I can validate the saying that being an addict and loving an addict are simply different zip codes in hell. My relationship with a heroin addict was a no-win situation: the more I tried to help Alex (a pseudonym), the more I lost my balance. Between his relapses, which would occur every 3 months, I walked on eggshells. Supported by a wonderful Al-Anon community, members of a 12-step program for friends and family of addicts, I gradually gained clarity on how unmanageable life had become and, eventually, left the relationship…but not before adopting a cat.
Alex had grown up with cats. Shortly after he moved in, he expressed disappointment that he was never greeted at the door by a slinky feline, weaving between his legs. Wanting to please him so that he’d stay off the drugs, we adopted Koda. She was the first cat we saw, a scruffy, black, 6-month-old, long-haired kitten, hiding in the corner of a crate at PS9 Pets in Williamsburg. Alex grabbed her, gave her a few soulful pets and announced “this girl is ready to come home with us.”
Koda was skittish around me, but took to her dad right away. In the process of nursing her back to health from ringworm and a terrible upper respiratory infection, I was finally able to get on her good side. In addition, I got some perspective on my own troubled relationship. I found caring for this new living creature both interesting and important. My focus shifted from my boyfriend’s fragile sobriety to Koda. Over time she became “The Mayor” of my apartment. Koda inspected everything, was extremely independent and silly, and had fur smelling like the air after a thunderstorm.
Things seemed to be going well until I returned home after several months to find Alex nodding off on the couch. He had relapsed. I glanced at Koda and noticed a panicked look on her face. She had sensed that something was horribly wrong. While I was not yet ready to protect myself, Koda’s distress brought out the resolve of which I was previously incapable: This would be the last time anyone would betray my trust. I asked Alex to leave and haven’t spoken to him since.
A few days later, in the midst of grief over the shattered relationship, I adopted Lily, a sickly white kitten. I do not mean this to sound clichéd, but taking care of Lily helped me take care of myself when I was at my lowest point.
Lily blossomed into a gorgeous cat, but my heart was still broken. Then, my aunt started sending me photos of kittens born to a feral mom who lived outside of her house. They were, it seemed to me, on death’s door. In fact, I learned that their mother had two litters a year, most of which died with little acknowledgement.
So once again the opportunity to care for cats led to personal growth. I sprang into action, contacting various cat rescue organizations. None would venture as far as Canarsie. So, I took matters into my own hands and gained TNR (trap, neuter/spay, release) certification. I trapped the kittens, their mom—even her boyfriends!—and had them vaccinated, dewormed and fixed. The kittens were socialized and adopted by friends.
Lily remains a shy and gentle cat with a comedic side. She gets “the zoomies” and gallops around my apartment like a tiny pony on speed. She falls asleep in the crook of my armpit and frequently soaks my pajamas in drool. She and Koda move from licking each other lovingly to engaging in a jiu jitsu match. Sisters will be sisters, after all.
I thought that I would put aside cat-focused volunteer work after assisting those in my aunt’s backyard in Canarsie. I have a day job, after all. But, this rescue turned out to be just the beginning. I now want to provide the best chance at a new life for every cat I encounter. Whether that involves the socializing of feral kittens, or arranging complex medical treatment for the abandoned, or finding a great forever home for a perky tabby, I am up for the challenge.
I now rescue in my free time, even though my free time is extremely limited since I work full time as a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Manhattan and Long Island. Cats have helped me and I believe in reciprocity. I recently adopted a 17-year-old cat with IBS whose owner was relocating to Singapore. And so, the story continues to evolve as I do onto others as I would have others do on to me.
Dr. Alisa Neymark lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with her 3 adopted cats. Her rescue and professional accounts are @tnrdentist @dr.neymarksmiles.