The best Christmas presents sometimes arrive in strange packages that show up in even stranger locations. This past December, one of the best gifts I’ve ever received came wrapped in black, orange and white fur. She was left by Santa (or jumped from his sack, perhaps?) in Grandpa’s garage. That’s where I found her on Christmas morning.
It was the small “meow” that did it. I’d stepped into the garage to check our car for something I’d left inside the night before. What I found instead was a small tawny face, peeping up at me from under the car with a mixture of false bravado and genuine independence. Full-grown at only six pounds, she was barely more than a kitten, hardly less than a runt.
She hissed at me with all the ferocity she could muster. I laughed out loud. The hiss instantly turned into a “meow” as she came scrambling out to beg for food.
And that was how I met Eve.
All through our stay at my husband’s grandparents, we called shelters, rescues and animal protection organizations around northern Ohio, looking for anyone who could take her. But every organization was full. “No cages left. Don’t bring her” was the never-ending refrain. Even our Grandma’s calls all over town yielded no one who’d lost a cat or was willing to take one in.
So little Eve took the seven-hour ride home in the back of our Insight. She protested mightily for the first 45 minutes, then slept the rest of the way.
Arriving at home was just the beginning of challenges. Having never taken in a stray before, I was a wreck. Sort of like a first time mother who doesn’t want to mess things up. If that weren’t enough, Eve was also almost a tortoiseshell: one of those magical two-colored cats known for their gorgeous markings and, um, feisty personalities.
I can attest that Eve definitely channeled that inner tortie!
We set her up in the back bathroom, with two doors between her and our resident cats. At first, she would hardly even come out of the carrier. Then, she started eating voraciously but with only diarrhea to show for it. Her first trip to the vet also revealed she was covered in fleas.
Flea treatments. Worm meds. A trip to get spayed. And don’t forget … le bath, complete with hypoallergenic kitty shampoo. Let’s just say that for Eve, January 2015, likely isn’t her happiest memory. In some ways it isn’t mine, either.
I learned a lot over those weeks about “tough love.” In her early weeks, Eve was skittish, often panicky and combative, and rarely wanted to be held or even touched. Not exactly what you’d call an ideal house cat. Some days I despaired of earning her trust.
But love always pays off in its own way, big or small. Over time, Eve began to come out of her (tortoise) shell.
By February, she was meeting our resident cats, brokering a peace (or sorts), and learning to take her meals with them. They began to share space. She even slept downstairs with them at night.
At some point, she decided cuddles weren’t the worst thing ever. Sometimes she’d even play with toys. Overall, she lost that desperate, wary look and began to gain strength. Once or twice I caught her playing with toy mice, doing effortless somersaults in the middle of the chase.
By now, I had fallen completely for her. But our two resident cats are used to having us all to themselves. And it became apparent that while they tolerated a threesome, in the long run they would be happier as a twosome again and Eve, likewise, would be happier as an only cat.
I’ve watched many veteran foster moms search diligently for weeks, even months, for just the right home for their foster kitties. When I set out to find a home for Eve, I assumed it would take months, too. But in this case, one post was all it took.
Friends told friends. And suddenly there was an email in our inbox from a lovely young couple with a soft spot for cats who currently had none of their own.
Isn’t that how every stray cat’s story should end? With someone reaching out a hand of love?
It’s been a week now since we said goodbye to Eve in a beautiful upstairs apartment with whole walls of windows that is now her domain. Just the other day I received the following report from her lovely new parents, Molly and Mike:
“Each day we are making progress with her. She’s playing more each day and getting comfortable with us loving on her. Today she finally jumped on the couch while I was on it (which she hadn’t done yet). She proceeded to crawl over my lap onto the next cushion. Every day she trusts us a little bit more.
“She’s showing her true colors more. She loves to play, and sometimes she’s a bit mischievous. She’s a sweet kitty …”
Nothing could have made my heart happier, or my mind more nostalgic for that cold, damp Christmas morning. Because sometimes the best gifts aren’t the ones we want. They’re the ones we need.
Eve taught me so much about love. About seeing what can be, instead of what is. About persevering even when the other person (or cat) isn’t reciprocating the way you’d hope.
Because in a world of fear, love never fails to make an impact.
Thank you, Eve, for the gift you were and are. I miss you terribly. But I can say for certain: I’ll never be the same for having known you.
And that’s the best Christmas gift of all.