Bustin’ Some Cat Myths: Cats Are Not Aloof

From left to right: Annabel, Jupiter (the black cat kind of hiding in the back), and Shay.

So I want to blog more regularly, so I’ve decided to write about one of my favorite things: cats. I’ve recently discovered that what I want, more than almost anything else in life, is to be everyone’s Fairy Catmother, and help them find the perfect cat for them. I’d be like Santa Claus, only instead of presents I’d be delivering cats.

But then I get into conversations like this.

PERSON: I’m thinking about getting a cat.

ME: Oh, that’s fantastic. There’s a great shelter over…

PERSON: But you know, I’m not so sure. I’m not really at a place in my life where I can have a dog, but cats as just so…aloof.

Aloof?

I feel like this perception of cats must come largely from people who don’t have cats and haven’t been around them too much. A couple of things.

First, cats come in all kinds of personalities, from very independent to ridiculously friendly. Mine have tended to be on the friendly side, because I (and later my husband and I) looked for that when adopting. Annabel, my 14-year-old girl who died earlier this year, was what I called a “chest whore.” If a stranger came into our house and spent any amount of time on the couch, she’d hop onto their chests and claim them as her own. Her favorite activities included lap-snoozing and aggressive face-rubbing. She used to try to stick her head into my mouth when I yawned, because apparently being near my face wasn’t close enough.

But then there’s Jupiter. Jupiter is loving and affectionate. He’ll jump into my husband’s arms for hugs–which I wish I could catch on camera, because it’s awesome. He falls asleep on my legs a lot. His life revolves around being petted and played with…until a stranger comes in the house. See, Jupiter is terrified of strangers. And even when someone isn’t a stranger–like my brother, who stayed with us for a few weeks recently–he tends to be pretty standoffish with them.

And that brings me to point #2: on average, cats seem to be less outgoing than dogs. Most–though certainly not all–of the dogs I’ve met seem to behave like everyone is their best friend, even people they’ve never met before. Cats, on the other hand, often tend to be more reserved around strangers. And why not? If you are not the person who feeds them, plays with them, or loves them, why should they be insta-friendly to you? You don’t go hugging strangers, do you?

And this presents a challenge when adopting. If you’re looking for a cat who is friendly and affectionate–at least toward you–how can you tell when Fluffy clams up around strangers? Talk to the staff of the shelter or rescue. They’ll probably have a better idea of Fluffy’s personality when she’s more relaxed and comfortable. Don’t rush when you’re spending time with your potential new best friend; even shy kitties can start to warm up with a little bit of coaxing. Spend some time with Fluffy in her cage or enclosure before you take her to the “getting to know you” room–she’ll be more comfortable in her own space and you’ll be more likely to see “the real Fluffy.” Also remember that kittens, especially very young ones, may change as they get older. Once cats reach one year or more, their personalities become a little more stable.

“Embracing the Demon” Blog Tour, Days 3-6 + Giveaway

First of all, I’d like to apologize for being MIA for a few days during the blog tour. Some personal things came up, which I’ll explain at the bottom of this blog if you’re interested. But in the meantime, the blog tour continues, and there’s been some great stuff coming out over the last several days. Remember that each of these tour stops links to a Rafflecopter giveaway for The Demon Within, open to U.S. residents.

I wrote a guest blog for I Smell Sheep about being felt up by a dead prostitute in Greensboro’s most haunted hotel.

I was interviewed over at Mythical Books about cover design, the best and worst of urban fantasy, and whether I believe in happily-ever-afters.

I was also interviewed at Authors’ Secrets Blog about what inspired me to write the Dale Highland series and what I would do with a time machine and a cloak of invisibility.

Embracing the Demon was also featured on Jazzy Book ReviewsDark Treasury, and Teaser Addicts Book Blog.

Okay, now on to what’s been going on.

My husband and I had to euthanize our eldest cat, Annabel. I mentioned last week that, after we got home from Kennywood Comic Con, Annabel was sick. Our cat sitter had taken her to the vet, but unfortunately she didn’t get better. She spent two days in the hospital. We got a call from the vet late Thursday afternoon saying that, in spite the fluids, antibiotics, and supplementation she was receiving, her blood work was getting worse, and the vet did not think she would make it. Thursday evening, we went into the hospital and held her as the vet put her down.

