This a bittersweet post, but it’s been on my heart and I know it will help with closure and the grief of adding a new feline member to the family and then having to help her find her permanent home.
We had hoped to welcome a second cat into our family — and we did have little Umlaut (Umi for short) with us for the month of December. She, like Astrix, seems to be mainly Nebelung with longer grey fur that is bunny-soft. Nebelungs don’t grow their full adult coat for two years, but she had the beautiful plumed tail, fuzzy pantaloons, soft and furry ears, and furry feet with little grey paw pads.
She was incredibly shy at first and wouldn’t even come out of hiding to see us at the shelter (see above). But once we got her home into her initial “safe zone” (our guest bathroom) she very slowly let us pet her and cuddle her. Umi was a very cautious cat, hypervigilant when she heard or saw things that were surprising, scary, or unexpected. Yet despite this she really wants connection — so much so that at 5am she figured out how to open up the bathroom door and find humans to love on her. It was clear she had already outgrown the bathroom so we decided to relocate her to the basement.
If you’ve never introduced cats to one another before, there is a protocol! Each cat has their own space and then you start to share blankets so they can start to smell one another. Then you switch them (still separate but in the opposite space), and then allow them to interact through a door or a baby gate. If all proceeds as planned they get parallel play and then get to live together.
I have to give credit to Astrix — there was certainly a growl or two and some hisses, but she tended to get bored and go back to what she was doing.
Umi started to gain confidence little by little. That little kitten had a lot going for her — she was a good eater, good with the litter box, and wasn’t a big shredder (minus one incident with the carpet — oops!). She was in her awkward teenage phase, running down the stairs so fast that she would trip over herself. Her hunting certainly improved in that month too! At first she would just throw her body on top of the toy to “kill” it, but over time she learned to anticipate how the feather or ball might move and how to chase it.
And that cat was smart! She was just learning to fetch the balls and springs we would throw for her and learning to come to her name. There were moments when she felt scared and wanted to hide, but more often than not we could use her feline curiosity to entice her to come and see what was happening.
Over time when Astrix went upstairs to take a nap we’d close the office door behind her and let Umi explore. She started with very slow and low walking, but over time began to relax a tiny bit. Unfortunately loud noises or unexpected movements would still send her back to her safe area.
We spent so much time in the basement (in winter!) with little miss. She absolutely loved being pet and getting into someone’s lap. She loved to sleep upside on you, wrap her tail around your face, or cuddle up in your arms. Not yet big at making bread, she still had a massive motor, purring like her life depended on it. She had a very funny little “hiccup” in her purring, almost like she was tripping over her excitement. Because she was born to a feral mom she was still learning some of her manners — never a biter, she would gently put her tiny teeth on you to let you know she wanted more petting or less. But her joy was such that she’d purr herself to sleep and then dream big dreams. Of all of the moments we had with her, those were my favorites.
As she became more confident we decided to progress in the introductions, using some borrowed baby gates (thank you, Andy and Nancy!), sheets, and various other creative solutions to allow the cats to see each other but not interact. It didn’t go well. Even with one of us with her, Umi was very territorial and always wanted to be the only one with us. We used treats and toys to keep her interested and in a positive frame of mind, but she would be disinterested and then turn into a hissing, charging mess. Teenagers — cats and kids alike — have big feelings, and unfortunately this girl wasn’t managing them too well.
One day Astrix was napping upstairs so we decided to let Umi out. Everything was pretty chill until all of a sudden we turned around and Astrix was there. It’s a terrible idea to get between cats, especially if they are about to fight, so we quickly lured them apart with toys and treats, and everything seemed fine. We had made such progress, we remarked.
But it changed in an instant.
Umi made a bee-line for Astrix, probably because of curiosity and a desire to play. Astrix was startled and tried to back up and away from Umi, and then Umi lunged at her, and somehow Astrix injured her back right leg — it happened so fast that we don’t know exactly how. Astrix was crying and not able to put weight on her leg, so I started sobbing and tried to help her. Sergio took her straight to the emergency vet — good news is that she didn’t break it — and I spent the time he was gone hugging Umi and sobbing because I knew what this meant.
It meant because of a twist of fate and an accident that we’d have to rehome our new cat.
Before we adopted Umi, Sergio and I were very clear as a fur-parenting team that our priority was Astrix. She’s 15 and we want her to have a comfortable life. We were concerned that she was going to be the one that struggled, but ironically she didn’t really pay Umi much attention and just did her own thing. And it would be cruel to rehome an older cat, one who had spent her life happy with us. Every time I see a senior cat in a shelter I cry at the unfairness of it.
So we did all we could do — we arranged a time to take Umi back to the shelter, and the shelter folks were all incredibly kind and helpful in understanding and did everything they could to make the transition as easy as possible. We spent every moment we could with her that last weekend — lots of snacks, lots of feather play and spring chasing, lots of cuddles, and lots of tears. I had the chance to take a nap with her, something that was really special and a favorite pastime of mine with Astrix.
I also packed up all of her toys, her favorite snacks, and lined her carrier with her little blanket. And I wrote a letter from Umi to her new people. I don’t know if it made it to them, but I’m including it here.
To my new people,
Hi! My name is Umi (short for Umlaut, which is a long story), and I am so excited to be a part of your home. It might not seem like it at first because I am very shy at first. I might hide (I like blanket tents!). I can get startled by loud noises and people, and I will walk very low and fast until I get comfortable, at which point my tail will be very happy! I am still learning to be picked up and carried. PLEASE be patient with me because I promise I am trying so hard.
When I get comfortable with you I will never leave you. I purr very loudly with a little “hiccup” (you’ll know it when you hear it). I am learning to come to my name, to sit… and my previous people were teaching me to fetch with my sparkle balls (they were from Mud Bay Petstore). I love to play! I really like Da Bird, and also watching mouse videos on YouTube. When I’m tired I’ll fall asleep on you and be so happy! I will eat any dry food, I’m an expert with my litter box, and I love vertical scratching posts.
My former people thought I was a Nebelung… Google the breed and I’ll make even more sense.
Thank you for giving me a chance. I will love you always.
Umi (signed with Paw)
In a positive turn of events, we started posting about her straightaway, and someone saw the postings on social media and she was adopted shortly thereafter. We are so grateful to everyone who posted about her and got the word out and for all of the support for Sergio, Astrix, and me as we went through this very challenging time. Even though Umi was only with us for a month, she’s left her paw prints on our hearts forever, and I send that little weirdo some love every single day.