At the age of 26 I had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment with my four-year-old cat, Beautiful White Princess. I had a new job and was spending time with my girlfriend, Rebecca, so Princess was often alone…and seemed lonely.
I decided she would be happier if she had a friend, so Rebecca and I went to the Adams County Animal Control Center to find her a cat. For the life of me I cannot recall why it was so specifically THAT place…but given that it was a long drive to get there, I know it was intentional.
To get to the cats, we first had to walk down THE LONGEST CORRIDOR EVER of dogs. Behind the chain-link fencing of their cage fronts they barked, jumped, smiled, or danced—so excited to see people who might take them home. This was traumatic for both of us because we knew we couldn’t help any of them, so we averted our eyes (with only moderate success) and walked like speed racers.
Three of the cat room’s four walls were comprised of perfect rows and columns of individual metal cages, each with a tiny litter box and a bowl of water. There were little cat faces surrounding us from low to high like a feline version of The Hollywood Squares.
My mom had gravely and adamantly warned me away from selecting a male cat because of…reasons I can’t quite recall (but likely pertained to the possibility of spraying). Whatever she’d said, likely multiple times, had influenced me enough that I was only open to adopting a female.
The first one to capture my attention was a tiny Ragdoll who clearly was not well—her eyes and nose were runny and she seemed to feel puny. She was sweet as could be, pure fluff with only the tiniest body hidden under so much long fur. Perhaps because her need seemed the most dire, I decided uncharacteristically swiftly that she would be my new cat.
Also of note was an orange tabby who was putting on a huge show by meowing and purring, rubbing his face all over the front of the cage, and sticking his little paws out in an effort to grab us. He was so freaking cute…but unfortunately male.
I told the staff member I wanted the Ragdoll and was told that because she was ill, she would need to be tested before they could release her. I left empty handed, waiting impatiently for the phone call that would tell me she was okay.
When it finally came later that evening, the news was devastating: She had tested positive for either FIV or feline leukemia (or both) and would be euthanized per shelter procedure. I grieved a cat who had been mine only in my imagination—such a beautiful sweet tiny creature!
And still I needed a cat for my cat.
The next day was Sunday and my only chance to return to the shelter until the next weekend—and I didn’t want to wait that long. Rebecca couldn’t go with me but also didn’t need to: “If he’s still there, get the orange tabby—the guy who was rubbing his face all over the cage and reaching his paws out. He’s been on my mind since we left the shelter. No matter what else I might be thinking about, his face pops into my mind. He’s the one.”
“But he’s a boy!” I protested.
“I know, but apparently he wants to be your boy.”
I didn’t question Rebecca’s intuition; I had taken her with me for a reason and I trusted that if she felt so strongly about one of the cats, I couldn’t go wrong to follow her guidance. She had two gorgeous sister tuxedo cats, Miranda and Alexa, and I greatly respected her knowledge of and connection to felines.
I made the long drive back to the shelter, marched to the front door with my cat carrier, and was confused when the door wouldn’t open. I peered through to a darkened lobby and noticed a Closed sign hanging on the door.
“Wait, what? How could it be closed?! There are animals in there who need homes!” I was swept up in emotion, mostly frustration and mild panic. What if my cat gets adopted before I can come back? What if he isn’t even here now?
Right then a security guard unlocked and opened the door. It’s possible I was crying, or at the very least looked incredibly pathetic, because he asked if I was okay. I explained that I’d tried to rescue a Ragdoll the day before but that she’d been found to be ill and had to be euthanized so I was here to get the orange tabby (sniffle sniffle wipe tears sniffle). “I drove a long way and this is my only day off this week and I’m just here to pick up the orange tabby.”
He was incredibly sweet and obviously cared about animals because he said, “Well, I don’t work directly for the shelter but I’ve been around here long enough to know the process. Come on in, I think we can get you your cat.”
The guard walked me down the long dog corridor and hollered for someone once we got to the end. It was a different experience this time because all the lights were dimmed—like during a power outage when only the emergency lights are functioning. A young man with Down Syndrome appeared and walked me to where the cats were.
Although a room different from before, I beelined directly to the orange tabby who was, as before, meowing and rubbing his face all over the bars of the cage and reaching out with his paws.
And then he sneezed.
And then he sneezed again.
The shelter worker didn’t seem to notice or care about the sneezing as he opened the cage, grabbed the cat, and transferred him to my hard-sided carrier. Then he left the room to continue with his normal duties.
I leaned over and looked intently into the cat’s eyes, which were only tiny slits because his face was so puffy. I said slowly and clearly, “Rebecca delivered your message to me, so I’m here to take you home. Here’s the deal, though: They are not supposed to let me have you if you’re sick. And obviously you are sick. I need you to do everything you can to NOT SNEEZE in front of the security guard.”
During the entire walk along the dog corridor I spoke insistently and repetitively above the barking: “There’s only one thing I need you to do: You cannot sneeze in front of the man. You must be totally quiet. I’ll get us out of here as fast as possible. Your only job is to be silent.”
I must have told him 50 different ways that silence was imperative in front of the nice man.
When we got back to the lobby, the guard was waiting with a clipboard of paperwork for me. I set the carrier on a bench near the door—as far away as I could without drawing suspicion—and then stood at the counter writing as fast as I could on form after form. I paid $8.00, made sure all was good with the guard, thanked him profusely, and then exited as quickly as I could without breaking into a run.
Upon reaching my car I placed the carrier on the passenger seat, shut my door, and:
SNEEZE! SNEEZE! SNEEZE!
For the next five minutes he sneezed nonstop.
Clearly this guy was something special.