AnnabelI will probably write more about this, and about Annabel, after the blog tour is over, but suffice it to say that this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Annabel was my kitty long before I met my husband, and she had been there for me during the most difficult period in my life. I feel sad and heartbroken and irrationally guilty. Annabel was a 14-year-old cat with a myriad of health issues (kidney disease, diabetes, gall bladder issues, a heart murmur, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, and a history of urinary tract and ear infections–but who’s counting?) If she had shown any sign of improvement, I probably would have kept on fighting. But she didn’t. I know, logically, that we did the right thing. But when you take these creatures into your life, you promise to take care of them and protect them…and euthanasia feels like anathema to that–even though I know that’s not true.

At any rate, I’ve been a mess for the last several days, and I’m only beginning to emerge from the fog now. So again, I apologize for going MIA in the middle of the blog tour. But death, unfortunately, waits for no man, woman, cat…or blog tour.

Embracing the Demon Blog Tour, Day 1: Creatively Green and Fangtastic Books

Kennywood Comic Con pic

First day of the blog tour. Today I’m guest blogging at the Creatively Green Write at Home Mom blog, and Embracing the Demon is being featured on Fantastic Books.

Read about how I manage my writing time by breaking all the rules here.

And read a little bit about Embracing the Demon and a short excerpt here.

Attached to both of these blogs is a Rafflecopter giveaway. Three copies of The Demon Within are up for grabs. Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

Once again, thank you to Bewitching Book Tours for putting together this whole shindig.

As for me, it’s been an eventful weekend. Yesterday was Kennywood Comic Con, which was a lot of fun. I met some great artists there, and I got to spend the day talking about The Demon Within and Embracing the Demon in the shadow of the Racer roller coaster.

But then this morning I got a phone call from the cat sitter. Annabel, our 14-year-old calico, was acting very lethargic and didn’t want to eat. The sitter took her to the vet. Twelve hours and a $600 vet bill later, we’re still no closer to knowing what’s wrong with her–and unfortunately she has not improved. So I’ve spent the day stressed and weepy.

So send some good vibes her way. Tomorrow will bring more blog tour stops…and hopefully better news.

Interview on The Attic Ghost Blog

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Hey guys! I know I’ve been MIA lately; I’ve been hard at work on my revisions for Embracing the Demon, which are due at the end of this month. (As in, a few days from now. Cue freakout.)

But I did want to let you know that I am being interviewed on the Attic Ghost blog today, talking about my writing, why I gravitated to the urban fantasy genre, and (of course) my cats!

Thank you to author Kathy Finfrock for featuring me!

Cat Life

The Wake-Up Call

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Annabel in all her adorableness.

ANNABEL: (Jumps on my bladder. Purrs. Hopes for the best.)

 

ME: Blergh. Five more minutes…zzzzz. (I roll over.)

SHAY: (Jumps on my chest. Purrs. When he sees that’s not working, he begins to meow. When he sees that’s not working, he starts making a loud, chewing noise in my ear, kind of like a cow chewing cud. Then he meows some more. Loudly.)

ME: Zzzzzzzzz… (I pull a pillow over my head.)

JUPITER: (Jumps on my head. Gets pushed off the bed. Runs back and forth across the house several times. Jumps back on the bed again. Bites me.)

ME: Ow! What the fu–

JUPITER: Oh, you’re up.

Feeding Time

ME: Okay, it’s time to get food!

(All three cats run into the kitchen.)

shay-cat-tree

Shay, our scaredy-cat and our chatterbox.

SHAY: I’m so hungry! So hungry! I’m probably dying! I haven’t been fed in five hours! If you ever loved me at all, please feed me!!!

 

JUPITER: I will eat your food, and your food and your food, and ALL THE FOOD!

ANNABEL: (Waits patiently.)

ME: (Gives Annabel her medicine.)

SHAY: What is taking so long??? Can’t you see that I’m DYING over here? Literally dying! I’m dead. I’m dead.

JUPITER: I want chicken, I want liver, Meow Mix, Meow Mix, please deliver!

ANNABEL: (Takes meds. Strolls to water fountain. Drinks.)

ME: (Opens cans of food.)

SHAY: I’m almost dead! Seriously! I mean it this time!

