December 9th, 2000: Twenty One Years
Twenty-One Years ago, back in 2000, I met Tyler for the first time at Little Shelter.
How is it possible that this was TWENTY ONE years ago?
Here’s the story of how Tyler and I met.
We pick up from almost the exact moment I first laid eyes on the greatest cat that ever lived at Little Shelter on Long Island.
Shelter Visit: Friday, December 8th, 2000:
My escort to the cattery was a shelter employee named Gayle. Or Gail. I never asked how she spelled it. Anyway, she had 9 cats and was the resident expert on every cat.
“What are you looking for? Any specific color?” She asked, obviously expecting a snobby Long Island answer. Apparently on Long Island (Lawn Guyland) people matched their pets to their decor. That always pissed me off. Match their PERSONALITY to your decor, not the color of their fur!
“I’m looking for a cool, friendly cat. I still live at home with my parents, so we prefer one already declawed.”
“Oh, we have a few. You would never declaw a cat would you?”
“Never, been there asked that.” I did not want to get into THAT again.
A short walk behind some barking dog kennels and we were at the front door of the aforementioned cattery.
“Now, don’t expect them all to approach you. Many have been here for years and are really unadoptable at this point.”
That made my heart sink a little for some reason. Lifers. I felt bad.
The first cat to greet me at the door was……Tyler.
What a handsome cat he was! A black and white cat, they call them tuxedo cats. They always look sharply dressed, ready for a night out on the town. He had this look in his eyes like he just knew what you were thinking. Like he was looking into your heart. Your SOUL. He knew, even before I did, that I was the one he was going to come home with.
“Oh, that’s Tyler, I had him in mind for you. He’s one of our declawed cats.” Gayle said.
I knelt down and he came right over, smelled me, rubbed me with his head, and rolled onto his back.
“He has the longest tail and a very shiny coat. He’s got attitude but he’s really a sweetheart.” She explained, already selling.
“How old is he?” I asked. “About a year and a half.” The truth is they didn’t actually know. Apparently you can sort of guess the age of a cat by checking their teeth, sort of like checking the rings on a tree trunk.
“How did he end up here?”
“Apparently his old owner moved and abandoned him.” Gayle explained. Was that the truth? At that point it didn’t matter, I was pretty much hooked.
“He was adopted and brought back in October because he didn’t get along with the other cats in the house” she cautioned.
Sure enough, walking away from me Tyler was bickering with the other cats, many presumably with claws. Yet he was holding his own. He never got into a fight, no swinging, no scratching. He would hiss or growl, and they would all back off. He had swagger, that’s for sure. He seemed to be ruling the place. He had a little Jimmy Cagney about him, or was it Edward G. Robinson?
To be safe, and to be sure I did my due diligence, I let Gayle show me the other cats. There sure were plenty to look at. I felt like I was in the Star Trek tribble episode. Literally wall to wall cats. Some cute, some less than cute. I saw what she meant. Many were never going to find homes. They just gave you a look that said it all. Come near me and I’ll scratch your damn eyes out. I wished I could take them all home. I truly did. Many were very sweet. One in particular, Vincent, an all-white cat, sat on the small counter in the kitchen area where the staff would wash food bowls and prepare meals for the population. He just sat there watching the staff, supervising, and head butting each and every visitor. He also had no ears. Being an all-white cat means being prone to cancer from too much sun, and that’s how he lost his ears. Poor dude. He was cool though, the greeter cat.
Throughout it all, Tyler never left my side. Literally, he would walk either at my feet or up on a shelf or cubby or whatever they had set up and did his best to be at my eye level. Whenever I would turn, there he was, head butting me and flipping onto his back to show me his white stomach. It made me laugh every time. He trusted me from literally the first second we met. I never lost that trust. NEVER.
Why was I looking at other cats? I had found my cat. Or rather my cat had found me.
Tyler Comes Home: Saturday, December 9th, 2000
I turned to Gayle and exclaimed “Tyler’s the one, obviously.” I didn’t have much choice in the matter. He had chosen me and that was that.
“Yes, I see that.” Gayle was happy. I was happy. He seemed like just the cat I was looking for.
