How a dog lover came to adopt 2 cats and the life lesson learned from it.
I’ve had dogs my whole life. I’ve also had an array of smaller pets from childhood – an aquarium full of fish, hamsters, hermit crabs, a bird; but never a cat. In fact I’ve had very few experiences with cats. At 6 years old a friend’s cat bit my earlobe during a slumber party when I was asleep. I cried profusely and went home. I met Cinnamon when I was 16 and on vacation in Nova Scotia with my Mom. Cinnamon was an old cat that was used to tourists and loved to be pet like a dog. I met a cat whose name I can’t remember when I was 21 who did nothing put hiss and swipe his paw at me when I tried to pet it. And Milo was a cat I watched for my friend when she was on her honeymoon. He never took to me and bit me when I got too friendly on our last day together.
Having a cat was never something that appealed to me.
For 14 years I was the proud dog Mom of Gracie. A black 63-lb mutt with brindled paws and a zest for life. She was always in a good mood, always wanted to be included in whatever was going on, and never met anyone she didn’t like. She was patient with kids, nice to people at the front door – I could go on and on about Gracie. Because of Gracie’s friendly disposition, it made having a cat as a pet even more bewildering to me. They seemed like odd little creatures that weren’t always happy to see you, and you couldn’t take them for a walk. Plus I’ve met a few cat lovers over the years that were definite oddballs.
My sweet Gracie passed away in December, and I was devastated. Like all pet parents, I knew the day would come when Gracie wouldn’t be around all the time, and it was bone cancer metastasizing that made that a reality for me.
Less than a month after Gracie’s passing I headed south from New York City to spend a few months in Columbia, South Carolina…where I had lived for a number of years, and where I found Gracie at the local animal shelter. I was renovating my New York apartment and had to move out for 3 months during the renovation. I chose to spend those months in South Carolina. Columbia would be a nice change. A return to a life I previously had. A slower pace, people I knew, and a chance to establish professional and personal initiatives that I would then focus on when I returned to New York.
I have had my own business for 5 years, and I had lived in New York for 3 of those years. In that time I’ve had several versions of priorities, business plans, personal goals, and hobbies. This time though the stakes seemed higher. I had figured out what mattered to me. I knew what I wanted to spend my days doing, what I wanted my business to look like, and my life. I had planned for these 3 months in South Carolina, to help me determine HOW that was to happen.
There was a rebrand I was in the midst of, new team members, a revamped business plan, etc… I had every detail week-by-week figured out, and I knew the results I wanted to achieve. I had been working with a business counselor for over a year and together we established next steps and goals.
Yet somehow with all these big decisions and significant life changes, it was a whimsical thought I had one Sunday morning that opened my eyes to how life can guide you.
It was January and one of those incredibly warm and sunny winter days in the South. I had been in Columbia for about 3 weeks when I was admiring my temporary backyard. A thought popped into my head, “I would love to have another dog.” This surprised me because I was still grieving my Gracie, and I also wanted to experience adult life for the first time without having the responsibility that comes with caring for a dog. Instead of overthinking this, I just let the image of a dog running happily in the backyard take over my mind, and I said when it’s the right time, I’ll know, and left it at that.
My family has a history of rescuing dogs. Sometimes through a shelter, sometimes hearing about an animal in need, sometimes finding an animal abandoned. I knew that my next animal would just “show up” as they always had before, with little effort required from me.
A few hours later I was sitting in my living room and I saw something move outside my window. My eyes immediately landed on a black cat sitting comfortably on my stone porch wall. I stared at it for a minute, grabbed my cell phone camera (as one does nowadays), and headed over to the loveseat right in front of the window. To my surprise it saw me, jumped off the ledge and walked over to me. It made deep eye contact and meowed. I didn’t know what to do. Is it okay to pet a cat you come across outside? Invite it in? And who should walk away first, the cat or me? After an awkward few minutes I decided to get it water. Cats drink water, right? “Yes Nicki, everyone drinks water,” I said to myself. I grabbed a bowl, put water in it, opened the front door, said here kitty kitty, put the bowl of water down, and the black cat looked at me completely freaked out and ran away.
But although that interaction was brief and unremarkable, for the rest of the day I wondered, “was that a sign?” Only earlier that day I thought about having another pet and then a cat appeared! Just to be sure I wasn’t ignoring communication from the universe, I drove to PetSmart the next day and bought some bowls and cat food. That afternoon I set them outside in my backyard.
I placed the food down, called for the cat – “come here black cat,” waited a few minutes, but there was no sign of it. So I left the food out and went inside. I kept a lookout to see if the cat would come, but after another 5 minutes and no sign of the cat, I walked away, leaving the food there. Less than 10 minutes later I came back and saw the food bowl was empty! Something ate it – was it the black cat? I couldn’t be sure.
The next day at the same time of day I put the food and water bowls down, looked around for a few minutes – no cat – and then again left the food out and walked away. Less than 5 minutes later the food was gone again with no signs of who was eating it. The following day I repeated, but this time I waited inside at the door instead of outside, and a small gray cat appeared, saw me and quickly ran away. I went outside and tried to reassure it that all was okay, but the closer I got, the more it backed away from me. I finally went inside and the gray cat returned shortly to eat the food.
