Izzy the rescue cat

This was originally six separate posts, which I've sewn together into one long entry. It's too many words, sorry, but I love my cat and couldn't shut up.
♦ December 18, 2020 ♦ My semi-feral cat

For fifteen years I had a great cat, the smartest and silliest and friendliest cat I've ever known. She died in my arms, in the spring of this year. Eternal catnip, Minky.

After a decent mourning period, I needed another cat in my life, but all the shelters were locked down because of the virus, so I looked on the internet. A local shelter's on-line description of one of their rescue cats caught my eye.

Isabelle, the website said, came from China, and she's a legal immigrant, with a cat passport (who knew there were cat passports?). Sadly, though, the couple that owned her had been a couple of bastards, and they'd mistreated her, and often left her outside, even in Wisconsin's harsh winters. When her owners returned to China, they gave the cat to the shelter, and on the shelter described Isabelle as "semi-feral."

They're a no-kill shelter, and they're adamant about that, so Isabelle had been under the shelter's care for years, with no interested adopters, before I made an all-masked appointment at her foster cat-home. Her foster cat-mom told me that, with great effort and patience, she had earned some minimal trust and affection from Isabelle — the cat would sometimes allow itself to be petted.

"Semi-feral," the shelter said, but I've never seen the "semi". Izzy was absolutely feral when I got her. I watched as the cat's foster-owner put on rubber gloves and a full face-mask and wrestled the cat into the carrying case I'd brought. The cat hissed at me all the way home, and as soon as I unlatched the carrying case's door, she darted out and hid under the bed. She never attacked when I brought food or water, but she always looked and sounded like she might. Whole lot of hissing going on.

Right from the start and to this day, I've admired that cat's reticence.

It might take months for the cat to accept me, the shelter warned. Well, it's been almost a year, and I haven't been accepted yet. We're making progress, but it's very, very slow progress.

Sometimes Isabelle forgets to hiss at me when I step into her room. She's become a little less threatening, so I no longer worry that she's going to attack me, but she's clearly unhappy whenever I'm near her food or water (though all I ever do is replenish her supply; I'm not sneaking a bite or a drink, honest).

Oddly, she's never objected when I clear out her litter box. She finds that fascinating. I think she actually enjoys watching me mess with her shit. Yeah, human, that's what you're good for.

Three times she's let me pet her — but only in my dreams. Yes, I dream that she'll allow me that close, but in real life she always stays hidden if I'm nearby. I have never yet touched this cat.

I'm quite fond of Izzy, though the feeling is not mutual. Minky was "my cat", but Isabelle isn't, and probably won't be, ever. She's absolutely her cat, and I respect that.

Izzy and I have quite a lot in common. We both don't like people. We've both been mistreated in the past. We both have trust issues, making friendships difficult. She's a four-legged fur-covered me, and our every interaction reminds me that maybe I should let down my defenses down once in a great while. I ought to stop hissing at strangers.

♦ February 4, 2021 ♦ Some slight progress

Me and my feral cat might be making some slight progress. She's always run and hid whenever I enter the room, but twice in the last week she's stood her ground and just stared at me from twenty feet away. Maybe she's noticed that I've never attacked, and that my presence coincides with the arrival of cat food? Or maybe she's just strategizing how to kill and eat me.

♦ April 17, 2021 ♦ Detente, or the brink of war?

It was an odd night for me and Izzy, my mostly feral cat. She approached me, twice, coming within a few feet, when a few yards has always been the closest she's come, or would allow me to come. She was within arm's reach, but I wouldn't dare. She looked at me, almost like a sane/tame housecat would do if she wanted to be picked up. Or, like a killer tiger might do, if she was stalking me, getting ready to kill me.

I didn't know which of those scenarios was happening, plus I'd woken up in the middle of the night and I thought I was dreaming. The only times I've ever had any normal interactions with Izzy is in my dreams. So I just watched, and said some soothing words, same as I would if she was further away. Then I guess I fell back to sleep.

A few hours later I got up to pee, and when I came back Izzy was watching me again, from across the room. I put my hand down toward the floor, like you'd do if you had a tame cat in the house, inviting her to approach for some petting or a treat or something. I've done this many many times, and she's never accepted the invitation or responded with anything but hissing, but this time she came closer. And I knew I was awake, not dreaming.