Gayle brought me to a back room to sit down and fill out the adoption contract. Yes, there was a contract. Full of clauses like “we have the right to inspect your house and the animal’s living condition at any time.” Sure, come over, my mom cleans every day and she will probably offer you a bagel with lox. Another was “if you declaw this animal we reserve the right to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.” I called Gayle over.
“Um….can you write a note on this clause? He’s already declawed.” She did. Whew.
Tyler hung out in the room I was in, which actually doubled as the laundry for all the cat beds and towels. Above the overworked washing machines were several shelves with folded up towels and stacked cat beds. Despite this being the “laundry,” each clean cat bed and each pile of towels had….you guess it…….a cat curled up and asleep. They really were everywhere. Trust me, if you even had a small semblance of an allergy, you would not have made it out of the cattery alive.
Of course, Tyler kept me company as I filled out the application. More than that, in fact. He waltzed in, jumped on the highest spot, a cat tree in one corner of the room, and literally shoved the cat that was asleep in “his” spot down to the floor. I couldn’t help but get a big kick out of that. He wanted that spot and he was going to GET that spot. Tyler has quite a pair, I thought. Quite a pair.
I filled out the application, signed it, and paid the adoption fee, gladly. As I had no cat supplies at home, I let Gayle know I would be back as soon as they opened the next morning with a carrier to take Tyler home. I gave Tyler another scratch on the head and reluctantly left. Tyler followed me to the door, as if to say “wait aren’t I coming home with you?” I wanted everything to be prepared, you know? Besides, that was what Cats for Dummies said. Prepare their food, their litter, their toys, so they acclimate to their environment faster. I’ve tried to be a by the book kind of guy, so that sounded good to me!
I was SO excited. More excited than I have ever felt in my life. This was MY PET. MY first ever pet. I loved Casey, and I always wished I had been more involved, but she really didn’t count. My parents chose her. I chose Tyler. I mean, I sort of did, he did walk up to me, but this was my idea. My own cat! My first REAL REAL pet. I wish it was Saturday already!
My next stop? The nearest pet store, where I proceeded to buy EVERYTHING. A litter box, litter, food, toys, a brush, bowls, a cat carrier, holy crap I spent a fortune! Caution be damned, I wanted Tyler to want for NOTHING. MY cat was going to be spoiled to the hilt!
I finally went home (‘where have you been Daniel?’) ate a quick dinner and set all of Tyler’s things up. It didn’t take long for my parents to start the questioning.
“So, Daniel. Tell us. Do we have a cat?” My mother asked. Picture a Jewish Brooklyn accent, so my name sounded more like Dan-Yul.
“Mom, Dad, we have a cat. His name is Tyler.”
“You have a cousin named Tyler you know.” My father reminded me, genuinely excited but his usual sarcastic self.
“Tyler the human” I still refer to him by that name, “is in California and I barely speak to him. He’ll get over it. I’ll go get him tomorrow and bring him home, I wanted to make sure everything was set up.”
“Is he cool?” My father asked.
“Yes, he’s got style, that’s for sure, I think he will fit in well here.”
“He’s declawed, right?” My mother worried.
“All four paws.”
“What color is he?” My mother, ever the interior decorator.
“Black and white. He’s actually a tuxedo cat. Black with a white tie and white tails.”
“You had to adopt a black one?” My mother wasn’t racist, she just INVENTED superstition. Already she was worried that Tyler would cross her path, you know what I mean?
“I was going for personality, not looks, ma. C’mon, you’ll love him, I promise.”
“OK, wanna watch a movie with us?” My dad was, and is, the KING of being sedentary. Conversations that didn’t interest him merely kept him from watching TV and flipping the channels. Mind you this was in 2000, before anything streamed. You actually had to pop a disc into a player in those days.
“Sure. Star Trek II?” I don’t actually remember what movie we watched, but I frequently requested that one. I mean, c’mon, that’s a movie I never get tired of. KHAN!!!
As is my habit when I am excited about something, I did not sleep much. I was just too excited. My last night without a pet. How could anyone sleep? I finally nodded off and woke up on December 9, 2000 at…..6am. Little Shelter does not open until noon on Saturdays so I had 6 whole hours to wait. SIX FUCKING HOURS. You know when you’re excited about something and the time just……drags…….on……and………on. I had breakfast, read the paper cover to cover, cleaned, and showered, I may have even read War and Peace, but finally it came time to head east to the shelter and….Tyler!