This was obviously not the cat I was expecting, but still I thought…if there’s a hungry animal, I will feed it. This went on for a couple of weeks.
Throughout those weeks that gray cat would notice me watching it, and grow more comfortable with me. I would go outside in the backyard, and it would now appear on my fence to watch me read, sweep the leaves, or talk on the phone. I grew accustomed to its daily visit. But if I tried to approach it, the cat would still run away. But I couldn’t shake the thought that maybe this wasn’t a coincidence. This cat seemed to be warming up and have an interest in me. You see my Columbia neighborhood has a lot of community cats, and I’ve since learned many of my neighbors leave food out for them. And while I was happy to feed whichever cats now came across my yard, it was this one gray cat I felt a connection to, and I started to wonder if this outdoor cat would want to come inside and live with me?
By now this cat had a name. A friend suggested I name it to help establish a bond. If indeed this cat wanted to live with me, it would have to feel part of the family and have a name. The little gray cat became Shandon, after the neighborhood I was living in. I had guessed it was a girl, but wasn’t certain, so the name Shandon seemed perfect – meaningful and gender neutral.
After I accidentally left Shandon’s food out and attracted some raccoons, I knew I had to move the food to higher ground – my front porch. To my surprise, Shandon easily followed and she was now coming around twice a day. She was more comfortable in my presence. I bought her an outdoor cat house, some toys, and I put a fleece blanket on a chair so she could snuggle up and not be cold at night. She would still not let me get too close, but she seemed to respond to her name. Because Shandon was now a part of my life, I started reading a lot about outdoor cats and cats in general. I learned how you pick cats up, how they like to play, their sounds, body language, etc… I wanted to be prepared if Shandon decided to live with me.
To continue moving our cat/human relationship forward, I slowly started to move the food inside. Shandon followed the food and eventually became comfortable eating inside (with the door open). She would even (on occasion) explore the house and stay a while to play with her toys and new cat hut. I had fallen in love with her! She was so cute, so smart, so seemingly mine. It seemed like this was a universal set-up! An outdoor cat who could live a better life with me, and a new pet for me to love and care for.
One evening about 10:00pm I was just getting home and she appeared behind me, almost looking to come in. It was a really cold evening and she had never done anything like that before. I kept the door open so she could follow me, and she came inside. However this time I shut the door behind me. I made the executive decision that this was the moment she became an indoor cat. For the first hour she was fine. She ate, played and walked around. Then I had to go to bed and she hid under the couch. I tried to make things as comfortable as possible for her, but the next day, she was in the same spot. I put her food out and she didn’t come. I called her name and she didn’t move. I thought, “shit…I’ve killed the cat.” Thankfully she was not dead, but more likely in shock. When I moved the couch so she was forced to move, she ran to the other end of the house and hid behind the washing machine. Hours later she was still there. Another failed attempt was made to get her out, and she ran back under another couch. About 14 hours had passed since she came inside and she was not thriving. My friend came over and helped me to lift the couch so it didn’t make a loud sound and scare her, and this time Shandon finally ran outside.
For a few days, she didn’t return. Eventually she did, and things went somewhat back to normal. However it was clear she wanted me to put distance between us. She no longer stayed to play or walk around the house. At this point it seemed unlikely she would choose to be an indoor cat, so I contacted the Humane Society about the Trap, Neuter, Release program. I decided that I would set her up as best I could for success in life as an outdoor cat.
I also felt sad when I realized Shandon would not be my new pet. She was an amazing distraction after losing Gracie and I loved caring for an animal again. It felt like Shandon entering my life had a purpose, and when I realized her role in my life was actually temporary – it hurt, because I felt a loss all over again.
There’s a question people ask. Is it better to love or to be loved? And I think this is an easy answer – loving someone or something is so much more rewarding – it’s better to love. Shandon didn’t need to return my sentiment; I still loved and benefitted from having her around.
The days started to get warmer in South Carolina and Shandon came around less and less. With the sunshine and comfortable temperatures, Shandon could roam more and didn’t need the fleece blanket to keep her warm at night. I started to think I would like to foster an animal when I got back to New York. I told myself I could feel that Shandon feeling again whenever I wanted as a pet foster parent.
But my return to New York was delayed. Covid-19 sprung up, the city went on “pause” and I made the decision to stay in South Carolina longer. But isolation in the beginning was hard. I think for the majority of us, we went through our own grieving and acceptance period, and we felt every emotion imaginable during the first few weeks of social distancing.
I now had a lot of time to measure the progress I made while in Columbia and I felt the burden of not accomplishing everything I wanted to do. Life also somewhat felt like a dead end. How on earth am I supposed to stick to my business plan when New York is shut down? When stores are closed? When sales are down? It seemed like there wasn’t any right direction to turn.
After a couple weeks of self-pity and worry, I knew I needed to make a change. My daily 3-mile walks were no longer enough of a distraction, so I decided to look into fostering an animal while in Columbia. I sent an application to the City of Columbia Animal Shelter (where I got Gracie) and they accepted me into the foster program.
