Two years ago, when I started to help socialize the fearful cats at our local shelter, Matt was the first cat who stole my heart. I wanted to adopt him and take him home with me.
Matt spent most of his life on the streets. Within his first year of life, he had been trapped, neutered, and returned to the cat colony from which he came. The colony caretaker would let the colony cats come and go from her home, which allowed Matt to become somewhat familiar with people.
After the caregiver died, a shelter volunteer started feeding the cat colony, and she discovered that Matt loved being petted. She also discovered that his fur had gotten matted and that he had an infected ear and bad teeth. She decided it was time for him to transition from outdoor to indoor living, which is when Matt was trapped and brought to to our shelter.
According to the shelter’s newsletter, Matt’s physical health improved with regular medical care and good food, but he had a hard time adjusting to new people. When people entered his room, he retreated to the back of his box or cat bed. It was several weeks before there was anyone he trusted enough to let pet him.
I wasn’t one of those people. Matt would hiss at me from his cubicle whenever I entered the room. Each time I visited, I’d sit on the floor to avoid being confrontational, and I’d slow blink by way of a friendly greeting. Then, to allow him the choice of whether or not to interact, I’d use a long spoon to place treats in front of him. Matt’s love of food encouraged him to lower his guard. After I’d visited several times, instead of hissing at me, he began to look expectantly at me for treats.
The write-up of Matt in our shelter’s newsletter reports that over time, Matt began to allow more and more people to pet him. Eventually, he even got out of his bed to greet his friends.
Although I now take notes after each socialization visit, I didn’t during my first six months. All I know from my visits with Matt during that time is that he had grown to include me in his circle of friends. Not only could I approach him to place treats in his cubicle, but he’d also come to me to coax for treats.
Nine months after I began working with him, Matt and I had developed a routine. He’d meow when I entered his room and then come to me for pets. By then, I’d also begun pushing his limits because I felt it was time to help him become adoptable. Now if he wanted treats from me, he had to be wiling to take them from my hand, to walk over my arms and legs, and even to take them from from off of my body. Matt reciprocated by head butting me for pets and even rolling over on his belly. In turn, I continued pushing his limits. I began to brush him and to teach him to give him a high-five. As he continued to blossom, I began introducing some of my more patient friends to him. I gave all of them treats for Matt so that he’d continue to learn that people are good.
Around that time, Matt was featured in the shelter’s newsletter. It stated that Matt was now “ready to retire to a quiet life of comfy beds and tasty food with his own people.”
Indeed, later that fall, I received the news that an application had been submitted for Matt. I set aside time to cuddle with him, play with him, and to take photos of him for the last time.
The most bittersweet moments for me at the shelter are when a cat I’ve worked extensively with gets adopted. Part of me wants to dance because I’m thrilled that they’re finally getting a home. The other part of me wants to cry because I know that I’ll miss seeing them. Such was the case with Matt.
In his new home, Matt continued to come out his shell. He’d head butt his owner for attention during the day and snuggle with him at night. He’d also started demanding attention from visitors. It made me so happy to read the wonderful updates, but also heartbroken to receive the news that less than a year after being adopted he lost his struggle with chronic kidney failure. I wish Matt could have had years not months in a home.
I’m not sure why Matt stole my heart. Perhaps it was his big sad eyes, his uneven gait, or that he reminded me of a teddy bear. Whatever the reason, I’m so glad that I got to contribute to his transformation into a loving house cat, and that he got to spend with a loving family and not in a shelter.