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.