Old School Film Hack

Goodnight, Sweet Kitty

My last photo of Nala -- Central Maryland (December 2015)iPhone 6S + 29/2.2

My last photo of Nala — Central Maryland (December 2015)
iPhone 6S + 29/2.2

Nala went to her final veterinarian visit last night and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when we left.

In the beginning, she was the abandoned cat that no one wanted.

When we visited the local Siamese cat rescue back in 2004, Nala had been a resident for over six months and the staff was to the point of despair, figuring that they would never find a forever home for her.  Why?  Because she hated all the other cats, hissed at strangers (and everyone is a stranger in an animal rescue location), lashed out if she was picked up, and stewed in her anger.

But she had a beautiful soft coat, looked very healthy, and — most importantly for us — she was a 5-year-old adult and well past the destructive kitten phase, which was exactly what we were looking for.

When we said we would take Nala, all of the rescue staff were shocked.  They told us she would never come out of her shell, hated men, would never integrate into the family, and would always be angry and unhappy.  However, when we persisted, they waived their normal fee, hurriedly gathered up a bunch of things she seemed attached to, and sent us home with an angry unhappy ball of fur.

Once we arrived back at our house, we brought her upstairs to our bedroom, closed the door, and let the angry hissing thing out.

That simple action marked the end of her nightmare.

Within 30 minutes, I was on the floor with her, and she would alternate between hissing at me and giving me a headbutt delivered with a purr.  And that would accurately describe her personality for many years — an odd, almost schizophrenic behavior, where she would alternately be friendly on one hand and deeply angry and distrustful on the other.

Did she ever become the ideal cat?  Not in the usual sense.  We think — based upon what the rescue knew of her past history and from her behavior with us — that she had been abused by adult male humans in the past.  She had many fears of normal things that led us to believe that she had been excessively punished for simply being a playful kitten when she was younger.

But over time she became a wonderfully sweet kitty (albeit a very complex one, a particular character trait that Cindy loved)… a kitty that came to recognize that we meant no harm to her and that we could be trusted to treat her well.

When she hissed, I’d pick her up and cuddle her.  When she’d sass me, I’d pick her up and cuddle her.  When she’d get spitting angry, I’d pick her up and cuddle her.  Over time, Cindy called me the cat whisperer — because Nala slowly came out of her shell and eventually changed nearly all of her aberrant behaviors (although she never stopped hating other cats, even to her final days).

Was there a defining event that suddenly made her change?  No.  She evolved slowly, changing and moderating a little more every few months.  She was 5-years-old when we brought her home back in 2004, and she was still changing her behavior though to the very end, when she was almost 16-years-old.

Nala hated being touched — until Cindy surreptitiously began to groom her with a brush.  Over time, brushing became her special treat, and she would do just about anything for a good brushing.

Nala hated being a lap kitty — until Cindy placed her on my lap with a certain cotton throw in place.  Then that became her special evening ritual — but only with my lap, and only with that particular cotton throw.  Anything else was simply unacceptable, and she would leave if it didn’t meet her standards.  Cindy’s lap was the fallback, and only until I sat on the couch beside her; then Nala would get up and move over to my lap — and we’d get an earful if the throw wasn’t there and properly adjusted to her satisfaction.

Nala hated people food, and just knew we were trying to poison her if we offered any of ours for her to sample — until Cindy coaxed her with a bit of cheese we’d never had in the house before.  Then it became a game for Cindy to find other foods that imperial Nala would accept and nibble upon.

But for all the training I did of Nala, Nala trained me as well.  And I think I’ve become a better person for it.

Cindy observed that Nala didn’t like being held with her back down like a baby, and that she would always act standoffish toward me afterward if I held her that way.  And when I held Nala the way that she preferred?  Voilà!  She would act nicer toward me.

When I did something that Nala wanted me to stop, I’d get slapped (and sometimes the delivery was so hilarious that we’d bust out laughing).  No claws, just a meaty slap.  And I learned.

There were times — for many years — that Nala would bare her teeth to show displeasure.  But she never bit us.  And we learned what we needed to do to avoid the teeth baring in the future.

She would tell us when it was time to go to bed, and she would vocalize her displeasure when we ignored her.  On the other hand, she would also happily lead us upstairs when we listened to her.

Eventually, Nala decided that we were her people, and well worth sharing her house with us.  And I’m so glad that she did.

42 thoughts on “Goodnight, Sweet Kitty

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Yep… family. I love Siamese cats.

      My younger brother and sister each had one growing up and the one for my sister just thought I was the only servant of the house for her. She got taken after only a couple of years by feline leukemia, but it was still tough.

      Someday — when all has healed and we’re ready again — we’ll get another Siamese. I just hope she is as special as Nala was.


  1. gwovision

    This is a very good memorial for your cat. I am reminded of my own cats over the years as well as ones my family had. One of them in particular was very similar to yours. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure your cat lived a happy life with you.


  2. Francis.R.

    I’m sorry for your loss in your family, Mitch. She had the love of you and her human family and I know she had the best of the possible lives for her. I hope time can help you with this moment.


  3. Nato

    Thank you for letting us get to know Nala more. She sounds like a wonderful cat that was full of character. I am so sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking to loss a beloved pet. May she rest in peace and you and Cindy find some comfort in time.


  4. daveply

    As someone who has worked with difficult cats in a shelter, I sometimes wonder how their life turns out on those occasions they find a forever home. Your story is the sort that we hope for, for both the cats and their humans.


  5. Miss Gentileschi

    Dear Mitch, I am sooo sorry for your loss:( While reading your wonderful, but sad story, I burst into tears. But I´m glad that you and your family are considering to adopt a new cat when the time is right – I´m sure she will be a very lucky cat indeed! I´ve been deeply impressed by the way you tried to help Nala, giving her endless love and make her feel special – that´s so wonderful!
    Bless you and wish you a Merry Christmas (all the same)! Sarah


  6. tildy1

    Heartbreaking tribute. It is a hard loss. I can tell she was well loved. I love the picture of her drinking water from the tall glass. It seems a bittersweet image but one I know you will treasure. So sorry!


  7. Alive and Trekking

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a pet is terrible. I’m still grieving for my two cats, that we’ve had for so long (19 and 20 years). Nala was so lucky to have you guys give her a loving home. Thank you for this wonderfully written post.


  8. louise

    Un bel hommage à votre petite Nala, thank you and family to decide to adopt her…yes it is really difficult to lost a pet…last month i have to take my cat Caramel to his last visit to the “vétérinaire” …i was so sad but i had to let him go…I keep him in my heart always and sure he will be there with all others cats who have been in my life, and dogs too…Courage it only time that can heal. She had the chance that you choose her and bring her at your home and becoming so special in your family. Big hugs!


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