She was an older cat, a tortie-and-white with a dramatic flame down her nose and goofy eyes. And she really wanted our attention, reaching through the bars of her cage to grab at our arms. While Steve was busily getting to know Fergus, I scratched Missy through those bars for a while before deciding to open the cage door to enhance my scratching ability. Through all of it, she looked at me with soulful, yet slightly dopey eyes. I caught myself gazing back into those eyes and assuring her that I loved her.
She didn’t seem to be doing that well in the shelter. While we were completing the paperwork to adopt Fergus, I asked the staff what was her tale of woe. I was told that her owner had surrendered her due to a change in housing circumstances. While I think they were right in their assessment, they may have also seen the word “SUCKER” branded on my forehead when they shared that they didn’t have much hope of her ever being adopted.
Having made our arrangements to pick up Fergus the following weekend, Steve and I drove away. Amazingly, we got about 30 minutes down the highway before I said the words. “I already know the answer to this, but it would be a really bad idea to adopt Missy, too, wouldn’t it?” To which Steve replied, “I was wondering the same thing.” After a lot of discussion and tears, Steve and I agreed that it wasn’t the best idea, but it was what we were going to do.
I quickly called the shelter before they decided Missy’s number was up, and we drove back the following Saturday with two carriers in the car. When we got there, the shelter staff took Missy from her cage and brought her into a larger cat colony room so we could see if she got along okay with other cats. What we saw was that she had gotten even more disheveled over the course of the week, and that she had obvious neurologic issues – and she was not aggressive with other cats. Upon watching Missy stumble around the room a bit, the staff worker had a pretty crest-fallen look on her face that made it clear she didn’t think we were going to go for it, but we brought her home with us, and ended up with a geriatric cat with goofy eyes, a wobbly back-end that made her walk like Captain Jack Sparrow, and a fatty tumor in her abdomen that our vet found at her first visit.Missy was very fragile the first week she was in our house, and she was prone to bald patches anywhere I would brush her. She was incredibly affectionate, and would sleep on or next to me anytime I went in her introduction room to spend time with her. Over the first few weeks, she settled in, started eating good food, and gained back her fur and her strength.
And she could be surprisingly strong when it suited her. We were taking our time with introducing her to H.B., our resident cat, but one day about two weeks in, Missy decided it was time to see where I was going when I left her room, and she leapt almost gracefully over the 3-foot-high gate we had set up to keep her in. She was so wobbly on her feet that we had never imagined she could make it over. But up and over she did. Every time we put her back, she came over again, never once even bumping the gate as she cleared it. She liked what she saw on the other side and said “I’m ready, why aren’t you?”She had amazing paw strength for a cat that could otherwise seem rather frail. When she wanted you to pet her, she would grab hold of your hand, often hugging it close with both paws, in a remarkably forceful manner that said, “You shall pet me now”, then proceeded to rub her slobbery mouth all over you.
Missy also liked to hold hands, often happy to just sit with her paw in our hands after assertively pawing at us to get our attention. As time passed and she grew sleeker, I also noticed how the awesome flame down her nose was actually a taper candle, with the flame itself flickering on her forehead.
Although we couldn’t officially diagnose her due to the lack of medical history, it was likely she had cerebellar hypoplasia. If so, her unsteadiness was all she ever knew and, as far as she was concerned, she was a normal cat. Introducing her to more conventionally normal cats, like H.B. and Fergus, presented a challenge since her Jack Sparrow-esque movements were not part of the normal cat body language and could be a bit off-putting at a first encounter. But H.B. slowly began accepting her presence, and Fergus would even snuggle with her. Unfortunately, the white splotch on the tip of her long tail was prone to drawing a kitten’s attention like a fishing lure, but she never seemed to hold a grudge.
Missy also loved to play with Da Bird, getting quite riled up at playtime, and she was surprisingly quick to grab the feathers. As crazy as Jonas and Fergus could get with their own chasing, I was always amazed to watch them come to a screeching halt and wait relatively patiently when they saw that it was Missy’s turn. We had to be careful that she didn’t roll off the bed with her uncoordinated flailing about, but I’m sure she thought she had mad ninja skills, and we would never have dreamed of telling her otherwise.From the beginning, Steve and I had two major goals with Missy: that she would be warm, well-fed, happy, and loved the rest of her days, and that she would not die in a shelter. We have spent the last year and a half fulfilling the promise we made to her when we brought her home with us, and I am confident that, in the end, we achieved our goals and then some.
Along the way, Missy also taught me that I could do something that I didn’t think I had the strength to do. Bringing Missy home was a leap for me, brought on in part because she reminded me of my Elsa. I never thought I could adopt an old cat because I knew I wouldn’t have much time with her. Although there have been some challenges over the last year, and the last week leading up to today has been undeniably hard, I know adopting old cats will be a part of my journey from now on. Young cats will still make their way in, too, but there will be a steady stream of seniors who need love and a warm fleecy to snooze on.
As the memory of Elsa inspired us to adopt Missy, so will Missy’s memory inspire us to save other senior cats in the years ahead. That’s a pretty special legacy left by a couple of pretty special girls.