A Home for Danna
by, Jul 14th 2008 at 05:37 PM (784 Views)
The summer of 2005 fifteen year old Madelon came to stay with our family for several months while her mother picked up the loose ends of a move from out of state. She brought with her two cats, Lexie and Nilla. My nine year old son Alex had never had an opportunity to play with a cat. Once he saw the beautiful Nilla it was love at first sight and only a matter of time. Madelon began high school, helped Alex with his homework and was a wonderful friend to all of us. Madelon told us the story of her favorite book when she was a little girl called 'Millions of Cats". This number sounded reasonable to Alex, so he saved his Christmas and birthday money and dreamed of purchasing a rescue cat from the local shelter. He begged. He pleaded. He swore he would do all the work. He was willing to give up some of his favorite toys. No amount of dissuasion or sacrifice deterred him.
It was during Madelon's time with us that my husband Robert took the opportunity to walk out on 15 years of marriage without so much as a goodbye. After Alex had been born he had grown restless with the family lifestyle of having to be home at a certain time for bed time or not having the freedom to just up and go out without the accompanying trappings of children. With all his travel for work and spare time spent increasingly away from his family pursuing his own interests the fact that he was gone, sadly, did not make an immediate impact on our day to day existence. The day Madelon moved out and took Nilla and Lexie was a more wrenching lifestyle change. Madelon stayed in contact with us and Alex actually got to sleep over at Nilla's house on occasion. As much as he loved Nilla he never stopped wanting a cat of his own.
One unusually balmy afternoon in early January in 2007 we stopped in at PetSmart. Alex wandered off to look at the shelter cats while I perused the aquarium aisle before heading over to load up on dog food. I was content in the belief we already had plenty of animals and that it didn't hurt to indulge him this whim: 'but Mom I'm only looking!" Alex came running up to me out of breath;
"Mom! I have found him come quick!"
I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that. So we trudge over to the cats and there is the 'World's Cutest Kitten'. The cutest kitten in Alex's eyes. I thought they were all cute. He begged me to get him.
"Honey, I can't, we don't have the money."
"Mom, I have the money, I have saved up!"
"Yes, but you don't have it with you and I don't have it to loan you."
After a long negotiation we agreed to come back at a later, more fiscally sound date and if the kitten was still there, then it was meant to be. So we left and I prayed real hard that he would forget. And for a time he did. After three weeks I thought I was home free to visit the Wal-Mart that was in the same shopping complex. I was wrong.
"Mommy, can we go to PetSmart today and see if my kitten is still there? Please mommy please!"
Guess what? Alex's kitten was gone. Alex was pretty upset but once the nice lady working there explained that the kitten had gotten a wonderful home he was ok with it although still disappointed. That day there were no little kittens. All older cats and a few not quite grown cats with just a 'smidgeon of kitten' still left in them.
One older, beautiful, black and white tomcat had been surrendered because his elderly owner, no longer able to care for him, was now in a nursing home. His huge, sad, eyes followed us as we walked past the cages. Now I am not the kind of person that would be safe donating my time at a shelter or going in to make the selection for a family pet because I want them all. My heart went out to this cat so I asked to see him. His name was Smokey and he was beautiful. However he was not a child's cat. Especially not an ADHD mildly Autistic child's cat. Back he went into his cage and I said a silent apology to his sad, old face.
On the bottom row there was a 'smidgeon of kitten' boisterously rolling around in his cage. Alex was smitten. He asked to see him but the nice lady told him that the kitten was being treated for ring worm and it would not be a good idea to handle him. Again Alex begged and pleaded. And honestly Madelon's kitties had sucked me in as well. And after having to disappoint old Smokey my will power was rapidly weakening if not nil. I had to firmly tell Alex there was no way I would be able to take a cat that was ill. We simply could not afford it right now. Just above this kitten's cage was Flo, a beautiful, black and white, long haired 'smidgeon of kitten'. She was breathtakingly beautiful and tiny. She had just turned 12 months old but looked much younger. She was tiny because of having had a litter of kittens herself very young. All her babies had been adopted but no one had wanted Flo.
