To think that, right now, she could be dead, is most terrifying thing I can imagine.
But she isn’t.
She’s here, with me.
And it’s all because I decided to look at the Craigslist pet section.
Right now, she’s cautiously surveying my basket of clean laundry and waiting for what she feels is the right moment to jump in. Paws along the plastic rim, tail swishing, ears alert–she’s acting like the cat you’d expect to find in any cat lover’s home. This isn’t unusual behavior for an animal who’s content and comfortable in her environment, but it wasn’t always like this. Bared fangs, guttural growls and a hunched posture weren’t uncommon a year ago — when, at the beginning of this story, she was shoved into a box and then dumped out of a moving vehicle at a veterinary clinic in Hutto, TX. She was just a little over a year old–the most beautiful green-eyed tabby you would ever see–and was abandoned, for absolutely no reason at all.
She wasn’t wanted.
No one would leave a pet to die.
I discovered the posting in which her story was chronicled on a lark while pursuing Craigslist’s pet section. Knowing more than well that I was torturing myself with the fantasy of bringing my own pet home, I browsed through the listings with the sole intent of looking at pictures of healthy adoptees sponsored by Austin Pets Alive and the Austin Animal Center–knowing, wholeheartedly, that the creatures I came across would be safe. The high success rate of no-kill shelters in Austin, TX offered that sort of blind hope–that disconnect you could allow without feeling as though you were cheating an animal with a home, sort of like you feel when you see a homeless person on the street or Sarah McLachlan on your TV. It’s a hardwired predisposition to think that if you don’t help, someone else will, so many of us don’t think twice about seeing an animal on Craigslist and then leaving shortly thereafter. I saw a lot of animals on that page of listings. Dogs, cats, ferrets–even exotic birds and reptiles were displayed to the next potential pet owner. But it was when I came across a listing for Georgetown, TX that I came to a pause.
Though barely visible in the thumbnail displayed, a cat named Jezabelle looked out at me–scared, alone, and confined within a space she could not understand.
That was when I learned about her abandonment, which would inexplicably disappear the next time I checked her listing.
There’s a saying among pet owners that animals find us–that, through some grand, cosmic scheme, fate, or divine intervention, we come into contact with a creature whose soul-breaking visage is enough to render us weak in the knees and leave us absolutely breathless.
I looked at this picture of this poor tabby and immediately felt a connection. Initially, I took it as a result of reading her story and considered that to be the basis of my underlying emotions, then closed the tab in my browser, knowing there was little I could do for her as a single, low-income individual whose medical necessities and small space would not allow for a pet.
But something hapened. I kept thinking about her–first for one day, then two.
On the night of the second day, I went to my roommates (whom I’d mentioned seeing Jezabelle to and then being touched by her story the previous day) and asked if there was any way I could take her in. The shelter was doing pay-what-you-want adoptions and I wanted to see if my feelings for her were true. They agreed, and the following day, I drove from Austin to Georgetown (roughly a half-hour drive) to see the cat named Jezabelle.
I was taken to where she was being kept at the time and advised that I might not be able to interact with her due to her trauma of abandonment. Growling at the volunteer’s approach, Jezabelle lowered her ears as the woman unlocked the cage and hunkered into her kennel as she doned a pair of oven mitts. The sight of the massive glove reaching into the cage sent Jezabelle into a panic. She yowled and attacked the mitt with such gusto that the volunteer immediately yanked her hand back for fear of the cat somehow getting out and causing damage. Guess she’s not coming out, the woman laughed, voice strained with caution. Then again, I wouldn’t want to either if that thing was coming at me.
No kidding, I replied. The volunteer removed the oven mitts and returned them to their perspective place. I, meanwhile, was captivated by this beautiful creature–who, though seemingly wild, held that fractured innocence of a person whose life has been reduced to ground zero, then kicked in the dirt. I started talking to her at that point. Hi Jezabelle, I said, noting the twitch of her ears at the sound of my voice and the ripple of tension along her back. Hey baby.
