I Love My Cat So Much, I Knew I Had To Find Him A Better Home
Six and a half years ago, I met the timid, distrustful, emaciated stray who would become the best cat I've ever had. His name is Smuggz, and he found me at the most inopportune time.
It was June 2009 and my whole family was focused on the task of preparing our one, lush acre of land in rural Missouri for my sister's wedding. My dad spent hours crafting a pergola to shade the bride and groom during their vows, my mom planted flower gardens everywhere and, when I wasn't lending them a hand, I was mentally writing and rewriting my maid of honor toast. We were all busy playing our part - and we were hectically enjoying it.
When we weren't working on setting the stage for my sister's big day, we were sitting on one of my parents' three porches talking about the upcoming event. It was a busy, festive, humid time - and if it weren't for my sister's approaching nuptials keeping me outdoors, I don't know if I would have found Smuggz when I did.
Smuggz surveying his territory. Elizabeth Enochs
I was walking from the front porch to the pack porch, head bowed to the midday sun, when I saw him hiding under the pool deck. He was a skeleton with fur, and his black-brown fluff blended so well with the crusty mud he was camping out in that I had to look twice to be sure of what I was seeing. Sure enough, I discovered a cat I'd never noticed before. He looked terrified.
He wouldn't let me touch him that day, and I didn't push it. It was obvious he'd suffered trauma - so I left him some food and went about my business. Over the next two weeks, he slowly got better. I continued to feed him daily, sometimes multiple times a day since he was so underweight, and little by little he let me get closer. I'd hold out my hand for him, which he'd barely sniff before quickly jerking away, and then set his food on the ground and back off. After a few days of this, he grew comfortable enough to eat out of my hand. Eventually, he started letting me pet the furry black "m" on his forehead. But our biggest breakthrough came just two days before the wedding - he began climbing atop the shoulders of anyone who would let him. He was finally healed enough to seek out treats and cuddles without fear.
Cuddles on my parents' back porch. Elizabeth Enochs
Since then, Smuggz has been a constant in my life. When I moved away to attend college, living on my own for the first time, Smuggz came with me. At first, he was the only friend I had and his presence made my new adventure a little less lonely. His paw in my face served as a back-up alarm clock, and he actually kept me from being late to class on more than one occasion.
When I fell deeply in love for the first time, Smuggz was there for that, too. Initially, my now-ex was slightly allergic to Smuggz. As they grew closer, though, my ex's allergies managed to shrink as my love for him grew. After nearly a year of dating me, and getting to know my cat, my first love moved in with us. Smuggz and I made room for a third party, and we became our own little family. It was blissful at times.
Smuggz and I posing for my ex in our old apartment. Elizabeth Enochs
When that relationship ended, it felt like a family was being split up instead of just a couple. My ex may have been just as sad to say goodbye to our furbaby as he was to say goodbye to me, and I don't blame him - because Smuggz is an exceptional cat, and a loyal friend.
Post-breakup, I needed somewhere to heal and work for a while before starting a new life in Brooklyn, New York. So, I moved back to the place where it all began - my parents' house.
Smuggz spent most of his daylight hours roaming that same rural acre, while I spent mine writing. For the first time in almost five years, my cat was spending time outdoors, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was loving it. Smuggz enjoyed reclaiming his old territory so much, in fact, that I frequently had to bribe him with brushings and treats to get him to come inside at bedtime.
Over the next two and a half months, I spent hours trying to find a room for rent in Brooklyn that would allow cats. As you can imagine, I had very little luck. By the time I finally found a place that would allow me to bring him along, and was actually in my price range, I had begun to see a transformation in Smuggz. He looked more fit, he was more energetic and he was almost always purring. He'd cuddle me at night, but the second I woke up in the morning, he'd go to the front door and silently wait for me to let him outside. It became clear to me that removing him from the fresh air and wide open spaces of the country, just to live in a shoebox-sized room in the city, would be cruel. Although it broke my heart, I knew what I had to do. Before embarking on my new journey to New York, I mustered up the courage to ask my parents to foster Smuggz until I could afford to rent a more spacious apartment. They agreed and I couldn't be more grateful. Neither could Smuggz.
Smuggz and I relaxing on my parents' front lawn. Elizabeth Enochs
It's been almost four weeks since I've seen my little dude, and I miss him. But as I write this essay from my new abode, I know I made the right call. Putting Smuggz through the stress of travel only to confine him to my little room would have been borderline abusive. He deserves fresh air, stability and space. He deserves peace and quiet and more affection than I would have had time to give him as I adjusted to city life.
I've counted on Smuggz to help me ward off loneliness for years, so leaving him behind when I moved to New York was really hard. It's still hard sometimes. But loving your pet means putting their needs first.
Hopefully, the day will soon come when Smuggz and I can live together again. Until then, I'm just grateful I was able to leave him in the loving hands of family.