Next to Flo's cage was another beautiful cat. A lovely tortoise shell with bright orange accents in her multicolored coat. She was named Macy after the department store she was rescued from as a feral, pregnant, kitten. She, too, had given birth to kittens who had all been adopted out. Macy was very timid and frightened. She had the wild terrified eyes of a feral cat in a cage. I thought she was beautiful but knew in my heart there was no way she would be the cat for Alex.
I suggested Flo to Alex and he eventually agreed to look at her. After playing with her for a bit Alex decided Flo would be a good cat for him. But only if I was sure he couldn't have the kitten with ring worm. Once Alex confirmed that I would definitely not be taking home the sick kitten he continued playing with Flo as I spoke with the worker about the paperwork. I off handedly mentioned that if I was getting a cat for myself I would take Macy in a heartbeat.
The nice lady worker was actually Macy's foster mom. She told me how she was usually a dog foster mom but she had been the one who found Macy in October and knew that she was going to deliver her kittens any minute. She said that Macy and her kittens had truly been an emergency rescue. Macy had been with her for 12 weeks. She was very shy but apparently very loving and sweet when she was comfortable with you. To prove this she got Macy out of her cage. The change in her was fascinating. She purred and chirped and rubbed against her foster mom. Oh how I wished I could take her home with us but realized Macy definitely would not be the right cat for Alex.
The lady suggested taking both cats so as to keep each other company. While this not a bad idea I explained about the upcoming divorce and how financially tight everything was for us. Without missing a beat she said;
"I will waive the fee if you will promise to give her a good home. I am so terribly worried about what will happen to her. She has been here two weeks already."
She must have sensed my weakening will because she continued;
"I will give you coupons for free food, litter and litter box plus give you her carrier. All I ask is that you love her and give her a chance."
Now I ask you, could you have withstood the pressure? If you were my birth mother Margie, yes, she does not care for cats. However, I am a soft hearted pushover. Knowing full well Margie would be likely to disown me, all my family and friends were going to think I was crazy, I agreed to take Macy too. We got them home, set them up with a litter box, food and water watched them disappear. Literally, under a couch. After a few days Flo ventured out and within a week was upstairs sleeping in Alex's room which he now called 'Kitty Heaven'. We didn't see Macy for two weeks. I had never even had a chance to pet this cat. I began to question my own sanity for adopting an invisible cat.
My best friend Evelyn came over to see the cats. She asked to be left alone in the room Macy was hiding in. Within twenty minutes her soft reassuring voice had lured Macy out of hiding and Evelyn was actually petting her. I tried to contain my jealousy. Macy was so sweet and loving with Evelyn but when she saw me off she went. Gone again. I knew she could be tamed. Now I was bound and determined. A few days passed and Macy made the leap of faith to come upstairs. But when we found her out she ran for cover under my bed. I bought a second litter box and put it in my master bath so that she didn't have to make the treacherous trek downstairs. When I would leave in the morning I would shut my bedroom door for her sense of security. Eventually I left it open in the hopes she would venture out.
And finally she did. Mostly at night after Alex and I were asleep. I woke up a few times to find her sleeping by my side but she would run when I would reach out to pet her. It was very slow going but she became bolder and began to enjoy sleeping next to me. She eventually allowed me to pet her. It was amazing. She would purr, demanding that I continue to pet her until she was satisfied. Her generous purr filled my room and I, too, was in 'Kitty Heaven'.
But it wasn't until after I bought her a beautiful, bright, orange collar to bring out her beautiful, bright, orange highlights that she really blossomed. Macy is now a changed girl. She has confidence, she is beautiful and she knows it. Not only does she know it but she knows that everyone else knows it too. And best of all she is now someone's kitty. Macy has become the 'head kitty in charge'. She sits regally next to me not allowing anyone to come close to me while she is receiving my attention.