JUPITER: Whee! (Jumps on counter. Eats all the food from the can in one bite.)

ME: Jupiter, dammit! (Carries Jupiter to office–where his food bowl is located, by the way–and shuts door behind him.)

JUPITER: (Crying from behind door.) Torture! Murder! What hast I done to deservest this cruel fate?

SHAY: You? I haven’t eaten in five hours and FIVE minutes!

JUPITER: Whose fault is that? There’s a whole smorgasbord right in front of you.

SHAY: We’re not all heathens who eat Styrofoam take-out boxes from garbage cans! You know how that messes with my digestion!

ANNABEL: (Grooms self.)

ME: (Puts bowl in front of Shay.) Here you go.

SHAY: Finally! (Takes one bite. Throws up.)

ME: Dammit! (Cleans up puke. Turns to Annabel.) All right, Annabel, your turn.

ANNABEL: (Strolls up to bedroom. Waits patiently.)

ME: Here you go. (Sets food down.)

ANNABEL: You know, I was really in the mood for chicken tonight…

Bug Invasion

(A bug crawls up the living room wall.)

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Jupiter makes a friend.

ANNABEL: (Glances up from her perch on the side of the couch. Sees bug.) So there’s a spot on the wall that’s moving. Is someone going to get that? Or something? Whatever. (Goes back to sleep.)

 

SHAY: Oh my God! It’s an insect! It’s so big! It’s got to be about an inch long! It’s going to eat me! I know it’s going to eat me! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! (Runs away.)

ME: (Walks into living room upon hearing commotion.) What’s wrong, Shay? (Sees bug.) OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, there’s a bug, it’s got to be at least two inches long, I’m going to die!!!!! (Runs away.)

JUPITER: (Walks into living room.) What’s going on? Where’s everyone going? (Sees bug.) Ohhhh, protein! (Eats bug.)

ME: (Dragging husband downstairs) There’s this HUGE bug on the wall, I mean, it’s got to be about four inches long, with these gigantic tentacles…

HUSBAND: Where? I don’t see any bugs.

JUPITER: (Licks lips.) Could use more salt.

Morning in the Life of a Cat Wrangler

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Annabel (left) and Shay (right). Who’s house is this anyway? Apparently, not mine.

 

Saturday morning, 7:00 a.m.

SHAY: Meow, meow meow! I’m hungry!

ME: [Asleep.]

ANNABEL: That’s not gonna get her up.

 

7:15 a.m.

SHAY: Meow, meow, meow! Still hungry! Meow, meow, more meow!!!

ME: [Asleep.]

ANNABEL: I’m telling you, that’s not gonna work.

 

7:25 a.m.

SHAY: MEOWMEOWMEOWMEOWMEOW…

ME: [Asleep.]

ANNABEL: Must I do everything? [Annabel walks over to my side of the bed.] BLERGH! [Annabel vomits all over floor, right where I put my bare feet when I get up.]

ME: What? What? What? [Looks down at mess.] Annabel, did you get sick again? Ugh. Guess I better clean this up.

 

7:30 a.m.

ME: [Cleans up vomit.]

[Two pairs of cat eyes look at me expectantly.]

ME: I guess you want breakfast now? All right, I’m getting up. [Grabs food bowl, heads to kitchen.]

ANNABEL: [Looks at Shay.] Now that’s how a professional does it.

Tuesday Book Recommendation: THE TAMING OF THE BILLIONAIRE by Jessica Clare

TamingBillionaire

So I am going to start trying to recommend a book I like every Tuesday. It won’t necessarily be a recent release, and it won’t necessarily be a fantasy or science fiction book. (When you write it all the time, sometimes you don’t want to read it anymore!) It’s just going to be a book I really liked and want to spread the word about.

My first Tuesday Book Recommendation is The Taming of the Billionaire, a contemporary romance by Jessica Clare.

So I realized some months back that contemporary romances about billionaires are my book crack—which makes Jessica Clare my main supplier. There are a lot of books on the market right now featuring billionaire heroes—it’s wish fulfilment, amiright?—but for my money, none of them are as sexy, funny, or just plain entertaining as Jessica Clare’s. Her Billionaire Boys Club focused on a secret society of billionaires who helped each other to success. Now that series has ended, and Clare has moved on to another series, Billionaires and Bridesmaids, set in the same world, with many of the protagonists from the previous series playing secondary roles.

