MY ADVENTURE IN CAT ADOPTION AND MY MENTAL HEALTH NOT PLAYING THIS GAME WELL
AMBER LOVE 29-FEB-2016 Most people in my circles know that one month ago, my cat Caico died from kidney disease. I haven’t been able to cope well with her loss. I’ve had cats my whole life and only one other one affected me this deeply, Milton. But when he died, I had two others in the house to care for and I had to get up to manage being responsible for living things that depended on me.
Caico’s loss has been devastating. I’m grateful for all the messages from people that said they understand and have been through it. Some of them were pretty surprising – people I thought I knew well, but I never heard about their pets from five, ten, or twenty years ago.
THE ADOPTION PROCESS TODAY
My parents have given up part of their weekends since Caico’s death to travel all around New Jersey looking for a suitable new adult cat to adopt for me. Finding one matching the criteria I need hasn’t been easy. I’ve filed probably six to ten applications or inquiries. For rescue groups, a lot of them don’t seem particularly interested in getting homes for these homeless animals.
LITERALLY NO RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Some of them wouldn’t answer any questions until they got my application which meant I couldn’t even ask “is this cat calm or high energy” without giving over my full name, address, and sometimes driver’s license number or social security number in applications that were four to six pages long. And it wasn’t only my privacy I was worried about. Most of the applications ask for references first, not after the inquiry, so I was forced to give the names, emails, and phone numbers of friends just to ask for more information than “female, spayed, FIV/FELV neg”.
When I adopted Caico, the process was the same (searching PetFinder then emailing), only faster. I only sent out two applications. One for her in northern New Jersey near New York City; another was sent for a similar breed cat down the shore. The North Bergen SPCA responded to me first and answered all my questions quickly. Within a matter of a couple days, I had her and had my companion for ten years.
This time, I don’t know why it’s been so difficult. We spent one entire Saturday visiting three different PetCo locations far from where we live. The first one was the one I had an appointment with to meet a cat named Dottie. I was told she was far too energetic for what I wanted so I spent fifteen minutes getting to know a different cat. Both had crusty eyes. All the cats were in foster homes not a shelter. But when I was told the specifics of the cat adoption contract, I had red flags.
I wondered if it was just me being irrational but everyone else I talked to said the stipulations were over the top. For example, if you adopted one of their cats and then let it outdoors, they’d take it away from you and fine you $2,500. Everyone’s first thought is, how would they even know? Microchips don’t beam information on location; they’re basically like RFID tags on clothing and electronics in stores – they have to be scanned to be read. So why on earth would it be reasonable to have that written into a contract if there was no way to enforce it?
I went over the details with a couple close people and was told the same thing: the “rescue” woman was probably a hoarder herself and didn’t want to let them go so she would do whatever possible to make it difficult while maintaining a 501c charity status. The other big kicker with her was that she was anti-vaccinations but anti-declawing. Tell me how you can call one thing mutilation when it heals in a week, but then support the cats being susceptible to painful diseases which can kill them?
We took a couple days to think it over, but I ended up emailing her and saying we went with a different cat after all. I searched PetFinder, PetTango, and Adopt-a-Pet every day. Most of the listings were duplicates and some had different information on the same animals. It gave me the sense that the information wasn’t the most reliable. A cat described as “sweet” still isn’t a friendly lap cat. I need more data. I need health status, estimated age, and temperament. Also these websites are about as good as job search sites; I kept getting results for Michigan, Virginia, New York (possibly drivable but an effort), and even Canada. Freaking Canada! That’s not near my zip code, Petfinder!
I sent out so many emails and applications, they were blurring together. I’d get responses several days later if at all, reinforcing that it doesn’t seem like these groups really care about finding “furever” homes. I know they’re volunteers – part of being a volunteer is still doing the job of answering emails whether or not you’re paid. If you don’t want to rehome them, don’t be listed as a foster home taking people’s donations just because you want pets.
The only Siamese rescue that I could find, is an aggregate site that posts all Siamese and related breeds for the entire east coast. Their application has a $10 fee to submit. And, they don’t merely confirm your vet history with a phone call to the vet; you have to take a form to the vet to complete and FAX in to them. I paid the $10 and still have the vet form that I haven’t completed because I won’t bother if other options work out.
