I fell in love a while ago. And hard. I knew it couldn’t last, a sort of summer romance that you know will end but embark on anyway. A tale of love with a convict on lock down.
Meet Suzie Sunshine. That sure wasn’t her name when I met her. Scrappy, they called her. This little rescue cat had been brought in to a local animal shelter, Langley Animal Protection Society, and while her sibling was adopted quite quickly, Suzie’s fierce determination to draw blood from anyone she encountered earned her the name and associated reputation.
I didn’t know all that when I first met her, I just saw a small, frightened young cat who kept herself tightly contained in a corner of her kitty condo. She intrigued me. I wanted to connect.
So I tried a few things, just experimenting, hoping to make a connection. Follow my curiosity, explore what unfolds. A little game of approach/retreat, a bit of soft vocalization, a bit of soft eye contact…and a smattering of enticing movement through the bars of her cage designed to trigger her instinct to play, which might just help her forget her fear.
In the spirit of “dress for the job you want” or “begin with the end in mind,” from the start I called her Suzie Sunshine whenever I visited; a way of seeing her as the wonderful cat she could be rather than the frightened, aggressive one she was. In just a couple of visits, playing and chatting, Suzie was coming to the side of the cage not just to bat at the pen, but also to rub her forehead on the fingers I poked through the bars. Her reputation meant only staff could open her cage so that was the only contact allowed.
Next time I showed up Suzie had been moved to the program director’s office in an effort to socialize her; staff told me she’d spent the last several days wedged in the few inches between the wall and the back of the desk, where no one could reach her. That’s where she was when I arrived, eyes wide, body rigid. Thanks of the easy-going program director who didn’t mind the invasion, I sat on the cold floor of her office, reached my arm as far as I could towards Suzie Sunshine and “talked” to her a little, mostly just hung out. It was uncomfortable at best, hard floor, arm wedged in a tight space. But before long, when I glanced back at her with soft eyes, her eyes softened too and she reached her paw out to touch my fingers. That was pretty incredible.
The program director said Suzie Sunshine likely wouldn’t find a home, given how handy she was with her claws and teeth. They’d be lucky to find a barn where she’d have a chance as a feral mouser. For some reason, I wasn’t so sure. Next day, when the shelter was quieter and the office empty, I stopped in for another visit. Opening the door, I meowed a greeting and with a loud, almost frantic reply, Suzie Sunshine leapt from her nest and all but mauled me, this time with affection.
It was an astonishing transformation. Suzie and I spent almost two hours together that afternoon, cuddling, talking with little mews and chirps, and playing catch the fake mouse and attack the shoelace. I glanced up at one point to see shelter staff standing outside the door eyes wide with surprise.
I made a special trip back the next day, to see if we could build on our progress, Suzie getting braver with each new game. Not so quick to dart away when someone walked past the window walls of the office, not so quick to freeze, wide eyed, if I moved a little too quickly. She was starting to live up to her name. The one I gave her.
A week to the day we played footsies between the wall and the back of the desk, Suzie Sunshine charmed a lovely mother and daughter and left the shelter for her new home. This wee cat who’d only maybe ever be a barn cat. She’s moved on to her fur-ever home and my heart is both a little empty and a little more full.