The Taming of the Billionaire is the second book in this spinoff series, but you don’t need to read any of the other novels to enjoy it. While I liked Clare’s other books, this one had some elements that seemed specifically designed to appeal to me.

–A video game programmer hero.

–A cat behaviorist heroine with an—ahem—acerbic personality.

–Lots and lots of cats.

Seriously, it’s like she took a look at my Twitter feed and said, “What can I write for this girl?”

The book is a take on The Taming of The Shrew. The heroine, Edie and her sister Bianca attend an engagement party, and one of the groomsmen, Levi, falls hopelessly in love with Bianca. But Bianca is Edie’s assistant; Edie was disabled in an accident several years earlier and now has difficulty sitting, walking, or standing for long periods of time. Bianca gives Levi an ultimatum: find someone to distract my sister so I can go out with you.

Enter Magnus, Levi’s brother, who unfortunately didn’t make such a good impression on Edie during their first meeting. (She overheard him insulting “crazy cat ladies.”) He comes off as sort of a jackass when you first meet him, but you start to see his softer, more caring side quickly. He’s a video game programmer, and he and his brother made billions off of a game they created years before. My fiancé is a programmer, albeit not video games, and Clare’s portrayal of Magnus makes me think she must have known a programmer or two in her time. The scene where Magnus is sitting at his computer, headphones cranked up full-blast, cursing at the screen was very, very familiar to me. Verisimilitude at its finest.

But what really made me love this book was Edie. Edie has a take-no-shit kind of personality that leads others to sometimes call her bitchy. (Boy, can I relate!) She seems to keep people at arm’s length, lashing before they can get close enough to hurt her. But some of her takedowns—like her evisceration of the guys who she overhears making sexist comments at the engagement party—are things of beauty. Her disability is dealt with directly. You see some characters react quite poorly and trip all over themselves, and some treat it matter-of-factly. One of my favorite aspects of Edie and Magnus’s relationship is how he just accepts her disability without angst, and he tries to find ways of accommodating her and making her life easier without treating her like an invalid.

…And the cats, did I mention the cats? Edie is a cat behaviorist (think Jackson Galaxy, only without the tattoos and guitar case), basically my dream job when I forget that I’m still a teeny bit afraid of getting my eyes gouged out. As a cat lover and animal shelter volunteer, I loved that this book dealt so honestly with the realities of cat behavior and the difficulties of adopting out older or sick cats. Kittens, on the other hand, are sweet and cuddly and adorable. One of the reasons I do the volunteer work I do is that I hope I can help, in some small way, get the adult cats adopted out faster and make sure they find the right homes. So right away, I was in Edie’s corner, fighting the good fight with her.

This is a sweet, sexy love story that will appeal to fans of the billionaires…and of course, fans of cats. For me, it hit exactly the right notes.

 

Just One of Those Weeks

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I’ve been pretty busy over the last week or so, and I’ve been exhausted. Some quick updates:

–“Doctor Who” series 9 is amazing, and I’m glad that many of my pre-season wishes have already started to come true. This looks like it’s going to be Capaldi’s season, and Michelle Gomez has, in the first two episodes, stolen every scene she’s in. With news of Jenna Coleman’s upcoming departure, I’m starting to read a lot more into her interactions with the Doctor. So Clara died, again. Foreshadowing, or just coincidence?

–Part of my hectic week was dealing with kitty illnesses. Our elder cat, Annabel, has had kidney disease for the last 2 1/2 years. Last week, she stopped eating, became lethargic, and was hiding under the bed. We took her to the vet and they found out her kidney values had spiked to double what they were a few months ago. After two days at the emergency vet/vet hospital, a day of fluids, and some appetite stimulant, she’s gotten back to normal. They discovered her blood pressure was high, and we have her on meds now, which has also seemed to help. But otherwise, they don’t know why her values spiked, or what caused her illness, whether it’s just a part of her disease or if something else triggered it. That’s the bitch of kidney disease: it’s degenerative, so you’re always just waiting for that other shoe to drop. But Annabel is doing much better now, so we’re just taking things day by day.

