Saying “Yes”: Two Stories in Honor of Adopt-a-Cat Month
By Cheryl Burns
Saying “Yes”: Two Stories in Honor of Adopt-a-Cat Month
It was 5 A.M. and my mother-in-law’s newly rescued cat, a still nameless 5 year-old, was crying. I can’t see much without my glasses, but I could make out little white paws sliding in and out underneath our closed door. That was the moment I knew: Not that day, but some day, I was getting a cat.
The irony wasn’t lost on me, even at 5 A.M. My cardinal rule of dating had been “no men with pets.” I love animals. But the allergist had been very clear, and my body had often reiterated the wisdom of his stern warning against pets. I could never put someone in the position of having to choose between a loved person and a loved pet. I hit the jackpot when I fell in love with a man who was allergic too. We had fish and two (oddly amusing) aquatic frogs. But it was only a few months after our wedding that I knew. The cat outside the door would need a home one day, and it would be ours. I tend to follow rules, but — despite the pile of allergy medicines that followed — I have never regretted breaking that one.
June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, and I can think of no better way to tell you about the joys of a feline family member than to tell you two very different adoption stories about two very different cats. Smoky Tiggs Burns enjoyed a few months with my mother-in-law before a long illness took Pat from us. Smoky spent every day of that last week visiting the hospice room with us, tucked quietly on a couch in the corner of the room and offering comfort whenever called upon. We had permission, but she was so well-behaved that the staff rarely realized she was there until they spotted the litter box. One even offered her a home. But my husband and his mother had a special bond. He was the son who arrived after four girls and a devastating miscarriage (late enough that she knew she’d lost a boy). So it didn’t surprise me when he whispered in my ear during one of those awkward days between her passing and the service: “I kinda want the cat.” I couldn’t refuse. After all, Smoky had chosen us the night we met and again throughout those rough days. The bond she shares with my husband is incredibly special.
Fast forward a few years: While we certainly believed in their work, we couldn’t really tell you why we knew we were meant to volunteer at King Street Cats, but we’d been there for about a year when I met her. It was a brief meeting, but I knew. When I sent in a report on our mobile adoption shift, I added a note at the end: “If the people interested in Bailey don’t follow through, let us know.” After a few grueling weeks, we got a message. Yes, there were good tears. KSC is a free-roaming shelter. There are often around two dozen cats wandering about — some greeting visitors, some playing with friends, and shy ones tucked in sunny nooks. I saw several orange cats, but I couldn’t spot “ours.” Then I felt a tap. There, on top of a shelf, sat our girl, bopping me on the head as if to say: “Silly Momma, I’m right here!” She followed us and sat on top of the paperwork. Sweet Potato Bailey Burns chose us as much as we chose her.
Our cats bring us more joy than words can capture. They’re social, preferring to be near people even if they aren’t in the mood for a lap. Smoky is our prim-and-proper princess. She’s lean. She has favorite spots where she sits tucked in a perfect loaf. Her purr is frequent but quiet. Her love is soft, pure, and restrained. SPBB is all emotion. She loves fiercely; her purr can be heard over the phone. She’s chubby despite zooming about, playing like a kitten. Then she plops, limbs splayed, in utterly random spots. They carry our heats in their perfect paws. Adopting them — and them adopting us in turn — made us a true family.
According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million cats enter U.S. shelters every year. Sadly, 860,000 are euthanized. Thankfully, 1.6 million find homes but that leaves so many behind. King Street Cats (forgive me for the plug) is small but mighty. An all-volunteer, no-kill shelter in Alexandria, KSC took in 460 cats and kittens in 2020 and helped 440 find forever families.
Pets come with financial and emotional obligations (and sometimes with itchy eyes and a shelf full of allergy medications). But they give back so much more. During a difficult time, I’d collapse on the couch every evening. Despite not being a fan of hugs, SPBB would worm her way into my arms and purr, telling me that I always had her love. And I swear Smoky once danced on her hind legs to make me laugh! Science backs up my experience. NBC’s Christina Heiser reports that cats boost our emotional and physical health, alleviate stress, and decrease the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. Just the sound of your cat purring can calm your nerves and lower your blood pressure.
I think our family is complete, at least for now, so we’ll celebrate Adopt-a-Cat Month by giving “the girls” a few extra chin scratches and thanking them for adopting us. Your next family member may be sitting in a shelter right now, wondering when you’ll find them. Saying “yes” may be one of the best choices you ever make.
Cheryl Burns is a Legal Editor. Smoky Tiggs and Sweet Potato Bailey Burns kindly allow Cheryl and her husband to live with them.
ASPCA, “Pet Statistics” (last visited April 17, 2021).
King Street Cats, “Who We Are” (last visited April 17, 2021).
Christina Heiser, “Forget What You’ve Heard. Being a Cat Lady Is Healthy,” NBC Universal (Aug. 18, 2017).