She turned to look at me–and at this point, looking directly into her eyes, I felt something that to this day I can’t describe: a warmth in my chest, coinciding with a weight in my brain, while struggling to maintain a breath that had passed from my lungs without fault. It could’ve been love, or it could’ve been anything
At that moment, I knew only one thing: she was mine.
I’ll take her, I said to the nearby volunteer, who’d no more than a moment ago been visciously attacked.
You’re… sure? she replied, her lingering caution of disbelief.
I sat at the front desk in the minutes thereafter making small talk to an employee as I filled out adoption forms to an audience of three dogs crowded beneath her feet. The paperwork asked information about previous pet ownership. Did I have experience with cats? How long had I been around animals? Had I ever had animals as pets, and if so, how many. A childhood filled with cats and dogs (whom I rightly considered my ‘younger sisters’) had secured my indomitable love for any animal that might come after them, and for Jezabelle, that love was no question, regardless of her nature. I’d grown up taming feral kittens on my grandparents’ property with my little brother. Surely this wouldn’t be any different.
When my donation was given and the paperwork entered into the system, I was told six of the greatest words I’d ever heard in my life:
You can pick her up tomorrow.
She was to be spaid and given her shots to ensure utmost health.
On April 14th, 2013, my life changed forever.
I just didn’t know how much.
I arrived at the shelter the following afternoon to find that not everything had gone according to plan. Previous delays that had kept me from retrieiving her earlier that morning were caused by an unexpectra pyrometra — or, in Layman’s terms, an infected ovary. Upon her arrival, the veterinarian who’d performed the procedure explained that Jezabelle would be fine. She’s lucky, she said before taking the carrier back to fetch Jezabelle. I later found out that pyrometra can kill cats if they’re not caught soon enough.
Jezabelle was placed in her carrier and handed off to me with little more than a kind thank you from the veterinarian. My roommates gushed over her as I returned to my vehicle. She’s so pretty, one said, while the other declared that she was, Absolutely precious. Jezabelle made absolutely no noise on the way back home. I promptly released her into my room when we arrived and allowed her time to recooperate in her own environment.
This was the first picture I took of her:
Her healing was my greatesy concern, so I tried to make my room as comfortable as possible prior to picking her up. A deep clean, arranging my blankets, setting up the closet as a ‘safe space’ for her–all this was preemptively prepared with the knowledge that she would want ‘alone’ time, though the first place I found her was burrowed in my comforter. She was sleeping and so I, being tired myself, figured I would try to take a nap with her, though the moment my leg touched her she tried to attack me through the comforter.
She wouldn’t move out of my bed.
I wouldn’t–and realistically couldn’t—move her myself.
So… I tried an air mattress… on the floor… in my room.
I woke to growing the next morning and, fearing that she wasn’t eating or drinking because of my presence, hauled the air mattress down to the first-floor utility closet and slept there for a week.
Given that my room is also my office, she had a lot of time to interact with me during the day when I first got her. There was a lot of growling, some hissing as I passed by. I didn’t try to touch her at this point because I was well aware that she would not have that, so, with that in mind, I decided to just let her get used to my presence.
Here’s a few pictures of her during that period:
I’ve always considered myself an animal person, so it was extremely difficult for me to accept the fact that I couldn’t help her. Touch was one thing (that I understood,) but even being near her caused anxiety. It was understandable, given her past predicament, but it upset me to no end.
A few days after bringing her home, I tried to find something that she might find more comfortable to sleep on/in (since she wouldn’t sleep with me on the bed, as I had to resort to spray bottles on the mist setting to get her off of my bed, and because she had an accident I was thankfully able to treat.) I went to Marshall’s and found a dog bed on discount. She was leery at first, but eventually went to investigate. My happiest moment at that point was when I caught her playing in her bed, which I captured here:
It was the first time I’d seen her interacting with her environment in a way that displayed actual content. Batting at the top of the roof, rolling about, digging her claws in and out–she knew that bed was hers, and when she caught sight of me smiling at her, we exchanged gazes and I think she knew that I’d given it to her.
Regardless of small victories, her transition continued to be extremely rough.
