“She’ll never play with you or sleep with you or let you pet her very much. You understand this, don’t you?”
The San Francisco SPCA is an anecdotally difficult place to find a pet. Like a lot of shelters in the city, they operate at full capacity thanks to the no-kill law, so when they place a pet, they want the adopting biped to be aware and committed, ready to take the animal away never to darken the shelter door again. But the light browbeating the shelter worker dished out with a stack of paperwork gave some credence to tales of people leaving in tears without a new fuzzy companion.
Yes, I understood, she was a timid cat, unable to be a companion animal. Yes, I was aware of her lack of interactivity. This didn’t bother me. I’d come for a working cat. Construction two doors down had driven mice out of a nest, and they had entered my in-law studio through an opening in the linoleum under my kitchen sink. They hadn’t found my cupboards, but were exploring outside of the kitchen. My ex-boyfriend had moved out with his cat twenty months before, her scent must have dissipated enough to let them come. I needed a mouser. I secured a verbal okay from my landlady and my friend J drove me to the SPCA.
The eight and a half pound tabby being caught and popped into a carboard carrier was the first female cat I walked past that morning. I wanted a female adult cat, and she stared through the glass of her kitty condo with leafy green eyes. She jumped down when I approached, and a round spotted tummy swayed on her small frame. A small note on the door named her Lollie and declared her as shy; I am a sucker for the cat that plays hard to get, so I asked to see her.
J, the volunteer and I sat in her little room. Lollie crouched in the corner before coming out, sniffing each of us, until she got to me. She butted my hand with her head as I scratched her ears, stepped up into my lap to touch my nose with hers and run her whiskers along the frame of my glasses. Another volunteer came in with her food, and she mrowped at me until I petted her while she ate. I decided to stop looking and start filling out the adoption forms. I discovered that she had been in shelters for about a year, first at SF Animal Care and Control, then SPCA, that she was roughly three and a half, and that she had no other history, aside from being scared of most of the volunteers who came in to feed her, scoop her box, and attempt playtime. An hour and a half later, J drove Lollie and I home, I set up her box and feeding area, and opened the carrier.
I didn’t see much of her for about thirty-six hours, aside from one incident where she got stuck under a freestanding cabinet. She moved about quietly during the first week, startling me one night while I was reading for class.
“Bandit. I think that’s your name, sneaky thing.” She took some scritches and flounced off.
As weeks passed, Bandit came to me for petting and left when done, played occasionally with the cat dancer, slept closer and closer to me at night. I can count on my hands the times she sat on my lap. I respected her boundaries and waited for her to come out of her shell. We moved in with Patrick and his housemate J a year after I adopted her, and she flourished in that house, becoming increasingly playful and vocal. In 2005 Patrick and I moved into the house we recently left. A smaller space, but one we would fill, first with Faolan that fall, and Seamus two years later.
Bandit adjusted to the move, she mostly adjusted to the dog. Seamus, I think, was her Waterloo. She began peeing and pooping on the bed. Not regularly, not in relation to the cleanliness of her box, just every once in a while. One poop incident in the crib. More hairballs and more puking up her kibble, requiring me to slide under the bed with a bucket of hot water, a rag, and a paint scraper every few months. She still slept on the bed, choosing Patrick over me in our first year of co-sleeping, but also slept under the bed among her small piles of loose fur and urp that were unreachable with the vacuum. She took to howling in Seamus’ room while I desperately tried to nurse him down at naps and at night. She spent most of her time in our room, hiding from the tiny boy who loved her quite loudly.
We have a video shot on a Flip camera somewhere. It’s Seamus’ first movie. Bandit is his subject. In it she dashes away while he pursues, calling her to him, keeping her in frame.
This winter she began eating periodic strikes, causing me to switch foods and flavors in search of something she would eat consistently. By spring I ditched dry food entirely, buying cans by the dozen that still sat ignored until ants came in and swarmed them. We moved this summer to a bigger house with more safety zones, in a town where housecats spawl on their porches. Birds visit the large bush outside our window, and she spent the first month exploring the new space, obsessing over the basement, and staring out the window at the flocks roosting on the other side of the glass, ignoring her.That hopeful start quickly devolved as she spent August refusing to eat, refusing to use her box, and puking often after eating.
Friends suggested I find an animal behavioralist, put her on Prozac. Or since she was healthy but had a “high normal” thyroid, perhaps I should pursue that? Patrick and I both resisted. Medicating Bandit would remove her cat-ness, we felt. We’re also not heroic measure people when it comes to our animals. We love them, we care for them and see them through acute health issues, but as Bandit had gotten increasingly timid, medicating her through a chronic condition or long illness was going to be difficult at best. We didn’t want Bandit’s everlasting present to be defined by fear of us shoving pills down her throat in hopes that she would display calmer behavior.
On the beginning of Labor Day weekend, I came home with Seamus after a trying day (and trying weeks prior) to find that she had pooped on the couch and bed. Furious, I chased her under the bed, flushed her out, and dumped her onto the porch while I cleaned up the mess. She jumped from the porch to a living room window and let herself back in. She spent the rest of the day going in and out via the window, and being affectionate. By Labor Day, none of us had seen her in twenty-four hours. We’ve searched the neighborhood, left out a box of worn clothes so she could pick up our scent, crawled under the house. She has not shown up at the local shelters, nor does she appear on their dead lists.
Over eight and a half years, I’ve waited Bandit out. I waited for her to get used to her life with me in our tiny studio, waited for her to adjust to new places and family members. Always providing her with clean, safe spaces, watching her to suss out her needs and meeting them. I never expected her to climb into Seamus’ lap, but I hoped she might let him pet her one day without sneaking up on her while she slept. I hate to think that she was ill and the vet missed it, or desperately unhappy and I missed it. I suspect she’s found a place to die, given the combination of eating strikes, puking, and basement fascination. If so, I hope to hell that my one act of anger gave her the means to get what she sought.
Not having her messes has made things easier. But I miss her.