Hello, my name is Heather and I’m always one cat away from being a crazy cat lady. I adore cats, and grew up in a household where strays were always taken in and loved. Cats ruled the house–not in the hoarder sense–just in the don’t sit in that chair because the cat’s already there and we don’t disturb cuteness in progress.
But this story is not about me (just in case you missed the title). This is the story of one of my boys.
Max was born in a feral cat colony. His mother was already two generations feral and she delivered a litter of 5 kittens; 2 boys and 3 girls. Max was the runt of the litter, and when I adopted him at almost 3 months old he only weighed 3.4 lbs. His brother, Sam, my other boy and firstborn of the litter, weighed 7 lbs. Their 3 sisters had to be returned to the colony because they proved to be too feral to adopt out.
When Max arrived at my home, he huddled back in the carrier while Sam cautiously crept out. I turned to corral Sam and Max shot under the bed. It took a lot of coaxing and reaching and eventually picking the entire bed up at one end to finally get him out. Until he finally started filling out, he was able to hide himself away in great places like under the stove or in the alcove above the guest shower. The biggest thing was Max needed a hiding place. He was the quintessential scaredy-cat . Max was always my special boy. I was the only one able to approach him and pet him. And I loved him for it.
My husband at the time, however, took Max hissing at him as an affront. He was angry that Max would hiss and reject any overture he made to him. He tried to force Max to take treats out of his hand and became increasing hateful of my poor little kitten. Every time I had Max cuddled in my arms, he would complain about what a “mean and ugly face that cat has, that’s not a happy cat”. All because Max was scared of him.
Then, while we were still teaching boundaries, he caught Max up on the kitchen counter. Instead of saying no or yelling or clapping his hands as we had agreed would be our training methods, he snuck up and scruffed him off the counter. Those of you who have normal kitties may be nodding your head sagely at that point. “Ah yes, scruffing calms the cat down while still asserting a familial dominance over them.” Those of you who have ever spent time socializing a feral cat have already peed yourself laughing at what came next.
Feral cats have no spine. Max, startled and already distrustful of the man, spun around regardless of the scruff and SHREDDED his arms and hands.I was sleeping already when this happened, but the yelling woke me up and I, for the first night of the next two years, stood in between Max and the husband.
Later that month, I woke up to a horrible crashing noise and went out to the living room to find my ranting husband holding a metal broom. No, that’s not quite right. He was hold half of a metal broom in each hand and was advancing on the corner where Max liked to hide. I ran and got in front of the hiding spot and asked my husband what was going on. Max had hissed at him when the husband took the broom out to sweep. Right, kitten’s hiss when they’re scared. Why is the broom broken?
Because my soon-to-be-ex-husband SWUNG IT FULL FORCE AT MAX AND HIT THE ARM OF THE COUCH WHERE MAX DOVE BEHIND A SPLIT SECOND BEFORE IMPACT.
That was it. 10 years of marriage in which I was consistently abused in some form or another and knowing I should get out. But at that point, right then and there, no more.
I was done.
There was nothing my ex could have done to win me back. I’ll put up with years of you coming after me, but once you go after the innocent creatures I brought into my home to love and care for, you went from maybe more therapy will help us to I hope you rot in hell for ever even THINKING about touching my babies.
From that point on until I finally kicked my ex out of the house, I slept on the couch with the cats. He would never have another opportunity to hurt them. I was elated, but also ashamed. I pet the boys for hours, apologizing for their first few years in this house. Max especially. Max didn’t want anyone even looking at him except me. He hid for days in my shower, only coming out when the bathroom door was closed and locked. I had a small interim roommate and, while Sam eventually allowed her to pet him, Max wouldn’t even let her catch a glimpse of him unless I was there.
I worried that the home I’d brought him into had irreparably damaged him and he would live out the rest of his life in hiding and only accepting me.
But then something happened. My roommate moved out and it was just the boys and I for the very first time. We made the most of it. Rearranging the back room to be a room filled with their things, making sure that no room was off limits, no place left unexplored and mama always there for cuddles and pets.
And when my mom came for a visit, Max finally decided he wanted to come sleep on my bed with me. Correction: sleep on my pillow and my head. It’s now our ritual. I tell him it’s time for bed and he runs in, hops up between the pillows and settles down waiting for me to put my hand out so he can use it as a pillow.
But it goes further. He started hopping up into my lap as I was trying to type, demanding pets. He followed me around everywhere and didn’t stay hidden all day. Yet, I knew in a few short months my boyfriend (now fiance) Dave was moving in, so I made the most of the time and apologized for his world being changed again.
I warned Dave repeatedly that he’d probably not even see the cats his first month here, let alone get close enough to pet one and that Max was a one person cat who may come to tolerate him in a few years. I was so focused on my boys and what they’d been through that I forgot to take into account the nature of Dave.
Week 1: Sam adopts Dave. Dave now belongs to Sam, the expert emotional blackmailer, and I marvel that Max has walked by him once without running.
Week 2: I return to work and Dave calls me excited to say that after I left, Max hopped up on the bed and curled up next to him.
Week 3: Max has decided sleeping between us is perfect. He cuddles up to Dave while still using my hand as a pillow. Dave is over the moon that Max is choosing to be this close to him.Max also steps up the amount of time he spends in my lap.
Week 6: Max finally flops on the floor in front of Dave, which is our boys’ way of asking to be pet. Prior to this date, he has NEVER flopped for anyone but me.
I still carry an immense amount of guilt for the times I wasn’t there to protect my boys from my insane and abusive ex, but if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know when I finally would have made the decision to leave him. I see them becoming more and more the cats they should have been and it unbreaks my heart just a bit. And when Dave had the broom out the other night to clean up a spill, Max actually walked up to him and sniffed it. Then flopped for both of us to lavish attention on him.
Perfect love drives out all fear.