Tomorrow afternoon, Chance will leave us to head to his forever home. I’ve been told that your first foster always holds a special place in your heart, and that your first goodbye is the hardest one. I have been prepared for this day, but it is still difficult. Fostering Chance has taught me so much; this experience has truly changed me for forever.
Chance came to us a skinny, stinky, frightened, and lost little kitty. That first night, he truly seemed to look up at me with big, questioning eyes as if he wasn’t sure if this was real life. It was easy to fall in love with Chance; he loved my fiancé and me instantaneously.
If I’m honest, that first week was the easiest week; it left me overly confident and enamored with fostering. I’ve tried very hard to keep this blog super positive because it is meant to show Chance’s best side, but I feel that now is an appropriate time to tell the full story. As his new family may be reading this blog, I want to preface this by saying that I am 100% confident that Chance will move forward now to be an amazing pet; please understand that the difficulties I talk about here were temporary. Chance is a very different cat now than he was when he arrived.
I’ll start by saying this: Chance was not an easy cat for me to foster.
Fostering Chance led to more emotional meltdowns on my part than I care to admit.
Not because he was a bad cat (though, at one point, I lovingly told Chance he was “the worst cat; the Marley and Me of cats,” and it’s pretty well true), but rather it was because he challenged me in difficult ways. First came the yowling… the constant vocalization. A cat’s meow is adorable for about 10 seconds; after a few hours, it’s like listening to someone constantly running their fingernails over a chalkboard. I would’ve given anything to make this cat stop crying, and I tried everything I could think of. I tried ignoring it, I tried distracting him, feeding him, playing with him, introducing him to my own cats, leaving him alone… I tried everything I could possibly think of. I watched a “My Cat From Hell” marathon trying to find some piece of advice I may have missed that might help this cat. I combed cat forums, Bengal forums, advice columns, I Googled the crap outta that question: “Why will this cat not shut up?!?” And finally, we tried medication… and medication helped.
Please understand – I was never angry at Chance for his meowing. I just wanted to understand it…to fix it! And therein lies my first VERY important lesson: working through issues with a cat requires an abundance of patience…and I really struggle with patience.
And then came the medical scares. It began with an abscess that led to the discovery of a heart murmur and the vet telling me (and I quote) “usually these cats just die suddenly one day without any notice.” I left that appointment and just sobbed the whole way home; I was convinced Chance was going to drop dead sometime in the next few days. I held my breath every morning…waiting to hear him meow to let me know he was still alive before entering his room. My friend Katie, from Of Barks and Bones, really helped me so much during this particular time. She’s been volunteering with rescues a lot longer than I have, and she was just so great about listening to all my thoughts and giving me valuable information (thank you, Katie!).
After talking with Katie, I discussed possibilities with my fiancé – we decided that if Chance’s condition was indeed terminal, we would adopt him. I didn’t want him to die homeless. Fortunately, the first vet’s outlook was completely wrong! Lesson number 2: do not blindly trust your vet.
Dealing with Chance’s medical issues was heartbreaking; this little cat that ran around so fast (and so loudly) at home would go completely silent and hide in my lap at the vet’s office. Probably the appointment that sticks with me most came immediately after Chance’s first adoption (and nearly immediate return).
Chance was adopted (or rather placed in a “foster-to-adopt” situation) on a Saturday; by Monday, he was being returned. I left work to pick him up, and I needed to take him to a vet appointment that same day. I picked Chance up from the house, but we had no time to really greet one another; he’d been with me for about a month before going to this house for the weekend, and this was his first time being separated from me.
At the vet’s office, I finally got to greet Chance again. We sat in the little exam room, and Chance, who usually just hides at the vet’s office, stretched out in my arms and lay his whole body back on my chest…he reached up and pawed at my face and just CLUNG to me. They had to take his blood pressure at that appointment, and he was terrified… They had to restrain him, and the only thing I could do was reach up and stroke his head. It was heart-wrenching.
Countless vet appointments later, we did find out that Chance’s heart murmur was benign and needed no treatment! That was the best day. That was the highest of the high days (and this journey has been filled with both lows AND highs. It’s important to remember that). The day we found out that Chance was healthy was the day I took all those pictures of him rolling around in a box (See Chance and the Box). It was the lightest I’d felt since bringing Chance home.
With his medical issues behind us, we could finally bring Chance to adoption events and NOT have to warn people that he may be sick. Ahh yes…adoption events: talk about a roller coaster! I swear, this cat had more adoption applications than probably even I know about. But, my fiance and I learned VERY quickly (ahh, another lesson) not to trust that an application would mean Chance would actually be adopted. We had countless people just disappear on us after applying for him. It was SO frustrating! In the beginning, I would get very excited whenever Chance had a new adoption application; after 2 months, our foster coordinator, Kim, had to pass along applications to other people because I had become a pessimistic skeptic who was struggling to give people a clean slate and fair chance. I was able to let that go by the end, but not without difficulty. I have to say – I thought I knew a lot about people, and it really doesn’t surprise me anymore when I hear about blatant acts of cruelty towards animals. However, until Chance, I never really realized some of the more subtle frustrations when it comes to rescue: specifically, uncooperative people or people who view animals as items for easy purchase and return. But that’s a whole different blog. Back to Chance!
