As is very clear on this blog (and probably within about 15 minutes of meeting me…less, if Alvin has bid me farewell that morning by rubbing against my pant leg), I live with cats. Two of them.
Alvin is featured quite heavily here, and on Facebook, largely due to the fact that he does so many silly things that require taking a picture to laugh over later (I am creating an entire album of photos of Robert feeding him food), as well as the fact that he is just so photogenic. It’s really hard to take a bad picture of Alvin. His markings are striking, and his white fur glows when he sits in the sun, and his face is just. so. darn. CUTE!
By contrast, I have very few pictures of Raven. As a result, I am sure that someone, somewhere, is bound to assume I like him less than Alvin.
And nothing could be further from the truth.
I love Alvin, I really do. He has sat with me when I was in great physical pain, patting my shoulder with his paw when I whimpered, as if to say “There, there.” And he constantly reminds me that it is far past my bedtime and, if I want to get any sleep that night, I had best stop working on my projects and go to bed.
Raven, on the other hand, couldn’t care less that I am still up at 3 in the morning, beyond passing excitement about early morning head scritches. He is picky about his treats, insistent on eating them out of a bowl. He doesn’t require the same kind of structure that Alvin seems to, reinforcing the notion that Alvin is a dog in a cat’s body and Raven is a cat. And he genuinely seems to hate having his picture taken (it doesn’t help that being a black cat makes him more difficult to photograph in the first place).
I love Alvin, but Raven is my heart.
A few months after we said goodbye to Onyx (who I will go on record now as The Best Cat EVER), I decided that the family needed another fuzzy friend running about the house. I knew I wanted another black cat. I stopped by the pet store on my way home one night, to take a peek at the cats they had up for adoption, and that’s when I spotted him. A little ball of worried fluff, curled up in the middle of his litter box, watching the world with wary eyes. I fell in love with him that very moment, and vowed I would be back that weekend, when the store had an adoption event, and he would be coming home with me very soon.
That Saturday, my family came to coo over cats and were greatly amused by an adorable-yet-vicious kitten. I, on the other hand, only had eyes for Raven. It took a little searching – they had moved him from his original spot to a cage on the floor, amongst five other black cats – but I found him and knew. Yep. This is the one.
I remember picking him from his cage, and carrying him to the back room, where my family was (which, in hindsight, was amazing, for reasons that will soon become apparent). I’d like to say Raven won them over right away, or maybe even that I put up a great argument about his merits, but it was much simpler than that. I just insisted that he was coming home, as though it was fact instead of desire. A quick search later, and we were introduced to Alvin (who did win everyone’s hearts the minute we met him), and I brought my boys home a few days later…
…only to find that Raven was a LOT more skittish than he had appeared at the adoption event — to the point where you couldn’t even pick him up, never mind hold him, unless you wanted to lose – at best – an eye.
He spent a good portion of that first night downstairs, hiding under my bed (which continues to be his safe spot), finally graduating to sleeping on the bed with us all evening the second or third night they were home.
I worked with him every day, petting him on the cedar chest until he calmed, and then hugging him for a moment, without picking him up. At first, he would tense when I hugged him. I think he was worried he was about to hoisted in the air. But I kept him on the cedar chest.
Finally, the day came to move to the next step.
I would put my arms around him, one around his front, one curling around the back of his tail, with my hands supporting his tummy, and his feet hanging down, but not where they could scrabble and claw in terror. Then, lift and hold for two seconds for a week. Three seconds the next week. Then five. Then ten. Eventually, we got to a place where I didn’t even have to hold him like that. I could pick him up like a normal cat. Even Andrew can pick him up and hold him now.
He went from being a skittish little shadow under the bed, to sitting on the floor as you place all of his toys and a couple of socks on him. He will never be as social as Alvin, but then…Alvin will never really be like Raven.
You see, Alvin is who you want when you want to laugh at silly antics, or need to be reminded about bedtime, or have a piece of toast that needs licking (Robert!).
Raven is who you want when you just need to be loved for who you are. The only judgement he has tends to be reserved for when you stop petting him, when you try to offer the spoon for the wet food to him, or when he jumps up on the bed, only to find Robert sitting in “his” place.
When I’ve been gone for a while, whether traveling for work or down in DC for a few days while I work a summit, both cats seem relieved to see me come in the door. But Raven is the one who sits by my side on a regular Tuesday, his paw touching me as if to reassure both of us. He likes to sit on the couch arm or the back couch cushion, right next to me. He’ll allow cuddles from just about everyone, as long as they understand that he is to be petted and adored and that they can never stop, but this shouldn’t fool you into thinking he doesn’t have favorites.
Raven is the one who finds me when I feel un-tethered and sits down to soothe me. He’ll dance back and forth, so I alternate between petting his head and his rump, until he finally settles down next to me. He did that last night. I’ve been feeling off for several days now, coming away from a negative encounter with heightened stress and a disturbing inability to fall asleep at night, despite how tired I’ve been. But last night, Raven followed me downstairs, jumped up on the bed and curled up beside me, grabbing my hand with his paws, his head propped on my arm. He twisted a little and shot me that look that seems to say “I have never been so happy as in this moment, and it’s because of you.”
It’s always been clear that Raven has some anxiety, most likely related to when he was a stray. (He still freaks out when someone knocks on the front door, though I can’t figure out why) But it’s also clear that he has made great progress in overcoming it. He lets people pick him up and hold him. He even lets my youngest nephew pet him, occasionally. And he earned a bunch of hearts and stars on his chart at the vet the
other day, when he went for his dental cleaning. The dental tech couldn’t believe how sweet he was, even while she was scraping his teeth.
It gives me hope, because I remember where Raven was when we first brought him home, and it is miles away from where he is now. And if this ball of fluff could learn to love and trust, it gives me hope for the rest of my life.
**Alvin and Raven both came to us from Fancy Cats Rescue Team. If you are looking for a feline friend, please remember: Adopt, don’t shop!