My partner and I adopted Henrietta from BARC Shelter two and a half years ago. BARC is great because they have a separate “cat loft” area where the cats can play and lounge crate-free. As soon as we started walking towards the loft, we saw Henrietta’s little face peering up over the glass windows watching us. The plan was to sit down and hang out with a few of the cats and see which one naturally gravitated towards us. We didn’t have to wait long because as soon as my butt touched the ground, Henrietta was rubbing up against me and climbing into my lap. She stood her back legs on my knees and climbed her front paws all the way up my chest so that we were face-to-face and started purring. We had been in the shelter for about 45 seconds at that point and I already knew I wasn’t leaving without her.
We learned that she had been at BARC for two weeks and had come from Coney Island. We suspect she lived some of her life on the street because she has a clipped ear. On the first night that we had her, we learned that she likes to raise her front legs straight over her head while she’s being pet, like she’s on a rollercoaster. We like to imagine her as a street cat sitting on the boardwalk watching people ride The Cyclone thinking, “that’ll be me one day.”
Henri is truly my counterpart in cat form. I feel like I intrinsically understand her. We both require a lot of attention and physical affection. She sometimes will follow me from room to room in our apartment as I’m getting ready, slamming her little body into my legs at every stop. I will often pause what I’m doing to have an extended cuddle break with her. I’m the kind of person who is always running late, so having her around has only made that much worse. It doesn’t help that I will inevitably show up to where I’m going covered in her hair. She is half-white, and I wear mostly black, so people are able to pick up on the fact that I’m a cat lady as soon as I walk through the door.
Henri is sweet most of the time, but she is also very sassy. She is prone to random, unprovoked bouts of hostility. She will sometimes run out from under a piece of furniture and attack my legs or feet, ambush-style. The day I met her at the shelter, I was holding her like a baby and she seemed completely content until she casually lifted her paw, scratched my face, and then continued lounging in my arms. I’m not gonna lie and say I wasn’t confused by it at the time. But now I like to think she was letting me know that our relationship wasn’t always going to be easy. Like me and most everyone else I know, she’s a complicated creature. And I love her, claws and all.
Last August, Henrietta developed pancreatitis. It’s a treatable but extremely painful ailment, and vets don’t know what causes it in cats. She was in distress and refused to eat, drink, or clean herself. It was heartbreaking and stressful. I cried constantly. We were going to the vet every other day for about ten days, and eventually had to get a feeding tube put in to help her get food and medicine while she healed. The feeding tube was intense. Each feeding was a two-person job because my partner had to hold her steady for long periods of time and I had to water down her food, strain it through a sieve to get any lumps out, and then shoot it down her tube with a syringe. Also, administering her meds twice a day through a similar process, and making sure to keep the incision site clean meant we were spending over 3 hours a day on cat care. Despite being an expensive and emotionally draining experience, the feeding tube really did save her life. Her body eventually healed, we were able to remove the tube, and she has been in perfect health ever since.
Though we’ve only had her for a few years, they’ve been extremely difficult years–an incompetent, racist, sexual assailant becoming our president being the primary source of pain. She is pure. I love looking at her and thinking about how she doesn’t even know who Tr*mp is, she doesn’t have to worry about cuts to Medicaid, the legality of abortion, or the American industrial prison complex. When she’s lying on me and I’m petting her and she’s purring and falling asleep with her little paws in the air, it brings me such a deep comfort and joy. She is always there for me, and while she was sick I was proud to be able to show her that I will always be there for her too.
Cameron Sheedy is the owner of an intersectional feminist embroidery business called RAGING BUSH and she’s starting grad school in the fall for Nonprofit Management and Public Policy. She lives with her partner, K.C. and their cat daughter Henrietta in Greenpoint.