We adopted Gwendolyn Stacy in February 2015, from the Lynchburg Humane Society. Ideally, we wanted to get a cat to be friends with our Aeris, in the event that our dog Mikenna died. I was concerned that because Aeris was so close with Mikenna, she would be devastated.
Our criteria for adopting a cat was pretty simple. We wanted a "less adoptable" cat, meaning:
- Existing health issue
- At the shelter for an extended period
Animals that fit one or more of those categories are often overlooked for adoption. When it came to Gwen, she was an adult cat and had been at the shelter for two years and two months. She looked like such a sweet girl that I couldn't imagine why she was still there. So I decided to go pay her a visit.
It didn't take long to figure out why she was there. Gwen was a total recluse. She didn't look up or acknowledge me when I approached and started talking to her. When I reached out to pet her, she smacked my hand. It was clear that she wanted nothing to do with me.
You'd think I would have given up on her and gone on to the next cat. But my heart had decided that this was our girl - she just didn't know it yet. I spent time with her, and she came around to me a little bit. She would let me pet the top of her head, but nothing else, and she certainly wasn't going to look at me.
I paid her a couple more visits before we brought her home. By that time, I decided that I didn't care if she ever really liked us, I just didn't want her to be stuck at the shelter any longer.
When we got her home, a completely different cat started to emerge. I thought we would be dealing with a cat that hid from us for weeks. Instead, she came out almost immediately and wanted to explore her surroundings. She was happy! It was surprising, and gave me hope that maybe she just needed a change in scenery.
Her first night home, Gwen made herself comfortable on our bed. Aeris, who hadn't experienced another cat up close since she was a kitten, was intrigued in the creepiest way possible. It became evident that Aeris didn't know how to communicate with other cats, which has caused a lot of friction in our household. We've gotten to a point - three years later - where they co-exist in relative peace, but that's the best we'll probably ever get from the two of them.
I noticed within the first few days that Gwen would periodically stop what she was doing and make this weird "nyah nyah" sound and shake her head. Having NO idea what this meant, I wondered if she had some underlying brain problem. It was super bizarre.
We took her to the vet to get her checked out, and they didn't find anything wrong with her, however, she wouldn't let the vet anywhere near her mouth. They recommended a dental visit for her. $1200 or so later, we found out that Gwen has a disorder where her body attacks it's own enamel. Her mouth was a mess, and no teeth could be salvaged from that.
From that we learned that Gwen had been living in obscene amounts of pain for some length of time. The vet said that they couldn't believe she was as sweet as she was, because she had every right to be a complete jerk. (My words, not theirs)
Sure enough, as she healed up, we finally started to see her true personality. Not only was she a really sweet, cat, but she was a sassy, goofy little character. She enjoys headbutting our hands and arms when she's happy or wants attention. Much to my surprise, she's turned out to be a chatty little girl as well, always happy to meow and trill at us.
She also loves to play. Now, she doesn't play in the traditional cat chase mouse kind of way, but she loves to dart around, scale things, and just act much goofier than I would have ever expected from her.
In April 2017, we learned that Gwen has hyperthyroidism. This is partially why she is such a tiny girl - at her highest, she just made it to 7lbs. We started treatment to try and get her levels under control, but that was a struggle. As it turns out, Gwen hates pills with the firey passion of a tiny, stubborn calico.
Honestly, all those tricks you see on the internet for getting your cat to take a pill? She saw them from a mile away and refused. The best we could do was try and wrap the pill in a pill pocket. Sometimes she would accept those. Other times, she would take it eventually, after what felt like a long bargaining session. But there were plenty of times we couldn't get them down her at all, or I would have to take her and cram them down her. It was awful. She hated it, and I felt like all of the progress we were making with her was going down the drain.
It didn't help that in May 2017, three things happened:
1. We returned from a two week trip up north. We'd never been away that long before.
2. Gwen had to have surgery to get a few straggling roots that were irritating her mouth.
3. We fostered and then adopted kittens
Now, I wouldn't recommend this approach overall. If your cat seems to detest other cats and loves her personal space, maybe don't go out and adopt kittens. But these kittens in particular seemed happy to love Gwen and accept some gentle correction from her, which Aeris never was. So Gwen had her space, and the kittens seemed to learn when Gwen was serious about it.
That said, between the stress of the kittens and the medicine, Gwen spent almost the entire summer living in my closet. These were not great times for any of us, and I genuinely wondered if we'd ruined Gwen by adopting Buttercup and Vizzi.
Eventually, we got her thyroid levels stable, and we were able to switch to an ear gel. If your cat doesn't take pills well, this is a LIFESAVER. It's more expensive than the pills (I'm going to say roughly twice as much), but for us, it's worth every penny, because pills were not an option for her long term. Once we got that straightened out, Gwen started appearing out in the open again, and she began to make friends with her fluffy fan club.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Gwen would much rather be an only cat. But she tolerates Cuppie & Vizzi in a way that she never has, and probably never will, Aeris. She'll even play with them a little bit, and isn't afraid to give them a little shove when they're too close - despite the fact that each of the cats is nearly double her size now.
By far, Gwen has been the most work of our cats. But she has also been the most rewarding. We've watched her go from a cat that did not want to look at you, let alone be touched, to a vibrant, sassy lady who even grooms us. I never expected, or even dared to dream, that she would be this social. When we adopted her, I honestly thought that we were going to have a cat who sat in one of our offices, soaked in sunshine, and lived out her life in solitude. Not so much in the summer, but this past winter, Gwen spent many nights curled up on my chest. I'd wake up to her butt in my face, or her face tucked in by my chin.
The thing I would want you to take away from her story is that there are some incredible cats waiting for you at your local shelter. Some cats are more 'fixer upper' than others. While it sounds cliche, it's very true - the love you pour into a cat you adopt will be returned to you tenfold in their gratitude.