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Domesticating Em

Three months after our beloved kitty, Paisley, passed away, my kids and I agreed that while the barn cats were delightful, we missed a feline presence inside our home. We understood there would be no replacing such an exceptional cat but felt there was room in our hearts for another. I took our shared opinion as a mutual thumbs-up and began combing the available adoption lists on local shelter and rescue websites.

Although plenty of felines were looking for forever homes, we required one with a specific character trait: tenacity. Age and appearance were of little concern to us, but innate confidence and a strong sense of self were vital in establishing their unique place amongst our current menagerie.

We visited several foster homes and shelters, but each time, we came away empty-handed. The cats were either too timid or, for various reasons, needed to be the only pet in the home, and many weren't canine-friendly, which was a must as they'd be joining a pack of three. After several unsuccessful meet-and-greets, I decided we should take a break from the cat search, and as fate would have it, that's when we found her.  

I'd stopped into Poudre Pet & Feed Supply to pick up dog food, and as I approached the register, I noticed a kitty bio taped to an empty adoption cage the store hosts for a local shelter. "I see you've successfully rehomed another kitty," I told the clerk.

"Not sure about that. She was supposed to come here but went to our west location instead," she explained. Upon hearing this, I circled back to the bio for a closer look.

I scanned the document for our desired particulars but found the contents rather vague. What captured my attention were the photos of the young feline. She sported two opposing white triangles, one at the tip of her nose and the other between her eyes. It looked as if a tiny hourglass had been artfully positioned in the middle of her face. Her large, saucer-like jade green eyes shone brightly, giving her an engaging yet determined look. I'll bet she has the gumption we need, I thought.  

"You want me to call the store and see if she's still there?"

"Yeah, I think I do." And by two o'clock the following day, a three-year-old mackerel tabby named Em entered our lives.

I'm not sure why they chose to call her Em, but I likened the name to the character, M, played by Dame Judi Dench in some of the more recent James Bond movies, and felt strongly we should keep it.

"Let's call her Ember, and Em for short," my daughter suggested.

"Perfect," I replied. We were amid a historically horrendous fire season, so the name seemed fitting on several fronts.

Once the adoption process is complete, your new family member's social history and medical records are released. The documents revealed that Em's past wasn't full of sunshine and daisies. She'd been a stray living in the back alleys of Rome, Georgia. A local rescue, Floyd Felines, found her hungry, pregnant, and needing medical care. They took her in, addressed her immediate needs, and, once stable, transferred her to Colorado, where she was placed in foster care. A month after her arrival, Em gave birth to seven kittens. She cared for the litter until they were old enough to be weaned, and once they found new homes, Em was spayed and prepared for adoption.

Em's assimilation into our family happened in stages. She spent a few months surveying the environment, studying the behavior patterns of others, and, once comfortable, began establishing her rules of engagement. The primary being, don't come to me; I'll come to you. If Ember wants attention or desires something, she'll engage with you, and when she does, you're allowed to pet, brush, and love her, but please refrain from holding her as being confined or restrained triggers fear and unpleasant memories. Secondly, if she drops a toy at your feet or perches at her tunnel's edge, you must play with her. Em plays fetch better than any of our dogs and loves to scamper up and down the stairs, retrieving toys. And finally, when she rises in the morning, so shall you. If her verbal wake-up calls go ignored, she'll jump on the bed, sit on your chest, and tap you repeatedly in the face until you get up. Oh, and if you shut her out of the room, she'll meow non-stop at the door or retaliate by scratching furniture.

Em's previous environment is likely the reason for her most notable vice, gluttony. The term gluttony means to overindulge or consume more than one requires. I can't think it was easy growing up on the streets. Always having to be on alert and, simultaneously, wondering where your next meal would come from—enduring the elements, evading predators, and surviving on whatever scraps you could beg or steal.

It's not enough for Em to have her bowl filled twice daily. After polishing off her saucer, she's on to others that may have a few pieces of kibble left in or around them. She cleans the floor of random edible items and scouts the house for empty food wrappers or plates, hoping for a crumb or two.

If I'm preparing a meal, she's always close by, watching and waiting for me to turn my back so she can swoop in and steal a sample. One day, I found her in the kitchen sink, lapping up the remnants of a drained tuna can. Curiously, I turned on the water to see what she'd do. Ember wasn't fazed a bit, nor did she move an inch. Living a hard-knock life had made Em stealthy, swift, and relatively fearless. All good traits to have when living with three dogs, I thought.

Her fearlessness wasn't always an admired trait. One evening during dinner, I turned my head to grab the salt, and she made off with an entire chicken thigh. I chased her into the laundry room, but she'd eaten most of it before I could reach her. After that altercation, I decided it was time for a firm lesson on boundaries and the art of self-restraint. We strategically positioned deterrent devices around the kitchen and posted a sentry during meal preparation or when hosting visitors. She wwasn'tkeen at first but, in time, surrendered to my will, as ultimately, I am the hand that feeds her.

 One random evening, about a year after her arrival, Ember jumped on the couch, artfully traversed the pile of sleeping pups, curled up in my lap, and went to sleep. It was then I knew we'd domesticated Em. She'd accepted her station in life and felt at home among our menagerie.




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