Monday, August 10, 2009

Covington Two

(This is the second part of yesterday’s blog. Today's photo is of Sugar Plum.)

After deciding on Thursday that the beautiful black boy who was desperate for affection would be Sugie’s new brother, I knew I had to continue bonding with him even though I couldn’t think about taking him home until Sunday. I had a book signing scheduled for Friday, so I drove down the mountain early and headed for the shelter. I signed in and went straight for the ‘annexed’ cat room. There was my boy, lying on his side, paws protruding through the bars. Poor little criminal. What had he done to find himself here? His eyes were closed, so I put my hand under his nose and waited. Suddenly he stood up, eyes wide, looking through the bars at me.
“Yes,” I told him, “I’m here to rub under your chin for you!” He began to purr immediately and we repeated yesterday’s time together, him doing happy cat postures, me just petting and scratching and quietly talking.

Before I left, I stopped by the larger cat room to wash my hands. One cage was empty. Apparently Mr. B&W had persuaded someone to take him home. Perfect.

That evening I told Sugie to expect a new brother soon. I’d been sorting through names that might fit him. I’d never changed Sugie’s name when I brought her home because, well, “Sugar Plum” just seems to fit her. But this cat, this very cool cat, had no name. Hmmm. ‘Which of my male friends is a very cool cat?’ I wondered. And I had the answer in an instant. Bob. I mean, Robert Louis Covington, beloved friend and poet. Covington would be the perfect name. Now that he was named, he definitely felt like my cat, and I couldn’t wait to bring him home.

The next day was Saturday, and I had a long-planned reunion with a cousin that had already been re-scheduled once, so I didn’t want to change it, but I thought I’d just get things started on Covington’s adoption. Again, I headed down the mountain early, but Saturday is a busy day up here; this summer we’ve seen people in record numbers coming up to hike. By the time I’d negotiated traffic (and spent a few minutes talking to a neighbor at the post office), I’d used up half the time I’d wanted to spend with Covington. ‘No worries,’ I thought. I’d be bringing him home soon enough.

Instead of going straight to his cage when I arrived at the shelter, I stopped in at the office. The young man behind the counter was in his mid-twenties.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said smiling, “Do you have an adoption application I can take home and fill out?”
“Nooooooooo,” he said, dragging out the vowel and smirking as if I were asking him if he had a steak smothered with onions. “Do you know which animal you want to adopt?”
“Let me show you,” I told him, turning away and heading toward the dog/cat room. With each step I took a deep breath. I hate when people are condescending toward me.
I led the young man to Covington and his first words were, “You want this cat?” Yes. This nondescript full grown black cat. Yes. But I said aloud:
“Yes, I know he’s been here a long time—“
“He’s been here a really long time,” he cut me off to say.
“Do you know how old he is? Was he a kitten when he came in?”
“No, he wasn’t a kitten. Let me see how old he is….” Naively, I thought he was going to go look up the cat’s file, but he stepped in front of me and threw the cage door open, causing the cat to jump to the back of the small cage, frightened. The man reached his hand in and I watched as Covington’s eyes grew huge in terror as the man grabbed his head, then lifted his lip to look at his teeth. “He’s a year or two, I’d say.”
Thanks, genius, I thought. I can see that from looking at him. I took more deep breaths as he closed the cage door and turned to me accusingly.
“Why can’t you adopt him today?”
“I have somewhere I need to be in about ten minutes,” I told him. “Can I just fill out the paperwork—“
He cut me off again, shaking his head. “I can put a hold on him—“
“Oh, great,” I replied, “so I can get him tomorrow—“
“No. I can only hold him for an hour. And you can’t take him until he’s neutered, and the vet’s office won’t do that on the weekend anyway, so the soonest you could have him would be Monday. But you could come in tomorrow and do the adoption, then he’d go to the vet’s overnight and have the surgery first thing the next morning. Will that work for your schedule?”
“Perfectly,” I replied, leaving out the “you jackass” ending. My time with Covington was limited to five minutes of serious neck rubbing before I took off to meet my sister and head for Pasadena.

So Sunday morning finally arrives. The shelter is only open for three and a half hours on Sundays, but I am there at noon when they unlock the door and allow the public in. The day before, Mr. Jackass’s last words to me, in reply to my “I’ll be back tomorrow to adopt him,” were, “Just bring me the card off his cage tomorrow.” So I scurry back to Covington’s cage—only to find a gray cat looking up at me through the cage door. I search all the other cages in the room, my heart pounding. No Covington. I run to the larger cat room. Two small dogs are now in cages in the other cat room, but no Covington. He is nowhere to be found. I rush to the front desk.
“Can I help you?” a young woman asks. My words tumble out haphazardly as I try to explain that I’ve come to adopt the cat who is known as “Impound #25,” and that I’ve been there four days in a row bonding with him, but now he’s not there, and, I add, “now I’m frantic.”
She goes to the chair at her desk and as she swivels away from me and toward the computer she says, “Well, he must’ve gotten adopted, then, because I haven’t put anybody to sleep today.”
At first I think this is a horrifically bad joke, but then I realize she is not kidding. I’m suddenly aware that my stomach muscles are clenched, my face tight. If this were a movie, if I were Erin Brockovich, I would be saying something in reply like, “I’ll bet that’s one of the aspects of your job you take particular pleasure in, ma’am.” But I stand quietly at the counter, listening to the blood pulsing in my ears.
“Oh yes,” she finally says, after scrolling through countless files, “He was adopted by someone yesterday.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say, “he’s been here since—“
Just then Mr. Jackass walks by. When he looks up, I ask if he remembers me coming in yesterday, asking about that certain black cat in the back.
“Oh yeah!” he says, enthusiastically. “Some people came in yesterday after you were here and they adopted him. He’s already gone off to the vet’s. But hey,” he adds in a patronizing tone, “we’ve got plenty of cats available for adoption.”
I make it to the parking lot before I start crying. I drive a block, then pull over, because the lenses of my glasses are fogged with tears, and I need to blow my nose.

What are the chances? The boy sat there in that cage all those months, and no one wanted him. I come along, fall in love with him, and someone snatches him out from under my nose. In my bitterness, my first thought (after ‘God hates me’) is that Murphy’s Law has once again come into play. But then I have to take some deep breaths and consider the absurdity of the ‘coincidence.’ And since I don’t believe in coincidences…. Maybe my daily visits were enough to give Covington hope, to bring him out of his despondency enough so that, when the next group of people strolled through, he was up and looking like a sweet, affectionate boy at the front of his cage. So someone got a really cool cat, and I want to believe that he ended up in a really loving home. Please, Universe, let that be so. And—when I can stop crying—I will find a companion for Sugie. But the experience has really made me think. We know that animals become despondent if they are left alone, without attention, over a long period of time (even a short period of time—some cats become depressed after only 72 hours alone). If my time spent with Covington perked him up enough for others to notice him, I wonder if just volunteering to spend time with some of the other cats could have the same result. Of course, if I go back to the Upland shelter, I’ll have to put up with Mr. Jackass. Maybe this can be a learning experience for him, too, I think. That’s me; ever the teacher, ever the optimist.


  1. I applaud you, Kay. I admire how you can take this painful, negative experience and look for something positive: how you can help other cats to be more adoptable by visiting them and how even Mr. Jackass might become a better, more aware person with a little education. You truly ARE "the Teacher, the Optimist."

  2. I second the applause! And I grin from ear to ear when I think about the wonderful home with you some currently unfortunate kitty is in for...