Cats, Church Life, Orientation, The Inner Landscape

The Rescue Cat

At our house, the cat population recently went from 2 to 3. A friend in Harrisburg posted a picture on Facebook of an orange boy kitty, age 2, whose owner could not keep him. A response from my spouse caught my attention, and I thought, “Hmm. This might be the one.” Our little guy still grieves for the big orange cat he knew his whole life long until last year, and we had tentatively discussed adding another cat or a kitten to the family. This seemed like it might be the right one. Besides, he needed a home quickly, or he was going to the Humane Society, and no matter how much they may care about surrendered animals, there are 400 cats there. The odds are not great for any of them to find the right loving home.

The next day, we went to get him, and since then, we’ve been going through that process you do when you take in an animal whose habits are already formed and try to integrate him with other pets who think they are the boss of the territory. In our case that means my Old Lady Cat, who is 17+ and goes by the nickname “Six Pounds of Fury.” It hasn’t been long since she went through her own resettlement program, moving to Mechanicsburg from the only home I had with her in Maine. She came to me as a 2-year-old rescue herself, long ago in 1998.

The trouble with a rescue cat is you can’t know what really happened to them before they came into your home. They can’t tell you. You can only try to read their actions and their moods and hope they will settle down eventually.

The 5 Tool Cat
The 5 Tool Cat

Bryce Harper, as our little guy named the new orange cat (and be assured I, at least, call him by both names), arrived and hid for a few days after the Old Lady Cat gave him a piece of her mind and possibly her claws. When he surfaced again, he only came out at night. Even then, we could see he had pulled the ceiling insulation down in the cellar, looking for either escape or safety. We’re not sure if he got upside down because he stayed awake for a long time out of fear, or if his nocturnal habits are the reason he ended up in rescue in the first place. We will never know, but just like his elderly cat housemate, he brings with him the experiences and the traumas (if any) he suffered in his past life. We are committed to live with him and with those behaviors even when they are not convenient for us. So in those first weeks, we sat on the floor and scratched on the cushion he seemed to like, reassuring him it was safe to approach us. We closed the door to the room where the Old Lady Cat sleeps so he could roam free in the night. We waited patiently for him to feel at home.

People can be like rescue cats, too. When we have suffered, we may respond out of that pain and trauma, even to people who aren’t really hurting us. When people come to a new church after a bad experience elsewhere, they may carry the wounds and scars with them. When we hear a story of hurt or rejection, we need to be ready to be more than nice to that person, more than the usual amount of hospitable. We need to stretch ourselves farther and show by our actions that we are committed to being the people of God and showing welcome to all who seek a safe and welcoming community of faith.

kzj and I often say we want to be treated as ordinary, in church and in the world, but that may be the privileged thinking of two people who came out later in life. We haven’t lived with the external prejudices our LGBT sisters and brothers knew if they came out younger and longer ago. A lay leader said to me recently that churches need to do more than treat LGBT people like the rest of the congregation; churches need to be ready to listen compassionately to stories of harm done.

I’ve known my own hurts; I’m a little like a rescue cat myself, constantly calculating the margin between danger and sanctuary, even though the truth is now I’m loved and safe.

God, of course, already knows what the troubles are, where the injuries have occurred and what might help remedy the situation. God knows that people need time to heal and safe places to recuperate. Whether we’re licking our wounds in the rafters or trying to figure out how someone else got hurt, that is good news for all of us. However we may have been harmed, and no matter how inclined we are to hide from the world, God is with us.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)

Our patience here is paying off. Last night I woke to find the Old Lady Cat on one side of my feet and Bryce Harper on the other. May God show us all how to be present to one another, whatever the hurt may be, whatever the rescue required.

Cats, Grief


Our Puss Puss In a stack of cages at the Animal Refuge League, on the second row from the bottom, which was just about eye level for a five-and-a-half-year-old boy, there was a little cat. She had white legs and a white face and undercarriage, but the top of her head and her back and her tail were brown tiger-colored. Little Snowman, on a hunt for the right cat, picked her out after serious deliberations. We brought her home the next day, along with an older grey cat chosen by Young #1 Son. 

