It all started at a resort in Cabo San Lucas. Tom and I were sitting at dinner overlooking the pool area, and we saw several kittens with their mama cat (whom we had affectionately dubbed “Fetty Cat” because she only had one eye). After spending an hour or so after dinner trying to pet one of the kitties, I realized: I really needed a cat.
Two weeks later, I found myself at the SPCA on a Sunday evening, judgmentally walking from cat condo to cat condo. I hadn’t thought TOO much ahead of time about what I was looking for—I was pretty sure I wanted a boy, and I was pretty sure I wanted him to be a year old (or less).
I was hoping that it’d be a ‘true love’ moment, and when I met the right kitty, I’d know.
I found myself immediately drawn to the tabby cats. Growing up with a brown and black tabby cat named Prince with the personality of a friendly puppy, I have a soft spot for tabbies. There were a few who caught my eye, but upon closer inspection, didn’t quite pass my kitty inspection. Some would hiss, some had skinny, awkward tails, some wouldn’t engage with me.
It occurred to me that I may not find a kitty whom I clicked with enough… until I spotted a tiny leopard climbing from level to level on a cat tree. He had such pretty markings, and his personality was obnoxious—he’d jump from bed to bed and sit on each cat, snuggle in, then eventually tire of that cat and move onto the next.
I found out he was a 10-month old male named Samoan.
But the SPCA was closing, and I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to make a definitive decision in time. I pet him, took a few obligatory Snapchats, and vowed to come back the next day after sleeping on it.
Naturally, I went home and couldn’t stop thinking about the little guy. I knew I needed to go back and get him—and I just hoped nobody else had gotten him in the meantime. I set up his litter box, bought a basketful of toys, some food, and a little scratching post.
I went back to the shelter and approached the front desk: “Is Samoan still here? I want to adopt him.”
After a few clicks on her computer, she confirmed Samoan was still in the back. I was so relieved and excited, and she sent back a volunteer to get him for me.
10 minutes passed. 15 minutes. Then 20. What was taking so long?
She finally came back, disheveled, with the cardboard white carrier. “He put up a good fight, but he’s finally in here.”
Hm, I thought, not a great sign.
Upon taking him home, I excitedly opened his box—in the middle of the apartment, apparently a big cat no-no when you first bring home a new kitty—and welcomed him to his new home. Immediately, he popped out and sprinted behind the dryer. Not exactly the homecoming I was hoping for, but I figured in a few hours he’d be out.
Oh, how naïve I was.
Sam spent the next two days behind the dryer.
I was concerned he wasn’t going to eat or use the litterbox, but the tell-tale signs of both were evident every morning (a slight relief, but still a concern).
I woke up on day 3 and checked behind the dryer on my way out to yoga. No kitty.
Hm, I thought, mildly panicked. Where could he be?
After a quick scan of the apartment, I realized I was going to be late and left, with my disappearing cat in the back of my mind.
I did a more thorough search before work, but to no avail.
Too concerned to focus at work, I went home at lunch and enlisted the help of my coworker Nick to help search.
We legitimately turned the apartment over. We flipped furniture. We took everything out of closets. Then we did it all over again. No cat.
“KG,” he stammered, “I hate to say this, but I really don’t think that cat is here. Could he have gotten out?”
Surprising even myself, I started to cry. I couldn’t believe that I already lost my cat after 48 hours. I am a horrible mom, I thought. “I don’t think I can go back to work,” I said, “I feel sick over this.”
I had to take Nick back to work, though, so I drove back to Southwest and sat in the parking lot and called my mom. She was (luckily) with my Papa John at the time, who told me to check under the cabinets.
“That’s ridiculous,” I dismissed. How could he have gotten in the cabinets? I opened every cabinet, I explained.
My grandpa then explained how there’s a small space between the baseboards and the cabinets that cats can crawl into—he had just gotten his neighbor’s cat out of theirs a few days earlier. I was skeptical (but desperate), and ultimately, my desperation won out.