MAYBE I FOUND A CAT?
I finally found a rescue/foster group that was less an hour away and the woman in charge was extremely dutiful in replying. I let her know I’d meet her at PetSmart in Pennsylvania on Saturday. She told me I’d be able to meet four of the cats we discussed, but when I got there only one of them was a cat we talked about. Still, my mother and I felt a lot more comfortable talking to those volunteers who didn’t come off as hoarders or reluctant to let go of the cats. The deal was, you can adopt from them once approved (which was quick before I even got there) and if the cat isn’t right for you, you can bring it back. In their contract, I did notice that there was a $40 fee for returning a cat so I’m not happy about that considering it’s $100 to adopt in the first place.
The cat I went to meet was fine. She’s beautiful, but I was told she’s depressed when alone. The cat needs another buddy. Ollie lives downstairs and ultimately we want someone he can play with a little bit and be comfortable with, even though he’s not allowed up here without supervision since he breaks everything. Essentially though, the cat needs to be cool with being my companion and sometimes alone.
Okay, so Cat #1 was a possibility. I saw an isolated cat that I hadn’t seen in their listings. She’s a longhair diluted calico. They only had her for 24 hours so basically, there wasn’t enough information on her. She had been for her first round of vet care to get some shots, but she still needed another round of shots and deworming. The cool thing is that their vet would do that second visit for free as part of the adoption fee.
We took her out of the kennel and she wasn’t interested in being held. She climbed all over everything in the room, but she loved being petted and scratched under the chin. Eventually she ate treats from my hand. And boy, did she ever stink! Her hair was oily and smelly. I didn’t know how a cat could be that stinky unless sick, but they assured me she was fine. We got kind of mixed stories on her origin. It’s something like she was an outdoor cat that a woman took in for a couple weeks, but she wasn’t allowed to keep her so she turned her over to the rescue group the day before. The vet visit was done under that woman’s care, we think. I thought she was neat looking and her petite size reminded me a lot of Caico. She’s got weird markings and isn’t what I’d call “pretty” but I’d call “interesting” to look at. She has a white “milk” mustache too.
I brought her home Saturday afternoon and by Sunday I figured this was a huge mistake. She’s done nothing but hide. I’ve only gotten to pet her once when she burrowed deep into a bathroom cabinet; and she responded well, purring and seemed to indicate she liked the petting. Since then, I tried clearing out the cabinet so she’d have a good nest; instead she’s taken to hiding behind the bathtub where she can’t be reached. And, sorry Psycho Cat, I’m going to need to use the shower at some point.
Her first night here was a disaster. When she came out of hiding to explore at midnight (which I expected to be a safe time for her), she started climbing on things that were exceptionally scary and dangerous. She went from a window sill to balancing on top of a screened room divider to trying to climb on the frame of a piece of art hanging high up on the wall – I got over there in time to keep the screen and the art from crashing to the floor and she used the frame and my hand as leverage to get to the top of my tallest bookcase. I’ve never seen a cat use unstable objects and hanging art as leverage before. If that picture had crashed down it would’ve landed on a small marble-top table that would’ve toppled and broken glass would’ve been right under her. Not to mention it was a seven foot drop from where she was on the wall.
So at 1 AM, I emailed the woman to say, this isn’t working. I posted to Facebook and Twitter and let me say, the replies were pissing me off to no end. The rescue woman was cool and she tried to get more info on the cat’s behavior and background by Sunday night. But the online replies – wow. People talked to me like I’ve never owned a cat before. I’m 43. I’ve gone at most three years of my life without owning cats. Things like “find your zen” and “she senses your anxiety” don’t help a person who suffers from extreme anxiety disorder! If I could “find my zen,” I wouldn’t need a companion animal.
This Psycho Cat is the fourth I’ve ever adopted. I’ve never had this batshit behavior except from the one and only feral cat I took in. That was an awful experience. That cat wouldn’t house train ever. He was invisible for 12 years and didn’t come over to me until all the other cats died. Then he cared about humans and was loving. Sadly, that was his last year and he died suddenly on my chest in his sleep one night. A shitty experience, let me tell you. I don’t want another invisible being that I have to feed and worry about the urine/poo mess all over the house again. I want a normal loving cat who actually likes me.
