My relationship with my cat has always felt like a tenuous one. I often question her loyalty and she mine. Moving her into a van hasn’t been easy, but it’s not the first rough transition we’ve been through together.
Oreo became my fur baby during my first marriage. My husband didn’t work and spent all day playing her, snuggling her and giving her his undivided attention. Then we separated, and he moved out. Like many kids, Oreo took the separation hard. Her dedicated father left, and she blamed me. Each day, Oreo would sit in my lap for exactly five minutes for pets before biting me and having absolutely nothing to do with me until the next day. I questioned her love for me.
One day, the stress and emotional roller coaster of the divorce became too much for me, and I broke down, crying, sobbing and choking on my own snot. My dear, sweet Oreo came up to me, put a paw on each shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes with real concern. She then proceeded to rub her little cat face on my cheeks, only pawsing to see if I’d stopped crying. As soon as the tears dried, she left. Her job was done. My heart swelled with love.
Fast forward seven years, and Oreo’s stepdad, my second husband, and I are separating. I didn’t have much money due to being a full-time college student with only a part-time job. I could only afford to rent a room when I moved out, and pets were not allowed. It hurt me to do it, but I gave the second husband temporary custody of my cat.
During this time, I felt like a deadbeat mother, waiting to finish school and get a place of my own so I could have custody of my child. If I wanted to see Oreo, he only allowed prearranged, supervised visits. During one of the visits, as I got up to leave, she pawed at my leg and looked up at me with begging eyes, pleading me to either stay or take her with me. Helpless, I told her I loved her and secretly wondered what that asshole was doing to make my cat feel this way.
Graduation finally came, and I packed up my room, picked up my cat from her possibly abusive and unloving stepfather (probably not, but I like to be dramatic), and we moved in with Jeremy. He is by far the best cat dad ever (notice I didn’t say stepdad?), so much so that Oreo is our cat. He insists she’s still my cat, but Oreo and I know the truth.
Just over a week ago, Oreo moved into the van with us. Once parked at my sister’s, I put her water and food dish in the cab with her litter box and made the cab her own little cat space. A little cat space where I wanted her to stay, safe from harm. Throughout the day I’d put on her harness, attach the leash and let her roam. At first, she explored and appeared content, but soon she was ditching her harness and running off. I tried to confine her in the cab, not as torture, but to keep her safe, only for her to claw her way out and escape, leaving me stressed out and wondering if my former housecat was capable of surviving the streets alone.
When I converted Oreo’s 11 cat years to human years, I found out I have a 60-year-old fur baby. At this point she’s living out the last of her good years and wants to make the most of them. She wants to be free and explore, without the constraints a harness, leash or overprotective van cat mom. Meanwhile, I’m still at the point where she’s still far too young and inexperienced to be out on her own.
Yesterday morning Oreo and I got into a fight. I made a “screen door” for the doorway between the cab and the van living space to try to keep her in the cab and safe. Like a rebellious grandmother/child, she clawed at the screen with such fury I lost my shit. I tore down the screen, dumped her outside and screamed, “Fine, go out there and get hurt or killed, see if I care! Don’t be surprised when you have to get put down because I can’t afford your vet bill!”
Afterwards I sent Jeremy a text (he’s currently in California), “I give up. Can’t believe I wasted so many hours making that screen door. I should have given up sooner.” To which he replied, “The idea for the screen was in her best interest, just because she doesn’t appreciate it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have done it. Welcome to parenthood. I love you.”
It’s then I realized I needed to let go. I needed to let Oreo go into the out with no restrictions to live her best life. She knows where the van is, and I needed to trust her to come back. Me trying to keep her safe wasn’t in her best interest, it was in mine. I wanted her safe, so she’d be around longer for me. Instead of thinking of me, now I’m thinking of her.