Pip using Murray as a feline shield. He may look relaxed, but do not be fooled, he is poised against lurking dangers.

We have a black and white kitty with three legs.

We adopted him sight unseen, when we heard from a friend of the vet that he had been found at 5 weeks old with his leg pinned under a gate.  He lost the leg but he and his brother found themselves rescued, first to a vet’s office, then a rescue organization, and then to us.

Murray, his brother, is a love bug with a huge purr. Murray is redolent with charisma and very adoring.  Pip is very skittish.  And by skittish I mean the most traumatized cat to walk the earth.  He’s eternally freaked out by us.  He’ll visit me one night and sort of flop against my hand, to be petted while I am watching TV in bed (where I guess he sees me as unlikely to make any sudden moves) but he always keeps pacing just in case he needs to run away.  The next morning if I cross paths with him, he’ll hiss and run.  No matter how much animal communication I have done with that cat he just remains wedded to his fear.

But this is nothing like what he was like when he first came to us.  We actually barely saw him for years.  We knew he ate and used his litter box, and occasionally we could see him sizing us up from a perch somewhere up high in another room.  Then he graduated to coming in and out of the house, streaking by our feet after his brother.

When we adopted another kitty with three legs (their rear legs made a matched set), he began to be more visible.  Then we adopted two puppies and his helpmate took off.  Ironic, because she was totally not afraid of dogs.  She must have been quite disillusioned by us, the humans she assumed were smarter than to associate with the lower life forms.

And Pip ran off too.  We left food for him and a blanket in the garage, but he reverted to his feral roots.  Murray joined him soon after, and I fell into a deep funk about what I had done to them.

But then about four months later they slowly returned.  We came up with a system whereby the cats got their own entrance through the front door, which worked for a while since the dogs would hang out in the kitchen by the back door mostly, but then my husband got sick of trying to coax Pip in the house by putting down tuna and hiding behind the front door in his underwear at 5:30am.  One morning Pip came sauntering right in, and my astonished husband looked down to see a skunk merrily demolishing a can of tuna.  That’s when Pip became an indoors-only cat.

And either because he was grateful for the massive do-over, or because the dogs and kids were older and less unpredictable, or because some of what I whispered to his furry little heart  had sunk in, he began to….socialize.  And by socialize I mean act like a semi-average pet one day and like a terrorized demon the next.

And this went on for four years.

Each year there were a few noticeable inches gained, upon reflection.  He started meowing to me a lot.  I’d meow back.  Then we would have meow-versations.  He’d stay in the room with me and didn’t leave first.  He’d come into a room where there were sleeping dogs.  He let my son pet him.  These events progressed from “rarely” to “occasionally” to “daily”.

One day he even participated with Murray in a favorite game of Pin The Dumb Dogs At The Bottom Of The Stairs.  How you play is this: Cats splay themselves across the landing at the top, tails flicking languidly, not a care in the world.  Dogs, terrified and adoring, try to climb courageously up the stairs until the cats growl and hiss.  Then they run whimpering down and beg for forgiveness.

One of the downsides of having a pet who won’t let you touch him is that his fur would get so matted I would despair.  These weren’t merely mats they were the size and depth of pelts, which pulled tightly on his skin.  I tried pinning him down to cut them out once.  Big mistake.  I cut his skin by accident and he scratched me in multiple places.  He avoided me for weeks after that.  Which was good because I felt like scum, traumatizing an already traumatized creature.

But then one day I saw a gigantic pelt left smack in the middle of the floor.  That sucker was three inches long and two inches across, and a full half inch thick.  And there it was, in plain sight, in the middle of a room where I couldn’t miss it.  As if to say, “See?  I can take care of this.  Thank you for trying to help.  Don’t worry.”

It was the first response I’d ever gotten.

There have since been more pelts left for me, more petting (sometimes he even lies down beside me to receive them) and he never scratches me anymore when I reach under the coffee table to put him in his carrier to take him to the vet.  He still hisses at me if I move too fast, but on balance love is winning.

And that’s where we were last Tuesday when I took both cats to the vet for their annual checkup.  In the exam room, he tried to crouch in the furthest corner away from the table while his brother took a position in plain view.  I looked at him and it occurred to me he wasn’t huddling in his carrier like he usually did.  He met my gaze, and I thought, “What the hell,” and grabbed him into my lap.

He did not resist.  He did not squirm.  He curled up against my stomach and let me hold him tight, and pet him, and talk to him.  I told him how good and brave he was, and he even purred a little.

And when the vet came in, I tried to explain the miracle but all that came out was a bunch of words out of order and a lot of tears.

For the first time in eight years, I got to hold my kitty.

Of course the next morning he hissed at me as I approached him lounging on his cat tree by the window, but as he flew by me to safety, I just burst out laughing.