♥ LIZA ♥
A Rescue Cat for Christmas
Barbara Brabec tells how she was led to find and adopt Ivy, a beautiful gray cat she would rename Liza. Found under someone’s porch after giving birth to three kittens, this mother cat and her babies were rescued and taken to a rescue center in Naperville, Illinois.
YOU MAY NOT HAVE A CAT, but if you’ve ever loved a pet, you know how hard it is to lose them. My first “widow’s cat” was Charlee, and she was little more than a year old when I adopted her from the Humane Society in 2005 shortly after my husband, Harry, died. My loneliness vanished as soon as I brought this little furry-tailed charmer into my home, and her companionship made all the difference in my ability to be content as a widow.
Wrapping my arms around Charlee and saying goodbye to her that September morning fourteen years later was doubly hard for me as I then found myself remembering the day I’d held our dog, Ginger, in my arms as the vet brought her life to an end. (Ginger is the dog I’m now writing a book about, the one Harry and I rescued in the woods of Missouri in the seventies.)
Suddenly without my long-time feline companion, I tried to bury myself in work but had no heart for it. I’d talked to Charlee every day for fourteen years, and without her in my life, I quickly began to feel lonely for someone to talk to, to love, to care for. So when my sisters urged me to come to California for a vacation, I jumped at the chance. Nothing makes me happier than spending quality time with my two wonderful sisters and their families, and I looked forward to putting work completely out of my mind for awhile. I was also happy to leave Naperville on November 5, 2019, because that fall had been interrupted by an early blast of winter that delivered two snows to the Chicagoland area before Halloween, something that has happened only seven times since 1871. In fact, 2019 went down in the record book as the snowiest Halloween in Chicago history.
Once in California, work was the last thing on my mind. While I was there, I talked to every cat-loving member of my family about my emotional need to adopt another rescue cat as soon as possible. Many amusing conversations resulted as I received advice on the kind of cat to adopt this time (breed, male, female, age, color, etc.), what to feed it, and especially the problems and medical issues I might have with a new cat in comparison to Charlee, who had several medical problems during her life.
Once home I began to pray that God would help me find the perfect cat for me and would let me know when I did. On November 25, some two months after I’d lost Charlee, I awoke with the thought that I needed to go back to the animal clinic that particular day to thank them for their kindness in helping me give Charlee a peaceful and painless death. Impressed by their staff and the kindness I’d been shown, I also wanted them to know I was planning to adopt a new cat and was curious to know how they worked with the Humane Society since I wanted them to be my new vet. When I asked the receptionist if they happened to have any new cats they were preparing for adoption, she pointed to the gray cat on the counter that I was already petting, and then told me Ivy’s story.
Ivy’s Unusual Story
GIVEN HER CONDITION when brought to the rescue center, it was assumed that Ivy had been living outdoors for a long time because she was very dirty and hungry. She had been spotted under someone’s porch in September shortly after giving birth to three kittens. When the homeowner confirmed this was an “outdoors cat” she sometimes fed but had no interest in, the woman who’d spotted her went back that night and took mama and her babies to Laura’s Waifs and Strays shelter in Naperville. Laura “just happened” to work part time at the animal clinic I’d chosen to euthanize Charlee and had taken such a personal interest in Ivy and her kittens that she wanted to offer them for adoption through the animal clinic. After cleaning her up and giving her a complete physical checkup, she was estimated to be between two and three years of age with no apparent health issues.
That morning at the clinic when I was saying my final goodbye to my beloved Charlee, Ivy was in the clinic’s reception area in a cage with her kittens, waiting to be adopted. The friend who went with me that day was playing with them while I was crying in the treatment room as Charlee took her last breath. I never looked at that cat or the kittens when I left; just wanted to take Charlee home for burial in my little perennial and herb garden under my kitchen window.
