THE CAT WHO CAME IN FROM THE COVID

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I hope you and your loved ones are holding together. Here in Melbourne, Philip, Jonah and I are hunkered down for a second, six-week lockdown. Curfew runs from 8pm to 5am and we can’t travel more than five kilometres (three miles) from the house. Masks are mandatory, and outdoor exercise is limited to an hour a day. We’re managing.

We miss the kids and grandkids, of course, but even if we could see them, hugs would be out of the question. Thank heavens Jonah has stepped up to become Household Cuddlemaster. It’s a role he was born for.

The moment I sit down to knit another beanie (one of my Covid hobbies), Jonah leaps on my lap to floss his teeth on the wool. He loves coiling around Philip’s neck to ride his shoulders around the kitchen. At night, as we sit on the couch trying to watch enough news to keep us informed-not-traumatised, our cuddle cat nestles between us and snuggles over our hands.

In his younger years, Jonah was a mess of “issues” (from spraying and separation anxiety to a tutu-wearing addiction). It was years before he become a civilized, non-medicated household member. These days, especially in the throes of 2020, I’m grateful we rode it out. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without Jonah.

I’d recommend a Covid companion cat to anyone. But when daughter Kath announced she was fostering a stray kitten, maternal alarm bells jangled. The tabby, two months old, needed medication for severe anxiety. I knew from experience fostering Bono back in New York City how challenging “a cat with a past” could be. But Kath (who turns 28 years old this week) was unlikely to welcome a lecture.

When first photos of Mishra (Mishie for short) flashed up on my phone, my heart turned to mush. Perched on a pile of blankets, Mishie gazed at the lens with the assurance of a freshly-crowned empress.

The animal shelter had advised Kath to keep Mishie in a confined space, so she opted for the smallest room available. Mishie refused to emerge from her cardboard box next to the toilet for more than two weeks.

The kitten was eating and drinking alright, but friendliness wasn’t in her vocabulary. She hated being picked up. I could hear the exasperation and disappointment in Kath’s voice. In desperation, I asked my big-hearted Facebook followers if they had any ideas. Some of them were old hands at the foster cat business. They responded with fantastic reassurance and advice.

With Mishie (as with Bono and Jonah), it was going to be a matter of sitting back and letting the cat step forward on her (or his) terms. Kath would have to demonstrate bucket-loads of patience, forgiveness and love before the beginnings of trust could form. She’d then have to wrap her heart in steel to return a socialised Mishie to the shelter to find her forever home.

As days melted into each other in a Covid blur, I started quietly giving up on Mishie. Sure, she was cute, but some cats can’t be tamed.

I was sweltering over a saucepan of tomato chutney (something I never made back in “normal” times) when my phone sprang to life.

“Mishie just licked my hand! And she’s purring! Listen to this!!!”

I sat down kitchen table and turned the volume up on my phone. Never had I heard such a happy, triumphant purr.

Mishie’s bed has since moved out of the wee room. She still refuses to be picked up, but she loves playing with wool and her ping pong ball. The other night, she sat on Kath’s lap.

I don’t know how it sounds to you, but I’m pretty sure this is going to be a Foster Fail.

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