Flo on the other hand is an easy going, lover cat. Flo isn't shy and she loves everybody. She has turned out to be the perfect cat for Alex. Despite Alex's occasionally loud outbursts he has been unfailingly kind to Flo. She in turn has never scratched him even when he moved suddenly or made a loud noise. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ace, our poor, beleaguered whippet. Ace is a gentle soul of a dog who doesn't bark or chase cats. He has taken the full brunt of Flo's wrath and distrust of all creatures canine. And he has the battle scars and incriminating claw marks to prove it. Poor Ace.
In fact it wasn't until the weekend we kept a friend's rambunctious Shihtzu-Poodle mix pup, Cole, that Flo finally began to change her mind about Ace. Cole is a merry ole soul but boy does he love to chase cats! Macy and Flo were not amused by his 'attention'. The one good thing that came from Cole's three day rampage in our home was Flo's sudden admiration and love for the gentle Ace. Flo now appreciates Ace's mild manner, loves to clean his ears and lay against him purring much to his discomfort. Macy has always loved Ace so he is not completely traumatized by the cats. I just hope that he can eventually learn to relax during Flo's attention. Poor Ace.
February of the same year Alex and I unexpectedly received another addition to our family, Danna, my niece. I am adopted and was reunited with my birth family a few years before Danna was born. My birth mother Margie was just 17 and unmarried when I was born. She had no support from her family with which to raise me but took all the right steps to get me back after she was of age. By the time she was 18, married to my birth father and pregnant with my brother Danny, Margie was devastated by the state's refusal to place me back with my family. I was placed for adoption with a couple in their 40's that were unable to have children of their own. They were wonderful parents whom I love dearly. But as an adult with both parents deceased I decided to make the connection with my birth family and at the very least have a family medical history before having children of my own.
My little brother Danny is Danna's father and had been raised by our mother Margie. When my brother passed away May of 2004 from liver failure he was divorced from Danna's mother with whom she had been living. But Danna's mom had demons and addictions of her own to contend with and not been able to care for her two children Danna five and her brother Cody who was 12. The state stepped in and placed them into foster care.
My husband Robert and I had attempted to foster Danna and Cody with the hope of eventually adopting them. After months of vistitations and family counseling Cody's severe behavioral problems brought us to our knees. We were not able to have him in our home with our autistic son. Cody was physically abusive to Alex and Danna. We begged the case worker to allow us to foster Danna while continuing visitation and counseling with Cody. The refusal of the state to separate the siblings, fighting the powers that be in the foster care system for services for both children and the legal safari through the termination of a drug addicted mother's parental rights Robert had become angry and frustrated. He refused to go to the court dates with me or visit with the children. It got so bad that Robert simply would not listen to anything I had to say about the children and forbid me to have further contact with them. I could not cut the children off just like that. You cannot turn off love and caring like a switch. I no longer attended the court dates but kept up with the children through Margie. Robert had lost interest. I had lost my marriage. And Alex was still hoping for a sister. He wanted Danna to come home.
One sunny day early in October 2006 out of the blue I had received a rare phone call from Danna. She wanted to see us. After the conversation with Danna and her then foster mom, the three of us happily began regular visitation. The case worker was still pressuring me to take Cody but due to his behavioral issues he had been sent to a state juvenile facility. For all practical purposes the siblings had been separated by the state. Reluctantly the visitations with Danna were approved. Then on February 14, 2007 at a progress hearing for Danna and Cody, Cody told the judge he did not want to be adopted. Then Danna raised her hand and told the judge exactly what she wanted, where she wanted to be and who she wanted to be with. With the slam of his gavel and against the objections of the state and the case worker the judge said "Happy Valentine's Day Danna" and awarded me custody.
