I was 21 and living more than 1400 miles from home when I decided to adopt a cat. I had always lived with cats growing up, and was wildly lonely for their companionship. Arriving at the Humane Society on a mild winter’s day I was led by an attendant down a cinderblock hallway into the cattery. Then she left, closing the door behind her, and I was the only person in the room. Two banks of cages were stacked from floor to almost-ceiling on either side of the room, like kitty-condos. The animals were separated by sexual orientation.
Motivated by the fact males were five dollars cheaper to adopt than females, and money was tight, I stepped over to the boy’s side of the room. As I began peering inside cages I grew disappointed. There wasn’t much movement. Most dozed in tight fur-balls; others gazed into the distance, morose and avoiding eye contact. Some appeared so miserable I feared they were ill. My heart sank as I wondered if this had been a good idea, after all. I grew more depressed thinking about the fate of most of these sweet innocents. I tried talking gently to them and put my hands on the wire cages so they could smell my scent. None seemed interested.
By contrast the female side of the room was a beehive of activity. Some slept, but many others paced their compartments, watching their neighbors with interest. Kittens played as mother cats dozed nearby. As I continued to glance across the room one small cat in particular caught my eye. She stared at me fixedly. When I stared back she appeared to smile. She had the longest, curliest whiskers I’ve ever seen, and as we held each other’s gaze she seemed to beam like the Cheshire cat in the Alice in Wonderland book.
And then she began to do something I never thought I would ever see a cat do -- something that confounds me to this day and causes people to shake their heads in wonder and skepticism when I tell them this story -- she started performing backflips against the door of her cage.
As I’ve said, I’ve lived with cats all my life, and I know they are quite acrobatic. But this was a new one on me. I hadn’t even seen kittens perform this feat. Entranced, I walked over until I stood before the cage, which was about five feet off the floor. After about four flips the cat stopped her performance, and we sized each other up. The sign on her cage said she was 12 weeks old and had come alone to the shelter. It didn’t say how long she had been there or what the circumstances had been.
Now she sat quietly, an alert, seemingly pleased expression on her face. She was gorgeous -- I couldn’t believe anyone could give her up. One side of her face was orange and the other black, separated by a blaze of white down her nose. Huge green eyes stared into mine with a bemused expression. She was a tortoiseshell and her long, fine hair was a swirl of black, tan, orange, and brown. Aside from the nose blaze, the only white on her was a ruff of thick hair around her neck, white ‘gloves’ on her front paws, and ‘gogo’ boots on her hind legs. She appeared to have some Maine Coon in her, too, with her thick wicked hair and tufts of hair between her toe pads.
We must have stared at one another several minutes before I realized the other cats around us, formally so active and vocal, had grown very quiet. There must have been 40 cats in that room, and there wasn’t a sound.
Feeling a touch apprehensive at the prospect of opening the cage, I hesitated. There was no telling what this cat would do! I introduced myself and asked if she would like to get out. She stretched in response and looked expectantly at the door. The room remained uncharacteristically quiet. I felt I wasn’t the only one holding my breath; the little cat, on the other hand, seemed utterly unconcerned.
Once on the floor, after a cursory sniff of my clothes and shoes, she immediately began exploring her surrounds. She had obviously been curious about her fellow in-mates. I watched as she walked from cage to cage. After several minutes as she continued her exploration, ignoring me completely, I scooped her back in my arms. “Okay kitty. You need to go back in the cage. I’ve got a decision to make,” I said, placing her back inside the container. She replied by giving me a look of utter horror and betrayal, as if I had backed out of an agreement long since made. Then she started meowing. Loudly.
As soon as she began to cry, all the other cats joined in. The room was suddenly such a cacophony of strident howls, I was afraid the shelter workers would run in and haul me away, convinced I was torturing a cat. “Okay, Okay! I’m sorry,” I said, hastily re-opening the door.
The instant I took her in my arms again all cries stopped instantly. I was stunned. And then she snuggled into my sweater and placed her soft furry face against my cheek. Both front paws wrapped around my neck in an embrace. We had found each other.
GoGo was my best friend for 17 years. We moved across the country twice and weathered six shorter moves, as well as marriage, divorce, re-marriage, and my chronic illness and subsequent 14 surgeries. That memorable adoption day was the beginning of a remarkable friendship I cherish and continue to miss to this day.