If At First You Don’t Succeed …

This is about cats. But really, it’s about one of those “life lessons”: If you make the wrong choice, just cut your losses and move forward. Don’t lose sight of your goal.

Anyone who’s talked to me for more than five minutes knows that I adopted a cat last summer, my first in 15 years. My previous cat had been put to sleep at age 21; what with a new job, two moves and two kitchen renovations, and a long-distance relationship, it never seemed like the right time to get another. I had gone through putting four cats to sleep within nine years (since I’d had three at one point) and didn’t think I could face that again—plus, after catering to and cleaning up after an elderly kitty for years, I seriously needed a break.

But last year I began to feel the pull of furry, whiskered little faces. I told myself that cat-sitting for neighbors was enough to get my “fix”—but late at night, I found myself browsing Petfinders and the ASPCA’s website (which felt like an online dating service, with its perky, first-person descriptions and little videos of prospective matches playing, being petted, or shyly blinking at the camera, all seeming to beg “pick me, pick me!”). It was just too overwhelming.

When the New York Cat Coalition held an adoption event in front of a local pet supply store, I told myself I’d wander by “just to look” and was taken with a youngish male brown-striped tabby, though I was hesitant. I’ve always adopted cats directly from previous owners who can tell me quite a bit about them, so I know I’m getting an “apartment cat.” Rescued felines are a bit like a “mystery gift”—you never know what you’ve got until you open the box at home.

Fostering for a rescue group is a good option: you can see if you’re really up for this, and can “test-drive” the kitty in question to make sure you’re both happy. (Some folks believe you get what you get, like having kids; I think of a cat more like a partner you wouldn’t marry without dating first.) So I took the plunge.

The tabby, whom I too-presciently named Nudnik when I thought I might keep him, turned out to be like that cartoon version of the Tasmanian Devil, tearing insanely around my apartment, biting my ankles, leaping up from behind when I least expected it to sink his claws into me and then run away. He’d go from purring on my chest to gashing my arm within seconds. After a month, I’d had it. I felt terrible—like somehow I’d failed—but my friend Carole reassured me that I was making the right choice. “You’re genetically programmed to love cats,” she said, “and there’s some deserving kitty out there who really needs you and will appreciate you.”

To my relief, the woman from the rescue organization understood completely … but the night before Nudnik was retrieved, she begged me to try another brown tabby, same age, who’d been found on Fordham Road in the Bronx and just neutered about two weeks ago. “He’s a love!” she assured me. Poor Billy was skinny as a rail, and they had no room for him; he was sharing a cage with two kittens. So call me a sucker.

Long story short, as they say: Billy is my constant companion, often stretching out beside the computer with his paw on my arm as I type; he waits until my feet hit the floor in the morning to yowl for food. He charms visitors, shaking hands for a treat, and sleeps curled up against whatever body part of mine he can rest his chin on. My friend Liz’s reminder echoes in my head: “Don’t give up just before the miracle occurs.”

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10 Comments on “If At First You Don’t Succeed …”

  1. Helene Says:

    jane – i love that posting, both from the perspective of the importance of rescuing animals and also your message of “try, try again”

  2. Liz Says:

    A great post! It’s true–it takes time to find a match, and as a result of the last time I adopted cats, I learned to ask what will happen if things don’t “work out” in a few weeks. I must be assured that I won’t be saddled with a cat with which I don’t get along. But when we do get along, it’s nothing short of magical, as you said. I’m so grateful to have been blessed and graced with the presence of Eli, my gorgeous cat–inside and out–for 15 years. Both Kasha and I are recovering from the recent loss of Eli, and Kasha and I are forming a new relationship as she is coming into her own, making her presence felt in new ways, and I’m adjusting to being a one-cat mamma. I find cats an endless source of fun, amusement, intelligence, delicious tactile sensation, and love.

    Thanks for the post.

    • And thank YOU for sharing your own experience! I know people who put up with some of the most bad-ass cats … but then, I guess somebody has to do it! 😉

      And I’ve also heard a number of stories about one cat’s personality blossoming after the more dominant or outgoing cat in the household is gone. Kasha may even feel a renewed motivation to take care of YOU!

  3. Terry Says:


  4. billee Says:

    hey Jane, what a great story, so glad it worked out with Billy- we have a lovely dog that was found on the street, it seems like he never stopped being grateful!
    And yes I am Billee- the Felicia moniker is an aka I use for another blog,
    Have a great writing week!
    best, Billee

  5. Katie Gates Says:

    Oh Jane, you are a blogger after my own heart! But I can’t believe you went so many years without a feline roommate (despite dealing with the elderlies!). I raised my first two cats in NYC. One, who I adopted from the upper east side ASPCA and who was “contraband” in my senior room in a Barnard housing suite, was extremely sick when I brought her “home.” The vet I took her to a few days later (when I realized how sick she was) said she probably would die. She did… 18 years later. I met my other NYC cat at the intersection of B’way and 113th Street. At about one in the morning. Thought it would be a one-night stand, but again… an 18 year relationship!

    My latest adoption is described in an essay I posted on my blog last October. Title is “The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk.”

    Love your writing!

    • I know that ASPCA; it’s where I had my 21-year-old cat put to sleep 15 years ago. They were very kind. Now that I have Billy, I can’t believe that I went so long without a cat, either!

      My friend in the building met her most recent cat a few years ago while riding in the car with her fiance on the exit ramp from the George Washington Bridge. She already had two when they moved in together, and he had two … so when Peep came along and was taken home, that made five! (They’re now down to three, since one of her cats and one of his had gotten pretty elderly.)

      I’m heading off across the Web now to read your story. Thanks for the compliments!

      • Katie Gates Says:

        Hi Jane,

        Just saw your comment on my October ’09 post re Lotto. Thank you!

        Reading your reply above and remembering the upper east side ASPCA made me think of something else: When my NYC cat, Mort, fell out of my 110th Street window and I took him to the Animal Hospital over on the east side, the admissions person asked me a few questions. Among them: “So, how did you know that your cat had fallen out the window? Did you wake up and hear a scream?”

        It was probably about five months later that I remembered that question and laughed at its absurdity!

  6. Oh I love the “squeezey” eyed expression!

    • Me, too! And I have pictures of Billy reclining, “squeezey-eyed,” all over my apartment from those first few months — he was just so grateful and relieved to be home and off the streets!

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