May-June 2013 | Domestic Disturbances

Hello Kitty

Fostering a cat leads to a lot more

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I've always considered myself a dog person. What’s not to love about a warm, furry creature who greets you like you’re Beyoncé every time you walk through the door, even if you’ve just gone to take out the trash? 

Sure, dogs don’t always have great breath, but frankly you probably don’t either. And do you hear them complaining? (Don’t open your mouth to check; your dog will seize the opportunity to French-kiss you. After all, Beyoncé, you’re irresistible.)

I don’t dislike cats, but they’re as moody and as devious as teenagers. Once, at a friend’s house, a cat tried to kill me by leaving a little ball on the top step of a flight of stairs. As I slipped and bounced, clutching in vain for the railing, the cat stood on the landing, washing its paws, already bored with the slapstick show it had created. 

About two years ago, my kids began lobbying for a cat.

“No,” I said firmly. “We have a dog and two frogs.”

“Frogs?” my youngest asked, perplexed.

“Those little green things? The ones you begged for? The ones I’ve been feeding and caring for ever since we bought them?”

But my kids persisted. Their lives were incomplete—why, they were regular Oliver Twists—without a cat.  

Right after their lobbying campaign began in earnest, I scrolled through the Chevy Chase community Listserv and saw a message from a rescue group seeking foster families for cats. The perfect solution: Fostering would let my kids have the cat-owning experience without actually committing us to 15 years of cat care. 

We swung by the group’s headquarters and picked up Kayla, a pretty little calico, a few days later. She came with an alarming amount of stuff: food, a cat carrier, a litter box and litter, dishes, a collar, toys with feathers on them. …You would have thought she was American Idol’s Adam Lambert, heading out on tour.

We brought Kayla home, gave her some treats and water, and let her explore. The dog sniffed her, the kids petted her, and Kayla attacked a bouquet of flowers, wrestling it to its death. Finally we all settled down to sleep. But at 3 a.m., I was startled awake by the sound of feet scuffing against the wood floor.

I leaped out of bed, clutching the nearest weapon—a plastic cup from Ikea—and prepared to scare away the intruder with a splash of water. Then the scuffing sound came closer and a tiny shadow appeared. It was either the world’s smallest burglar…or Kayla.

I squinted and realized she had discovered a foil wrapper and was batting it across the floor. I took the wrapper away, but two hours later she was back, batting around another scrap of paper. (We later discovered she’d upturned the trash can, providing not only contraband for her, but a midnight feast for the dog.)

My kids were finally sleeping through the night—and now the cat had me up every two hours. 

Kayla continued to wreak havoc: She escaped once, causing us to walk around for hours in the cold, shivering and calling her name, before she sauntered back home at dawn (teenage behavior, again!). She walked across my keyboard as I typed, deleting a crucial page of my novel. She continued to schedule her most active playtimes for the hours of 1 to 3 a.m.

Ten days after we brought Kayla home, the rescue coordinator emailed: We have someone who may want to adopt Kayla!

I started to type a reply, then looked into the cat’s wide, green eyes. 

The thing is, Kayla has this wonderful purr. She likes to trap our hands in her paws and give us sandpapery kisses. She rubs her pink little nose against our cheeks, as if to say, “Thanks for taking care of me,” or maybe, “Buy me some catnip or die in a stair-related fall.” 

As if that weren’t enough, I later learned that Kayla had been brought into a Prince George’s County shelter along with her baby kitten, who eventually died. Shelter workers then put an orphaned kitten in Kayla’s cage, and she nursed that baby and saved its life. 

We already loved her, though, even before we knew she’d lost her family. Somehow, in the space of 10 days, she’d become part of ours. 

Can we keep her? I wrote back. 

Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel is The Best of Us (Washington Square Press, 2013). She can be reached at