By Willow Liroff
Trapped and brought to the Oakland shelter as a young adult, a scrawny street cat named Lavender would scramble away from any hands reaching into her cage.
A group of volunteers had just started Cat Town in 2011. I was up for a fostering challenge and took Lavender home to stay in my bathroom. During our visits, she’d make herself as small as she could, her tense body quaking each time my hand would make contact. I realized, sadly, that she viewed me as her captor.
One day, after a disheartening visit, I was opening the bathroom door to leave when my cat Pepe poked his head around the corner. I looked over to see Lavender half-standing from her hiding place behind the toilet, her head bobbing forward for a better view, wide-eyed but not with the look of terror I’d seen at the shelter—more like a child on Christmas.
When I opened the door wider, she bee-lined over to Pepe so abruptly that I braced myself for a fur-flying scuffle. Instead, Lavender head-butted him in the face, and I heard her purr for the first time. It was in this moment that I more deeply understood her fear; she had been completely isolated from her species, her community, in an unfamiliar indoor world.
For the next month, Lavender trotted about my apartment purring after my two cats, head-bonking them when they’d sit still long enough. I was stunned by their tolerance for her, considering the agitation they’d sometimes show one another. Perhaps they understood how pure her intentions were, how rough her life had been?
As the days passed, when I’d sneak in pets as Lavender ate, her body no longer shuddered from my touch—the purr would momentarily stop; then begin again, stronger than before. This evolved to her pausing mid-meal to lean tentatively, awkwardly, then heavily into a cheek scratch. Soon after, she’d stand on her back tip-toes to meet my hand as I petted her back.
These milestones would brighten my days as I watched her blossom with the small gift of feeling safe. My modest apartment had become an oasis for her—with community, reliable food, shelter, and a new human friend.
As the years pass, Lavender continues to show me that anything’s possible, perching on her back paws for a headlong nose-nudge of my hand, or creeping into the lap of a surprised house guest. I can hardly remember that terrified cat I first met at the shelter, as she smiles at me now, often purring with just a glance in her direction.
I'm refreshed and empowered by Lavender's simple, unabashed joy, when I can’t make all the difference I’d like to in the world. It’s taken so little to make all the difference in her life, and my “foster fail” (aka adoption) has brought so much light to mine.
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