Don’t worry, this isn’t a story about a cat who dies. She’s still alive. It’s a story about a cat who fooled us.

In the dorm room at USC in Los Angeles where she was being fostered, Lady seemed sweet, playful, and quiet. She cautiously, but of her own free will and with great curiosity, sniffed our outstretched hands. She came right up to us, her green eyes looking up from her smaller-than-normal face. She played with the toy we dangled over her. The woman fostering her said that Lady slept in her bed with her.

I had an inkling that something was up with Lady, but she was cute. So, I ignored my gut, and we brought her home with us. A rare orange female cat – usually ginger cats are boys. She was so scared the first few days, as is the case for most cats when they are rehomed. She went from a tiny dormitory room to our much more spacious home. We had two floors and lots of places for her to hide. Her first full day and night was spent hunkered down behind a utensil or linen or junk drawer in the kitchen...I can’t remember which. I just remember pulling the drawers out completely to see if she was still back there; my impatience prolonging her need to hide. But I felt terrible that she wasn’t feeling comfortable. I couldn’t wait until she would relax enough to come out and sit on my lap. Little did I know that over the next few years I spent with her she would sit on my lap maybe three times in total. 

Lady, thirsty for blood.

Every once in a while, we would wake up and she would be on the bed with us, but any movement would cause her to get up and run away. After the first few weeks with her, it was clear that it wasn’t the right fit. She wasn’t our cat. But we’d committed. We’d signed papers. She was our cat.

I should have let it go. Just co-existed with her, ignored her, let her be herself. But, like a parent who wants their theatre-loving kid to go to law school, I couldn’t stop pestering her. I couldn’t stop putting pressure on her to be more loving, to get closer, to shape her into the cat I wanted her to be. My hands were constantly bloody from the clawings and bites I received for petting her an instant too long. Unlike everyone else who interacted with her, I never learned to stop before she hurt me. I just kept going back for more.

There was the phase where I played with her a bunch in an attempt to bond. There were hour-long sessions with what was essentially a professional fly-fishing rig. It had changeable “birds” made of different lengths and colours of feathers to keep her stimulated. And she loved it. She ran up walls and flew like I’ve never seen a cat fly before. Laser pointers, automated electronic toys, treats, cheap toys, balls, jingly things, cat nip, grass patches, suction window seats…you name it, we had it. But nothing brought her much closer to me. Sometimes she dragged her toys to me so that I would play with her some more, which was cute. She might tolerate my pets for a bit longer after a hefty play session, but blood was still inevitably drawn every time. We were at an impasse. I wanted a cat that I could pet for as long as I wanted, and she wanted to not be pet at all. 

She didn’t even seem to want to be in our home. She would escape through windows onto the roof. She was obsessed with the outdoor world. But we couldn’t let her roam. A coyote would have snapped her up toute suite. Or, I dunno...maybe she would have torn a coyote apart. Either way, she absolutely would have run away. I couldn’t trust her to come back. She was nearly feral to begin with. A bit of wet food every morning held no import in her teeny-tiny brain. There were better things outside. She was sure of it.

So, I got her a harness and a leash. After the gory experience of getting her into the fucking thing, I took her outside. She. Loved. It. She was enthralled. She sniffed and stalked and practically pulled me down the driveway with the force of a Great Dane. I was slightly embarrassed that I had turned into someone who walked their cat, especially because it was in LA. But I wanted her to like me so badly that I just swallowed my shame. 

When I finally took her inside after our first outing, I knew I’d fucked up. She’d had a taste of the outdoors, and the meows and howls that came out of her as she sat in front of the metal screen of the front door - sniffing the air, desperate to get back out there - were extremely annoying. On top of it, the screen door wasn’t soft like you'd see on a screened-in porch or a quaint country door. It was a “security screen door” that was made of very hard, perforated metal. It would let air in but keep the dangers of LA out. So, when she tried to climb up the door in an attempt to get outside, her claws would get stuck in the holes. Because she didn’t know how to retract her claws, we would have to rescue her as she yowled and swatted and bit us because she didn’t know we were trying to help her.

And it's not that I didn't love her. I did. Well, I loved her as much as one can love a deceitful orphan. When she got her head stuck in the handle of an empty Chipotle bag and panicked, running around the house, upstairs and down, I wanted that bag dead for having hurt my girl.

And sometimes we would get a little glimmer that she liked us. We mostly worked from our apartment, but on the occasions that we were gone all day, she’d come running to the door when we got home and would flop onto her back, baring her white fluffy tummy (which I would touch, and she would punish me for touching).

Once, when we had both gone out of town for multiple weeks, we left her in the care of a hired pet sitter who came to feed and play with her every day. Otherwise, she had been on her own. I returned home first from the trip, and she was the most affectionate she’d ever been. It was just me and her. She flopped and purred and made biscuits and stretched her arms out. She followed me around, up the stairs, writhed around on the landing and seemed to be so happy that I was back. It wore off quickly. But that’s my favourite hour with her. It was like the end of The Notebook when old Rachel McAdams recognizes and remembers old Ryan Gosling...and nobody was there to see it but me and her.

Then it was back to her being a chore. A thing that left fur everywhere that needed to be vacuumed and swept and lint-rolled off our furniture and our clothes. A thing that peed and pooed and stank up the mudroom and tracked litter around in her long fur. I stopped playing with her as much as I should have. The responsibilities became less equal, the feedings and the litter-cleanings began resting more and more on his shoulders. And that was shitty of me. I had given up. She wasn’t my cat. She didn’t want to be. Or, if I’m being honest, I didn’t want her to be my cat. I knew that from early on, but we had committed. We had signed papers.

There had been some good times, and I thought that if I stuck it out things would get better, that maybe I could learn to love her as she was rather than hoping she would turn into the cat I wanted her to be. But she's just a cat. It wasn't her responsibility to change for me.

There’s a real stigma in giving up on a cat. But the truth is, she should have gone to a better match.

When we separated and left Los Angeles, he went to one side of Canada, and I went to the other. He had already moved into a place on his side of the country, so we decided that he should take her with him. I got her her shots and organized the papers for the international voyage. He booked the plane ticket for them both.

The three of us spent our last night together in Los Angeles in a hotel room before his and her flight the next day. In the morning, I tried to say goodbye to her. She was hiding behind the hotel bed and wouldn’t come out, just like the day we brought her home. I didn’t know that that would be the last time I would see her in person. I thought maybe things would work out and we’d reunite. Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I knew that was the end before any of us could say it out loud.

It's been four years since I’ve seen her. She’s happier now. She’s still with him – he didn’t give up on her like I did. She’s got a beautiful house in the country where she can go outside whenever she wants. She’s got a brother dog, and a new stepdad. She’s got it figured out. I’m happy for her. She deserves it all.