Now I was back at the clinic and petting this cat that kept rubbing against me, literally begging for affection. She was so quiet and friendly that while waiting for someone to adopt her, the clinic had given her the run of the whole place, and now she was the unofficial greeter for everyone that walked through the door. Although she loved to look through the ground-floor windows, she constantly avoided the door, apparently having no interest in ever going outside again. Nothing bothered her; she loved everyone, and clearly was seeking love in return. I was immediately drawn to this cat because she reminded me of the gray cat I’d had as a child that liked to sit in my lap when I played the piano. I learned then that someone had been thinking about adopting this cat for three weeks, but I’d be considered if I was interested in her. So I went home and thought about it, prayed about it, and went back the next day asking if I could spend some time with her. They put me in the room where she was caged and said I could stay as long as I wished.
It didn’t take much coaxing to get Ivy to come to me when they opened the cage door. She crawled into my lap and we spent half an hour getting acquainted. When she finally went back to her cage and I left the room, I told the receptionist I wanted to adopt her. That’s when Laura said she had been working with a family whose teenage son wanted this cat, so she had to give him preference. But his family said they would take the cat only if it was declawed. Laura had been stalling the family for several weeks because she refused to do that to an adult cat. “You can declaw a kitten without hurting them, but declawing an adult cat is like cutting off the end of all their toes,” she told me. “It’s extremely painful and debilitating to them.” Furthermore, she didn’t like that the boy would be going to college the next year and leaving Ivy alone in the house all day long.
So that’s why Ivy had remained unadopted for the two months I’d been grieving for Charlee. All that time, I’d been praying that since God knew the exact female cat that needed me as much as I needed her, He would find her for me and let me know when I found her. But now there was a roadblock to the cat I knew in my heart was the cat God wanted me to have. So I passionately made my case for why Ivy would be better off with me, emphasizing that I was in a position to give her love and attention 24/7 as long as I lived. And this was an important consideration since Ivy clearly needed a companion who’d give her that kind of care.
An Answer to Prayer: A Godwink Story
WHILE WAITING for Laura’s decision, I went back to spend more time with Ivy, strengthening the connection between us and also checking with Laura to see if she’d made a decision yet. She finally told me that the family had decided to take Ivy with her claws, but now Laura didn’t trust them because she knew how easy it would be for them to find another vet who would declaw any cat.
I was so relieved when Laura called on December 2 to say she had decided to give Ivy to me, that she’d had her shots, had been spayed three days earlier, and would be well enough for me to come and get her the next day. When I said I needed to complete the extensive background questionnaire Laura asks an interested adoptee to complete, she said it wasn’t necessary, that she knew all she needed to know about me and believed that Ivy and I needed to be together. At that time she said they’d finally decided that Ivy was probably only two years old, and we determined that, based on when she was found, that she might turn three on or about June. So I gave her my mother’s birthday of June 4 so I could keep track of her age from that point on.
Now some might simply call it a “coincidence” that this cat was still there when I was finally ready two months later to get another cat—and that I “just happened” to feel the need to visit the clinic on that particular day and met Ivy—and that I’d be favored to get this cat . . . but to me this was clearly a Godwink. For those who don’t know, a Godwink is “an event or personal experience, often identified as coincidence, so astonishing that it is seen as a sign of divine intervention, especially when perceived as the answer to a prayer.”
Suddenly, after a restless week of waiting and praying, my Christmas wish had come true. I signed the adoption papers and went home with Ivy and a bag of the high-quality food Laura said she needed for good health. I already had everything else needed to make Ivy feel at home—a clean litter box, new feeding dishes, and toys. I immediately renamed her Liza, a shortening of my mother’s middle name of Eliza. Since I felt like Mother was holding my hand the day Ivy died, it seemed perfect that Liza should have not only her birthday but her name, too.
A New Life for Liza and Me
AS EXCITED AS a mother with a new baby, I devoted the next five days to Liza, staying in one room with her until she began to feel comfortable with me in totally new surroundings. I chose the master bedroom to be the best place to introducer her to her new surroundings, since I wanted her litter box and a dish of water to be in the master bath permanently.
After the initial loving I gave her, she immediately ran and hid under the dresser where I couldn’t reach her, coming out hours later only when I placed her dinner where she could see it. I opened the sliding closet door to give her another hiding place more accessible to me, and she quickly learned her new name and “dinner.” In time, she quit hiding and finally got brave enough to walk through the door to the rest of the house, parts of which I had temporarily closed to make it easier to explore a little at a time.