Once we could stop worrying about Chance’s medical future, we began to focus a lot more on his forever future. We focused much more on dealing with Chance’s behavior at this point. To be honest, most of Chance’s behavioral issues were absolutely normal “young male cat” issues; but, I had forgotten how absolutely obnoxious a young male cat can be! Buzzy was obnoxious when he was younger (actually, he can still be pretty obnoxious), but it’s been a long time since I had to deal with young male antics!
For the most part, I tried to laugh at Chance’s craziness. Remember this picture?
This picture perfectly embodies “Chance.” He was off the walls. Ha!
We learned to “Chance-proof” the house: put away all edible items…even that package of rolls – he will eat through the package; hide any plastic utensils – he will eat those too; remove spice rack from wall – he will climb it; remove the nail in the wall that held the spice rack – he will pull it out and maybe eat it; hide pill pocket bag because even though he absolutely refuses to eat them when his pill is inside of them, he will devour the entire bag when you’re not looking!
It became a routine – Chance was given free reign of the house on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on weekends (my cats were given free reign of the house on M/W/F). While it was annoying at first, after 3 months of hiding the bowl of bananas, removing decorations from walls, and tucking away any toy that had feathers, I got used to it. I even got used to his counter surfing, which he would do blatantly in front of me despite my repeatedly removing him, clapping, going “ah ah!” loudly, etc.
Chance even began to integrate himself with my own two cats, Buzzy and Luna. We had some struggles there as well – when Chance first came to us, it was like he didn’t speak cat. Cats do most of their communicating with one another using their eyes and body language. Chance meowed at Buzzy and Luna, and he didn’t seem to know how to communicate with his body at all!
It turns out that Buzzy is actually a very good teacher when it comes to body language. Chance would be obnoxious, and Buzzy would correct him – fairly but firmly. We never had a fight, but Buzzy did have his work cut out for him. I knew it was best to let Buzzy communicate with Chance the way cats do (and only intervene if it became a fight) even though it can look scary at times (hissing, growling, back arching, pouncing). You can tell when cats start actually fighting – fortunately, that never happened.
As dumb as this might sound, I also communicated with Chance using what limited “cat speak” I knew (i.e., blinking slowly at him to tell him I loved him lol). After about 1.5 months, he began blinking back, and I noticed him blinking more at Buzzy and Luna…and listening more to Buzzy’s body language.
The changes in Chance have come slowly (well, quickly if you really think about it – but gradually to my eyes since I see him every day). I have slowly begun to see him change and blossom. He sits with Buzzy and Luna waiting for his food to come to him now (well, most of the time) instead of leaping up on the counter in impatience. He grooms Buzzy and Luna instead of just pouncing on them, and they let him do so. He purrs, makes biscuits, blinks to communicate, and meows a lot less now. He cooperatively takes his pill every evening…even though I still have to give it to him using a pill gun lol.
This past weekend, it finally became extremely obvious to me that Chance is ready for his forever home. We had a party at our house, and 5 new people who Chance has never met attended; they even brought the same small dog who visited with us during Chance’s first week at our house (Chance did NOT like the dog that first week). Chance did not hide or skitter away as he once did when a new person entered the house. Instead, he solicited attention. He did not growl at or hide from the dog; he hissed a couple of times and kept his distance, but he didn’t let the dog keep him away from people. By the end of the night, Chance curled up at the top of a cat tower and watched us all playing games. The next day, he napped in my bed with me and Luna for a full hour (and there was a time when I never saw this cat even lay down for more than 10 seconds!).
I had never seen Chance so at home…so “normal.” And I knew he was ready. And he is.
This brings me to probably the toughest lesson of all: in rescue, your work is never done. Chance will move on, and I will bring in a new foster cat with new issues, and we will start all over again. There may be more tears, there will be more smiles, and there will be more goodbyes. Chances are that Chance isn’t even the toughest cat I’ll work with. This is the hardest lesson for me to learn.
Tomorrow, Chance will go on to finally find his forever. I will never get to know his whole story; if I’m lucky, I may get an update or two. But, I will never know what came before us – what may have contributed to his issues and lack of cat knowledge. And that’s ok. Cats don’t live in the past or worry about the future; they live in the moment. In this moment and in all the moments to come, Chance will be loved and well cared for. That is all that matters to Chance, and that is all that matters to me.