How I became “a cat person”.

I rescued Ricki the rockin’ kitty in 2001. At that time she was already 5 years old, and the rescue group told me they’d picked her up in an alley behind a seafood restaurant in Long Beach where she’d been living off scraps the workers would leave out for her. It had taken them over a year to find her a home, and she found that home with me. I had just recently moved into an apartment of my own, and for the 1st time it was just me. I really wanted a “mellow, lazy cat” that would just hang out. I had no idea what I was in store for.

The first three months I had Ricki, I barely ever saw her. She’d hide all day, and the only proof I had that she hadn’t vacated the premises was that her food bowl was empty each morning. She was very skiddish and she got spooked by any noise — and she did not want to be held, ever. I had even gone back to the man I’d adopted her from and shared my concerns that maybe I wasn’t the right fit for her. He advised me to be patient (not a virtue of mine), be gentle (also not my biggest strength) and to just try talking to her while I was in the house so she’d get used to hearing my voice and not be startled by it.

His advice worked. I would come home from work and just start talking a little bit, and sometimes I’d put on a little music. I’d open up a bag of cat treats or wet food and place it just within poking reach of the furniture or shelf she’d be hiding under. I started to increase the distance, and she’d slither out, look at me, gulp it down and retreat. But after a month or so, one night she decided to venture out — and she stayed.

It sounds crazy, but I remember the evening vividly. I was in my room, typing away (probably writing some live journal entry, ’cause this was back in the day). I had my back to the bed. I heard this gentle sound behind, so I turned and found Ricki just sitting there. I tried to not move abruptly and not get too excited … I was thrilled to find my invisible companion had come out to hang! Her eyes were humongous and she looked like she could bolt at any second. I wanted to pet her and pick her up, but I just said hello and turned back around, trying to contain myself and ensure she’d stay. She did, and from that point on, she became the most loyal and devoted cat I could’ve ever imagined.

Ricki lived with me for 13 years. She lived with me in 7 different places. She used to curl up above my head every night after I’d fallen asleep and she loved snoozing during the day on my red office chair. She had a purr louder than a lawn mower and she used to talk loud after I’d get home every night. After a long night of drinking, she’d sit and and not judge while I ate out of a bag from Del Taco at 2am. She had the plushest fur of any cat I knew. The pads of her feet were grey, not pink. She was affectionate and loyal, but not a lap cat.

After I had my baby, we were amazed at how tolerant she was. She never showed any resentment towards our daughter and she often hung out right by her side when she was an infant, keeping watch. She stayed calm when her tail was pulled, her fur was grabbed or chubby cheeks were curiously crammed next to her face.

Today, at age 17, we said goodbye to Ricki. Our trusty veterinarian, Dr. Toledo (who has seen us through three cats and performed not one — but two! — knee surgeries for Ricki) warned us that we could make her comfortable, but her failing kidneys and thyroid were just something we could not cure. Her kidney infection was too brutal to beat, and we wanted to let her go in peace.

I am grateful that we could all go and say one last goodbye to Ricki as a family before we let her go. It’s a strange feeling to return to a house with no purring in it. But no matter how sad I may be, I love that I watched her change from a scared, skiddish feline to a sweet, loving kitty. After 13 years, she made a change in me; Ricki was the one who made me a “cat person.”