76. A Perfect Match

76. A Perfect Match

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

A Perfect Match

One Sunday afternoon in the late fall, a few months into our relationship, my boyfriend and I went to the local animal shelter together to adopt two cats, one for each of us. The shelter was a dingy concrete building, unremarkable except for the large window flanking the entrance where the cutest of the shelter’s residents — usually a litter of kittens or puppies — appeared daily. On the wall facing the street, a window at eye level showcased other strays, usually cats who, unafraid of heights, seemed to enjoy peering down at pedestrians.

The volunteer in the reception area, a shoebox-sized room crammed with a dented tan-and-black metal desk and a half-dozen mismatched folding chairs, explained the adoption process. Satisfied that we were serious candidates for adoption, she directed us to the door in the wall, half-hidden behind the cartons of donated pet food and bags of generic kitty litter, leading to the cat room.

At the end of the narrow hallway filled with the sounds of whining and barking, scratching and mewling, the cat room — a room no bigger than the reception area — glowed green under fluorescent lights. Cages lined the walls from floor to ceiling. On the left side, several families were clustered around the cages containing litters of kittens. Two volunteers in blue tunics were taking cats out of cages for people to hold.

My boyfriend and I separated. Bypassing the crowd around the kittens, I headed for the cages on the right side of the room. Index cards on the front of the cages listed the name and description of the occupants: Flossie (four years old, spayed female, family moved) was a luxuriant white cat with a squashed face and sapphire-blue eyes; Jojo (six months, male, owner allergic) was a stringy cat with black and orange splotches; Sam (two years old, male, stray) was a burly Maine Coon cat; Yin and Yang (one year old, male and female, too much work for owner) were a pair of mewling, undernourished Siamese. The last cage on the right at shoulder height appeared to be empty, although it had a card: Morris (one year old, male, stray).

I peered into the cage. The same blue-gray as the metal walls that surrounded him, Morris melted into the shadowy corner of the cage. Only the brilliant shield of white fur on his chest and the stripe of white across his nose reflected the dim light. His yellow eyes, flecked with brown and gold, glowed as though lit from within. He sat on his haunches, erect and motionless, like the stone statues of cats that guarded the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

“Hey, Morris,” I whispered. “Hey, guy,” I cooed, sticking my fingers in the cage and wiggling them. He blinked and inclined his head slightly, considering me.

A volunteer, a sallow woman in her mid-twenties with a stringy brown ponytail, appeared at my shoulder. She consulted her clipboard.

“Excuse me,” she said, reaching across me to pull the card out of the holder. She checked the card against her paperwork, made a notation on her clipboard and fit the card back in the metal slot sideways, short end up. She turned to go.

I turned with her, withdrawing my fingers from Morris’s cage.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What does it mean when you turn the card like that?”

She looked around at the family of noisy children behind her. Turning back to me, she said, in a voice just above a whisper: “It means he’s the next to go.”

“He’s being adopted? That’s great!”

“Well, no,” she mumbled, looking down at her clipboard again. “He’s next to, you know, go.”

I didn’t know. I looked at her, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“He’s been here ten days already,” she said. “We can’t keep him any longer.”

“So, what happens to him?” I said, although I suddenly understood.

“If no one adopts him by the end of the day, he’ll be put to sleep.” She sighed. “He’s an adult cat, and families want kittens. And he’s not very friendly. He just sits in the corner.”

A father with two children, standing in front of the kitten cage, called to her, and she excused herself. My eyes prickled and my throat felt tight as I watched her open the door to the cage, pluck two squirming kittens from the pile, and hand one to each of the shrieking children.

Across the room, my boyfriend was bent over, poking his fingers through the bars of a cage where two handsome ginger-and-white-striped cats vied with each other for his attention.

Something quick and light brushed my right ear, and I turned. Morris was sitting at the front of his cage, one white-tipped paw extended through the bars. I moved closer to the cage, and he reached out again, tapping my left ear with his paw.

“Excuse me,” I called over my shoulder to the volunteer. “Can I hold him?” I asked as she came up beside me.

“Morris?” she asked. “Sure.” She swung open the door and reached her hand in, but Morris had backed into his corner again.

“Let me try,” I said as she backed away.

“Morris,” I called softly. “Hey, Morris.” He edged forward, and I lifted him out of the cage. He settled himself in my arms, his front paws on my chest. The tears that had been burning the back of my eyes threatened to overflow, and I bent my head low over him. He reached his bony, pointed face up to mine, and, with a purr that was almost a growl, licked my ear. My chest constricted. Tears ran down my cheeks.

I heard my name and turned. My boyfriend was still standing in front of the same cage. He had one of the orange cats in his arms.

“Hey, look at these guys,” he said. “Snickers and Reeses. But we’ll change their names. He’ll be Calvin.” He stroked the purring cat. “And he’ll be Hobbes.” He indicated the cat in the cage.

“No,” I choked. “I want this one.”

“What?” he said, staring at me. “C’mon, these guys are perfect. A matched pair.”

“No!” I said, wiping my cheek on my shoulder. “They’ll put Morris to sleep if I don’t take him.”

“Morris? Look, you can’t rescue every cat in here. Besides, these two are so cute....” His voice trailed off as he smiled encouragingly.

“I’m not leaving him,” I said. Morris reached up a paw and patted my face.

My boyfriend opened his mouth, thought better of whatever he was going to say, and closed it again. He sighed.

“Okay,” he said. “Mine’ll be Calvin. Yours can be Hobbes.”

“Morris,” I said. “His name is Morris.”

My boyfriend shook his head, motioning for the volunteer.

“Calvin and Morris,” he grunted. “Great.”

Throughout the winter, Morris and Calvin played together often, but Morris never liked my boyfriend. Morris proved to be a good judge of character. By spring, my boyfriend was gone. Fifteen years later, Morris is still with me, as loving and lovable as the first day I met him.


~M.L. Charendoff
Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul

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