Odo picked me on August 22, 1998. But the story really begins almost eight months to the day earlier.
On December 23, 1997 my husband awoke me at 6:00 A.M. to say that he had found our big white cat, Smudge, dead downstairs. He was only about three years old, and had appeared to be in perfect health. I was beside myself with grief, and worry that perhaps he had got into some Christmas decorations, and that my other cats were at risk. A blizzard was beginning to blow that day. I called in sick to work and took Smudge’s body to my Vet to examine. He could find no obvious cause of death.
For quite a while the house seemed very empty, even though there were four other cats running around. Everyone else seemed fine except for Groucho.
He and Smudge were best buddies. For several weeks his appetite was down, and he roamed around the house letting out a howl every so often. I could tell he was missing Smudge. I had heard that animals sometimes grieve for their companions. This was the first time I experienced it. It was hard to watch. I tried to comfort him. Groucho is not a very snuggly kitty, but during the first few weeks after Smudge’s death every time I sat down he was right there beside me.
Smudge was a big white cat with two black thumbprints on his head. When we found him, he was a starving, flea-infested stray of indeterminate color, because he was so dirty. Once he was cleaned up and the fleas were gone, he started to eat with a vengeance. Sometimes I called him Moby Cat because of his size. He weighed about 13 lbs. Not huge, but his closest competitor on the scales was Groucho, weighing in at 10 lbs. Every night, including the night he died Smudge would come in and snuggle up to me. He would chew on my hair and knead his paws into my neck for about 15 minutes. I believe he was taken from his mother too young and this filled a deep need for him. So I called him my little vampire kitty, and let him drool on my neck each night.
For a while I had this frantic desire to go out and find another white cat. But as time passed we all settled in to our routines. I told myself that four cats were plenty. Even though the house still seemed empty at times, I knew I couldn’t replace Smudge with another white cat, or any cat. In July, I was driving back from my Saturday at the shelter. I saw a white cat lying on the side of the road on Rte. 2A. I pulled over to see if it was alive. I swore to myself that if it were I would take it to the emergency clinic and do everything possible for it. Unfortunately, it was dead. It was a beautiful all white cat. It looked like it was sleeping. I couldn’t leave it on the side of the road, so I wrapped it in a towel that I had in my trunk, and laid it under a low hanging evergreen tree across the street on some conservation land. I covered it as best I could with leaves and pine boughs. I cursed and cried all the way home.
The next month on Saturday, August 22, I went to the shelter for my regular shift. It is my habit to snap on all the lights when I arrive and walk into each room to see what is going on and say hi to all the kitties before I start on my chores. I walked into room 3, and as usual there was an immediate swarm and swirl of furry little bodies at my feet. I looked up and a small white cat was looking at me from the cat tree. As soon as I looked at him he jumped down off the tree and ran over to me. I bent down and he leaped into my arms. He snuggled into my shoulder with a deafening purr. I had not gotten a very good look at him from across the room. I turned his face to mine, and my heart seemed to skip a beat, and then start to race. He had one yellow eye and one blue eye, and a small black smudge on the top of his head. He was staring at me intently. My inner voice said, “This is the one!” I petted him, and he snuggled deeper into my neck and shoulder. I put him back on the cat tree. I didn’t want to put him down, and he did not want to be put down, but I had to get to work. I looked at his tag and it said “Bob, male, 5 months”. Kind of small for 5 months, I thought. One of the other volunteers had arrived by then, and I said “Oh my god, I think I am going to take a cat home today!” She started to laugh. We all know that this is a hazard when you volunteer at a shelter. I stayed out of room 3 on purpose, and cleaned the cage room.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that little cat. Then I started worrying that maybe he wasn’t available. That made me feel sick to my stomach. It was the same panicky feeling I had gotten when I went to my vet who had a pile of stray cats and kittens for adoption one day. I had recently lost my cat of 18 plus years and I needed a new furry friend. When I went back the next day to get two kittens that I had decided on, all the kittens were gone except one. A young man around nineteen or twenty was playing with the one that was left. He was one of the ones I had wanted. I was afraid he was going to take him. I wanted to snatch him out of his hands. As soon as he put him down and started flirting with the girl behind the counter I grabbed him, found the vet tech and told her I wanted to take him home. His name is Harley. He is now 5 years old and the love of my life.
Finally Priscilla, the shelter director, called to see how things were going. I blurted out that I wanted to adopt Bob. She said okay, and I said YES! Then she said “his brother is over at the vet’s,” and I said, “he is”? Okay, lovesick, demented feeling number two: Should I take them both? The voice of reason in my head says “Are you crazy? You already have four at home!” So I took Bob home. Coincidentally, it happened to be my husband’s birthday. I handed him the carrier and said “Happy Birthday”.
I actually did go back the next week to meet his brother Bill, and his sister Cindy (sounds like the Brady Bunch cats) Bob was now named Odo because of his changeling eyes. (Star Trek Deep Space Nine fans will understand). He got his name in the car on the way home form the shelter, which is also the fastest any of my cats has been named. Bill and Cindy were much bigger than Bob. He was either a runt, or came from a separate litter. However, there was a very strong family resemblance between the three of them. Both were white with black smudges on their heads and Cindy was odd eyed like her brother. Luckily, two sisters studying to be vets at Tufts Veterinary School wanted the two of them. So I went home with a clear conscience.
Odo settled in quite nicely. After a week and a half on his best behavior his true personality started to emerge. Basically, he is a brat.
His name fits his personality too. One minute he is the sweetest thing, giving head butts and purring up a storm. The next minute he is trying to bite me because I am not paying enough attention to him, or he takes off after his housemates to torment them.
As he grew, his little black cap disappeared. You have to look closely now to see a few black strands of fur. He weighs about 9 lbs. So he is much lighter than Smudge was. He and Groucho are not particularly friendly. Groucho has switched his attention to Maggie who he now
snuggles with whenever she allows it. Odo does have two quirks that are very Smudge-like. Smudgie’s favorite toys were soft glitter balls. These are also Odo’s favorite. My other cats can take them or leave them. He also has a habit of sitting by the cat door that leads to the cellar. He knows if he waits long enough someone will come by and open it. Smudge did the same thing. No one else does this. They are very different in most other ways, but enough alike that on several occasions I have called Odo Smudge in error. Luckily Odo does not seem to mind. Odo also replaced Smudge in the bed. However, where Smudge would take off after 15 minutes of hair chewing, shoulder kneading and drooling into my ear, Odo just finds a cozy spot beside me and camps out for the entire night.
I truly feel that Odo chose me that day I walked into the shelter. I have never had an experience like it. I have had many sweet cats come and greet me and rub against me as I came into the shelter. But I never had one throw himself at me with the intensity that I experienced that day. I am glad I didn’t go looking for another white cat. I didn’t need to. He found me.