Recently I’ve been walking with a friend at a park on the Atlanta Beltline where there are loads of people out with their dogs. With no dog of my own going on nearly a year, I’m on a “soft” hunt, stopping walkers with cute large dogs that smile at me to learn where they got theirs. One such golden retriever encounter sent me to a website where I assumed I’d see similar smiling pups. Scrolling the site, however, I saw dogs from all over, cats too, and soon landed on an image I couldn’t unsee.
I’ve already got Bo, an oversized big-hearted orange tabby who recently lost his buddy Louie, also a ginger, but who now seems bored living with just us humans. Adding insult to injury, the vet suggested he slim down, so the days without his beloved carb rich kibble have grown noticeably duller.
If you cast your line out, that cork is eventually going to bob, and while I do like fishing, be careful what you fish for. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this calico might have became an obsession, and of course I emailed Jessica, who owns the kitten’s mama cat, but who, as it turns out, lives several states away on a farm in Pennsylvania. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work, but from our exchange I’d already learned that the kitten is super sweet, great with people and dogs, and in a week will be weaned and ready to go. Despite this highly impractical deterrent, my husband agreed that this was one cute cat. Fast forward a few days and several thousand SkyMiles and we found ourselves on a plane to Baltimore.
My suitcase held a collapsed cat carrier, a dish tub for a litter box, small bag of litter (which security flagged) and other assorted kitten things–toys, towels, food and water bowls–and in my carry on some reading, a toothbrush and change of clothes. With so much already invested, in flight my brain kicked into worry mode: With Samantha sleeping outside, what if coyotes get to her before I can? Or as many new adoptive parents fear and experience, what if this family changes their mind?
Putting worries aside, we landed and our Nissan Rogue was up for the task: the way back held luggage, the middle seat was dedicated kitten land, and the humans called front. I brought a shower curtain to drape over the back seat and bubble wrap this kitten’s world and preserve the car seat. We made our way to Annapolis, Md., every bit as beautiful as I’d heard, and walked around past old houses and the waterfront, which felt equal parts Virginia and New England, all of it quaint, historic and oozing charm.
Next stop was Baltimore and lunch at Lexington Market, home of Faidley’s famous crab cakes. The baseball-sized jumbo lump crab cake we each ordered was delicious, not too eggy and with barely, if any, filler. Faidleys was bustling with counters selling every type of seafood imaginable, and we stood at one of the small round tables to eat, airport style.
After lunch we pressed on to Millersville, Pa., passing rich farmland with stripes of green, brown, and gold rolling hills and into Lancaster (pronounced “LANG-ki-ster”), the oldest inland town in the U.S. We stayed at an inexpensive Airbnb in Bird-In-Hand, Pa., and our room was in one of several non-descript buildings behind a pretty Victorian house. Simple enough, it had a double bed, a Bible on the nightstand, two bars of soap the size of foil wrapped pats of butter, and zero Wi-Fi. Driving in, we noticed an Amish-owned market selling pies, but arrived too late to sample any. We did, however, see several Amish families traveling via iconic horse and buggy, tops up and wipers going in the mist, and with surprising bright red blinking turn signals illuminating the rainy road.
Dinner was in an adjacent town, Lititz, and we struggled mightily pronouncing it: Le Tits? Luteetz? Leatitz? I asked a woman on the street who could only offer up that she knew it had “tit” in its name, but shrugged her shoulders saying what did she know, she was from Jersey. (It’s LIT-itz by the way.) Lititz was a cute town that reminded me of Decatur, Ga., where the parking meters stop running at 6pm and there are crosswalk buttons activating blinking lights for cars to stop and let you cross. The houses and shops are super old and well kempt, the restaurant menus are fresh and modern, and there are even local wines from Pennsylvania vineyards. Dinner was good.
We got up early and checked out, which consisted of placing our room key in a bowl on a desk in the main house’s living room, where it seems no one ever sits. A few steps to the car and we set off for Lancaster to find breakfast. Google gave “On Orange,” an aptly named eclectic brunch spot on Orange Street, 4.7 stars so we put our name on the list and got a table on the garden patio in back. Swedish oat pancakes, peasant omelets, and attentive, amicable staff made it a memorable spot. Afterwards we saw the Soldiers and Sailors monument in Penn Square and peered inside Central Market, the oldest (1730) continuously running public farmers’ market in the country, but unfortunately, it’s closed Sundays.
