We knew we were living on borrowed time. We’d known it for years. Our cat, Scooter, had used up most of his nine lives and on December 1, 2012, he used up his last one. We had to say our final goodbye to our beloved cat after nearly 17 years of snuggles and companionship. We were grateful to have shared our lives with Scooter for so long, but anyone who has ever loved a pet knows that it’s never long enough. Trying to lighten our mood, Oregano turned to mathematical calculations for comfort. He determined that we had been lucky enough to have nearly 6,000 wonderful days with Scooter and only 1 really bad day. That one bad day was a doozy though.
The loss left us with an empty space in our hearts and a lot less cat hair on our furniture. Having never been an only cat, Sam seemed to miss Scooter, too. After a week of all three of us moping around the house, Oregano and I visited Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary where he has been volunteering for the past 3 years. We weren’t ready to bring home a new feline family member, but we needed to reassure ourselves that, while we couldn’t replace Scooter, we’d be able to fall in love again.
When we arrived at Tabby’s Place, one of the staff members greeted us. We explained that we were looking for an easy-going, adult cat, preferably one that would live forever. Discounting our immortality requirement, she gave it some thought. The first cat she had in mind was a very shy, gray and white, middle-aged gentleman named Bolaris. The name seemed odd for a cat and the surprise must have been obvious on our faces. The staff member explained that this cat came to Tabby’s Place during the week of Hurricane Sandy, so they named him Bolaris after the TV weatherman from Philadelphia.
After she explained the origin behind his unusual name, the staff member pointed to a crate that appeared to be empty. When we peered inside, we saw one white paw sticking out from under a blanket. Oregano reached in to find the rest of the owner of that paw as the staff member explained that Bolaris is painfully shy and prefers to pretend he is invisible by hiding under a blanket. He purred and flopped from side to side letting us pet him until the blanket fell off and he bolted across the room. We visited a few other kitties and then we went home to think it over. We weren’t ready yet.
Even though he was the first cat we saw that day, Bolaris stuck in our hearts and we talked about him over the next few weeks. He was the definition of a scaredy cat. Everything and everyone spooked him. We prefer our cats to be on our laps not under our bedding so we were hesitant to adopt Bolaris. Still undecided, we went back to visit him again, but he was even more skittish than before. We tried to rationalize his behavior. He came from a shelter in New York that had closed and he had only been living at Tabby’s Place for 6 weeks. He was in the largest suite and one of his roommates camped out beside his crate waiting to pounce on him. Each of those reasons by itself was enough cause for blanket-burrowing anxiety.
This was a tough decision that only a consultation with a crystal ball would have made easier. I was unsure of taking a risk on such a timid cat, but Oregano wasn’t. Because Bolaris would be buried under a blanket, he would literally be overlooked by many potential adopters. Oregano convinced me that a younger, more outgoing cat would be able to charm his way into a forever home, but Bolaris wouldn’t. We hoped that once he was in a quiet, loving environment he’d come out of his blanket-wrapped shell. It was a gamble, but his golden eyes, sweet face and little gray soul patch convinced us that he was worth taking a chance on.
Now that he had a new home, he definitely needed a new name. Since he had only been Bolaris for a few weeks, we figured he wasn’t attached to his name. We brainstormed our options and even considered giving him a spice name, but none of those seemed right. We thought about his personality and realized that he reminded us of a smart, blanket-loving character from the Peanuts comic strip; Linus. It was a perfect fit! We had a new name for our sweet, shy boy.
Knowing how shy he is we wanted to give him time to adapt to the sounds and smells in his new home. We set up our guest room for him and in addition to the usual necessities and deluxe model scratching post, we sprinkled blankets everywhere. During those first few days we frequently went into the room, saw the Linus-shaped lump under the comforter and talked to him so that he would get used to hearing our voices.
We are patient, but we never had such a shy cat before and had no idea when, if ever, he’d feel comfortable enough to venture out from under his blanket. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t long before he would slide out of his hiding place when he heard us enter the room. We sat nearly motionless on the floor since even a slight movement would send him diving back under the nearest blanket. He tentatively started making wide circles around us. With each lap he got closer. Eventually, he began purring loudly and was close enough to head-butt us for pets. It was fun to watch him learn to trust us.
When we were home to supervise, we left the door to Linus’s room open so that he could begin to explore the house, if he dared. By the end of the first week, he was brave enough to come all the way downstairs. He wandered slowly through the house, his loud, squeaky meow acting as a tracking device for us. Once he began making regular forays through the house, we started to notice some signs that made us think that he has not been in a home for a while. The sound of the toilet flushing or the heat coming on makes him freeze in his tracks. Windows and televisions fascinate him. He climbs into an open dishwasher or refrigerator thinking it is just one more, much smaller, room to explore. He also hasn’t yet learned that the other gray and white cat he is afraid of is just his reflection in the mirror.
Each day he is gaining confidence. Now he loves to be in the room with us and has realized that he has an unlimited, lifetime supply of snuggles at his disposal. He loves to chase the red dot from the laser pointer and anything with a feather on it. When he is in the mood to play, he will drag his toy throughout the house until he finds us.
Sam didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for Linus, but as a rescue cat himself, he gave Linus the space he needed to adjust to his new family. Of course, there was some half-hearted hissing on Sam’s part during their first few encounters, but Linus got Sam’s message loud and clear and walked away. Sam, being the gentleman that he is, didn’t chase after Linus. Now they have started eating and playing together. They have each claimed a couch cushion and nap there regularly. They are well on their way to becoming good buddies and Oregano and I are well on our way to accepting the fact that it is only a matter of time before we’ll be banished to the floor while the two of them are comfortably napping on our couch.
The comedian George Carlin used to say that when you get a pet you know it is going to end badly. It is inevitable; every pet is a small tragedy waiting to happen. I suppose on some level he is right, but hopefully it will be many years until that day. In the meantime, it is so worth it.