–Speaking of, one of the things that makes me happy is that my fiancé feels the same way about animals–and specifically, about our animals–as I do, that they are part of our family. Volunteering at the animal shelter teaches you very quickly that not everyone feels that way. But J. does, and I don’t think I could marry anyone who treated them otherwise.

–Had a very lively discussion on my Facebook author page the other day about what movies/TV shows/books should be “required viewing” to have more of a cultural consciousness/awareness. One I forgot to mention on the page: the Harry Potter series. Certainly they’re not my favorite books, but you’re really living in another universe if you don’t get all the Muggle references that you hear nowadays.

–Speaking of required viewing, I am very much looking forward to the “Jessica Jones” television series that will be debuting on Netflix in November. The premise reminds me of my beloved “Veronica Mars,” but it looks like it’ll be even more badass than that. And hey, I do know a thing or two about violent, eff-ed up heroines. Plus, David Tennant. Need I say more?

A Cat-Astrophe

AnnabelShay

So we have a bit of a cat problem, and I was hoping to post it on the interwebs to see if anyone has advice.

Shay (the cat in the bottom part of the tree above), a.k.a. Mr. Awesome, is our Dennis the Menace cat. He loves food–particularly Annabel’s food.

He also had stomach problems. We aren’t really sure whether it’s a food sensitivity issue, or some kind of inflammatory bowel problem. He throws up whenever he eats the food we give Annabel. We’ve switched him to a limited-ingredient diet, which has helped a lot.

Annabel, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum. When she was diagnosed with kidney disease back in 2013, she lost a lot of weight very rapidly. The vets had her on a kidney formula food at first, but she just didn’t seem to be eating enough of it. I finally found a wet food she really likes, and I’ve stuck with it for about a year now. Both her weight and kidney values have been stable for quite some time.

If we feed Annabel and Shay together, Shay will eat Annabel’s food. Not only will it result in Annabel not getting enough to eat, but it will make Shay sick.

When we’re at home, we solve this problem by shutting the door between the two of them. Annabel is a grazer, so she sometimes needs a little more time to finish her food. We wait until she’s done to open the door again.

But we’re going on vacation next week. The cat sitter only visits twice a day, so we don’t want him to leave Annabel shut in the bedroom all day long.

We actually considered a shock collar. We didn’t know it was a shock collar until we took it out of the box and looked at it. It was this horrible, bulky looking thing with two electrodes that would dig into the animal’s skin. The instructions had dire warnings against letting the animal wear it for longer than 12 hours at a time (How can you adequately train an animal if he only wears the collar half the time?) and to watch to make sure the animal’s skin doesn’t get burned. After trying it a few times on our own hands–it HURT!–we decided it was too cruel for Shay. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d put that collar on him.

But it does leave us with a dilemma. So how do we prevent one cat from getting at a bowl of food while allowing the other to go there freely? We’ve considered switching Annabel’s food, but I’m fearful that she won’t like it and she’ll start losing weight again. Plus, even when Shay and Annabel were both eating the same brand of food, Shay was still going after Annabel’s portion.

For the Love of Cats

Annabel Shay

I made one of the best decisions of my life in September of 2010, when I adopted Annabel.

I’d been thinking about getting a pet for a while. But my long work hours and high-rise apartment building wasn’t really conducive to having a dog. A cat seemed like the obvious solution: a pet that was a little more independent and easy to maintain than dogs tend to be, yet still could be cuddly and affectionate.

Here was the problem: I was terrified of cats.

Years earlier, I was attacked by two Siamese cats that belonged to my then-boyfriend’s brother and sister-in-law. I was getting ready to take a shower, and their litter box was in the bathroom. The cats were all freaked out by the addition of a dog into their household, and I’m sure the two strange humans (i.e. me and my boyfriend) who were invading their territory didn’t help matters. To this day, I don’t know what triggered it specifically. One second, I was getting ready for my shower, and the next, I was shoving two bitey, clawing cats away from me and taking refuge behind the shower curtain. If I said it was like something out of a Hitchcock movie—cue the blood running down the shower drain—I wouldn’t be exaggerating much.

After that experience, I avoided cats. For years. If I entered the home of someone who owned a cat, I’d be hugging the wall at best and zipping out of there at worst. I still can’t explain why, after all that, I decided it would be a good idea to adopt a cat is beyond me.

