Love at First Sight
by Joe Longo
When Baby Kitty was placed in the palms of my hands, it was love at first sight.
My partner Bob and I were living in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles in 1997. In a typical pink stucco apartment complex that surrounded a fenced-in pool. It was across the street from Griffith Park.
Don was the property manager. He was in his sixties and a sun worshiper. This was pretty evident from his tanned leathery skin. He usually patrolled the property wearing a blue or green Speedo which did nothing to hide his burgeoning paunch. He always had a cigarette dangling from his lips and a can of diet Coke in his hands.
He was not a cat lover, though he insisted he was. He wasn’t quite Curella De Vil. He didn’t want to make a coat of kitty fur, but he did not have patience with cats, and especially with kitties. He said they were messy.
Behind our apartment complex, there was an abandoned field overrun with chaparral. Stray cats hid and often had their kittens there. And the kittens would wander into our complex. Don was always on the alert for them, and would immediately grab a trespassing cat and call the local shelter. He never did anything to find a home for the strays, even though there were many cat lovers in our complex.
Carmen was our downstairs neighbor. She was a fervent cat lover and cat rescuer. She had three cats of her own. Carmen was not an overly friendly person. In fact, she had a mat outside her door that boldly read GO AWAY. She and Don were always at odds with each other about cats. Once I saw Don with a kitten in his clutches, and she ran up to him and snatched it from him. Her mission was to find homes for stray cats.
When Don would find a stray he would immediately call the local animal shelter. This was Carmen’s biggest fear. In those days, when cats and especially kittens, were sent to a shelter and weren’t adopted within a few days, they were put to sleep. Kittens required a lot of work, and the shelters back then did not have the staff to tend to them. So kittens up to about 8 weeks were pretty much doomed once they entered a shelter – which really weren’t shelters at all for most cats but a purgatory before being euthanized.
One morning there was an insistent pounding on our apartment door. I was working at home then and opened the door. An excited Carmen was standing there. She was holding a black kitten. “Take it,” she said, gently extending it to me. “I don’t want Don to get it. And I’m late for work.”
She put the kitty, who was about eight weeks old, in my hands. The minute she did this, he began to purr, and purr loudly. I think I began to purr too.
Carmen quickly told me the story of how she found the kitty. She was walking through the garage area of our complex and heard loud meowing. She knew that it was a kitten, and she wanted to find it before Don found it and sent it to a shelter. But she could not determine where the meowing was coming from. She looked in the cars, between the cars, under the cars. Nothing! Then she determined that the sound was coming from the under the hood of one of the cars. She knew who the car belonged to and got the owner. He opened the hood, and the kitty was curled up by the engine for warmth. If the owner had started the car, it could have been the end for the kitty. Carman picked it up and brought him to me.
He was a beautiful black kitten with shiny fur, and the biggest, brightest eye that lit up his sweet little face. He was small and vulnerable. And when he looked up at me, looked into my eyes, I melted. It was love at first sight. I had seen this kitty two days ago wandering around the complex and rubbing against one of our neighbor’s legs. I thought he belonged to him. The reality was that the kitty was looking for someone to belong to.
When Bob came home from work, I showed him the kitty said we have to keep him. Next to you, I said, he could be the love of my life. And when Carmen returned that evening, I told her we were going to keep him. A broad smile brightened her not often smiling face.
We had another cat, Booboo. He was a cat with a big personality, and he did not take to the kitten. The kitty, however, felt right at home in our apartment and liked Booboo, but Booboo wouldn’t have anything to do with him. He hissed a lot at the kitty. In time, however, he learned to tolerate him.
We named our fur baby Baby Kitty, and we speculated about where he came from. He wasn’t a feral cat. He was clean and well fed and very comfortable around people. He must have gotten out of someone’s apartment or house. The scenario we came up with was that he was living with an old woman who loved him and died and when someone came into her apartment, the kitty got scared and ran out the door and wound up on the streets. We also speculated that he was abandoned because he was a black cat. Luckily, he found us.
We had Baby kitty for seventeen years, and he did turn out to be one of the loves of my life. He was a companion and friend, and was always sensitive to my moods. When I was sad or disturbed he would always sit besides me or on my lap to comfort me. He loved to sit with us in the evenings if we were reading or watching tv, just to be near us. And he loved it when we had company and would just sit around and watch us and listen to us talk.
I still miss him every day.
Some good news about abandoned cats and dogs and Los Angeles shelters.
In 2011 Los Angeles adopted a “No Kill Los Angeles Initiative.” That means when cats and dogs enter the shelter they are cared for and are not immediately put to sleep.
In 2017, the city’s shelters have maintained an 84.3 precent overall “live safe rate.” That is up substantially from 57.8 precent in 2011.
Of the 23,000 animals killed in L.A. shelters in 2011, 7,000 were kittens under the age of 8 weeks. According to Brenda Barnette, the L.A. Animal Service general manager, “Very young kitten are extremely vulnerable and so require more resources and attention from shelter staff. Someone has to be on hand to bottle-feed them every couple of hours around the clock.” To help reduce the number of kitten deaths, Best Friends Animal Society, with help from the city and private citizens, created kitten nurseries starting in 2013. Since then, the group has saved 4,900 kittens.
The city’s goal is to reach a 90 present save rate, so cats and dogs will exit the shelter rather than being euthanized.