From Foe to Furry Friend

I’ve had a variety of pets in my household as I grew up. We had your typical hamsters, slow-moving fish, rats and an assortment of frogs and turtles I tried to take home from our cottage. 

However, the one pet I always knew I would never own was that of the feline kind. My mom disliked cats because she thought they would go after her precious birds, so naturally, I developed the same mentality.

As I entered high school, I joined the rest of my classmates in the pursuit of the 40 volunteer hours necessary to graduate. Once I turned 16 I signed up to volunteer at the Burlington Humane Society. I filled out an application and before I knew it, I was attending an 8:00 a.m. training shift. The catch, I had to take care of the cats since only volunteers over the age of 18 could handle the dogs.

I was nervous about handling some of these cats. At first, I lumped all of their personalities into a few characteristics: loud and demanding. 

It wasn’t until a few weeks had passed when I started to look beyond my judgmental first impressions. That’s when I met Quincy, or “Biff” as I used to call him. Quincy was a boisterous nine-month-old kitten who fancied beating the stuffing out of my ponytail whenever he saw fit. At first, I was offended that this roughhousing cat made my hair his new toy but then I started to have some fun with him. I saw all of the unique personalities the rest of the cats in the shelter had as well and before I knew it, I became a cat person.

Volunteering at the shelter became one of the highlights of my week. I couldn’t wait until my weekend shifts to revisit my favourite cats and meet some new furry friends. 

To my utmost surprise, I convinced my parents after enough badgering, to adopt a cat of our own. Don’t ask me how I got my mom on board with owning a cat because I can’t take credit for that. Stanley did it himself. He was the cat that we met one afternoon at the shelter, who we ended up taking home with us. He was a handsome mackerel tabby with confidence to spare. We joked that he behaved more like a dog than a cat because of his laid back and quirky attitude.

Stanley was only with us for about a year, as we later discovered he had Feline Leukemia Disease. As a family, we were amazed at how this fearless cat just sauntered into our lives and changed them for the better.

Stanley bathing in some sunshine (Credit: Claire Bradbury).

Our current and second cat is quite the opposite of Stanley. My dad worked with a woman who desperately needed to find a home for her cat. We named her Francine, after our favourite character from the cartoon show Arthur but we just call her Fran. 

Fran barely weighed five pounds when we first brought her home and her fur was untidily kept. Her bones protruded from her sides and she slunk low to the ground most of the time. Whenever we tried to touch her, she flinched. She was so afraid of us that if we so much as walked past her in the hallway, she would cower in the corner. It was heartbreaking to see an animal behave in such a defeated way. Unlike Stanley, she had no confidence. She didn’t know how to be a real cat.

It’s taken over a year for Fran to learn how to trust us. She wouldn’t so much as eat in front of us. With time, we started to see some physical changes in Fran. Little did we know that we adopted a very longhaired cat! When we first met Fran, her fur was shaggy and thin. Now, we always boast about how she grows a thicker coat and a lion’s mane in the winter to stay extra warm. Her personality has changed dramatically, as well. What was once a cowering, scared little cat has now turned into an assertive, attention-seeking companion. She can be a feisty little cat and I have the scratches to prove it but I wouldn’t change a thing about her.

Fran and her full mane of hair (Credit: Claire Bradbury).

To see any animal go through such a transformation is incredibly rewarding. Fran went from being afraid of her own shadow to bringing us her toy pom-poms as presents.

I developed a completely new outlook on adopting animals after I started volunteering at the Burlington Humane Society. Now when I go into pet stores, I have a hard time looking at the dogs and cats who are stuck inside glass cages, waiting to be taken home. 

According to Humane Canada, Canadian shelters took in approximately 87,000 cats and 33,000 dogs in 2017 alone. From those numbers, 60% of cats and 45% of dogs were adopted that year. Adopting an animal of any shape, size, age or appearance can make all the difference.

I’ve always been thankful for those volunteer hours. It brought me to a place where I developed a new outlook on shelters, cats in general and what unique connections can be forged through adopting.