Off I went in my dad’s Lexus SUV, why not take my own car you may ask? Well, his car had the car phone and I was to call my parents when I was almost home with Tyler. Remember those? Installed in the car, an actual phone, with a phone cord and antenna that mounted on the trunk lid? Mind you, those were the days before texting and driving, actually before texting at all. With all due respect to Steve Jobs, no iPhone on the planet can hold a candle to the call quality of an old school car phone. Not to mention nothing ever looked COOLER. Wait, this isn’t a blog about technology.
I arrived at the shelter and was quickly escorted back to the cattery. No politeness this time. I was a “high roller.” An adopter. A rescuer. I saved one of their shelter cats and gave him a forever home! It was an awesome feeling.
“I’m here to pick up Tyler.” I proudly exclaimed.
“Oh, Tyler’s going home?” One of the other shelter employees asked. “That’s great, he deserves it!”
He sure did.
Just like the night before, Tyler was waiting for me at the front door. Tail in the air, he was happy. He just KNEW something was up. I’m sure it’s the same with your cats, but especially with Tyler. He always KNEW. When I was going away, when I was leaving for work, he had this sixth sense. Gayle was there, all smiles.
“He’s waiting for you!” That he was. They should have put a little jacket and suitcase on him.
I knelt down and placed the carrier right in front of him and opened the door. Tyler walked right in and curled up. That was that. No struggle, no convincing. He was my boy.
Gayle hugged me, a few of the shelter employees said their goodbyes to Tyler (had this been 2015 he would have been photographed for their Facebook page, but not in 2000) and we were off.
The whole ride home he meowed and meowed. Happy meows, curious meows. “So, are we living on Long Island? How many cat beds did you get me? You know I only eat Science Diet right?” I talked to him, letting him know how far from home we were and how happy I was that I found him. He answered with his little meow, as if he understood me. When I was a few blocks away I called my parents to let them know we…WE….would be there in a few.
When I pulled into the driveway both of my parents were outside waiting for me. My dad ran to the car. That in and of itself surprised me. I never expected my dad to be excited about having a cat in the house, but he was. My mother, who never relaxed about ANYTHING, was a bit more cautious.
“Is that the cat?” My dad asked, already knowing the answer.
“Mom, Dad, meet…..Tyler.”
My mother took a look in the carrier. Tyler, sitting up, eyes curious and alert, stared right back at her.
“So, what do you think?” I asked. “He’s cute, isn’t he?”
“He looks so serious.”
“What does that mean?” I asked my mother. Serious? A cat doesn’t smile, they ALWAYS look serious.
“I don’t know, he looks like an owl, or a bandit. He has a serious look on his face.”
“I think he’s cool looking.” My father replied. Well, thank god at least he shares my opinion.
We went inside. Now, as I said, we were living high on the hog in those days. My father had a well-paying job, my mother had several credit cards with a large amount of credit, and me….well…..I was just starting out in the museum world as a budding curator. What’s a curator? Even I never really figured that out.
After a lifetime in Brooklyn, we escaped to Long Island in late 1996 to a newly built….large house. I never knew the type. Ranch, split ranch, colonial, imperial, continental, a realtor I’m not. It was large and it had 3 floors, skylights, and a hot tub in the master bath, a built in sound system (pre-Sonos) and a large pool with an electric cover. It was a NICE house. The basement in and of itself was three times the size of my current apartment. I miss that house. I miss that pool. I miss having rich parents. I wasn’t spoiled, OK, maybe I was a little, but I still miss it.
It was decided that Tyler would be confined to the basement until he gets used to things. Mind you, “confined” was hardly the term. There were: 2 couches, a wall length bookcase and wall unit, full carpeting, a ping pong table, and a full marble bathroom with shower. Trust me, Tyler hardly suffered.
We all went downstairs, my mother closing the door behind us. Cats for Dummies said to let the new cat out right by the litter box, so they know where it is and don’t shit on everything. At least that’s the theory. It somehow imprints on their brain or something. Apparently with a kitten you even need to go as far as putting them in the litter box and digging the litter with their paws so it becomes instinctual. Hey, no matter, it beats having to walk a dog in the freezing cold at 5 in the morning.