After embarrassingly tearing up at work, my boss brought me his thermal heat hunting camera to scan the apartment, ‘in case he got into one of the walls.’
Was this what all cat owners dealt with? I couldn’t remember any antics of this scale from my childhood, and we constantly had cats. Had I selected a broken cat? Was I just a shitty pet parent? What was I supposed to do?
I got home after work and immediately headed for the corner cabinet with the infrared camera. Movement.
I breathed in sharply, steadying the angle of the camera. Ears. I could see ears.
I was so relieved I had found him, I started crying again (it was a very emotional day).
“Sam Cat!” I blurted, trying to coax him out. I stuck my phone into the hole to make sure he was OK in there, turning on the flash. And thus, the first #MoodFromTheCabinet was born:
It was at this point that I felt a strange mix of relief and confusion. I was so happy I had found him, but unsure of what to do next. What if he were stuck in there? What if he starves? What if he’s going to the bathroom in there?
Ultimately, I realized I had no choice but to leave him be. The next morning, I woke up and found his food gone and his litterbox full. So, he’s not stuck, I thought, moderately more willing to allow him to keep hanging out in the cabinet.
Over the next several days, I took “progress pictures” to illustrate Sam’s mood. Over the weeks, new toys would appear in the cabinet and disappear from the rest of the apartment. Please enjoy this #TBT:
After the third week, I was beginning to grow increasingly concerned that this was going to be the new normal. I was convinced I had adopted a malfunctioning cat. I called the SPCA, almost embarrassed to admit that I had yet to touch the pet I had adopted from them.
“He was rescued from a situation of extreme cruelty very young, so it’s probably going to take him a little while to socialize.” Although it broke my heart, it made me feel slightly better that he hadn’t come out yet—almost like it wasn't my fault. Still, I was confused, since he was so playful and happy at the shelter. What if he didn’t like me? What if I had a cat who isn’t going to like me?
I had visions of myself in 5 years from now, unable to move out of my apartment, because my 5-year-old cat who loathed me was still living in my cabinet. It was partly funny, but mostly genuinely concerning.
People reached out with the most well-meaning advice, and most people were of the opinion that we should plug the hole. Eventually, I tried it. He FREAKED out, and launched himself at the piece of Tupperware I had lodged in the opening to knock it free and then shoved his body into the hole. I felt so guilty that I never tried to plug it again.
Another popular suggestion was Feliway, a pheromone diffuser for cats who won’t stop spraying (ew) or are aggressive. It was supposed to make cats calmer. I was cynical: my cat wasn’t aggressive—he was terrified of me. Plus, the product was $40, and it seemed like the likelihood of it working was so slim that I’d be better off being patient.
Fast forward three more weeks. We had made minor (very minor) progress, but I still hadn’t made physical contact with him. As soon as he’d see me, he’d book it back to the cabinet. The most I saw of Sam was his backend while he scuttled back into the cabinet, increasingly slowly as he got bigger.
Another frustrating aspect of my hidey cat was that he was the messiest animal in the world. There was litter all over my apartment constantly, which barely made sense considering the cat was nowhere to be seen. I’d jokingly call him my ‘messy ghost kitty’ because unless you had seen the tracks of litter everywhere, you’d never know a cat lived in the apartment.
I had to vacuum every single day, and it was mildly annoying that I was spending all this time cleaning up after a cat whom I wasn’t even getting to do cat things with (pet, play, you know—the standard cat things). It occurred to me the litter might be the issue.
One Monday night, I was eating pizza and drinking wine with Ellie, while placing treats at the opening of the cabinet to get Sam to stick his paw out and grab them (this was the extent of our relationship, at this point—through-the-cabinet-hole scratches).
