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  • Writer's pictureImagine a Bird

The Human and the Little Panther

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Note: everyone should be able to access the above SoundCloud file, whether or not you have a SoundCloud account. Please let me know if you have any issues listening. Thank you!

In a plush pet bed, curled into a soft oval shape with one hind leg stretched across nose, sleeps a cat. The city animal shelter gave him the name Talay, which from Urdu translates to goodness or luck. When the sun hits his silky black hair, flecks of copper and gold shimmer across his coat.

Talay awake is another story. His voice can be heard a block (or more) down the street, as though he’s assigned himself the role of neighborhood ambassador. His blaring, ear-aching MMRROW!s seem to defy anatomical and physiological rules; for a 3-year-old, he is a relatively tiny and lithe cat.

For 10 months now I’ve been trying to write about this little panther. I’d start and stop multiple times, struggling to capture the unconditional love of a rescued cat amidst the daily battle for quiet and balance.

Finally, I understood that this was a quintessential Singleton story. Before Talay, privacy and quiet were the multivitamins of my life. I adored the slow and peaceful coffee and tea ritual I’d carry out each morning. Every movement and every choice were on my own slow crawl of a timeline, and I could think fairly clearly about the coming day. Also, on my days off work, I slept in until the cows came home.

Now, seven days a week starting at six a.m., the apartment is filled with Talay’s caterwauling. On and on he goes, with a brief respite during the day for napping, and then he starts up again in the late afternoon and carries on into the evening. He wants 1.) food and/or 2.) to go OUT. There may be a third impetus behind his yelling, as judged by his pacing in no particular direction and a kind of deep introspection in his eye: he’s simply singing his response to the sounds and smells of early morning/later afternoon prey and neighbors outside. This duplex is surrounded by migrating and local birds nesting in desert willows, pine trees, and sage shrubs. We’ve had fellow cats (both stray and housed), road runners, and raccoons approach our doors and windows inquisitively.

Mostly, though, he wants to go outside and, unshackled, run like a bat out of hell.

This is where the densest nugget of our struggle with one another resides: my job is to protect this wild beast.

Before taking him in as a foster last December, Talay was a longer-term tenant at the shelter. He’d been found as a stray cat with both eyes injured, a fractured pelvis, and a misaligned digestive tract. The veterinarians supported his healing in the medical section of the shelter. By the time he and I met during one of my volunteer shifts, his left eye was permanently blind but his right eye offered functional vision. His body had mended the pelvis and femur as best it could.

Yet Talay has no idea he is considered a “special needs” cat. He runs like a demon on fire and jumps like an athlete, spinning and spiraling through the air to capture a feather or ball in his fangs. Also, despite what he went through last year – the vets were not sure if the injuries were from an accident or abuse – he has the most incredible open heart I’ve ever seen in a cat. He is curious about everything and everybody. When you pick him up, Talay turns his puurr on full blast, gifting you with a loving headbutt against your cheek. His default setting is happy.

I can’t let him outside, though. Not on his own, anyway. His half-blindness would be no match for speeding cars or full-sighted, aggressive animals. So last May, I trained him on a harness and leash, and every morning we explore the neighborhood together. (As an aside, the bright yellow harness against his jet-black coat looks quite dapper.)

Still, he yells.

After nearly a year, I’ve tried seemingly everything to meet his needs, but also – to meet my own innate desire for peace and quiet. Talay has cat furniture, carpeted climbing trees, boxes filled with balls and mice, interactive feather toys, and a screened-in front porch for fresh air and fantastic look-out points. I have noise-reducing headphones, long walks and bike rides, and beloved human hobbies between Talay’s activities.

Still, he raises his head and yowls.

Many times, I thought I would lose my fucking mind. I’d shut myself away in the bathroom for a noise break, but guess who’d press his snout beneath the door and let loose wail after wail?

Has anything helped? Yes. Asking for help… helped. I reached out to animal-loving friends and asked for their advice. I also set aside any hesitation and concern that I was a pest and relied on Molly countless times. My co-worker at the shelter, Molly Devoss was the one who originally introduced me to Talay. She’s a specialist in feline behavior, especially those animals with old injuries and traumatic pasts. She taught me that cats are crepuscular (hence, the dawn and dusk meowing) and she coached me through behavior management techniques.

I kept trying different methods and routines, but I’d grown exhausted trying to strike a middle ground between human and cat. As someone who lives alone, everything fell on my shoulders. When I began to understand that my fatigue was at least partially due to being so alone with Talay’s care, Molly produced an episode on her podcast about singleton cat owners. Her co-host and husband equated it to being a single parent of (human) children. Bingo! I’ve never had kids, but I now comprehend the dedication, patience and acute frustration involved in caring for a high-energy and loud living creature with a painful past.

I’ve written about shame in a previous post and it certainly has its place, here. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t tolerate noise coming from an innocent yet strong and loving survivalist? Should I surrender him to a “better” owner or worse, back to the shelter?

I put an end to the shame as quickly as I could. My brain was built for problem-solving and I didn’t want to give up. During Covid, the isolation melted down my mental and physical health. I hadn’t had an animal companion in over 10 years, since my 17-year-old Neelix tabby passed away from cancer in 2012. It was time to love again, in that regard. I longed for companionship.

I didn’t know I would love a “difficult” cat. I am still trying to figure out ways to meet my own needs along with Talay’s. Full stop. There is neither a yet nor a but following those sentences. There is no spunky “This is worth it!” statement or relieved epiphanies. This is an imperfect situation between a single person who adores silence and a loud-as-fuck cat.

Still, Talay drapes his body like melting dough across my shoulder when I hold him. On cold nights, he curls up like a warm croissant next to my head or he envelops my neck with his soft stomach like a purring scarf. Once, when I was down-in-the-dumps and crying, he crawled onto my shoulder and repeatedly wiped away my tears with the side of his face.

Eventually, or soon enough, the annoying meowing engine starts up again.

Only now am I realizing that this is an Ode to a sweet mess of a singleton life, to a clashing of two individuals from within two different species.

Yet…Talay is safe and loved, and warmly, I am no longer alone.


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