While looking through the Shelter’s past fosters, I noticed a lot of difficult cases. Abandoned animals, hurt animals, cruelty cases, sick puppies, and I questioned whether I had it in me to take care of a sick animal so soon after dealing with Gracie’s cancer. After a day of overthinking, I decided that since fostering was temporary, I would volunteer for whichever animals came available and needed help. That I would raise my hand for all new foster animals and whatever was supposed to happen, would happen.
The next day at 11:00am, a message was posted. 5 abandoned kittens found on a construction site, 3 weeks old, no teeth, need to be bottle fed – experienced fosters with kitten bottle-feeding experience preferred. Honoring the deal I had made with myself only the day before, I spoke up and informed the foster coordinator that although I did not have experience, I was available if need be. For some reason she said okay and asked me to arrive at the shelter at 3:00pm to take home 2 of those kittens.
I was nervous and excited, but when I got to the shelter I had no idea what I was in for. I was shocked by the size of the kittens they were giving me, approximately the size of hamsters. They looked weird, were practically blind and couldn’t walk very well. I envisioned snuggling with my fosters, but instead I had to feed them every 4 hours, keep a constant source of heat in their carrier, and help stimulate them to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but they were my responsibility and I did what I committed to.
Over the next 2 weeks I watched them physically grow, learn to walk, gain depth perception, and develop into baby cats. At their 2-week check-up we agreed I would keep them longer. They needed to be older and 3lbs before they could be spayed and put up for adoption. They currently were only 1 pound.
Now named Remi and Olivia, I weaned them off of a bottle and watched as their personalities developed. They were sweet, happy, playful cats that liked to snuggle. Thanks to Shandon I had a plethora of supplies (now much harder to get because of Covid-19). Toys, a bed, a hut, bowls, and of course my knowledge of cats was fresh thanks to all of my recent reading.
For someone who never had a cat, the kittens and I became a fast foster family. I loved having them around, and I could tell they felt attached to me. Although they blended into my life perfectly, I had no plan for adopting cats this year – maybe ever.
My plan was business growth, expansion, and a martini at Gramercy Tavern after working from The Wing when I wasn’t at Pilates. I had a modern, newly renovated NY apartment waiting for me to move in, and becoming a cat lady was not on the agenda.
But I couldn’t deny what had happened over the last 7 weeks. Remi and Olivia brought the perfect mix of fun, a caring concern for their wellbeing, and love. They took my mind off of anxious thoughts and put a smile on my face.
But even more than that, they showed me what life could bring to us if we stopped trying to control all the outcomes. Somehow each step along the way brought me closer to these kittens entering my life. 3 months earlier I never would have anticipated becoming a cat Mom, but I was now prepped, supplied, educated, and had time for kittens. If a path could unfold that brought me to this exact moment, couldn’t that happen with everything and not just with cats?
I decided to put my agenda to the side and truthfully ask myself if I could part with these foster kittens, and the answer was no. There was no logical reason, besides that I didn’t plan on adopting cats, to not keep them. When I let my overactive brain rest, my heart answered honestly. I could clearly see how each step along the way prepared me to get to this point.
Although some could say nothing profound has come from these cats, that simply isn’t true. No I didn’t win the lottery, I haven’t met the love of my life since having them, and I’m not featured in a magazine editorial about Founders changing the world yet – but what I have experienced is a natural progression that developed without me planning for it.
As a type A personality, I have a tendency to construct and organize every part of my day and to map out a meticulous plan for how I think things should work. But without me doing anything, the groundwork was laid and natural steps developed. Movement occurred without me taking any special action. I was simply responding to what was happening around me.
I was able to experience first-hand that when things don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. And when things don’t progress in a way I want them to, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another way. And when things occur that I didn’t expect, that doesn’t mean those things are wrong.
Because somehow through all my strategies and objectives, it was a series of events that I had not planned, that helped me learn an invaluable lesson on a topic I’ve struggled with for years – trust. It taught me to trust that something bigger than my own plan is in control. And whatever it may be deserves to be trusted. That unwavering focus on only one end goal can cause us to miss out on other opportunities.
And now as I prepare to head back to New York, I do so with this new found trust that if my plan doesn’t work out perfectly, I know there are other paths that can unfold. I simply need to relax and focus on what is working out, rather than what isn’t. Every path we’re on can be made into the right path, if we remain open to revisions.
♦ End Note: I have adopted the cats and we are now back in the northeast. They have adjusted perfectly to urban life. Shandon stopped coming around my last few weeks in Columbia, and I never saw that black cat again.
Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection.
Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook
“Genuine Glow™ products and blog are not intended to cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any disease, and are not intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body. The Genuine Glow blog is based on anecdotal wisdom and the experiences and research reported by others. We are not medical professionals and we have not independently tested these claims. Always consult your physician or mental healthcare provider if you have questions about a medical or psychiatric condition or if you seek medical advice.”
♦ Note: Genuine Glow is a brand meant to complement your lifestyle. Our company and employees views do not necessarily reflect or agree with every article we publish. We do however believe that open communication and honest expression is a beneficial tool that can be used for healing, growth, and connection.