Over ten years ago, my sister and I were at the animal adoption center, wandering between rows of penned animals. Don’t ask me why we made a habit out of breaking our own hearts; we had recently moved out of our family home together and one of the bold-faced rules in our new rental agreement was NO PETS. Still. We both loved animals, and apparently, we both thought it was enjoyable to pass a Saturday afternoon checking out scads of animals we could never take home or love beyond those few, fleeting minutes.
On a fateful day in October 2003, we walked by his cage, saw his orange face, and felt an inescapable stirring inside. We glanced at the name tag on the front of his pen: “NIGEL”, it read. Exchanging a knowing glance, we mouthed “perfect!” to each other, and within the hour, Nigel had found his forever family. Screw rental agreements, right?
Nigel was in rough shape when we took him home– physically, emotionally, and socially. For one thing, he was greasy. I’m talking really, super greasy. Even though the vet estimated Nigel was around four years old at the time, he either didn’t know how to, or didn’t care to, clean himself, so his fur was matted into what looked like a badass feline faux-hawk. Furthermore, his chin was sprinkled with generous doses of what we like to call catne— cat acne, for those in the know, and he had approximately zero muscle tone in his legs and torso. You could lie him on his back (theoretically), and his front and hind legs would splay out on the ground like he was making a snow angel instead of staying relatively pointed toward the heavens. Definitely unusual for cats.
On an emotional and social level, Nigel was a bit of a nut case, too. “Skittish” was an extreme understatement for him– he’d dart and dash away from even the hint of human interaction, and his eyes seemed to be locked in their ‘Alarm and Mayhem!’ expression permanently. The woman at the adoption center couldn’t even believe that Nigel had approached us, timid as hell, from the depths of his cage before we signed his release papers. During his stay at the center, she informed us, Nigel had earned a reputation as a coward-slash-Bad Seed, and the simple act of showing courage in front of an outstretched human hand was totally unheard of for him.
What the woman at the adoption center didn’t know, though, was that Nigel was on his last chance.
We later learned from the intake vet’s notes that Nigel was a “hard luck guy” who had been passed up for adoption enough times to warrant a scheduling of his demise in the not-so-far-off future. Apparently, acne-ridden tabbies weren’t in high demand as family pets, especially acne-ridden tabbies with deep-seated fears of everything. And even if the adoption center lady didn’t realize this, Nigel must have known The End Was Near to the very core of his greasy body. Woo-woo me totally believes that Nigel manifested us and enlisted us to orchestrate his prison break, just in the nick of time. (Rational me says “Oh, look! We adopted an orange cat named Nigel mere days before he was set to be destroyed. Funny that.”) There were only three problems:
1. Nigel had extreme health issues (kidney and liver issues in addition to his general greasiness, acne, and lack of basic muscle tone)
2. Nigel was completely unaccustomed to behaving in ‘normal’ cat ways (being aloof, preening the day away, feeling soft and pleasing to the human touch, etc.)
3. Oh yeah, my sister and I weren’t even allowed to have cats in our rental suite. Other than that, though, this was a perfect date with destiny! 🙂
To his immense credit, Nigel learned almost immediately to meet my sister and I half way: we would shower him with love and safety, and he would allow his deep suspicions of the entire world to slowly fade away into trust. We would buy him expensive cat food and let him sleep in drawers filled with our clean clothes, and he would improve his muscle tone and shock the vet at his follow-up visit a month after his adoption. (So fit and vibrant! How was that even possible?) We would try to dust him in “dry cat shampoo” and comb his greasiness away, and he would run around the house like a demon, resisting any and all efforts to tame the prized matted look that had taken a whole lifetime to achieve. Seriously, though– Nigel had known nothing but strife and struggle for the first four years of his life. To allow even a tiny bit of love to seep into the hardened crust of his demeanor took a mad leap of faith on his part, and whether or not Nigel did this “consciously”, he sure showed me by example how much we can all flourish if we simply Let Love In.
Time passed, and as things like grad school, blossoming love relationships, and moves away from the city started happening, Nigel was eventually placed in the care of my doting dad– Nigey’s forever and ever home. I swear, you have never seen a cat so loved. My suspicions of who was the Real Boss in my dad’s house were confirmed when Marty and I offered to cat-sit Nigel once on a trip back to Calgary. My dad had left us a 3-page list of caring instructions for Nigel, one of which outlined which stair we should sit on when brushing him, since he had apparently acquiesced to having his fur styled– but only if he got to sit on the top stair and we would sit two stairs below him. Only a truly doting dad could have figured that one out, right? And until some genius invented those magnetic patio door curtains, my dad would patiently let Nigel in and out of his house every few minutes, because even years of loving care hadn’t been able to erode Nigel’s ADHD. Bending over backwards for a cat every four seconds for hours at a time = true love.
Nigel wasn’t supposed to make it past October 2003, but he found a way to escape his fate and to thrive in an environment of love, safety, and trust. After ten years of living the Good Life, Nigel’s previous health issues suddenly came back full-force, and the vet’s prognosis was heartbreaking: pain, suffering, deterioration. My dad, fiercely devoted to this badass feline, made the courageous, never-easy decision to bring Nigel peace. Now, all that’s left of Nigel is his legacy:
Let love in and thrive against all odds
Allow yourself to be loved, even when it’s hard to love yourself
Let love transform you, and love will show you what’s possible (you’ll be amazed!)
I love you, Nigel. Thank you for letting me in. xo