This is Handsome. Handsome was, once, a foster cat. Now, you might be able to guess, he is not (look at that face? WHO could resist that face??!!).
One of the first things I did when I moved to New Hampshire about seven years ago was seek out some new, local activities. I had lived in southern New England for some time, and my social circles, my employment, and, more generally, my life was there. When I moved north for a new job, I had to find something else to do in this unfamiliar landscape. I decided to look into local animal shelters and see if I could volunteer. Fortunately, I became a volunteer at the Manchester Animal Shelter in short order, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences.
I started out working one or two days a week, cleaning cat cages and introducing their residents to potential adoptive families. I met some wonderful cat personalities, and many I will never forget. I also came across some heartbreaking hard-luck cases that the shelter staff bent over backwards to correct. I met some cats that had experienced trauma–from living through housefires to physical abuse–and the shelter staff took as much time as was needed to help cats navitate through fear and distrust. One of the keystones in this process was their foster program. Several volunteers opened their homes, and their hearts, to needy animals to help them adjust outside of the narrow boundaries of a cage. After my work schedule intensified, I joined the fostering team.
Handsome came to the shelter as one in a litter of four very feral older kittens. I remember cleaning their cage a few times–all of them huddled in a group to one corner, peering suspiciously at me as I removed their litter box and refilled their food and water bowls. The four of them were named after members of the band, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and one, a little more wary than the others and the only long-haired cat in the bunch, was named “Slash.” Gradually, all of the other kittens were fostered and went to good homes. Slash, however, needed some extra love and care. I remember getting touch with one of the other volunteers, and asking her about cats that needed foster homes. Slash leapt immediately to mind. Within a week, he was in our home.
This is how Slash spent his first three months with us:
It should be noted that this is his typical “I hate the vet and I know he’s coming” face today.
Slash lived primarily either under the bed or in the basement (which was finished, complete with furniture, but without a constant, intrusive human presence). Feral mom taught us to steer clear of humans, and he was a particuarly erudite student. I’ll never forget when Oscar found him hiding in the bathroom. We had apparently startled him by coming in the office unexpectedly, and this was his only place to escape. Oscar followed him, and he peered at him cowering behind the toilet. Oscar gave him an encouraging sniff, and it was clear that this did make Slash feel a bit better. As much as we worked hard to acclimate him to our presence, the efforts of the other cats in the house were truly invaluable. They made him feel welcome, and they demonstrated to him that we were not perhaps as terrifying as he originally imagined.
We didn’t originally intend to change his name. However, we had trouble calling him Slash–he was such a quiet, gentle personality, the name didn’t quite fit. Instead, we talked to him. A lot. And, without knowing it, we must have used the word “handsome” quite often. One day, six months after he came to our home, he cautiously walked through the living room while I was sitting on the sofa, and I began with the usual compliments: “Hello there! You are so handsome!” He perked up. “Handsome” was a word he had come to know, and now, it was his name on his terms.
A year into our fostering situation, we decided to adopt him. He was finally growing significantly socially, but we had taken care of him for such a long time, it would have been heartless to bring him back to the shelter. He had truly grown to be an indispensible part of the family. Almost four years later, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is Handsome now–a long way from that frightened little kitten. We are priviledged to consider him a part of our family.