And so we began our lives at the beginning of my single motherhood, a young mom, with three kids and two cats, the grey man cat Nicky and frail little PussPuss, who required several weeks of antibiotics and hand-feeding, deep care from Snowman and his mama. Very Little Light Princess, the same age as the little kitty, somehow got the idea that you made a cat meow by pulling on her tail. As soon as Puss felt better, VLLP learned otherwise.

We've been together for a long time. PussPuss was the pilot cat, the one following us up and down the block when we went for a walk, waiting for us at the corner if we went to the 7-11 or walked the children to elementary school, willing to sit on a neighbor's front steps while we sold Girl Scout cookies or wrapping paper or stopped in for a short visit. 

She loved to be outside, and for many years had a regular route around the neighborhood, one that made her well-known. She left enough collars under neighbors' shrubs that we gave up trying to make her wear one. It was only in the past few winters that she decided snow was too much for her and spent the winter almost entirely inside.

She found the dogs worrisome as a duo, but came to love Sam after Molly's death. 

Puss dirt bath She maintained a meticulous appearance, all that white fur shining, and a big part of that was rolling in the dirt, something we could never understand.

After we got her strong and healthy back in 1996, she was never sick a day in her life, though she clearly grieved for other animals who passed through our household. When she seemed low after Sam's death, I did not immediately suspect physical illness, but a couple of weeks ago at her check-up, the vet found a mass. A couple of days ago, she really sank, and yesterday we had to bid her farewell. 

15-and-a-half is young for a person and oldish for a cat, especially a cat who started life as a sickly stray. It's a hard loss for us because it's one more on top of others, and because Puss had a sort of independent character that gave way to being more affectionate in the last couple of years. She sat in laps and slept with LP. And on her last visit to the vet, even though we didn't realize it would be the last, she came out of the carrier and nuzzled me lovingly. 

My only consolation, after having our last old cat wander off never to be found, is in knowing we gave her a quiet end.

Farewell, PussPuss, faithful pilot cat. We love you.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Grief

Time to Grieve

Cats 001 A friend shared this quote from Alban's magazine, Congregations:

"We must support those who are grieving and give them sufficient time to grieve. To shortchange grief is to rush people to a false sense of acceptance which diminishes their ability to accept the reality and finality of the loss and blocks their capacity to attach anew."

We have two cats, Puss Puss and Baby, both 15 years old, just like LP. (Yes, I am living with three 15-year-old girls now.)
Baby, once a mighty mouse huntress, is The Cat Who Lives Upstairs, and who resents anyone else's demands on my time and space. She had a lot to put up with when Sam started sleeping with us, even though I have a ridiculously large bed for one person. Sam took up as much space as he could, and I did not mind a bit. Every night I would lie there with my hand placed gently on the closest part of him, aware of his breathing and his restlessness and for some time each night, his peaceful rest. Baby would circle my head, warily, eventually finding a place to land, away from Sam. But on the last few nights of his life, she got as close to him as she could. Now she is downstairs far more than she has been in years, and I'm not sure she's pleased about it.

Cats 003 Puss Puss is our Cat Who Patrols the Neighborhood. She also has exhibited grief for other pets in our family who died. I remember after Pepper, the best big kitten ever, was hit by a car in 1998, Puss Puss went into a decline. When Molly left us, Puss Puss seemed to be physically sick, but the vet could find nothing wrong. And this week she is grieving again, seems depressed, and shows little interest in going outside. She's spending the day curled up in a corner of the couch, though this evening she's made a move to use my Kindle as a pillow.

We're all like this: unsettled, unhappy, uncertain. I turn down the street and sigh for Sam. At 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. I want to fix his dinner. Even in my office, new though it is, I'm wistful thinking of the days he was lying on the floor next to me. 

I'm taking my time with it.