My stress level dropped to zero that week as my happiness meter shot to the moon. Bit by bit I introduced her to every room upstairs and, although apprehensive for a long time, she slowly explored every nook and corner of the upper level of the house and approved of her surroundings. Interestingly, before doing anything new—like putting her paws on the window sill about a foot from the floor—she would always look at me as if fearing she might be doing something wrong. That’s when she learned her next words: “It’s OK, Liza.”
She gradually tested the special beds I’d prepared for her, and the first time she stepped into the basket on top of my filing cabinets that Charlee had napped in every day, curling up it with what seemed like a cat sigh of satisfaction. At any time of day when I need a “cat fix,” I can always find her here or in one of several chairs she likes or some other spot, perhaps behind the couch where the sun is shining, or on top of my china cabinet (a big jump no matter which way she gets up there).
I would not introduce Liza to the lower level of the house until months later, a story beyond the scope of this article but one with a good ending. Yes, there were a few “hurdles” we had to get over to live compatibly with one another—some changes I needed to make in the way things were arranged in the house to keep her out of trouble or prevent damage to cherished possessions. Of course I had to rearrange the three huge dried Hydrangea flowers I had in a big bowl on top of the china cabinet. By moving it forward I’ve minimized the damage because she can’t help brushing against it. Now when I see a few petals on the carpeting, I know she’s been up there again.
Suffice it to say that Liza proved to be agreeable to change and adapted quickly, perhaps as she’d had to do when she was fending for herself out-of-doors, looking for food, or climbing the nearest tree to escape anyone or anything she feared.
As I write this story for my website in 2021, I can report that Liza turned four this year, has no bad habits, and remains very obedient and loving. Although quite different from Charlee in nature and personality, she has become a perfect companion for me. And she’s giving me something Charlee could never bring herself to do, which was to let me hold her in my arms like a baby. Only God knows why this seemed to terrify her. Liza will let me cuddle her this way, but not for long, unless I happen to be lying in bed watching TV. That’s when she loves to snuggle on my chest, rub my chin, and then curl up in the crook of my arm or on my lap for some extended petting. There are times when I can rub her belly for half an hour before she tires of it and changes position.
I’m grateful Liza doesn’t want to be on my lap while I’m at the computer, but I’m still trying to train her to stay off my papers when I’ve got a lot of them spread out to my left. Sometimes I let her curl up on them for awhile as I work on the keyboard, and when I need her to get off my desk, I pick her up and hold her for a few minutes before moving her to the plush secretarial chair that sits near my computer area. Then she’ll stay there, content to just be near me.
Liza spends a lot time on the cat seat I made in front of my office window, a perfect perch to oversee the neighbor’s back yard and sniff the air when the window can be opened. Perhaps she misses being outdoors, but she continues to run back whenever I open the front or back door as if she fears what’s beyond those doors.
Christmas Trees Not a Problem
I COULDN’T HAVE WISHED for a better Christmas present than Liza, and I like to think that finding a home with me was like Christmas to her too. She surely had a challenging life before we met and had to be “street smart” to survive living outdoors for even one winter here.
Charlee didn’t bother any of my Christmas trees, so I put my usual small trees in my bedroom, kitchen, and office and hoped for the best. This Christmas picture in the bedroom proves I had nothing to worry about. Liza was fascinated by the tree and couldn’t help gently pawing a couple of ornaments and knocking them off the tree before I explained (in my best motherly voice) that this was a no-no. That year and in 2020 as well, one of her favorite napping places was alongside the tree, as if to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t be NEAR the tree, right?”
I’ve journaled many interesting cat experiences since adopting Liza, including how I had to change my life to accommodate her habits and keep her out of trouble when she wanted to jump here or there to explore places I didn’t want her to go. I found this rather like all the things I had to change about the way I lived and worked to keep my husband happy in the early years of our marriage. One thing I know for sure: The effort required in learning how to live compatibly with a new cat or dog is well worth it, because the joy one receives from having a loving and well-behaved pet as part of the family is simply priceless. (Having a loving and well-behaved husband, as I did for nearly 44 years, was also priceless.)
