Growing up, we were always a cat household. There was a stray gerbil here and there that I thought I could handle after keeping the class pet, but they always died of wet tail within a few weeks. I think I got some fish and tried to keep them in a tupperware . . . once again, didn't work well. (It didn't help anything that Pet World was three blocks from my house.)
We had Madison first. We got her at the shelter and she was the sweetest cat. She was gentle and loving and she got hit by a car near our driveway. This is the price you pay for having an outdoor cat near a busy street, I suppose. I think her burial was the first time I saw my stepdad cry.
Then, we got Cleo because my childhood friend Jessie had gotten her mother a bunch of kittens for Mothers' Day as a surprise and her dad said she had to get rid of them all or he would drown them (true story!). So, I showed up at home with a little white kitten, explaining that I would take care of her and no one would even notice she was there. Needless to say, it didn't exactly work out that way. Cleo may or may not have some kind of congenital birth defect because she is totally antisocial, terrified of being held or petted, and not very bright.
Cleo's plight worsened when Minnie came to live with us. If I remember correctly, my mom got her from a lady whose child attended the daycare where my mom was treasurer. The lady lived out in the country and a bunch of feral cats had been born in her barn. This particular kitten had been shaken around by some farm animal and had to go to the vet for nerve damage. She couldn't recuperate well at the farm, so we took her in "just for a little while." (Something like thirteen years later, she still lives with my stepdad and his wife, as does Cleo.) My theory on Minnie is that the nerve damage never healed well, because she is mean as hell. She doesn't like being touched, frequently claws and bites, is aggressive toward other animals, and gets this twitchy thing in her lower back and tail when she's agitated. She has made it her main life's mission to aggravate Cleo: stealing her food, batting her tail, chasing her around the house. If Cleo was already neurotic and a little "off," living with Minnie has pushed her over the edge into full pathological behavior.
My stepdad really likes giving Minnie and Cleo whipped cream out of a can, and tends to feed them whenever they're "hungry," as opposed to on a schedule. As a result of this, Minnie grew to epic proportions after I left for college. Cleo got even skinnier, because Minnie was eating her food too. I never saw it, but my stepdad claims that Minnie got so fat that she couldn't even stand up to eat anymore. She would lay on her side with her face in the bowl. The picture of this is so mind-blowingly funny to me that my husband and I talk about it on a near-daily basis. However, my stepdad took this as a sign that it was time for an intervention, and put her on a diet. Now she's down to probably somewhere around twenty pounds.
I tell you all this because I like thinking about the cats, and I think they're funny, but also as a preface to the story of R-12. Once upon a time, my husband was the property manager for the camp where we met (he did lots of other stuff too, but overseeing one of the camp properties was in his portfolio). He lived in a trailer on the edge of the property, and one night he and his roommate heard some meowing. It sounded like it was coming from under the trailer. They ignored it, but it continued for a few days and was driving them crazy. So they peeked under the trailer, and found that a cat had given birth to a litter up inside the insulation under the trailer. The kittens had been abandoned, and were crying out for help. Jeff and his roommate Pat decided to keep one of them. They named her R-12, after the grade of insulation in which she had been found.
R-12 is an absolute beauty. As you can see below, she is prone to doing all that cat stuff that is so cute. Through a series of misadventures, she came to be Jeff's cat after he left camp, and then she was our cat after we were married.
Unfortunately, R-12 is also a feral cat. She domesticated pretty well, but she didn't like being touched much, went into frequent crazy spells where she would attack anything, and after we got the dog . . . well, she was never quite the same. The dog loved chasing her around and taunting her. The cat usually won because she still had her claws, but she was antagonistic toward all of us after Pup came around.
When we found out we were going to have a baby, I pretty much knew R-12's days with us were numbered. She didn't do very well with adults who knew how to act around animals. With a baby, or a toddler? I feared the worst. She is not what I would call a good "family pet." The final straw came when I brought home a bag of groceries when I was about seven months pregnant. She jumped up on the counter to sniff them, and when I went to pet her, she reached up and stabbed me in the hand with her claws. It drew quite a bit of blood. If she had done this to me, a human she had known for years who was just trying to give her an affectionate rub, what would she do to a little human pulling her tail!?
So, we took her to the shelter. I was not optimistic about her chances of being adopted, because she is the kind of cat who pulls back into the cage and hisses at you when you try to get her out and play with her. With heavy hearts, we said farewell and went back home to just the Pup. The next day, our good friend Lauren mentioned that she would have taken R-12 - she was looking for a cat with claws to be a playmate for her cat Hank. So we enthusiastically told her to call the shelter and go pick her up - I was absolutely certain she would still be there.
Lo and behold, she had already been adopted!! Sad for Lauren and Hank, but I was overjoyed that someone had taken her into their home already. I hope it was a sweet old cat lady who bends over backward to make R-12 happy. I could never have done that for her after the baby came along. It was hard to say goodbye, but having a little closure on the whole experience made it easier. And we still have all the darling pictures to remember her by.