But I withdrew my hand. Sorry, but Izzy has hissed at me thousands of times and I honestly feared that she'd worked up her courage, and she was approaching just to rip the flesh off my hand.

So I went to the kitchen and got my mandoline glove, the knifeproof hand-protection I wear when slicing vegetables. If she attacks, I want her to attack the glove. Makes sense, right?

I came back to bed, now wearing the glove, and Izzy watched as I lowered my hand to the floor and called her name, but she didn't approach. Maybe I'd missed my moment.

This cat has been living with me for almost more than a year, and we've touched twice, both times very briefly, and both times she was trying to attack me, so I haven't been very optimistic. This morning, though, I think we're close to a breakthrough. Soon, I hope. Fingers crossed, but they're going to be crossed inside that protective glove.

♦ April 18, 2021 ♦ It's snowing in my bedroom.

I adopted my cat Izzy on March 11, of last year — a year and a month and a week ago. The agency warned me that she was "semi-feral," and I was told it might be a few months before she accepts me.

Well, it's been a year, and a month, and a week. I've fed her about 750 cans of cat food and scooped her litter box 400 times, and she's hissed at me infinite times — whenever I entered the room, at first, and then whenever I was in "her half" of the room, and then whenever I came within ten feet or so. She used to hiss whenever I spoke, and have a complete hissing fit when I sneezed. Until a few months ago, she hissed whenever I approached her feeding area, but that eventually tapered off as she figured out that I was leaving food, not taking it. In a year and a month and a week, though, I'd never petted her until last night.

I woke up to pee at around 2:00, and when I came back the cat started staring at me from across the room, as she's been doing for weeks now. I mumbled a few words of nonsense, hoping again to convey the notion that while I'm twenty times her size, I'm not dangerous. She stared and stared and stared, and then she approached, same as she'd done last night.

I slipped the protective glove onto my hand, and put my hand down toward the floor, beckoning. She came close but didn't touch; instead she nuzzled the legs of my nightstand until it was coated with cat hair. And then, she came closer, close enough I could touch her — but I didn't. Afraid it might scare her, I waited for her to get a little more comfortable, and maybe nuzzle me first.

She kept pushing her head into my chair and my nightstand, and then, and then, and then, into my gloved hand, so … I nuzzled back. She meowed, but she didn't run or hiss or attack, so I gently stroked her head.

If Izzy ever let me pet her at all, I always figured it would start slow, just a brief touch and then she'd retreat. Boy, was I mistaken. She wouldn't let me stop.

After a few minutes, I removed the glove, and made contact with my cat for, really, the first time. And then I petted that cat for an hour and a half, and she never retreated and there were no breaks and honestly, my arm is a little tired from all the petting. She loved it and so did I.

I petted her head, knuckled her ears, stroked her back and her sides, gently tugged at her tail, and even briefly rubbed her belly. Mostly, though, it was her head. Every cat has a favorite spot to be petted, and for Izzy it's her head. She absolutely loves it when I vigorously rub above her eyes and to the back of her head. She was loving all of it, but she loved that the best.

At one point, when I'd briefly stopped petting her to pick up something she'd knocked to the floor, she put her front paws up on the side of my bed-chair. It was just for a moment, and then I resumed petting her, and she went back to the floor, back to nuzzling up against me and the chair. But I'm taking that brief moment of paws-up as a hint that maybe one day she'll jump into my lap. Oh, man, that would be awesome.

Through it all, Izzy never stopped meowing, the whole time, but 'yowling' is a more accurate word. She goes YOOOOWWL, and she does it hoarsely. She always has. It's a frightening sound, to be honest, and she's always intended it to frighten me, and it always has. Until tonight it meant, Keep your distance, buster, but tonight it meant something nicer, and effective immediately I'm no longer scared. The yowl is growing on me. So's the cat.

Now there's white fluff in the air, and a light dusting of white fluff on my bed-chair and on the floor, because Izzy is mostly white, with some orange and black scrambled in. It looks like it's snowing in my bedroom — white fluff is blowing everywhere — and a couple of times I've inhaled the fluff and spit it out, but I don't mind. If this keeps up I'll have to sweep the room once in a while, but I won't mind that either.

And finally, when Izzy decided she'd had enough petting, she curled up at the side of my bed-chair, where I'd been petting her, and she went to sleep right there. Right beside me. Within arm's reach.

