Twelve years ago, my husband decided that our youngest son was a little too interested in violence so he suggested we let him get a kitten, for his 10th birthday. The four cats my husband was left with from his first marriage became part of our blended family. Trudeau, a beautiful but snobbish grey Himalayan, very satisfying if you could get him to purr. KeeKat, a tough calico female who had one back leg amputated since she was a kitten and deprived of her reproductive rights, she made small soggy bundles of socks, or sponges, or washcloths, laying them in the center of the kitchen, imaginary kittens she never had. She ruled the street, taking on dogs three times her size, then peg-legging it home to eat. Columbus, a long-haired, shy and stupid as they come, orange male was my favorite, reminded me of a long ago cat I once had. Also long haired and not too smart, but all white and named Mechanic, because of his tendency to sleep under the oil leak in one of my cars. Both sons were old enough to remember only the last one, Electra, who lived for 23 years and was buried with great ceremony in a FedEx box on a rainy day. As my husband dug the hole and tried not to cry, I broke off a few forsythia branches that were scratching across his face. "Mom, do you really think it's appropriate to be pruning during a funeral?" Then they noticed the writing on the box that said overnight delivery guaranteed. Back then, they believed in some happy heaven for all and they found solace that she would get to heaven before morning.
So that's how we ended up, catless and at a shelter, where my son swore the kitten put her paw through the cage and picked him. First, I had to sign forms promising that I would spay or neuter any kitten or puppy we adopted. One form was for a veterinarian to verify the sterilization. Then we were put in a small room where staff observed two young boys make friends with the new kitten, somewhat like a police interrogation room, only with pet toys in it. My husband sat nervously, needing to smoke. I prayed.
Apparently we passed the test and I thought $75 dollars was a little steep for a strongly requested donation, as in you don't get the kitten unless you make the donation. But it was going to be a birthday cat. I wrote the check and was ready to leave with the chosen kitten. But no, there were more papers to fill out, approximately 12 of them in which I had to list references who would attest to my ability to provide for the kitten, as well as a form that would allow someone from the shelter to visit my home at any time to make sure all was well. I wrote my pastor's name, my mother and my daughter, who both had different last names from mine. I might have been getting a bit peckish.
The boys were definitely getting fussy; my husband wanted to smoke, and there were still 10 pages. I told him to take the kids out to the car for fruit snacks and juice packs. I sat down and filled out 10 pages listing every pet I had ever owned, what kind of animal they were, their names, and whether they died of natural causes. For real. I included every cat, every dog, the bunnies from the magic show, three sets of hermit crabs, a larvae named Harvey who never metamorphosed into the staghorn beetle he was meant to be, several parakeets, a few itinerant box turtles, an approximate number of tropical and gold fish (which I listed as un-named and not under my jurisdiction), mice from the magic show, three ant farms and one ant maze (also listed as un-named and not under my jurisdiction), ending with a California tree frog that came home with us from a beach vacation in New Jersey, hidden in a head of lettuce who lived quite happily in a huge glass habitat, fed by my husband who raised wingless fruit flies to sustain the frog. (I have his recipe somewhere.)
The woman behind the counter at the shelter read all of the pages of former pets while I stood there, absolutely drained. My husband and the boys had come back in, wanting to know what was taking so long. When she finished reading every detail, she looked up at me and asked, "Is this all true?" I had no witty comeback, no more words to give; the whole experience had been almost as harrowing as childbirth. Fortified by nicotine, my husband, answered for me, "My wife does not lie and if you have a problem, we will adopt a kitten elsewhere." My almost 10 year old sat down and wailed, "But the kitten picked me and I already know her real name." The woman looked back at the very first page where I had listed my husband's employer, The Somerset County Park Commission Environmental Education Center. She apologised profusely and that was the beginning of the more than nine lives of Kit, the tortoise shell tabby.