I Love Lucy

I have written endlessly about my Guide dog, Opal. Today I am devoting my words and long-overdue attention to my cat, Lucy. It is April 1 st today. It is Lucy’s birthday, and that’s no April Fool’s joke.  Little Lucy is seven years old today (more or less).  Four years ago, on this very day, I went to the Bide-a-While animal shelter in search of a feline companion with my friend, Betty.  We were ushered into the ‘cat room’ of the local animal shelter that morning.  In this large room were upwards of thirty cats, all roaming or sitting on ledges and posts, vying for attention in hopes that someone might adopt them.  Betty is a serious cat lover. That is why I enlisted her help.  She also has good ability to describe things, including cats.  I stood in the center of the cat room and hoped for inspiration or a sign that ‘this is the one’.  Betty immediately sat on the floor and began to play with a tiny tabby. “This little guy is so friendly, Helen” she said.  By now I had found a gigantic fluffy cat sitting on a window ledge  and  working on its tan.  “Hi there”, I greeted the big pussy as I attempted to stroke it.  It replied with an angry howl and clawing swipe at my hand. Hmm, I thought,  I don’t think we’re meant for each other either…  I moved across the room to a four-foot scratching post where a little calico sat quivering.  Betty persisted in trying to connect me with the friendly, beautiful tabby. “This guy is soooo nice. Come see him” she said for the second or third time.  Meanwhile, the terrified calico was doing a number on my heart and head. “Betty, look at all the toes this cat has”, I remarked. “Yeah, a double toed calico”, she explained…”oh my gosh, see how cute my tabby friend is” she went on, still lobbying on behalf of the perfect feline adoption specimen.   I ignored Betty and reached out to the little calico.  She was obviously terrified.  I made up my mind on the spot.  “Betty, this one really needs a chance”, I said, trying to convince myself that taking on a cat with ‘issues’ was the thing to do.  I rubbed the top of the cat’s head. A little purr came out. “That’s it, we’re going home,  and this girl is coming too”, I announced.  Betty knew better than to disuade me.  We went to the office and filled out the paper work. I paid the adotion fee and was told the following about my new cat: She had been left by a family who “could not handle her”, and maybe one or two owners before that. She was three years old, spayed, weighed seven pounds, had been checked by the vet and given her shots.  They had no knowledge of her name. We put her in the carrier and left the shelter.  At home, a clean litter box, water and food dishes, a scratching post and a few toys awaited her. Betty asked if I had a name in mind.  I thought for a moment and announced, “Lucy”.  This cat for some reason,  reminded me of Lucille Ball. Perhaps it was her ability to survive hard times, or the bit of orange in her multi-coloured coat that made me think of  my childhood heroine.  I always loved Lucille Ball. I thought she was a spunky (yet vulnerable at the same time) woman. I had come to know her, like millions on “I  Love Lucy”.  My life with Lucy turned out to be challenging.  It would be 3 months before she would come to me or allow me to pet her.  She is a nervous cat.  I though she had asthma for a while, but soon realized that she was hyperventilating and only having and ‘attack’  when she was overstimulated by petting.  She did not like to be picked up (still doesn’t) and it soon became clear to me that she had been abused by past owners.  Her belly area was off limits for touching. I suspect she had been picked up and thrown or kicked more than once.   My trust would be earned over time.  Lucy soon became the center of my life and the focus of my attention. This happens when you have no partner or children.  She came with bad habits. Lucy will chew electrical cords, plastic bags, and rubber bands if they are accessible.  She might also be called a glue addict…licking envelope glue and chewing sticky tape of any kind if she finds it. She will lick photographs too and stick her paw in my glass of water, given the chance. Unlike the people who gave up on her, I stuck it out and accepted that I must keep her environment safe. I put away all the things she likes to chew or lick and keep my water glass in my hand until it is empty. She rewarded my patience with love.  Yes, I love Lucy for many reasons. She is a chatty cat who ‘talks’ when I come near.  This is good, given that I can’t see her so I don’t need to worry about her being underfoot.  Like all cats, she has a personality, definitely an ‘attitude’ and ‘moods’ I can’t figure out (who can possibly figure out a cat?).  Two years into our love-fest, I changed her world by changing mine.  I left Lucy at a friend’s house for one month and when she came home expecting a happy reunion with ME, she was intead, greeted by a new roomie; a furry black beast. That would be Opal.  Lucy did not take this change well at first. In fact, she immediately jumped up to a bookcase and cowered there for two days. Finally she descended to eat and use the litterbox, but prefered to live up high for months.  I felt guilty that I forced her to eat in the bathroom (keeping food out of Opal’s reach). I felt like a traffic cop for a while too, what with giving commands,  “Opal stay!” and “Lucy, go eat!”, my hands waving at both of them as I sent them to separate parts of our apartment.  Grudgingly,  Lucy accepted that Opal was sticking around and not just a temporary burden.  She learned that Opal would do her no intentional harm.  (She also discovered that a lab’s wagging tail can knock a cat over and it’s also not a good idea to be near Opal when she does the supper-time happy dance).  I became so wrapped up with my new guide dog, that Lucy went with insufficient attention for a long while.  Fortunately, she figured out that by demanding what she needed (some ‘luvin’), she would get it from me.  Coming into my bed for a ‘cuddle up’ of ten minutes or so several times a night seemed to make things tolerable for her.  Our relationship will never be as it was, but I like to point out to Lucy that she now has a kind ‘sister’.  She asserts herself with Opal by demanding to be groomed first and drinking out of Opal’s water dish. She drags Opal’s bones and toys off to corners, sits in Opal’s toy box, and expects Opal to walk around her when she is ‘resting’ in the center of the floor.  At some point, I stopped running interference and let them sort each other out. That’s what animals do naturally.   She stares at me and then walks away insulted when I say something stupid like, “Lucy come”  (as a result of my habit of giving Opal commands).  What am I thinking!?  Trying to give a command…to a cat?!  Now, Opal, Lucy and I  have group cuddles that could inspire a Halmark greeting card.  Lucy earned her keep at our old place by catching  the mice as the weather turned cold. I almost (ALMOST, but not quite) want to buy her some little mice to catch in our new rodent-free apartment, just to give her something to do. Hopefully, the weather will warm up in Nova Scotia so that I can put Lucy’s harness on and take her outside for some fresh air and leaf chasing.  Walking Lucy feels much like (now that I am so accustomed to going out with 60 lb.Opal),  walking a balloon.  We are planning to buy Lucy a new ‘necklace’ (code word for collar in our home) as a birthday gift for Lucy.  I suspect she hid her old one,  knowing I need to cut her toe nails soon. (Her necklace is handy to keep her from escaping the pedicure).  I don’t know what exact date Lucy was born, so I chose today, her adoption anniversary, as her birthday.  A friend suggested bonbons and ‘I Love Lucy’ dvd’s for her…I have no TV to play dvd’s, so I’ll just wing the entertainment part of her celebration.  Lucy’s idea of a favourite snack is any crunchy food like tortilla chips (organic and unsalted). We will have crackers in bed tonight. Happy birthday, Lucy.  We love you. 

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