I’ve found there’s nothing like petting a cat (or a dog) to lower my stress level at any time of the day. So I pet Liza a little throughout the day, and she loves every minute of it. She has her own daily routines just as I have mine. Sometimes she spends nearly her whole day with me in the office; other days she naps in one of several other places in the house she has claimed as her own. She accompanies me to the lower level when I go down to exercise there or do the laundry, and especially loves the window in the bathroom that opens at ground level, without question the best cat-view in the house.
With the help of a friend who has shared my Liza journey from day one, I made a cat tree for Liza in the kitchen, and she often spends time on it on a day when I spend hours in the kitchen making soups or baking. When I’m cooking a meal, she likes to sit on the kitchen stool and watch everything I’m doing on the counter—but thankfully never tries to jump on it (a lesson she learned quickly). She just seems curious about everything I’m doing and follows me all over the house every morning as I do my morning routine. No wonder, then, that I have conversations with her all day long. She never breaks eye contact with me and listens so intently to everything I say that it makes talking to her pure fun.
How to Communicate with a Cat
YEARS AGO I taught Ginger, the dog Harry and I rescued from the wilds of Missouri in the seventies, how to communicate with us. Charlee learned a few words (her name, dinner, no, get down, and be brushed?) but she wasn’t interested in much more than that. But Liza is quite different. She gives me her attention whenever I say her name and always looks at me as if she thinks I’m the most interesting person she’s ever seen. I’ve now taught her several words and phrases.
I started by using some of the words, voice tones, and arm and hand movements that I used to train Ginger, and Charlee as well, and it has been exciting to see when Liza finally understands a new word and does what I want her to do.
In the first couple of months after learning her name, “no-no,” and “It’s OK, Liza,” she learned the following words and phrases in the order given: “Liza, come here”; “com’on, let’s go!” (when she’s walking in front of me and I need her to move faster); “Get DOWN!” (for awhile I had to use an exclamatory voice to get action; later that became unnecessary.), When I once again started to exercise on the bike downstairs, Liza followed me down because it was a new door to go through. By day three she clearly understood I expected her to follow me when I said “Liza, wanna go downstairs?” What a blessing that was was when we experienced our first tornado warning together. I had little warning and I was rushing to get some important papers and other essential things downstairs. When I called to come to me and then asked if she wanted to go downstairs, she beat me to the door. (With Charlee, I first had to find her, put her in a carrier, and carry her down, against her will.)
After I bought a bouncing feather toy for Liza, I swished it overhead and asked her if she wanted to play and got the little yes-mew she often gives to confirm something I’ve asked her. When she followed me to the linen closet where I decided to store that toy, she gave me a little protest-meow. The next time I asked, “Wanna play?” she gave me the yes-mew and ran to the linen closet, waiting for me to open the door. She continues to delight me by her eagerness to listen to what I’m saying, and I wonder how many more words I can teach her. This year when I began to open the windows, I started saying “Window?” as she waited for me to open it. But so far, no yes-mew in response. Perhaps she knows me so well know that she knows I’m going to open it anyway, since I’ve been doing that for some time already.
I believe God created all his creatures with the ability to communicate not only with their own kind, but humans as well, and countless people have formed amazing bonds with both wild and domestic animals that love them and respond to their loving words and hand commands. If you’re not already communicating with your cat or dog, I hope you’ll give it a try. Until you do, you’ll never know the special joy that comes when you and your pet are on the same wave length. As the following list of reading suggests, many cat owners agree with me.
I hope you will tell me about the rescue cat you’ve adopted, either in a comment note below or an email to me. I would love to gather a collection of stories I could share in a PDF document for the enjoyment of many.
“The Trainable Cat,” by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis.
“Human-Animal Communication” on Wikipedia.
“Everything You Need to Know about Animal Communication” on The Heart School of Animal Communication.<.p>
Cat & Dog Tales T/C