Recently I’ve been walking with a friend 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 saw similar smiling pups and cats, too, and I 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 and switch to wet food, so his days sans 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 the kitten became an obsession, and of course I emailed Jessica, owner of the kitten’s mama who, as it turns out, lives on a farm several states away in Pennsylvania. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work, but from our exchange I’d learned that the kitten is super sweet, great with people and dogs, and in a week will be weaned and ready to go. Despite the highly impractical deterrent, my husband agreed this was one cute cat. Fast forward a few days and several thousand SkyMiles later and we found ourselves on a plane to Baltimore.
My suitcase held a collapsed cat carrier, a dish tub 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 made our way to our Nissan Rogue. The way back held luggage, the middle seat, which I draped with a shower curtain, was dedicated kitten land, and the humans called front. 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 and every type of seafood imaginable. The baseball-sized crab cake we each ordered was delicious, not too eggy and with barely any filler, and we stood at one of the small round tables to eat, airport style.
After lunch we headed 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 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 pronouncing it: Le Tits? Luteetz? Leatitz? I asked a woman on the street who could only offer 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 us of Decatur, Ga., where the parking meters stop running at 6pm and there are blinking crosswalk lights so cars stop and let you cross. The 18th- and 19th-century houses and shops are well-kept, the restaurant menus fresh and modern, and there are even local wines from Pennsylvania vineyards, so dinner was surprisingly good.
We got up early and checked out, which meant putting our room key in a bowl on a desk in the main house’s living room, where it seems no one ever goes. A few steps to the car and it was on to Lancaster for breakfast. Google gave On Orange 4.7 stars, so we put our name on the list and waited on Orange Street for a patio table. 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., over an hour’s drive, but passing more picturesque farmland. We drove down a long driveway to the back of the house where we saw little faces inside peering out at us. 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. Her menagerie of cats and dogs greeted us too and Jessica, a mother of five, reminded me of my friend Martee with her similarly pretty face, relaxed countenance, and warm heart she wore outside her body.
There was no catfishing going on here, and the kitten looked just like her photo. Haphazard patches of orange, black, and white fur wrapped her tiny body accented with a miniature pink nose and pads. We attempted to let Samantha’s cat mama have a final moment with her baby, but instead she walked away tired in the way mothers sometimes do. Samantha slept most of the 9-10-hour drive next to a stuffed cat I got her, which had a battery beating heart inside. Her wake time was typical cat–nibbling on kibble, playing, and even breaking in her first litter box, which “gift” we promptly disposed of. Riding along the highway at night with the inside car light on and me twisting around to observe and applaud our barely 1lb creature’s first litter box elimination, we screamed new kitten parents, but in that moment, I was a proud mama.
To better acclimate Samantha to life at home with Bo, 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. The introductions need to be strategic and slow so each cat associates positive feelings around the other, which Jackson marks as one giant step toward successful catification. By letting them eat together with a door initially between them and then a screen, they’ll realize that spending time near the other brings good things, like tasty meals. Orange tabbies are usually males and calicos usually females, so at least Bo and Samantha have that in common. When the walls eventually come down, to avoid a standoff you should give each a fun focus, distract the kitten with toys and the adult cat with a special treat. Soon there will be a face-to-face, but for now, these cats will snack and stare, a screen between them.
My sister has remarked, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” and in many ways neither can I. The house is cluttered and under renovation and things aren’t settled, yet the nagging feeling my current cat is bored out of his mind is disconcerting. What if I occupied a home as the only human surrounded by cats and besides, losing two pets in nine months has left a gaping hole and the house, achingly quiet.
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 her sidling up beside me and rubbing her sweet face against my leg, and me melting there on the spot. These early new pet days don’t feel the same as when the kids lived at home since their excitement camouflaged the extra work. Instead, 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 Samantha’s friendly nature and face, which I can hardly take in for all its striking beauty, has won me over and soon will Bo as well.
Did I need to travel all this way to find a kitten? Absolutely not. 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.