Me and My Shadow – An Unexpected Black Cat Rescue Story

My seven cats on any given morning of the week, circling like hungry sharks as they wait for breakfast.

Rain or shine, weekday, weekend, holiday or not, my get-out-of-bed morning routine is set-your-clock-to-the-minute established to be 5:30 a.m. My cats insist on it. Friday, November 8th was no exception. It starts with an unnecessary preamble of meows and paw pats to my face to get me out of bed, just in case, despite years of dedicated servitude, I might forget and sleep in until 5:35 a.m. I begin the routine by making the rounds scooping the numerous litter boxes, promptly followed by the feeding process – freshwater and filling seven bowls with assorted individual meal requirements for my seven cats. Seven cats in case you didn’t catch that.

While they wolf down their food, I sneak in a second to make myself a pot of coffee and I bring the scooped litter to the trash bin in the garage. Nothing out of the ordinary. Expect for the plaintive sound of a cat meowing on the other side of the garage door. Still not quite awake, but awake enough to know what path I could be heading down, I willed myself the inner-strength to ignore the cries, knowing even the tiniest bit of attention could land me a new feline BFF. But what if the cat was injured? Or what if the cat was lost and had an ID collar that I could check? I opened the door, not sure what would greet me, and even in the darkness, I saw it was a black cat, a black cat who bounded up to me with all the confidence and joy in the world, giving me a cheerful good morning meow.

It did not appear to be injured, so that was good news. It also appeared to be healthy, with a clean coat and clear eyes. The bad news, no collar and despite knowing better (my inner voice loudly yelling at me, don’t do this!), I went to get him/her some food because I could see the cat was young – probably about 6 months – and I wasn’t sure how survival savvy he/she was to the outdoor world.

I didn’t do anything too crazy – no stinky, yummy canned food that would invite a wonderful new home. Just a handful of dry kibbles in case the cat was starving. He/she politely sniffed the food, promptly turning his/her nose up at it, instead more intent on me petting him/her before it pranced off to chase a lizard that caught its eye.

The first photo – sniffing the kibble, but showing no interest in eating it.

I informed Dan and my stepdaughter, Jackie, before I left for work to be careful of a cat outside. I did not encourage them to bond with the cat and went to work praying our house was a brief respite before he/she happily bounded back to its rightful home, or its rightful owner living in the neighborhood, would call it home soon.

When I got home from work, I was greeted to Dan and Jackie in the driveway, lawn chairs set up, with Jackie holding the cat who appeared not to have a care in the world. Much as my heart wanted to melt, I steeled myself from attachment, something excruciatingly difficult for a cat lover such as myself. I was informed they had not fed the cat and that nobody in the neighborhood had been looking for a cat at any point during the day.

The cat was still at our house when I came home from work – I couldn’t resist holding him, but inside I was telling myself not to become too attached.

Wrestling with conflicting emotions, I made the decision to bring him into the garage to shut him in for the night (yes, at this point we had tentatively determined he/she was a he) and I would take him to the vet in the morning to see if he had a microchip. I’m apprehensive of letting cats outdoors as it is, but especially when it’s a black cat…cats that for unfathomable reasons can be subject to cruel treatment from humans, simply based on the color of their fur. I also was concerned he could get hit by a car, so he officially became my responsibility at that point. He was also so sweet-natured and social, so I felt certain someone would be looking for him and I wanted him safe.

His vet appointment was quick and easy – he went into the carrier with little fuss and barely made a peep in the car. And because it was not an exam, just a quick scan for a microchip, we didn’t have a long waiting room wait, either. It was determined yes, he was a male, neutered at that, but he did not have a microchip. Everyone joked, that we now had cat number eight, but that was not my intention and I made it emphatically clear I would be looking for his owner. I did the usual – contacted local rescue groups/friends to let them know I found a cat. I combed the neighborhood for signs, I asked neighbors if they knew the cat, I posted in several online lost/found sites with his picture and I called the Humane Society to report a found cat, but that option I did not follow through on when I was informed the cat would have to be brought to the shelter.

For reasons I mentioned above, I know the sad plight of black cats and shelters. Often, they are the least adopted, with many of them tragically euthanized because they cannot find a furever home. Being that he was still a kitten, and quite rambunctious at that, all I could surmise is that maybe he did have a good home at one point, but he became aggressive, i.e., he was just being an energetic kitten with claws and biting, and the owner did not know how to handle the behavior appropriately and decided to dump him.

The cat would spend his days outside, typically hanging out in front of our garage.

At this point, he was still in the garage and we let him out during the day in case he decided to wander home or someone was out looking for him. We brought him into the garage at night with a kitty area set up for him – toys, a chair with bedding, a litter box, food, and water – but that was becoming less than ideal with the Florida humidity, so we made the decision, while we were still looking for his owner, to bring him into the house, sequestered in my office and away from the other cats.

Getting to know him while he made himself at home in our yard. That face…so handsome. Photo credit: Jacqueline Coleman.

Still outside – him fully confident we’re already falling for his charms. Photo credit: Jacqueline Coleman.

The “I know I’ve stolen your heart, why are you even kidding yourself?” look. Photo credit: Jacqueline Coleman.