After two glasses of wine, I decided we should get a cat tree. We went to Petsmart, where I bought the cutest cat tree I could find and a couple more toys. I purchased a Blue Wilderness litter I had read about online that was made of pine and other natural materials, unlike the clay that most clumping litters are made of. The articles I read said that clay is sticky and can cling to the kitty’s paws and body, so when they jump out of the box, they take a lot of litter with them.
As I was finishing up, I spotted the Feliway at the endcap of an aisle. I slowly approached, reaching my threshold of patience and wondering if it were worth it. “It’s just $40,” the merlot I had consumed earlier whispered, “just try it.” [Sidebar: I found it on Amazon for $20, linked above.]
Feliway, cat tree, toys, and litter in tow, we made our way back home. Ellie bought a beta fish and named it Akon.
I unboxed and set up my kitty Glade Plug-In and put the cat tree by the window.
I shit you not, the very next night, Ellie and I were sitting in the living room when Sam Cat came out of the cabinet and started walking around.
It was shocking. I had never seen this much of his body before (at least not since we left the shelter). He was whipping his tail around, climbing on the counter, and, save for the fact he wasn’t coming near us, like a normal cat. It was almost unbelievable. I’m pretty sure my heart was beating twice as fast as usual for the full hour or so that he graced us with his existence.
The following night, I came home from teaching and found him outside of the hole again. I slowly filled up his food bowl, talking to him quietly. I approached him, one inch at a time, and tried to reach out and touch his back. He jerked away violently.
“It’s OK—it’s OK. Just let me pet you.” I said, reaching out again. He moved away. This cycle repeated five or six times, until finally, I touched his back. (This is where the video comes into play. Everyone remember, “We like the pets! These are the good pets!” Ah, the good old days.)
I “played” with him for about an hour, petting him and scratching him behind the ears. He was so sweet and kept purring, occasionally trying to bite my fingers. I was still in utter disbelief that—after a month and a half—my ghost cat was finally real.
The progress from this point forward was rapid. As I type this, he’s laying across my chest and smacking my hands with his paws when I type too quickly (if you find a typo in this blog, please direct your blame to Sam Cat).
I think there are a few morals to this story:
1. Love is patient. I was so afraid my kitty hated me and that I had picked a ‘broken cat,’ but I held out hope and spent countless nights sitting in front of the cabinet hole talking to him. Even when I was most frustrated, in the back of my mind I knew he was still better off in this apartment (a real home) rather than in a shelter.
2. Feliway pheromones are magic. I swear, 48 hours of this stuff diffusing in my apartment and it was like I had a completely different cat. His personality is hilarious—he’s so playful, happy, and sweet, even though the whole ‘clawing and nibbling’ phase is a little painful. If you’re going to get a cat or have multiple cats who don’t get along, get this stuff. I know it seems hokey, but I think Sam Cat is proof that it can turn around the worst cases.
3. The natural litters are way cleaner than the clumping ones. I like this one from Blue Wilderness; it doesn’t smell like regular kitty litter but it still somehow manages to cover up the smell of kitty doo-doo. I don’t have to replace it as frequently, either, because half of it isn’t ending up all over the floor every time Sam Cat uses the bathroom.
4. Sometimes humor and community can make sad situations easier. When I was the most worried about the #CabinetCat situation, it was nice to have the support of (sometimes random) people offering advice, cracking jokes, and assuring me it’d be OK. I received a lot of cat pictures over those six weeks with anecdotes of others’ hidey cats. Although silly, this is a good case study of people rallying behind a little unlikely furry hero.
Now my biggest issue with Sam is that he scratches up everything I own, most recently my comforter. He hasn’t destroyed anything valuable, but it’s definitely helping me let go a little bit of my obsession with perfection in my space. His little personality and liveliness makes my day every time I walk in the house.
Thanks to everyone who followed along with the Sam Cat saga. Hopefully this answers any remaining questions you may have had about my bizarre Cabinet Cat.
Happy Sunday! Thanks for reading.
I'm probably just as confused as you are: my thoughts on love and relationships.