The OG American Cat – Part Two

I had Ollz since he was a kitten (about 7 months old) until the end of my time in Boston, about three years later.

I often think back on those years as some of my happiest. It was the time when we were all figuring things out together, all starting from “Go” in the same Monopoly game. Now when I sometimes feel others have far surpassed me in the game of life with their advanced jobs or fancy homes, back then, my peers and I were all equally confused. We had graduated in 2008, the year of the (first) long recession.

So we were willing to live in drafty apartments and take the jobs that would have us. My friends from high school were back home in Boston, and all of my friends from college had decided to move there too. It was the perfect mix of old and new, past and present. Good and bad. We were in it together.

And Ollz was there too, watching me stumble home late at night after a long night of bar trivia or eat cannoli’s in bed after a tough day at work. He saw me eat frozen peas out of the bag, and cheerios for both breakfast and for dinner. I was trying things out, proud of myself for making it on my own, despite how wacky it looked.

I had big dreams I couldn’t easily identify and still don’t fully realize.

At the time, I was considering what then felt like a big step: moving in with my partner in NYC. As a commitment phob who was never a big fan of New York, this felt like a huge decision. I solved it in the way I often do – by making some other big decision instead: I made plans to quit my job and leave Boston, but instead of moving right to NYC, I would travel first to Argentina and explore on my own for a few months. Figuring out what I wanted and what I should do next.

Ollz couldn’t go with me to South America. His sensibilities weren’t cut out for travel. So I made a choice: I gave him away.

In all the many cats we have fostered and owned and cared for since then, I still feel guilty about that decision. It wasn’t his fault, after all, that I had a whole life to figure out. And he was my very first love. But as such, I grew apart from him. I wasn’t ready for the permanence of that love just yet.

And what brings me solace now is knowing he went to one of the nicest couples I knew: a guy who was friends with my dad and my uncle. He was studying at Harvard to get his PhD in Buddhism, and his wife had recently comes back from a solo meditation retreat in the mountains. Where I brought chaos, they would bring calm and enlightenment. Perhaps it was kismet it worked out this way. I can still not think of a better mom and dad for my first cat.

And so we said our goodbyes to start new lives on our own.

The OG Dutch Cat – Part Two

There was never a lap that Piet didn’t like. If a human existed in the house, he would find that person and cuddle.

When we first brought Piet home, he had severe separation anxiety. Night after night for the first few weeks, he would spend endless hours meowing and throwing his little kitty body against the door to get to us from his place in the living room.

As time passed, he realized we weren’t going anywhere, that we loved him, and that he was ours. More so perhaps, we were his.

He had a seat at the dinner table that he’d hop onto whenever we were there, putting his little chin on the table and watching us talk or eat or read. When a guest sat in his chair, he sat on their lap. He was present for every meal.

At night, if I was feeling sad, he would come over and head butt my hand for a pet, nestling next to me on the couch. Once, with severe neck pain, he lay in bed with me for hours and watched me look at the ceiling.

Out of our house, Piet was the veteran, the knowledgeable, wise, one-eyed grandpa to the cats in our neighborhood, reigning over the courtyard with fairness and ease.

When a new French cat moved in to disrupt the peace, he quickly showed him who was boss.

But otherwise, he supervised his neighborhood peacefully, patrolling during the day and respectfully sniffing strangers as they passed on our quiet street in the center of town.

No one knew Piet’s age, but he was older than he appeared, and older than the shelter predicted, our vet told us later. Thinking back, I knew that. He had the lazy self-assuredness that was far greater than his younger peers. He had nothing to prove. He simply wanted to give and receive love.

I suppose that’s why it was so devastating when Piet got sick. What started as a surgery to remove some teeth ended as a poor recovery leading to his end.

He stopped eating. We put him on dialysis for his kidneys. He got better. He got worse. We cried. Eventually, we had to put him down.

Our last night together, we let him sleep in our bed with us, something he had always wanted. I was startled at how quiet and cold he was. I wanted to keep him warm. All he wanted was to be close to us. I let him sleep on my pillow, my head on the mattress, looking up at him.

People say cats aren’t as affectionate as dogs, but I disagree. I know Piet cared for us. I know he was grateful to spend the last couple years of his life cuddling on our couch. And we were grateful for him. He brought a reminder everyday of something important: the ability to love unconditionally.

The OG Dutch Cat – Part One

An article recently reminded me of something I already suspected: there are no stray dogs anymore here in the Netherlands.

For my husband and me, coming from NYC, the lack of Dutch stray animals perplexed us. We had moved from a Manhattan studio apartment where we stuffed ourselves, our bed, a desk, and two large foster cats + all their equipment into a tiny space and happily called it home. When we moved to The Netherlands and proclaimed that we were finally ready to take on our very own perma-cat (permanent instead of foster), we were confused when the shelter told us our one-bedroom apartment with a courtyard was too small for adoption. We are the ideal cat parents. We are the messiahs of the pet world. My husband once offered to foster a cat with explosive diarrhea. (Another story for another day!) We raised five kittens in our bathroom by hand. (That’s not true; their cat mom raised them, but we were there!) Why was our cat adoption paperwork rejected? Weren’t we the ideal candidates?

Not in the Netherlands. The cats here require a certain amount of square meters. A mansion, if you will. And we didn’t make the cut.

We would not be deterred, however. We went to our local animal shelter anyway, and the woman told us that perhaps there was one cat she’d consider we take. The cat was my namesake, after all: Tori (spelled wrong, according to me), and she was “getting used to people”.

For all intents and purposes, coming from a lover of felines, Tori was feral. When we went to visit her, she was perched on top of a cupboard hissing at everyone down below. The shelter owner said that after months in that one room, she was getting a little better at people petting her with a long stick. She only tried to maul the stick for a little while before allowing it to touch her momentarily.

We told the woman we didn’t think this was a match.

For weeks after, we scoured different shelter websites as hopeful cat parents, looking for our new love. During kitten season, we went to a shelter a couple hours away, only to realize we had missed the rush and all the cats were gone. The line out the door had started before the building opened, and the cats had all been accounted for quickly thereafter.

It wasn’t until months later that we finally got an opening, a competitive edge in this cut-throat cat adoption game: a code red storm was passing through. When others stayed inside to shelter from the fallen trees and horizontal wind, we biked our way through hurricane conditions to the final shelters on our list.

It was there, drenched wet and exhausted, that we first met the kitty who would later become our first and then favorite feline friend: a one-eyed ginger cat named Piet Piraat (Pirate Pete).

It was love at first sight, despite him being less able to see. And the start of a romance for Part Two.