Over the course of the next several weeks, she continued to exhibit aggressive behavior that kept me from getting close to her. We developed a proximity–a ‘safe zone’–in which I could be away from her and she would be comfortable. At roughly four feet, she could lay and/or sit away from me and I could be on my computer or in bed without issue. She took to sleeping atop a refurbished dresser I’d purchased from Goodwill, but given that I was unable to devise a way for her to sleep atop it without sliding off, I ended up placing a blanket on the floor until later.
She was, however, getting used to me. Despite having to use a misting bottle to deter her from my bed when I wanted to sleep, she continued to sleep atop and under my blankets regardless of her caution.
But despite my frustrations, our bond continued to grow. She started letting me pet her while she was in prone states or asleep and started sleeping next to me about two months after she came home.
Her willingness to approach became greater.
She helped me do things on the computer (like brave the frigid, arctic wastelands in Guild Wars 2.)
Late into September (nearly six months after I brought her home,) she continued to have issues with me touching her. It was still very much on ‘her terms.’ She had this habit I called ‘no touch’ in which, if I tried to pet her, she would bat my hand away. At the time, the doctors I was seeing became concerned over seeing my hand covered in scratches, but it was for reasons like the following. [Click for Video]
Her temperment, while playful, could be overwhelming at times. I wanted so desperately to interact with her in a more tactile manner, so playing games like ‘no touch’ with her (which she seemed to enjoy, as it was much like the ‘chase the finger’ game albeit a little rougher) was the most I could muster when she was active, which often resulted in scratches that, after healing, would leave scars.
She allowed me to hold her briefly during this time, when I could actually pick her up without causing major distress, but it wasn’t until October of last year that the major breakthrough happened–in which she not only began to let me (and requested I) pet her on a regular basis
but also when she started cuddling into and sleeping next to, and on top of me.
Six months after I brought her home from the animal center, we had developed a relationship in which I–and, most importantly, she–was comfortable.
I’d done what many were baffled by and even considered me fruitless for trying: I’d rehabilited an animal who, after being visciously dumped by her previous owners, had suffered severe emotional and psychological issues, those of which would have made many think twice about even laying their hands on her.
On April 14th, 2014, I celebrated what I deemed (based off her initial projected age of one-year-three-months upon her veterinarian analysis) to be her second birthday and, ultimately, her greatest triumph in her life. We woke up sleeping next to each other, snuggled in for some private daddy and kitty time (which included many snuggles, kisses, and, when she got rambunctious, played the crazy kitty game as she jumped on and off the bed and all around the room.) I showered her in kitty treats, continuously proclaimed her as the ‘Birthday Belle,’ and sat and watched in silent awe as she slept, played, ate, or cleaned herself the entire day.
It was enormous–to think that, had I not found her that day, she could’ve easily been put down. As previously mentioned, Austin’s no-kill statistics are astoundingly high in our state, but it doesn’t prevent animals whom shelters deem unadoptable for whatever reason from being euthanized and simply tossed away.
To this day, Jez still has problems with other people. It’s only been recently that she’s started allowing other people to touch her for short periods of time, and she rarely leaves the sanctity of my room. We call it ‘Her House,’ because truly that’s what it is. She’s not made friends with the other animals in the house due to her cautious nature and, while I’ve been allowing free reign of the home by leaving my door open now that she’s acclimated to her environment, she only occasionally ventures out into where the laundry area and my bathroom are situated. (She’s been infamously trapped in the bedroom twice so far.) The furthest she’s gone down the stairs is four steps, to which she immediately bolted upon seeing my roommates, and while curious of the outside world, she’s very grounded in the environment she’s been reborn in.
Whatever way you cut it, she’s undergone an amazing transformation. She’s gone from being deemed ‘semi feral’ to being like any other housecat. She’s my best friend, my little familiar, the one who makes sure I’m comfortable when I’m not feeling well, who jumps on me at random hours of the night while I’m sleeping and wakes me up by smelling my breath–and that, in the end, is all that matters.
Thank you to the people of the Williamson County Animal Shelter in Georgetown, Texas, and to the veterinary clinic in Hutto, Texas (where Jezabelle was dumped) for taking such good care of my baby. It means the world to me, and while I know she didn’t understand what was going on, it’s because of you that she’s still here.