“Should we Zoom?” I texted Valerie one Thursday evening, around 6 p.m.
“I think FaceTime works better,” she wrote back. “In case she’s on the move.”
A few minutes later, I answered my phone, and a small brown tabby cat appeared on the screen. After we exchanged hellos, Valerie, the cat’s foster mom, introduced the two of us: Ava was a playful and affectionate seven-month-old who didn’t get along with the resident cat in Valerie’s apartment. She had big, bright green eyes, a white smudge on the bridge of her nose, and a fluffy tail, like a raccoon. “I bet that other cat was a bitch,” my friend Anna texted later when I told her about how sweet and perfect Ava seemed.
I found Ava scrolling on Instagram. A cat rescue organization I follow had posted a carousel of photos of her earlier that day: perched on a bed; sprawled out on a folded blanket; asleep in a ball, her tail wrapped around her tiny body. The caption described her as “petite” and “chilled.” I filled out an adoption application and, within minutes, a woman named Eva, who runs the rescue organization, emailed me asking if I would be interested in a virtual meet-up with Ava—because of coronavirus social distancing measures, we wouldn’t be able to meet in person.
I agreed, but in the next few hours a low-grade panic set in. I was going to video chat with…a cat. Intellectually I understood this, but then it occurred to me anew when my coworker Clio messaged me: “Omg wait, you have to video chat with a cat?” Yes, I told Clio. I wondered how I was supposed to know if a cat was right for me—and make a years-long commitment!—based on a video chat.
Before, when I thought about how I would finally come to adopt a cat, I imagined visiting a shelter with a bunch of cats. My cat would be the one who plopped down on my lap, or rubbed up against my legs, or butted her head against me, demanding pets. I would know her when I saw her, and I would also know she was my cat because all of the other cats would be, definitively, not my cat. With the constraints of the pandemic, I would have to meet Ava—who lived in Greenpoint—from my living room in Bed-Stuy, and make a decision about whether or not to adopt her without getting to know any other cats first.
Over FaceTime, Valerie answered all of my questions about Ava while she batted at a ribbon string toy. She loves to play, but she also loves to curl up next to you and be petted, Valerie said. She always goes to the bathroom in her litter box—no accidents. Unlike many cats—so I hear—she likes to have her belly rubbed (Valerie demonstrated this). Ava hadn’t bitten or scratched at all; she likes to hop inside Valerie’s cloth storage cubes; sometimes she will jump up on the fridge.
“She has ankle socks on her front paws, and thigh-high socks on the back ones,” Valerie told me and my roommate Daniel. This was important information.
After 20 minutes of almost ceaseless “awww”s, Valerie asked us what we thought—were we interested in adopting Ava? Would we, in pet adoption parlance, be her “forever home?”
I told Valerie that Daniel and I would talk about it after we got off the phone, and get an answer to her quickly. After conferring for roughly 30 seconds, I decided that if anyone else got to adopt Ava I would die. I emailed Valerie and Eva and told them both that I was in love with Ava, and would like to move forward with the adoption process. Later that week, clad in a mask and gloves, Eva pulled up to my apartment and handed me a small cardboard carrier, resembling the kind I once received a Build-a-Bear in as a child. It seemed impossible that an animal could be inside, but when I opened the box inside my apartment a small cat hopped out, and now she lives with me.
Ava—now Olive!—has adjusted well to her new home. She is exactly as Valerie described, only lovelier. As I write this, she’s napping on the chair beside me. This morning she woke me up by licking my face twice. She chirps like a tiny bird, and meows at the door when either of us goes to the bathroom. Sometimes when Daniel is lying on the couch, she’ll nap between his legs; we call this an “Olive pit.” When I look at her, I feel like my heart is swelling to three times its size, like the Grinch, and I forget for a moment how depressing everything is.
I’m not the only one who has made this leap of faith: So many people have been adopting pets during quarantine that some shelters have run out of pets for adoption. Shelters and rescue organizations have found an untold number of pets foster and forever homes by conducting virtual meet-ups like the one Eva facilitated for me.
Like any new pet owner properly obsessed with their cat, I’ve already filled my phone with a few hundred photos of Olive. But the first one will always be the screenshot I took of her on FaceTime licking her paw, my face in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, transformed by love.
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