I always root for the underdog. Whether it’s a sports team that has scraped its way into the finals against the odds or the unheard-of singer who can’t afford a glitzy outfit or singing lessons, my heart goes to those who look like they’re going to lose.
I’ll walk into an animal shelter and be drawn to the mangy-looking mutt cowering in the corner or the anti-social cat hissing in the back of the cage.
Perhaps it’s the challenge of trying to get them to come around and trust again that sucks me in. Or perhaps it’s that, as a skinny child who was a bit of a weakling, I was the last one left when sports teams were picked and I feel as if I can relate to them being rejects on the sidelines of life, too.
Whatever the reason, I have shared the better part of my life with what I call “loser cats.”
Now, they’re not really losers. In fact, I think if they’ve scored a spot in my home, they’ve actually hit the jackpot. Good food, lots of cuddles if they want them, respectful distance if they don’t, a litter box that’s cleaned relatively frequently (when the smell creates ripples in the air like heat waves, it’s time), free reign of the house, the occasional catnip party, supervised outdoor time and vet visits when necessary.
But to the outside world, these cats are viewed as losers. They’re practically unadoptable, especially for anyone who wants a fluffy, friendly, ‘pretty’ kitten or cat that will curl up in a lap and play with pet-store toys.
Most of the cats I’ve lived with haven’t done that, although I had one lap sitter who got so adept, I wouldn’t even notice her until 10 or 15 minutes after she’d plunked herself down.
Hydro is another story for another day.
Today I’m writing about Tuffy and Taffy.
This brother and sister duo came to my home courtesy of the Kamloops and District Humane Society after a suitable mourning period from the loss of a previous family cat. When we were ready, I contacted the group’s executive director, Barb Zibrik. As I’ve volunteered for the KDHS for years, she knew I’d be a good owner. We just needed to find a match.
Barb offered up several suggestions. I’d had a chocolate-point Siamese cat when I was a kid; he was the toughest cat I’ve ever met. He chased German shepherds out of our yard, brought a gopher into the tent when we were camping (mom wasn’t so thrilled with that) and sometimes gave me a look that said “if you don’t leave me alone, your arm will look like hamburger.”
I thought it was time for another Siamese. Barb had two, siblings who had been found living on the streets in Sahali. They were living with a foster whose two little boys had named them Tuffy and Taffy.
Our entire family went to meet them. Tuff and Taff were found when they were about three months old; when we met them they had been at the foster home for about two months. They were kept in a home office room because they were bonding with other cats and not with humans.
A family with young boys doesn’t have much time for taming feral cats, so Tuffy and Taffy weren’t as accustomed to people as most would like.
When Tuffy (the female, short haired) was handed to me, she was trembling. Almost vibrating. Her blue eyes were wide, her body was coiled and her lack of comfort with being handled was obvious.
Taffy (the male, long haired) was equally jittery. These were two scaredy cats.
Our family did a quick trip to the SPCA shelter as well. I had been making the rounds there in search of a multi-toed cat we had adopted previously who suddenly disappeared. Her friendly nature, beautiful fur and funky feet made me wonder if she’d been catnapped. I still wonder. My posters, ads and drop-ins at the shelter got me nowhere, and I scoured the neighbourhood for months.
At any rate, I’d seen several other cats come and go at the shelter, so I thought we should check it out, too. My husband, two kids and I each spotted a favourite. None of us could agree on the same cat. And Taffy and Tuffy were still on my mind.
No question, we were taking those two ‘losers’ home.
They started off in one room upstairs until they got comfortable with being in the rest of the house. Problem was, they were so terrified they spent all their time hiding under the beds. After allowing that for more than a week, I realized something had to be done or we’d have two cats we’d never see. Tuff and Taff had to get used to people, one way or another.
I grabbed pillows and books and blocked off the beds. Their main hiding spots were gone.
That was four or five years ago, I’ve lost track of time. Taffy relaxed first, especially when he got to know Gibbie, an old feral tom cat I trapped, neutered and released. Gibbie hangs around a lot and I was finally able to entice him into the house with trails of treats. He now comes and goes at will.
Taffy loves all other cats, so he became attached to Gibbie. That seemed to help bring him around.
Tuffy was a harder nut to crack. She has come out of her shell more with time, but still bolts at sudden movements. Both cats are still easily spooked and our guests rarely see them.
For the first few years, they would freak out about going outside, even just a couple of steps.
This year, however, they are joined by our orange foster cat Lucy, who’s as bold as her colouring. They’ve joined her in the back yard, not always for long, but with more confidence than in the past. They don’t launch themselves at the door when it closes behind them.
Tuffy and Taffy the underdog cats had a hard start in life, but they’ve loosened up enough to finally enjoy it.
And somehow, I feel like I’m the winner here.