But I went to the shelter, specifically the Animal Welfare League of Arlington in Arlington, Virginia. I explained that I wanted to adopt a cat, but that I’d had a bad experience and I was a little nervous around them sometimes. (I may have downplayed exactly how nervous I was.)

I’d seen Annabel’s profile on the shelter website. They described her as shy, sweet, and affectionate. She was what they call a dilute calico—a calico with lighter colors than a regular calico—and she had this little smoosh face and emerald green eyes that I just fell in love with.

How could I not fall in love with Annabel? She is ridiculously adorable.

How could I not fall in love with Annabel? She is ridiculously adorable.

When they took her out of the cage and set her in my lap, she immediately started rubbing up against me and purring. She had claimed me, and I knew I would be taking her home.

The first few days weren’t easy. She didn’t eat or use the litter box at first, and that freaked me out. Then, even though she had a soft, cozy cat bed on the floor, she decided that the best place to sleep was on top of my chest. Have you ever tried to sleep with nine pounds of cat on your sternum? It’s not easy if you’re not used to it, particularly when you’re terrified that you’ll roll over and crush the poor thing.

But then, after a few bribes with wet food and tuna, she started to eat. And when she ate, she used the litter box. And then eventually, I got so tired that I fell asleep with her on top of my chest…and as it turns out, cats are pretty fast, and they can move out of the way if you roll over in your sleep. Things got easier from there.

Fast forward almost five years. Annabel is my best friend. I don’t know how to describe it better. When she was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2013, I was devastated. Kidney disease is degenerative, and incurable, and at the time she was diagnosed my vet said the longest they’d managed a cat with kidney disease was two years.

So I switched vets. She passed the two year mark in March. Between a wet food diet, and vigilant monitoring, her primary kidney value (creatinine) is actually lower than it was in 2013, back down in the high normal range. She gets sick more than I’d like, and I’ve spent literally thousands of dollars on her in vet bills…but she’s a trooper.

But the story that I’ll always tell to explain why Annabel means so much to me is this one: my mother died in November of 2013. I spent that day on the phone with relatives and friends, and later that evening I had a friend come over so I wouldn’t have to be alone. But around 10:00 or so she had to go home to her family and kids. By that time, the barrage of phone calls I’d been getting all day had stopped, so I was left truly…alone.

Except not really. That night, as I struggled in vain to sleep, Annabel stayed with me. By then, Annabel had learned that I tossed and turned too much to be a comfortable sleeping location, so most nights she spent the night on the end of the bed after her evening cuddles. But that night, she plopped herself on my chest and wouldn’t leave. Even when I rolled over on my side, she’d just dig herself in next to me and burrow into my body. She didn’t purr at all—Annabel normally purrs at the slightest bit of affection or attention—but she stayed next to me until morning. It was like she knew I needed her to be there.

She’s a sweet, affectionate cat. My boyfriend says she’s the most affectionate cat he’s ever seen—and he’s much more experienced with cats than I am! Speaking of my boyfriend, she adores him, and the feeling is mutual. She’s got him wrapped around her paw like you wouldn’t believe, and some of my favorite pictures are the ones I get of the two of them cuddling together. (Note to men: cuddling with animals = super-duper sexy.)

I could list all the reasons why Annabel is an amazing cat, because she is. But for that night after my mom died, I can never repay her.

Shay, on the other hand, was a harder cat for me to fall in love with. My boyfriend “inherited” Shay from his mother, for lack of a better word: Shay had originally belonged to his sister, who was away at school. Their mother was watching him, but when she adopted a puppy she realized that the two could not live together. The puppy was exuberant, playful, and big, and she feared he would hurt Shay. So my boyfriend ended up taking care of Shay, in an arrangement that was originally supposed to be temporary.

So when my boyfriend and I moved in together last June, we had two cats—and we didn’t know how long we’d be keeping Shay. Annabel had been the only cat I had ever owned, so I was used to her personality, her temperament, her behavior. Unfortunately, Shay was almost the exact opposite of Annabel.

Where Annabel was very cuddly and affectionate, Shay was rarely patient enough to be petted. Where Annabel had always been very low-key, Shay was energetic and playful. Whereas I never worried about Annabel eating or drinking anything she wasn’t supposed to, Shay has a bad habit of putting anything into his mouth, including pills that have dropped on the floor, Post-It Notes, aluminum foil, and—my favorite—dry pancake mix. Like, he didn’t bother going for actual cooked pancakes, but the dry mix that had fallen onto the counter during cooking was irresistible.

