Wild Cat

On summer Sundays near my apartment in Manhattan, volunteers from Kitten Little Rescue bring cages full of captured feral cats and set up camp. When I walked by one afternoon in 2010, I spotted a white kitten doing its winsome best to attract attention by sticking a paw through the bars and letting out plaintive meows that seemed to say, “Pick me! Take me home with you!”

I did not need another cat. Five years earlier, I had adopted Louie and Willy because my apartment seemed empty after the cats that had been my kids’ pets had died. Louie, a black and white “tuxedo,” took to sleeping between my feet when I was at my desk. Willy, big and black and scary-looking but as sweet as they come, became the official lap sitter. They got along well in a guy feline kind of way, engaging in mock battles and working as a team to torture toy mice. My bookcases became their jungle gym and they were well mannered about using the scratching post rather than my couch.

Thinking about all that, I knew I should leave well enough alone. The trouble was that back when I went to the shelter where I found Louie and Willy, I was looking for a white kitten. In my 20s, during the years I was a writer and choreographer in Beirut, a white cat gave birth to a litter behind the ballet studio. All of her kittens were white and she looked like a statue of an Egyptian Bast Goddess so we suspected she was a purebred. I took one of the females home. I had been a dog person while I was growing up, but White Kitty stole my heart and made me a convert.

When the time came to leave Lebanon, the pet quarantine rules seemed daunting. Also, I was headed for campus housing at the University of Wisconsin where no pets were allowed. A dancer who had adopted one of the littermates offered to take White Kitty so I knew she was going to a good home but my heart broke the day I said good-bye to her. I never forgot her. Over the years I collected white cat tchotchkes – a tissue holder, a soap dish, a spoon rest, a set of figurines. Then on that summer afternoon, I saw a real white cat that needed a home. How could I resist?

And thus it was that Corey – aka Terpsichore, the Greek goddess of dance — became one of the family. Because she had foraged for food, she had diarrhea and roundworms so I took her to the vet right away. She also had a piece bitten out of her right ear. No wonder she was wary of Louie and Willy! What really concerned me, though, was that she flinched at my touch and scurried away. I researched ways to get her to trust all of us.

Yet it was Willy, my gentle giant, who won her over. At mealtime, Louie would start chowing down right away, but Willy would wait until he was satisfied that Corey had eaten her fill before he allowed himself to tuck into the food. When he was finished, he would tempt her to use his tail as a swatting toy. She couldn’t resist. Then he would groom her while she purred mightily. Eventually, he invented a game of hide and seek with Corey and he got Louie to join the fun. After a while, the three of them would collapse in a tangled heap for a nap. Through all of this, though, I had still not been able to stroke Corey for more than a few seconds before she would dart away. No amount of crooning and coaxing did any good. I resigned myself to the fact that she was never going to warm up to me.

I shouldn’t have had so little faith in Willy’s powers. One December morning, I woke up to loud purring in my ear. There was Corey, snuggled right up against me. Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Willy hunkered down beside the bed watching us intently. Slowly, I reached over and began to scratch Corey behind the ears. She tensed up a little but she didn’t move. Next I petted her back. She relaxed and kept purring. I glanced over at Willy. He has a very expressive face. Call me a crazy cat lady if you will, but I swear he “smiled.” Then he got up and ambled away, leaving the two of us alone together. Mission accomplished.

Thank you, Willy, for teaching your little cat sister how to love. Now, for the second time in my life, a white cat has stolen my heart. I won’t ever let this one go.

Sondra Forsyth, Co-Editor-in-Chief of ThirdAge, is a National Magazine Award winner. She writes for major magazines and is the author or co-author of eleven books. She was Executive Editor at “Ladies’ Home Journal,” Features Editor at “Cosmopolitan,” and Articles Editor at “Bride’s.” A former ballerina, she is the Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City.  


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