I never went back to sleep. And when I got up to type this, Izzy scampered back to her corner of the room, because she always (and still) freaks out when I'm standing up. But she didn't hiss, she just ran. And I'm a happy old man with a happy cat. Yowl!

♦ April 30, 2021 ♦ Still snowing

It is fabulous to have a cat again. I’ve sorta had Izzy for more than a year, but really only had her for a few weeks, since she suddenly decided I’m OK and allowed me to pet her. Now every time I pet my big fluffy happy cat, she meows and meows and meows, and I marvel at how completely she changed without warning, from a hissing monster to a cat that, not yet but soon, I think, will just jump right into my lap.

She’s the only living thing that I’ve touched in 2021, and it’s made life better, but (like everything else) it's a mystery. I never changed my behavior, but suddenly she changed hers. We could’ve been friends a year ago, but nope, Izzy does things Izzy’s way, and she wasn’t ready until she was ready. Oh jeez, here she comes again — so excuse me, it's time to pet the cat.

♦ May 8, 2021 ♦ It's fabulous to have a cat again.

This will be my last major Izzy update for a while — good news for those who are bored with cat reports. Good news for me, as well. Cat conditions have stabilized, delightfully.

My once-feral, now-friendly cat Izzy comes running when I call. She doesn’t come straightaway, of course, because she’s a cat and that would be beneath her dignity, but after I’ve said her name half a dozen times she’ll begin meowing louder than heavy metal, and lift her head and climb out of her bed, and stretch, and look at me, and meow some more, and then she comes running. Her roaring meows shake with every footstep as she approaches. “Yow-ow-ow-ow-owl” is the bouncy sound, impressively loud, as she runs to me.

Then she’ll nudge my hand eagerly, and insist on being petted into perpetuity — literally, perhaps. There’s been no time limit yet, except that eventually I need to stop petting the cat, and resume other aspects of my life. If Izzy had her way, I think she’d want to be petted all day, with breaks only for eating and the litter box.

Unique among the half dozen cats I’ve lived with, this cat has no danger zone — an area where petting isn’t permitted. With a few cats, it was the belly; if you scratched there, the cat's mood would instantly swivel from friendly to fierce. With one cat, it was scratching the back-of-its-back, near the tail, that made it snarl and snap. Izzy has no such limitations, and I’ve tried. The top of her head is where she most likes to be scratched and petted, but everywhere else is welcome — belly, back, tail, neck, underneck, cheeks, ears, shoulders, legs, paws — she wants to be petted all over. The only thing that annoys her is when I stop.

So anyway, after breakfast at the diner on Friday, I parked my car and walked, not to the door of my apartment but to the window. This has been my routine for more than a year, since adopting Izzy.

She’s a climber, so I set up her soft, sleeping area atop a table, and put the table beside the window, so Izzy could see our tiny corner of the world — the sidewalk, a tree, and the apartment building next door. The neighbors’ cat sometimes looks out their window, and goes into long staredowns with Izzy. My cat wins every time.

For 13 months,  Izzy wouldn’t let me touch her, or come near her, and she barely allowed me into (what quickly became) ‘her room’. But if I left the building and walked to the outside-side of her window, and if she happened to be in her bed or on the table looking out, I could see the cat, up close. It was the only way to see her. She could see me, too, but she understood that the glass was a wall, so she wasn’t afraid, and didn’t hiss. It became my habit to walk to the window and peer in at the cat, before entering my home.

After our recent breakthrough,  I no longer need to see my cat behind glass, but still I went to the window yesterday. Izzy wasn’t in her bed or on top of the table, when I looked through the window. My eyes went everywhere all around the room, and I finally saw her — curled up on my recliner. She’s become my cat, and I love it.

For more than a year, she's been here but it was mostly like not having a cat. Now I have a cat, and I love it. I love her. Maybe she loves me. Are cats capable of love? If they are, then Izzy loves me. My mood has improved, even when the cat isn’t at my ankles.

It is fabulous — restorative, inspiring — to have a cat again. That’s all I have to say, except for a word of advice from a grumpy old man who’s become less grumpy: If you don’t have a pet, get a pet. Whether your life is going good or going poorly, it’ll go better when there's some critter to love, who loves you back.



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