In the early spring of 2016, I was going through the worst period of depression and anxiety I’ve ever experienced. I was in real emotional pain and it was starting to develop into medical issues. As someone who has battled depression for the better part of 15 years, I knew that I should continue doing the things that make me feel good. One of them is fostering homeless kitties. They have always been a source of joy for me as they fill my heart with the strong, wonderfully healing feelings of compassion I have sometimes had trouble finding for myself.
We welcomed Billie Holiday into our home in early June. We were told that the small female calico had needed a lot of medical attention after being rescued from a horrifying animal hoarding situation where she’d been packed in cages with 85 other animals in a room smaller than my apartment’s kitchen. Billie had suffered from neglect, malnutrition, and possibly other unknown horrors. It was impossible to know how long she’d been there.
Billie was not our first foster to have gone through some trauma, but she was the most emotionally scarred and, like me, it was manifesting itself in her health. She had wiry fur, over groomed so much she smelled badly, was underweight, and she threw up a lot. She hated being examined or given medication as she’d been through so much to get her well to this point; she’d had enough. Furthermore, you could see the guarded look in her gaze when you approached her, and the disappointment in her eyes when you tucked her into her cage for the night.
I connected with Billie right away. A part of me suspects that we saw the pain in each others eyes and it created an instant bond of empathy and compassion. Billie has unusually expressive eyes, and I could see the sweet little soul who wanted to feel safe and loved. I vowed instantly that going forward, this little darling would have a life filled with love and comfort.
Billie and I started to support and love each other – we both had a lot of healing to do. When I felt defeated, she would lay on my chest and purr so quietly that only I could hear her. When she threw up in the middle of the night, I would stay up on the couch and hold her until she fell asleep. She would lie diligently beside me on my desk with her paw reached out to touch my arm while I worked. Slowly, but surely, we both started to get better. Billie’s wiry fur turned soft, she put on some much needed weight, and she started to chirp and meow like a normal happy cat. I felt accomplished from helping Billie, and seeing the happiness bloom in her beautiful eyes every day, lifted my heart and my spirits.
Getting Ready for Adoption
One of the most difficult parts in the life of a foster caregiver is that eventually we have to give our little charges away to their new forever homes. I had Billie for quite some time, and she hadn’t yet been adopted. We felt that perhaps it was because she wasn’t getting enough exposure – after all, she is a super sweet and gorgeous petite cat. The decision was made that it was time for her to go and live at our PetSmart adoption center to help move things along.
I dropped Billie off as part of my own regular volunteer shift at PetSmart. This wasn’t my first rodeo, as far as fosters and heartbreak, but after all we’d been through together it felt really awful. Billie seemed to accept what was happening and laid down quietly. To make matters worse, no sooner had I closed the cage door when a shopper stopped by and said, “Oh my, look at that cat. What a deep soul. I’m a therapist and I know eyes that have experienced trauma when I see them. That cat has been through a lot.” My heart almost broke!
Billie had high spirits at first while at PetSmart. All reports from volunteers said she was sweet and cheerful. When I would come for my shift she would recognize me and I always got the feeling her expectant looks were to ask “It was fun meeting new people and making new friends, mom – but when are you taking me home?” I kept hoping that she would be adopted soon.
From Foster to Forever
The adoption application we were hoping for never arrived, and as time went on, Billie started to regress. She began retreating into herself again. Even when I visited, she would crawl into her condo and gaze out the window instead of coming out to play with the other cats. One night, I came in after she’d started vomiting frequently again. I picked her up, and she pressed herself against my chest with her little face hidden under my chin. I sat there for the better part of two hours holding and comforting her, and when it was time to go you could tell she felt much better.
I’m pretty sure that was the moment I promised I would take her home forever.
It was actually the new logo on our KCZD shirts this year which inspired me to request permission to write our story as Billie’s adoption announcement. “Healing Hearts One Paw at a Time.” I smile to myself as I look at her now, sleeping quietly beside me at my desk, and can’t help but wonder if when they made that logo, they meant her heart or mine. I’m pretty sure it’s both.
~Nikki, Volunteer & Foster
PS. Get your own “Healing Hearts One Paw at a Time” hoodie or long sleeve shirt! Only available until 11/17/16: https://www.booster.com/2016-kczd-sweatshirt-fundraiser
PPS. Nikki’s story was featured on PATCH, check it out: http://patch.com/new-jersey/eastbrunswick/who-rescued-who-east-brunswick-woman-fights-mental-illness-rescue-cat
PPPS. YOU can help homeless animals, too!