Our family has an official, mental health professional prescribed Emotional Support Cat.
I know most people do dogs, and we wanted to have a dog, but at the time my job could call me anywhere in the world where I could be gone for weeks, and that eliminated a dog as a possibility.
Think about it. With a cat, all you have to do in regards to disappearing for a few weeks is fill a bucket with Meow Mix and then fill the tub with water. When you get back, the cat will look at you disappointed you’re invading their domain again. A dog would panic within five minutes of you leaving and eat your TV.
So that’s how we ended up with Neil T. Kitty. Neil was the last of a litter, and was going to be dumped by their previous owner because her eye didn’t naturally open. When the vet opened it, the eyelid drooped, and because she wasn’t a “perfect” kitten no one would adopt her.
I knew what it was like to not be “perfect” in the eyes of people and thus rejected, so did Eli, so Neil was a perfect fit for our ragtag band of misfits. (And yes, Neil is a female cat; Dad had picked the name for whatever animal arrived before it arrived, and that wasn’t going to change.)
It took a while for Eli to warm up to Neil T. Kitty, because at the time Eli liked animals but liked them from a distance. If a dog or cat came over, he would shoot it away with a “NO DOG!” or “NO CAT!” Once Eli accepted Neil was going to be around, they arrived at detente, and then a friendship.
That’s why when we moved away from Nashville a few years ago I found myself in a very difficult situation: Neil T. Kitty was gone.
We had a moving crew who came to load up a U-Haul for me, and I had put Neil in the bathroom with the doors closed so that they could load up without worrying about stepping on the cat. (Neil is an inside cat, and had never run outside to that point, so I wasn’t worried she’d run off.)
What I didn’t expect was one of the moving crew would use the bathroom without asking permission before they went into a room with the closed doors.Neil proceeded to rush out, whip around the living room like someone had stuck a blowtorch up her backside, and then zoom into the bedroom where we somehow lost sight of her.
We were almost done, so I told the crew to just finish up and then please leave. So they did, I paid them, and then went to look for Neil. I looked in every cabinet, closet, nook, and cranny. The cat was nowhere to be found.
I broke out her favorite cat food. Nothing.
I opened a fresh bag of the catnip treats that usually brought her running. Nothing.
So I went outside and began to look around for the annoying little furball. If I left that house without the cat, I knew I would have to answer to Eli about it, and the last thing I wanted to walk through was telling Eli that Neil T. Kitty was gone and wasn’t coming back.
I had planned to leave around 4 p.m. to start the drive to my new home.
At 8 p.m., I still had no cat, and in a few hours wouldn’t have an apartment to stay in. I called my folks and talked it out with them, and made the call I didn’t want to make: I had to leave without Neil T. Kitty.
So I drive to my new home, unload, unpack. I take all of Neil’s items and put them into a box and place them in the hall closet because I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.
Eli wasn’t supposed to come visit for ten days, so I began to formulate how I was going to tell him that Neil was gone. I had about half a dozen possible scenarios to tell him and I didn’t like any of them.
On day eight, I received a voicemail from my former landlord in Nashville asking me to call her at the office as soon as I heard the message. I figured it was going to be the usual “hey, we found a single nail about 1/32 of an inch out of the wall when you left, so we’re keeping your security deposit” call. Instead, it was a call that took me by surprise.
“Did you happen to forget something when you left?”
I immediately made a mental run through everything in the house, and I couldn’t think of what I could have left in Nashville.
“I was driving through the parking lot past your old place,” she said. “I looked at the sliding glass door of your place and there was a cat sitting there just watching people go by.”
She went on to inform me that when she and her assistant went inside to grab Neil, they watched as she ran across the living room, into the laundry area, and then jumped into the air a good three feet through a hole about 10 inches square in the wall.
It was a space where the exhaust hose for the dryer fed outside; but the apartment had a crawl space behind the wall that not even the property manager knew was there.
Neil had jumped in there to hide when we were packing up, and either was too scared to come out when I left or fell asleep and woke up after I was gone. So she had been inside that apartment without food for over a week. (Thankfully, the AC was still on and the toilet seat up so she had water to drink.)
The property manager was an animal lover who also knew Eli pretty well, so she insisted we find a way to get Neil home before Eli even knew she was gone.
So I made a five hour one-way trip to meet the property manager in a Petsmart parking lot near Dyersburg, Tennessee. Much to my surprise, she chose to spoil Neil with a new food and water bowl, toys, collar, etc. The stupid cat ended up having her own little Christmas day because she decided to hide inside a wall and not come out when I called for her.
I’d like to say that’s not typical of Captain Furbag (yes, I have multiple nicknames for the cat), but she seems to end up (as my late Grandfather would say) falling into a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.
I didn’t talk to Neil the entire ride home.
Neil really didn’t seem to be concerned about this fact, as she snuggled up to her new food bowl and slept the entire ride home.
That weekend, Eli shows up, and I show him his new bedroom. Neil was laying on the headboard above the bed.
“Hi Neil T. Kitty,” Eli said. “You moved too!”
I smiled, quietly watching Eli talking to Neil T. Kitty, thinking about the chaotic previous few days.
A happy Eli was worth it.
Neil had a way to go to get back off the crap list.