Next, we headed to Jessica’s in Shippensburg, Pa., which was over an hour’s drive, but which brought more picturesque farmland out the window. Once there, we drove down a long driveway to the back where we saw at least five faces peering out of a plate glass window. Jessica and her daughter came outside, the daughter holding the tiny kitten they had named Samantha. Mom and daughter both wore long dresses, and on her head, Jessica wore a sheer white net stiff cap which appeared to be in the Amish Mennonite tradition. I read that “The Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites are the car-driving, outreach focused cousin of the more broadly known horse-and-buggy Amish” (www.beachyam.org), and I thought I’d spotted a Honda Odyssey in their driveway. While several of her cats and dogs greeted us outside, Jessica was friendly too and told us she had five children. She resembled my friend Martee with her similarly pretty face, relaxed countenance, and warm heart she wore outside her body and which extended to all creatures.
The kitten looked just like her picture with patches of orange, black, and white fur arranged in a striking haphazard pattern wrapped around the tiniest of bodies, and she had an adorable miniature pink nose and pads. We said our goodbyes after attempting to let Samantha’s cat mama have a final moment with her baby, but instead she walked away tired, the way mothers sometimes do. Samantha was an easy traveler and slept during most of the 9-10-hour drive next to a stuffed cat I got her with a battery beating heart inside, and her wake time was typical cat–nibbling on kibble, playing, purring, and even breaking in her first litter box, which “gift” we promptly disposed of. I can only imagine seeing two people riding along the highway at night with the inside car light on and front passenger twisting her body around to the back seat to observe and applaud a barely one-pound creature’s first ever litter box elimination was a sight, but in that moment, I was one proud mama.
To better acclimate our kitten to life at home with another cat, I’ve been watching videos from Jackson Galaxy, an internet cat behaviorist my son’s girlfriend told me about (www.jacksongalaxy.com). His “Eat, Play, Love” approach to successful feline introductions recommends that both cats stay busy and entertained, eat well and get plenty of love and attention. Introducing your resident cat to a new kitten must happen slowly and deliberately following specific steps so each will associate positive feelings around the other, one giant step toward successful catification. By letting them eat together with a door initially between them and then a screen, they’ll gradually realize that spending time near the other brings good things like tasty meals. When you eventually do bring your cats together, you should distract the kitten with toys and the adult cat with a special treat, so each has a fun focus, and everyone can avoid a feline standoff. Soon there will be a face-to-face, but for now, these cats will continue snacking and staring at one another through a screen.
My sister has remarked, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” and in many ways neither can I. We are busy, the house is cluttered and under renovation, and things aren’t even close to feeling settled, yet the nagging feeling my current cat is bored out of his mind is disconcerting. I feel his pain; what if I occupied a home as the only human surrounded by cats? Also, losing two pets in nine months has left a gaping hole, and the house is achingly quiet.
However, only a few days in, I alternate being ready for this sweetheart to grow out of her infant kitten stage and just snuggle with Bo already, to going into her room and having her sidle up beside me and rub her tiny face against my leg and melting right there on the spot. These early new pet days don’t feel as energized as with the last cat when the kids lived at home and their exuberance camouflaged the extra work, and it feels a little what dating after a divorce or death might feel like–a little premature, contrived, and unusual to be hanging out with a stranger–but her sweet friendly nature and face I can hardly take in for all its striking beauty has won me over and soon will Bo as well. I found it interesting to read that orange tabbies are nearly always males and calicos nearly always females, so at least Bo and Samantha have that statistic in common, but for now they’re continuing the between the screen stare down.
Did I need to travel all this way to find a kitten? Absolutely not, and the jet fuel to Maryland alone categorizes me as incredibly wasteful. Did I need to hurry and barely three weeks after losing Louie go and add another pet to this house? Again, no. None of this involved logic, just extra love that needed somewhere to go.
Welcome to our house, Samantha.