“Holly was my first and only kitten,” Judi told me. “All my cats were adults that I rescued or adopted. She was a real treat—I’d never seen the energy of a kitten.”
Holly was about six weeks old when Judi’s partner Don brought her home in the cereal box and is a featured rescue kitty in Great Rescues:
Holly’s dad was working on his apartment building in a small town 50 miles from his home and noticed a tiny kitten, maybe five weeks old, running from under the porch at the house next door; apparently they were just letting a new litter run the streets until they decided what to do with them. He put milk out for the kitten as she visited the back stairway, then went next door to confirm the kittens belonged to them, asking if he could adopt the little calico, to which they agreed.
He took her into an apartment and fed her there, took her to the local vet for a checkup and kept her with him for about 2 weeks as he worked on the building. The neighbor stopped him in the driveway a few days later and said she had promised the kitten to her sister. Holly’s dad immediately replied that he had already given her a new home in Pittsburgh, 50 miles away, and she was no longer available. Later, he secreted Holly out hidden in a cereal box and brought her home.
“She got along with everybody. They were all equally annoyed with her kitten games—but Houdini took to it right away,” she continued.
And that would be very special for Judi; Houdini was then 19 years old, and he had been her first cat, ever, in a lifetime of rescuing cats. At that age, she knew they wouldn’t be together too much longer. “Holly kept him playing like a kitten in his last year,” she said.
Separately and then together, Judi and Don have rescued at least a dozen cats, and it’s always interesting to find out how serial cat rescuers got their start. Often, it begins with just one very special cat, and many other cats’ lives are ultimately saved because of the loving relationship between that cat and that person. For now, we’ll focus on the story of Judi and the cat who started it all for her.
So how does a person who’s never lived with a cat end up with a cat like Houdini? And with a name like that you know there’s got to be a story.
“I had just bought my house, and I decided, ‘This is my first house, I’m buying it by myself, and I’m going to get a cat’,” Judi stated. Those three activities might not seem entirely congruous to some people, but getting your own place is often the time people adopt their first pet.
While a cat was Judi’s choice for a pet, it was her friend Joanie, already a cat owner, who took her to the Animal Rescue League where Joanie herself had adopted her three cats.
But Judi would say the rest of it was up to Houdini.
“He picked me,” she said simply. “We walked past all the cages and he was laying on his back reaching his paws out through the bars at me. He was about a year and a half old, not a kitten. Everything in his cage was upside down—litter, water, food. I wanted him so badly, but I had to wait three days,” she remembered, referring to the fact that he had been brought into the shelter as a stray and the shelter policy at that time was to give the owner time to come and claim the animal.
He got his name the very first day he was in her home, which was new to her as well since she’d just moved in. When she brought him home she put him in a room by himself that had nothing in it but his food, water and litter—and he disappeared! Then she found him in the next room. New house, new cat owner, she had no idea what to think.
There was a countertop with shutters between that room and the next, but as far as Judi knew the shutters were decorative or fixed in place, she hadn’t really noticed them until she started to look for the cat. Houdini, however, had jumped up on the counter which pushed the shutters open, continued through to the other room, the shutters closed behind him, and no one could know better.
For the next few years it was just her and Houdini as Judi accustomed herself to the wiles of a very intelligent, intuitive cat. She kept him indoors, but he managed to pop the screen out of a first-floor window early one morning and was gone when she awoke. She ran around the neighborhood calling for him and saw him soon enough walking next to a neighbor’s house. Not knowing cats she had no idea what to do, but quickly decided trying to run him down on foot wasn’t a good idea, so she simply greeted him. “Hi, Houdini, there you are! Come here, buddy! I’m so glad to see you!” Houdini hurried over happy and purring, and Judi picked him up and took him inside.
And he had his five wake-up routines—lifting the lid on the cedar chest with his nose far enough to let it fall down with a bang several times, and if that didn’t work he’d bite the edge of her silk lamp shades, and so on.
When she moved to her current house the neighborhood hosted a number of cats who were either stray or fairly neglected, and she was immediately taken with concern for them, thinking “what if one of them was Houdini?”
The dark tabby she saw daily walking around in the box gutters of the apartment building a few doors down she named Luther. The black and white cat who was always on a windowsill crying to get into an apartment and who ran to greet her when she came home she named Sylvester. And the scruffy long-haired orange cat whose owners were totally unconcerned if she lived or died she named Gabby, and though they managed to get Gabby back from her, Gabby would return another day.
So it was that she had three lovely kitties and a few years after that Don moved in with his three rescued cats, Heart, Kitty and Callie (a male calico), and that’s the way they all became “The Brady Meow Bunch”.
Fast forward almost ten years and a few more cats, and Houdini had lost his best playmate, Kitty, shortly after Holly came into the household in November 2007. Houdini, always congenial, let her torture him where the other cats were none too amused, and wrestled with her as she grew, and they curled to sleep together until he passed in January 2009.
It wasn’t planned, she wasn’t looking to find another Houdini, but in March that year Judi found herself at the Animal Rescue League and came home with another young adult gray cat, who she named Emerson (of the undescended testicles) and who is a story unto himself.
“When you live with animals you are just less self-centered,” Judi said. “You come home from work and the stress of the day just disappears when you see your cats, you let things go for a while and realize it’s not all about us.
“When we come home,” she said to Hilda, “it’s all about you.”
About the rescuers
Obviously, Judi and Don have a lot of rescue stories between them just waiting to be told. I’ve enjoyed getting to know these kindred spirits personally and professionally, and sharing stories of our rescues, our daily funnies and our losses as well.
Aside from having our cats in common, Judi owns Carnegie Antiques where I have my little shop in the back room. We met when I was running Carnegie Renaissance, an all-volunteer community development group I’d helped found in order to bring businesses together and host community activities; Judi welcomed me the first time I entered her shop and she was always willing to volunteer and participate in activities.
I’ve also designed and am redesigning her website and assist her with marketing and social networking. In fact, we were hard pressed to keep our minds on Judi’s website redesign the other day because Holly and Hilda and Emerson and Alli and Tiffany were much more interesting subjects!
Here is a little more information about them, also from Great Rescues.
Holly’s mom and dad are friends of mine and I see her regularly. She’s a congenial little calico who greets you at the door and knows she’s the center of attention. Among other things, they own an antique and vintage shop and collect furniture and household items, hence their large Victorian house is full of neat and colorful things—and always about a half dozen cats. Both have adopted from shelters, rescued cats much like Holly and taken in stray cats from the neighborhood as well as the relentless parade of e-mails advertising cats who need homes, including lovely but troubled Tiffany, who requires lots of patience to understand a cat who turned out to be feral but was not described as such.
On the back of the rocker Holly is accessible to everyone who walks through the room and can see most of the first floor of the house. In addition to the subject of a portrait I’ll often add a certain amount of a background scene which will truly make it an accurate portrait of a person’s pet showing it in the actual setting of the house where they lived. I had taken the photo on a bright winter day I visited and knew it would one day be a wonderful painting, and so it turned out to be. In this case, because it shows so much of the background including the stained glass window, I wanted it to look more like an illustration than a formal detailed portrait, so used the natural transparency of watercolor.
Here is Holly’s page in Great Rescues
Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.
Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book