Yes, Shay will eat aluminum foil. He's not ashamed.

Yes, Shay will eat aluminum foil. He’s not ashamed.

Shay and Annabel quickly developed a big sister/little brother relationship. Shay was the little brother who wanted nothing more than to play with Annabel, and Annabel is the big sister who only grudgingly tolerates him. Annabel has never been a very playful cat, and at 11, she’s definitely on the low-energy end of the spectrum. Many times we’ve seen her hissing or swatting at him when he tries, insistently, to play with her. Plus, he has a bad habit—which we still have not been able to break—of eating her food. (He gobbles, while she tends to nibble slowly.)

I am, as you can imagine, very protective of Annabel, and so at first I worried that the stress of having another cat in the household would hurt her, particularly a much younger, more playful cat. Instead, something else happened. Yeah, she’d hiss and growl at him sometimes, but other times they play with each other, chasing each other back and forth across the apartment. Shay’s food habits are persistent, and annoying, but feeding them in separate rooms with the doors closed has pretty much eliminated it as an issue.

I tried to get to know Shay on his terms. While he’s not cuddly like Annabel, he loves to be the center of things, and will demand your attention by rubbing against you, meowing loudly, and even sometimes jumping on top of you. His tendency to put things in his mouth stems from curiosity: he sees or smells something new, thinks, “What’s this?” and then proceeds to investigate it further by tasting it. It’s part of how he explores the universe. He loves to play, and he’ll play fight with my foot and ankles if I don’t give him enough playtime.

When I leave for work in the morning, he plops himself down in front of me and rolls onto his back, demanding my attention and affection, and I’m always a little disappointed in myself when I don’t have time to give it to him. And Annabel may be the more outwardly affectionate cat, but it’s Shay who greets me at the door first when I get home in the afternoon.

At approximately three years old, Shay is considered an adult cat. Everyone seems to know this…but Shay. He’s got the personality of a five-year-old boy, packed into the body of a gray-and-white cat. He’s a little bit Dennis the Menace sometimes. But then as soon as a stranger comes into the apartment, he hides as if someone is trying to kill him. It’s quite funny. He goes from being bold and brave to the biggest scaredy-cat I’ve ever seen. (On the other hand, Annabel—who’s eight years older and three pounds lighter than Shay—has a tendency to plant herself in strangers’ laps and demand to be petted. I told you they were opposites.)

Shay, I realized finally, was this incredibly funny, sweet, affectionate cat…in his own way. He wasn’t like Annabel, but I couldn’t expect him to be. My experience with him helped widen my understanding of cats.

About six months after we moved in together, I said to my boyfriend, “I think we should tell your mom and sister that we’re keeping Shay. Forever.”

He agreed. And now Shay is one of us.

Maybe this is my imagination, but I felt like there was a shift in Shay after we decided to keep him forever, like he finally decided to let down his guard and really warm up to us. (Or maybe the change was in us, and Shay was just sensing it with whatever animal intuition he has.) But in the last several months, Shay has become warmer, friendlier, and more affectionate with us. He tolerates being held, and he likes to be petted…sometimes. He’s never going to be a cuddle-monster like Annabel is, but he’s just as warm and loving in his own way. He’s a cool cat, and I never tire of laughing at his antics and his kitten-y meow.

Adopting Annabel and Shay changed my life in more ways than I ever realized it would. I went from being just tolerant of animals to being an animal lover. I’ve volunteered in a couple of local shelters, and I’m currently volunteering at the AWLA, where I adopted Annabel. I love knowing that I get to be a small part of making sure local animals find their way to their forever homes.

June is National Adopt-a-Cat Month. In honor of that, AWLA is waiving all adoption fees on cats six months and older until June 29. So if you’re thinking about it, and you live in the DC/Northern Virginia area, now is a great time to adopt. Even if you’re not, there are probably some great animal shelters and rescues near you where you can find your own Annabel or Shay.

Adopting Annabel (and then Shay) changed my life for the better. I don’t know what caused me to walk into the shelter that afternoon in September, but I’m so glad I did. It was the most worthwhile decision I’ve ever made.