“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”

James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small

When I was in my last semester of graduate school, I finally put my foot down. I was stressed, I was selfish, I was liable to become too wrapped up in my own thoughts or studies or work to let others in. It was time for a change–a major change. I decided it was time to get a furry friend.

I went to adopt a cat.

Now, before everyone starts saying “What a reckless, spur of the moment decision! How dare you adopt a defenseless animal without taking the time to think it through! That’s another creature’s life, you know!”let me assure you that this was a decision I had been stewing over for a year and a half, at that point. I grew up with cats in the house, I cat sat for friends when they were out of town (which is something I’m still willing to do), and almost all my extended and immediate family have had a cat at one point or another. I knew what I was getting myself into, and I did not make the decision lightly. Because of my experience (and because I had stewed on it for so long) I knew that I wanted to adopt a cat from a humane society, that I wanted an older cat, and that I wanted to make a difference in a cat’s life.

I was living in Chicago at the time, and they have several wonderful humane societies for cats throughout the city, which I took my time researching online and looking over their adoption policies. In the end, I went with Tree House Humane Society. They work almost exclusively with street cats, taking care of different cat colonies throughout the city (neutering and spaying as they go), and rehabilitating some cats so that they are able to be adopted out. They take care of all their cats medically before adoption, put the chip finders in all the adoption cats, send out new families with bags of food and a few weeks’ worth of meds (when applicable), and have a network of follow-up processes for how the cats are doing in their new homes. They also don’t keep cats in cages, unless absolutely necessary.

So, on a cloudy weekend day in January, 2016 I went to a Tree House house (the one located in Uptown, in case anyone’s interested) to meet some of the little fuzzballs. And that’s where I met Janie.

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“I saw these shoes. These shoes were on my floor. Therefore the shoes are my bed. … Hope you like flats.”

Janie–Lady Jane Grey to you plebeians–wasn’t called Janie then, of course. She was under the name Twiggie (a name I quickly remedied). At an old 9 years, she was one of the younger cats in the senior room, but suffered from a touch of arthritis and chronic pancreatitis. She had spent the first approximately 8 years of her life on the streets and living in a cat colony. When the caretakers switched, the new caretaker apparently thought she was too sweet to stay in the colony, so they moved her to the house, where she had been living for the last year before I met her. When I first met Twiggie, she was curled up in her cat bed and unwilling to stir from it. Not that she was ornery, you understand, she just didn’t see the need to remove herself from her warm bed simply because you walked into the room and decided to pet her. But, goodness, did she love getting petted! She just curled up into a tighter ball and purred louder the longer I ran my fingers over her grey tabby fur.

I would love to say that that was the moment that I decided to adopt her, right then and there, but it wasn’t. I went on through the house and fell in love with a younger cat who was FIV+ named Swerp. Because of the larger financial commitment, however, I took the night to think over my options about adopting him. And it wasn’t until the next day, when I returned with my then-roommate and some other cat-loving friends in tow, that I really looked at Twiggie.

I will be forever grateful for the lady that walked through with me that first day, because she wrote down the names of the cats that I seemed to connect with. So the lady who helped me the second day brought me to those two cats: Swerp and Twiggie.

That second interaction with Twiggie is what did it. I officially fell in love, and two hours later I was bringing Lady Jane Grey into my apartment, complete with all the kitty accessories necessary for daily life.

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“MOM! I’m just trying to sleep! Stop taking pictures!”

And that was basically the last time for a while that I was permitted to look at my own cat. She was terrified, having never been in a home before, and hid under the bed consistently for the first 3 weeks that I had her. I even had to feed her under the bed, as she was too nervous to come out to eat. (She did come out at night and when we were gone to use the cat box, but that was right next to the bed so she didn’t have to move far.)

Eventually, my roommate and I were aware that she was moving around the apartment at night when we were both asleep and during the day when we were gone. She slowly started to come out to spend time with us as we were studying in the kitchen, watching movies in the living room, or even just listening to music in the bedroom. She would run under the bed instantly if startled by a sudden sound or movement, if someone’s face got too close to her’s, or if someone she wasn’t used to came into the apartment: a very simplified list of her fears and worries.

What was funny was that she didn’t seem to know how to be a house cat. She didn’t realize that she could jump up on our beds and snuggle with us (at least at first). She didn’t know that she could meow at us to let us know she needed something. She didn’t jump into boxes, or beg in the kitchen, or jump up onto counter tops.

It was still so easy to love her.

Her love for receiving love never changed: if you started petting her, she just couldn’t get enough. As she became more comfortable with me, she eventually started jumping up on my bed to sick her face in mine and get pets when I woke up. In return, I started having more motivation to get up in the morning beyond “I have to go to work” or “I suppose I have to study for comps again, now.” I had someone who loved me, who needed me, and who curled up next to me on the futon when I stayed up late studying. I still can’t believe that she wasn’t adopted in the year she was at Tree House before I showed up.

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My knitting buddy ❤

A year and one month after I adopted her, she acts even more like a cat. She doesn’t run away right away, although she still startles easily (and under the bed is still her safe spot). Janie has only recently discovered the “If I fits, I sits” rule. She is as fascinated with movies as she was when I first brought her home (she watched movies with me). She also has recently discovered that when I knit, there is a whole ball of yarn that is unraveling for her to play with.

She keeps me company, through thick and thin. She gives me love in the highs and lows, and gives me a reason to get out of bed, even when I don’t want to. She makes me a better person. Sure, she might throw up almost every day due to her pancreatitis and proclivity at coughing up hairballs (which might result in a choice word or two muttered or shouted, depending on the level of damage), but her perpetually sweet nature always overcomes that. She doesn’t hold a grudge, even after I pick her up. She’s still learning how to cat, and I’m so proud of the progress that she’s made.

Janie is my furry friend. And I’m so happy to have her in my life.

-Wilber

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