Finally….everything was ready. Food? Check. Litter? Check. Cat toys and beds? Check. Here we go!
I opened the carrier door. Tyler strode out as if he already owned the place. As any cat owner knows it’s quite common, even expected, for a cat to run and hide the second they are brought into a new home or environment. Cats are fiercely territorial, so it takes them time to acclimate to a new environment. Some take days, some take weeks, even longer. If done right, a cat is slowly introduced to a new environment a room at a time until they get used to the lay of the land. Each cat is different, and adjusts at their own pace, so patience is needed.
None of those rules applied to Tyler.
Tyler was, without a doubt, the happiest cat on earth on that early Saturday afternoon in December of 2000. His tail shot straight in the air as he began scoping out his new territory. His purr was so loud you would have been able to hear it from the international space station. He smelled and rubbed everything, climbed every possible surface, and left his mark on every piece of everything. Once that was done he jumped on the ping pong table and proceeded to rub, purr, flip on his back, wriggle, and head-but us non-stop for the next TWO HOURS. I kid you not. He was thrilled to be home with us. THRILLED.
I have to tell you my father could not stop smiling. This man, this “pop” of mine, who always said NO to me when I would ask over and over for a pet, was giddy as a child in a toy store.
“You weren’t kidding Daniel. I like his style.” He said, beaming. He hadn’t been this happy since the last George Carlin HBO special. Like I said, TV was very important.
“He’s cute, but he’s going to get black hair all over my furniture.” My mother was less convinced. A little stand-offish even, even though she was loving the attention. My mother even went so far as to thank Tyler every time he would rub her or head-but her.
“Oh, thank you, Tyler” she would say. The way my mother spoke it sounded more like Toy-LAH.
“Ma, you don’t have to be so polite. Cats rub, he’s marking you as his territory.” I explained.
“Oh, OK.” She didn’t quite “read cat” yet.
Finally after 2 hours of cat bliss, Tyler found the red easy chair that was on one side of the room, curled up, and passed out cold, still purring.
“Dan-YUL, I have bagels and whitefish spread, are you hungry?” Dumb question. I was always hungry.
“Sure, let’s eat.” Those 3 words were the happiest words my mother ever heard.
“He looks like he wants to sleep anyway.” My father, justifying his desire to eat and watch cable and probably check the weather forecast. My father rarely did anything outside, why he needed to check the weather 200 times a day was beyond me. Did he have a crop somewhere that he was hiding from us?
I was hungry, sure, but I felt more than hunger. I felt……AMAZING. I cannot exaggerate enough the emotions that were overcoming me. After SEVENTEEN years, I finally had a cat of my own. In my home. A young, healthy cat that will bond with me and be my pal. My confidant. My best friend. Who will love me unconditionally, no matter what I looked like or what mood I was in.
There is nothing in the world to truly describe the feeling of rescuing, SAVING, a shelter animal and giving it a home. A FOREVER home. It’s just the best feeling, and I have had the good fortune to have experienced that feeling four times in my 41 years. Knowing that you saved that animal from a stressful, harmful environment, even death in the case of some shelters. Knowing that he had a home, with me, and being able to experience Tyler’s true JOY was the best feeling in the world. Seeing Tyler’s joy at knowing that this was HIS home now and that he would never have to be in a shelter again as long as he lived was the most heart-warming emotion I have ever felt. Better than sex, better than wine, better than the finest meal on the planet. Will I ever really know what Tyler’s life was before I adopted him? No, I’ll take Gayle at her word, but you never really know for sure if they’re just laying it on thick or not. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was his life from that point on would be a great life. I owed that to him. I would see to that.
I let my parents go upstairs first and went over to Tyler. He was already in a deep sleep, curled up and purring gently. The picture of contentment.
“I love you already Tyler. You’re my boy. You will want for NOTHING. It’s just you and me from now on.”
He looked up at me, squinted his eyes and purred. I scratched his chin and he closed his eyes and picked his head up, signaling his enjoyment.
Then he went back to sleep, the happiest cat in the world.