Yesterday was the four year anniversary of the day I met my little cat, Vincent, so I thought I’d tell the story. If you know me, you’ve probably heard this story a million times, but it’s one of my favorites, so I’m going to tell it anyway.
When I was twenty-two, just out of college, I worked in a retail store in the Pittsburgh Airport. One night, when I was leaving to go home with my coworker, she said to me “I just saw a little cat! Running across the parking lot!” Two weeks later I was driving home and that little cat ran out across the road in front of my car when I was leaving for the day.
And then the obsession began.
I had also just started an internship in the fundraising offices of a local animal shelter, so I started asking questions about what they thought I should do. A few people in the Low-Cost Spay Neuter program talked to me about Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release (TNVR). Basically, it’s a way of controlling the feral cat population by trapping feral cats in humane box traps, having them altered and vaccinated, and then re-releasing them into their habitat healthier and unable to reproduce. The thing is that the vast majority of feral cats can’t be domesticated, so the kindest thing to do for them is to let them live in their natural habitat as healthily as possible.
We decided that this would be what I’d do for “Airport Cat,” as I affectionately began calling him. I set up a spay/neuter appointment, borrowed a box trap, and set it up in the employee parking lot. I didn’t catch him, so I set up a second appointment. I didn’t catch him for that one, either.
And then, on November 12th, 2013, I pulled up to the trap, which I had set in the middle of the employee parking lot. It was the first snow of the year that day, and it was freezing cold and wet and icy everywhere. The door to the trap was closed, I could see that right away, but from my car I didn’t see anything inside of it. I thought maybe the strong winds or the snow had snapped it shut and I was heartbroken to think that there was no chance of me catching him, yet again. But then I got out of my car and bent down, and I saw yellow-green eyes looking back at me, and I heard a nice healthy hiss.
I did plan on returning this cat back to the parking lot. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but he was feral and wouldn’t enjoy life in a home. But as soon as I put him in the backseat of my car and cranked the heat up all the way, I found myself promising him that he’d never suffer again. That he was safe. That I would never let anything happen to him.
And so, the day I should’ve released him back out into the wild, I released him into my parent’s front room. And I spent the next month spending every free minute I had in that room with him. At first, he wouldn’t come out from hiding until I had been in the room for a half hour, and then he’d just poke his head out and look at me from under the couch. I was careful to not make eye contact, to blink a lot and to yawn a lot, both of which make cats feel you’re less threatening. Eventually, he felt comfortable enough to eat in front of me, albeit from all the way across the room.
When I brought Vincent home I genuinely thought I was committing to a feral cat for life, and I was okay with it. I knew that it might take years for him to let me touch him, if he ever did at all. But I wanted him to live a better life than he would’ve at the airport, and I wanted to keep the promises I had made to him no matter what.
A little over a month into his stay with us, everything changed. Literally overnight, he decided that he could trust us, and walked right up to us to be petted and brushed and held. He purred so loudly I couldn’t help but feel how unbelievably happy he was.
Today, he is the cuddliest cat I know. He often lies on my chest and tucks his head under mine, or lays on top of me while I’m sleeping, right next to my face. He purrs at the sound of my voice and lets me give him medicine if he needs it and cut his nails with no problems. He is pure love in a little nine-pound body, and he is mine.
Sometimes I think about what Vinny’s life once was and what it could’ve been, and I am endlessly thankful that he decided to go into that box trap that snowy November night. I don’t know what my life would be like without him. He is a constant source of joy.
I always tell people this story because I hope that it convinces them to go to a shelter and rescue an animal instead of buying one from a pet store or breeder. There are animals like Vinny all over the world waiting to give you the kind of love he gives me every day. Give them a chance.
Also, disclaimer, most feral cats aren’t like Vinny. I wouldn’t recommend, necessarily, bringing one home. I’ve since TNVR’d a lot of feral cats, none of which allow me to touch them. But I’ve met so many cats at the shelter that are just like Vinny. Cuddly and sweet and loving. They’re out there. And it breaks my heart to think that some of them will never find their home.
Thanks for stopping by!