It was an agonizing decision for me, as I could see the writing on the wall. We already have seven cats. Seven cats that, while for the most part are well-behaved, do have spats, battles, and occasional issues with territorial spraying. A newcomer would not be easy, and it wasn’t something I was looking forward to tasking myself with. I was also fighting the internal battle of remaining detached from this sweet boy with his incredibly plush, soft fur and beguiling golden eyes who had taken it upon himself to make biscuits on my lap every morning, purring loud as a motorboat while I sat at my computer. I wanted to find his owner, but my confidence in that happening was waning and so I made an appointment with the vet for a wellness exam and to have him checked for FIV and other possible viruses in case we would indeed be introducing cat number eight into the mix.

Now sequestered in my office, the cat had made himself quite comfortable on my couch.

The receptionist asked for his name on the phone and without hesitation I said, Shadow, thinking to myself, I might as well sign the ownership papers now. We had tentatively been throwing names out for him – Salem, Ocho, Friday, Zorro – but I didn’t want to commit, still hoping for an outcome that did not involve a new cat. Shadow just slipped out of my mouth, after all, he shadowed my every move, so Shadow it became.

We brought him to the vet Thursday night after I got home from work and it was a surprisingly pleasant experience, considering most cats are not fans of being poked and prodded. We were seen by someone who was not our usual vet and I was immediately impressed with her cat-side manner. She spent several minutes with him before the exam, engaging in playtime so he could become familiar with her and to make him feel comfortable. And prior to getting his blood work, she opened a can of highly pungent moist cat food and he was so engrossed in eating, he didn’t even realize she was drawing blood.

Shadow is looking at the vet, intrigued with the toys she had in her hand for him to play with.

I mentioned to her that her techniques were those encouraged by Dr. Marty Becker of Fear Free Pets and she was taken aback that I had noticed, and that I knew what it was. Fear Free’s mission is to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them and she had recently become Fear Free certified, so it was wonderful to see firsthand the techniques in action, and that they worked. 

Using Fear Free techniques, the vet had Dan give Shadow food while the vet tech held Shadow for his exam. Note all the toys on the exam table, too.

We brought Shadow home, back to his sequester room, knowing it would be several days before his results came back, determining if/when we could begin the slow and calculated acclimation process with the others. But it wasn’t like they didn’t already know. The youngest of our bunch, Jazmine, was glued to the other side of the door and was keeping vigil nearly 24/7 with intermittent hisses of her disapproval. His odor clearly permeated the house, and with the acute sense of smell cats have, he certainly was not a secret. He also tried to escape several times, a black blur as I chased him reluctantly back to his room.

Jazmine glued to the door, knowing there was a furry guest on the other side.

He and I bonded marvelously. I spent as much time as I could with him, so he wasn’t always alone in the room. Being a kitten, he also needed to exert his pent-up energy, so I devoted lots of playtime with a feather wand toy with him, too. After playtime, I would lie down on the couch in the room and read. He’d snuggle on my chest, making biscuits and it was clear he felt at home.

I got the call Monday morning; Shadow’s blood work came back negative and he was given the green light to meet the gang. I’ve been doing the cat-meet-the-other-cats routine for most of my 50 plus years, so I knew the drill – ease the introductions, take it slow and easy, and incorporate lots of positive reinforcement for all cats involved through treats and playtime. I opened his door Monday night when I came home from work and he bolted out. So much for easing the greetings. The other cats had mixed reactions – from mild curiosity and boredom to Jazmine’s “Oh hell no, this is NOT happening on my turf” hissy fit.

I gave it a try for a few minutes – one tiny cat against 14 piercing eyes, 28 agile paws, 7 territorial tails, and 14 alert ears didn’t seem a fair fight, so I  brought him back to his room, planning to only let him out for a brief duration of time, always supervised, and figured we’d do that for a couple of weeks. Less than 3 days later, Shadow took matters into his own paws and squarely established that plan is not going to work, and he didn’t care he was outnumbered on all counts.

It’s probably his young age – I’ve had similar experiences with both Kizmet and Jazmine who were younger cats when we rescued them and brought them into our home. They have more confidence and less concern with the existing feline dynamic, plowing full steam ahead with an “I’m here, so you need to adjust, not me,” kind of attitude. It seems to throw the other cats off when the newcomer is not timid, which Shadow is not.

Shadow is relatively at ease with his position in the house. Jazmine, not so much.

We still have hissing and fighting and displaced anger, but for the most part, the transition is going exceptionally well. We’re incorporating mega doses of group play and treat time, enforcing the positive-stuff-happens-when-you’re-together thing. I typically try for more of a transition, but I’ve also learned over the years with cats, that sometimes you have to let them guide the way, as they know themselves best. We also have endless cat towers, cubbies, and spots in the house that allow for individual territorial freedom when any cat wants alone time away from another cat.

So, life has taken a new turn, with new adventures, and new stories to tell. The black cat I wasn’t looking for, I now have and it’s me and my Shadow from this point on…

Photo credit: Jacqueline Coleman. Graphics by me!

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  1. Obviously, Shadow picked you! Here’s hoping the full transition settles down, and life in an eight-cat household seems like a seven-cat one!
    P.S. I’m jealous!

  2. Debbie says:

    Thanks for sharing. Have you ever shared life with a black cat before?

    • Deb says:

      Yes, many years ago I rescued a black cat who had been abandoned on the side of the road. She was skin and bones and riddled with fleas. We named her Tosha and I loved her for many, many years.