Obviously all animals have their own personalities and quirks. That’s why Caico was the best. She only hated the groomers and other animals. I took her shopping; she usually came to Free Comic Book Day when the weather was nice and the annual rubber duck races. I know Caico was unique. I did however, think I could find a reasonably chill cat to be a new companion.
New cat finally used the litterbox sometime in the wee Monday morning hours. That was my biggest concern since she was sneaking out to eat, but there was no evidence of her using the box. And did I mention she smells? I was worried that she was peeing herself instead using the box, so this is good news as long as she keeps it up.
WHY IS THIS SO VITAL RIGHT NOW?
For someone with the severity of depression and anxiety that I have, caring for something else is a major task, yet it’s a reason to get out of bed. It means more to me to care from something when I don’t care about myself, have no will to go on in my own life, and for giving love when I feel like I’m spent and have nothing left to give.
Caico had been with me through surgery, a divorce, a few big breakups, and two moves. She adapted to anything that came up in my life. Her fur was covered in my tears on a regular basis.
Years ago, I heard about a special type of service animal that was specifically for bringing comfort to upset people. I met a Collie named Rusty who was this special kind of dog. He was a 9/11 responder but not digging through rubble looking for bodies; he was there to comfort the rescue workers. It sounded interesting to me and I began looking into pet therapy.
The certification process didn’t seem to be something I needed in order for me to know Caico’s role in my life. I suppose if I wanted to bring her to nursing homes, I would have pursued it because they confirm that an animal has their shots and good temperament. I’ve seen recent stories about people being asked to deboard flights because their comfort animals weren’t traveling well or if another passenger is allergic. One of those was a companion pig.
If an animal can tell when someone is going to have a seizure, what about animals that know when someone is having a panic attack? It’s now validated. Emotional support animals have an opportunity to upgrade to Psychiatric Support Animals.
I don’t think Caico would’ve been able to fetch another human to indicate that I was in need, but she stayed by me when humans wouldn’t.
Is it too much expect that another cat is out there who can do what she did? After these weeks of internet searches, driving all over New Jersey and PA, and testing out this currently unadjusted cat, I’m beginning to think it’s impossible.
Pets are so validated as a health benefit, that people have invented robot pets for those who can’t have living animals in their apartments or nursing homes or who can’t physically care for them. The pet analog is enough to improve their moods and physical health such as blood pressure.
If you can provide a doctor’s note, landlords are not supposed to be able to kick you out for having a service animal; however, the vague FHA semantics use the phrase “reasonable accommodations” must be provided and as we know, semantics can be argued. Workplaces are notorious for it. I thought I made it clear in my last day job that my panic attacks require me to flee to the restroom unexpectedly and it still got back to me that I was an inconvenience to my coworkers that had to cover my phones. People can always choose to be jerks.
MENTAL HEALTH STILL NOT SEEN AS A HEALTH ISSUE
Medical professionals and laypeople argue that just because an animal gives you comfort and support, untrained animals don’t deserve the caveats that official service animals get. Emotional support animals for anxiety or depression are second-class support animals. Is that hyperbole? Only to an extent.
Let’s say I added a not-very-authentic “service animal” sticker to Caico’s stroller. And let’s say, someone tried to pet her and she bit that person. Would that have made her “fail” at her job as an Emotional Support Animal? Not at all. Her role was providing me comfort for my mental issues, not every single person she met. (PS – I never got her fake credentials.) My point is, a person’s health assistance animal is not to service everyone around; they are to service that person/patient. It oftentimes involves other people around also being safe like in the case of seeing-eye dogs who help people cross streets. Ultimately, it’s about their owner, not a fellow passenger on a flight who simply doesn’t like it.
Do you really want someone like me having a psychotic breakdown in a crowd? No, you don’t. Trust me. I don’t enjoy breaking down in tears in the supermarket or in a convention or at a job. Yet, any animal that I could “certify” as a legitimate support animal would not have the same ADA rights as a service animal.
As of now, I have no idea if this new cat will work out. We’re giving it a week or so. If she can’t come out of hiding, then she’s definitely the wrong cat for me. Meanwhile, I’m still adding to my long list of baby names which is now over 20, instead of making the list shorter.