It was different having Danna with us all the time but the adjustment went smoothly with only a few sibling disputes. Danna is as much of an animal lover as Alex and a tug of war soon ensued as to where kitty Flo was going to sleep. In a peace making effort I told Danna that Macy could be her cat but that Flo was Alex's cat. There was no way Macy was going to sleep with Danna but gentle Ace wanted to snuggle with her in her bed. This seemed to satisfy her but Danna still longed for her very own cat like Flo.
The three of us settled into a routine with school and activities. It seemed like we had always been a family. Summer came and the kids enjoyed their freedom terrorizing the neighborhood well into the sticky hot evenings of an Indiana summer. Danna happily acquainted herself with the neighbors. Not shy she would just ring doorbells and introduce herself. Our next door neighbor is one of those 'cat ladies'. Only she is not old and crazy, she just loves cats. She can't help but feed all the strays that come to her door. And she does and they do! On any given day there are 10 to 12 cats lined up at her door waiting to be fed. Danna had a name for each of the strays.
Early one September morning there were two new 'smidgeon of kittens' hanging around. I spied them from afar and prayed the kids wouldn't see them. That afternoon after school I saw Danna walking through the yard carrying both kittens over her arm like a purring, furry purse. I knew it was only a matter of time. Both kittens were beautiful. The fuzzy gray boy was solid grey except for one little, bitty, solid white dot on his belly. The gray tiger striped boy had a white goatee, white chest and white paws. I tried not to look.
"No you can't have a kitten, no I don't want to see them and get them out of the house now!"
After dark I had to force Danna in to take her bath and go to bed. As she slept I heard the pitiful mewing at my front door and knew it was only a matter of time. The next day was Saturday, no school so I slept in. When I woke up I could not find Danna. Anywhere! In a panic Alex and I checked all through the house and called for her outside. No response. I was almost in tears and ready to call 911 when Alex burst in the door saying;
"'Mom I found her!"
She had gotten up on her own, a minor miracle in itself, and gone outside with her kittens. Danna walked in trying to look innocent. In tears of relief I read her the riot act for scaring me half to death. She took refuge in her room. Later on she timidly asked me if she could play outside. I agreed but told her;
"Leave the cats alone!"
"Mommy do you hate the cats?"
"No sweetie, I really don't. I just know better than to look at them because if I look at them I know I would be lost. "
No longer a matter of time, my time had come. The next thing I know the fuzzy gray boy was perched in my lap purring madly. As I turned to tell her to get this cat out of my house I got a good look at his kitten cuteness. Then I turned to see the questioning in Danna's clear blue eyes.
This is a child whose family never had a lot of money. She didn't wear brand new store bought clothes, would call her grandma to come get her so she could take a bath and often wondered where her next meal was coming from. She had lived in five different foster homes in three years. This is a child who had to walk out of her mother's house with the clothes on her back and nothing else when Child Protective Services removed her. No toys, no special blanket, no nothing. Just walked out and left the only life she had ever known only to have her father die the next day without her even being able to say goodbye.
There in her eyes was the questioning; Do you really want me here? Am I really a part of this family? Here is someone who needs a home and a family just like me. How can we turn him away? I could not. Just as I could not have turned Danna away that October day in 2006 when she had called me out of the blue;
"Aunt Lyn? Do you ever think about adopting a kid any more? Because if you do and you would, I would really like to come home".
My heart was a lump in my throat. This was one of those life changing moments in time that sneak up on you when you least expect it. Robert had left Alex and me to pursue a life free of responsibilities. But I knew there was no freedom in that life only loneliness. If I said yes to Danna I was sure Robert would never come back. In an instant I knew why God had placed me where I was in my life for that very moment.
"Yes Danna, you can come home."
I knew then that Danna needed that kitten as much as he needed her. And Alex and I needed Danna as much as she needed us. And now we are a three cat family, one for each of us. 'Kitty Heaven' all around. Poor Ace.