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As promised, this letter contains the story of our beloved cat Sam, whom we adopted from Pet Refuge in the summer of 2008. Only a no-kill shelter like Pet Refuge would have provided a safe haven (and not euthanasia) for a shy boy like Sam, and as a result of your compassionate, loving work and commitment to animals, we have one of the best companions we could ever hope for.
We saw Sam's picture on www.petfinder.com in the summer of 2008; he was known then as Cosmo and was a resident of Pet Refuge. Something about him stole our hearts; I think it was a combination of his sweet, small face, white with black spots, and his shy pose, looking away from the camera and down at his paws. We felt like we needed to bring him home, even before we met him.
I went to Pet Refuge and asked to see Cosmo. One of the volunteers led me to the area where his cage was. He was sitting in his cage, looking around. I thought he was beautiful - his back was covered with more black spots, like a cow's spots, than in his picture. I was gently informed that Cosmo was not much of a people cat, that he'd been brought back to the Refuge by a family who'd originally adopted him, but were disappointed that he stayed under the bed all the time. He was about a year and a half, but this might be too old for him to change his ways - he might never be affectionate with people, although he really liked other cats, and had the endearing habit of bopping volunteers on the head when they walked past his cage. We were undeterred, my husband and I. It just felt like Cosmo needed to be ours.
After we finalized his adoption, Cosmo resisted being removed from his kennel, trying to vain to cling to the sides as he was carefully removed by one of the volunteers. I remember one of the other volunteers, a young teenaged boy who had cared for Cosmo, was emotional as he was put in my cat carrier. He sounded on the verge of tears as he said, "Please take care of Cosmo." I promised that we would, and that we would keep in touch.
The ride home was so quiet; Cosmo didn't utter a word, and stayed crouched in a corner of his carrier. I worried that he was traumatized at being removed from the Refuge, and I promised him much love, attention, warmth, toys, regular food, brothers to play with. I hoped he could hear and feel some of the affection in my voice. I knew Cosmo might never be a "lap cat," but I wanted him to feel how much love we already had for him. It struck me as I drove that most shelters wouldn't have the space, the funds, or the commitment to cats like Cosmo who need a second chance, or whose social limitations might make them less "adoptable."
We had our veterinarian, a cats-only physician whose practice is called City Kitty, give Cosmo a thorough check-up. We renamed him Sam, which we felt matched his gentle and shy temperament. And true to that temperament, our shy Sam retreated to a dark corner beneath our bed with the pink towel he'd come home with, and a plastic softball toy.
We'd read about ways to comfort and help socialize shy cats, and decided to try the approach of reading aloud. Every day for several hours, my husband and I would take turns reading to Sam. We'd sit on the floor, our backs against the wall, reading out loud. Slowly but surely, Sam came closer. At first he edged out to the place where the bed ended, peering out from underneath, looking at us a little worriedly but also curiously. Then he would come further, closer. He didn't allow is to get close enough to pet him, and even raising a hand off your lap to turn the page of the book could startle him and send him running. We always kept our voices soothing, though, and maintained our routine of reading aloud, regular meals, talking to Sam even when we couldn't see him. Eventually he came to sit on the bed once in awhile - never close enough to touch, but just having him trust us enough to come that far made us ecstatic. We saved our whoops of joy about his progress for when we exited the room - again, so as not to scare Sam - but he was learning, slowly, to trust us.
By the end of the two weeks, Sam was ready to be integrated into the rest of the household. This went seamlessly. Sam really did love other cats, and as we opened the door to our bedroom for the first time, and his curious brothers peered in, he walked up to them, gave a tiny mew, and threw himself down at their feet, wriggling around on his side as if to say, "see? I'm harmless!"
Little by little, as Sam got used to us, the house, and a new routine, he continued to stretch his comfort zone. At first he came to sit on the back of the couch when we were there; next, although he trembled at first, he let us stroke his cheeks and chin when he sat in his special spot. Now he'll let you rest your face on his back and pet him while he's curled up there.
Sam's growing trust touches us beyond words. We feel so honored that this once-scared little guy is learning to accept love and safety. When I go into the bedroom later in the day to put something away or set the alarm clock for the morning, Sam used to run into the bedroom with me, and jump on the bed. Eventually, the jump was accompanied by a pointed meow in my direction, and I'd ask, "do you want me to pet you?" His back muscles ripple a little as if in reply, and he let me come closer each time to pet him - first while standing beside the bed, then while sitting on the bed, now while lying next to him on the bed. It's such an important routine now that Sam lets me know every day with a meow that he needs his "rubdown!"
Sam has also been a tremendous positive influence on his brothers, our other feline companions. We have a total of five neutered males, all indoor, and from time-to-time, two of the more alpha cats will hiss at each other and face off, preparing to fight. Sam will walk right between them, giving his petite meows and head-butting each brother cat until the fight is averted. We've been amazed and humbled by his peacemaking skills.
Two years ago, when we adopted Sam, no one could have predicted the sweet, loving, shy, giving creature he would reveal himself to be. Two years is so much longer than a regular shelter would have been able to give Sam, had we not come along. Pet Refuge is such a special place because it gives all its creatures the gift of unconditional love, regardless of their situation, and euthanizing is simply not an option. We can't tell you how deep our gratitude goes, and how indebted we feel to you for bringing us and Sam together. Your work is so critical, and we will always be here to support you in whatever way we can. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
No-kill Pet Refuge, operated by the North Kingstown-Exeter Animal Protection League, Inc.