucky. We filled out a short form, waited while Skittles got the last of her shots, and took her home a half-hour later.
I’ve never really been of the super-cautious school of introducing a new cat into our household. I don’t separate them for days and let them get acquainted to each other’s smells through the crack of a closed door, or anything. When we brought Skittles home, I let Fred out into the courtyard behind our apartment—she loves going outdoors—while Craig took Skittles inside. The new cat ran around the apartment for a half-hour and got the lay of the land on her own, while Craig supervised. I sat outside with Fred (who knew something was going on) and supervised while she rolled around in the dirt. Then I brought a horrified Fred in, sat her on top of the entertainment center so she could watch the calico horror run around and try to get to her.
Honestly, it was the shortest acclimation period I’ve ever seen. Fred was miffy for all of an evening. Then Ruby, as we decided to rename the newest member of our household, pinned her down and cleaned around Fred’s ears. By the end of the second day, they were sleeping side by side on the sofa.
They’ve been buddies ever since. They sleep together, share perches together, play together. Not a day passes in which the two of them aren’t thundering down the hallway as loudly as they can, or in which they don’t wrestle and play-pounce on each other for hours of entertainment. They wash each other and share their meal bowls without much fuss. If Fred insists on being the senior cat, well, Ruby doesn’t seem to mind humoring her, very much.
If I’d thought that adopting an older kitten would cut down on the rambunctiousness, however, hoo boy, was I ever wrong. Right from the start, Ruby was hell on wheels. We discovered from day one that her favorite game was Fetch. Now, every other cat we’ve had has enjoyed a good game of Fetch. Sarah enjoyed it with an orange carrot toy, while Chloe loved to bring a ragged length of braided twine into the office for me to throw while I was working. Fred’s favorite toy was a purple mousie that I’d have to throw for her.
But Ruby was crazy for paper. Crumpled-up paper. When she discovered the joy of a Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper—waxy and lightweight, yet durable enough for repeated trips in her mouth—she stumbled upon a formula of play that’s lasted the entire year. For hours—literal hours—I will pick up the crumpled Tootsie Pop wrapper from my feet, throw it into the next room, and listen as Ruby pounds after it. She’ll grasp it in her teeth, bound back, drop it in my vicinity, and wait impatiently for me to throw it again. There have been mornings in which Craig has left for work while I’ve been writing on my laptop and absently throwing a Tootsie Pop wrapper for Ruby—and then he’s returned three hours later for lunch to find me still tossing the damned thing, with Ruby just as wild and anxious to dive after it.
Despite all the exercise she gets—and during the daylight hours, Ruby’s constantly either trying to get us to play Fetch, or bothering Fred—our little Ruby is not exactly the leanest cat around. Fred used always to make me exclaim Ooof! when I’d pick her up, but running around with Ruby has slimmed her down. Ruby, however, is tubby. To put it gently (and accurately), you know how snakes have a bulge along their length when they’ve just snacked on a whole mouse? Ruby looks as if her jaw has unhinged and she’s swallowed a basketball. She doesn’t care. Her favorite thing to do is lie on her back in the middle of the floor with her legs wide open, staring at the world upside-down, belly on display.
It’s during these moments that I yell out, in a Kentucky accent, “Hee-uh comes Honey Ru-Boo!” When I talk to Ruby, it’s with the thickest of drawls, as if she can’t understand my usually-uninflected accent. She’ll stare at me tolerantly with those brown eyes, then go back to demanding that I sweep under the sofas to find the Tootsie Pop wrappers that she’s been stashing beneath.
And then at night, after she’s finally calmed down, she’s the most affectionate of cats. She sleeps between my feet from the time we turn out the lights until the moment we get up in the morning, purring and snoring. She always greets us at the door when we’ve been out, and she’s not satisfied until we’ve both picked her up and fawned on her. She’s friendly to guests. Even if she did unravel four hundred and forty yards of yarn from my knitting box, one day, she managed through cuteness to convince me that it was my fault that I’d only stored the skeins in a plastic box with a lid that simply popped off when she pushed it from a tabletop, instead of in something more secure. That yarn had been asking for it, really.
It’s been a year and several hundred Tootsie Pop wrappers later, and Ruby, neé Skittles, is firmly one of us. I wouldn’t have it any other way.