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A Feral Friendship

by Alethea Cho 19 days ago in cat

Nipsey is the cat I didn't plan on getting, that I didn't know I needed.

Nipsey the feral & Cleo

Years ago, if anyone was to tell me I’d grow up to be a crazy cat lady, I would have laughed in their face. My family is a dog family. Plain and simple. Sure, as a kid I would always go out of my way to capture neighborhood strays and try to convince my Dad to let me keep them, but the answer was always a firm “no.”

Of course, everything changed when I moved out. Oddly, I never planned on owning cats. They always just seemed to find their way into my apartment.

The first cat I ever “owned” (really, isn’t it the cats that own us?) was a barn cat, that my boyfriend at the time decided to “surprise” me with. One day, I came home and heard a strange noise coming from the bathroom, so I opened the door and out walked a scrappy, tortoiseshell cat.

I was most certainly surprised.

The tortoiseshell we dubbed “Big Cat” was the first in over a dozen cats I have had the pleasure of raising, all of which were street, or shelter rescues, and most of which I rehomed.

Over the years I realized that I really love raising kittens and am lucky to have found a partner who enjoys the process as much as I do, so we started fostering.

Having an apartment full of kittens is nothing new for us at this point. However, up until a year ago, if anyone ever suggested having FOUR cats, I would have shaken my head and said something like: “that’s way too many cats, especially for one apartment.”

Three ex-street cats, Goblin, Jiji & Nipsey.

I can already tell you're judging me. It's okay. I would have judged me too.

You see, my whole life I have always been somewhat of a perfectionist. I always knew what I wanted and had strong ideas about what I thought was best. Although I made up my mind a long time ago to never go out and buy the “perfect” cat, because I've always been pro-adoption, I always thought I would be able to choose the cats I wanted, based on things like their personality, breed, and color.

But it seems that life had other plans... As it so often does.

My husband and I planned on having two cats. Not four. I always dreamed of having a long-haired cat, something like a Maine Coon.

But, as my reputation in the fostering community grew, people started going out of their way to bring us kittens that needed temporary foster homes, and of course, we took whichever cat was in need, all of which turned out to be your typical, short-haired street cats.

As a freelance writer and (recently retired) ESL teacher, I have the privilege of being at home most of the time, which is necessary when dealing with foster kittens.

Most of the cats that passed through our doors were easy to handle, even the smallest and most rambunctious, who we called Ninja. And the two street-rescues that we purposely adopted and planned on keeping as our only two, Goblin and Jiji, turned out to be gracious hosts.

Then along came Nipsey.

Little Nipsey, the first week with us as a foster

Before Nipsey came into my life, I didn’t really have much experience dealing with feral cats.

I do have one distinct memory from my childhood of trying to catch some barn kittens and ending up with arms full of scratches, but I like to think I learned my lesson.

However, one of our contacts, a fellow rescue-cat enthusiast with a heart of gold, seemed to have a penchant for finding the worst-case scenario cats and dumping them on us after they were taken to the vet and given a clean bill of health.

So maybe I should have been a little more wary when she brought over an angry, dirt-covered kitten who had accidentally trapped itself in a school stairwell. But for whatever reason, maybe it was her pleading or his cute little face, I said yes.

In the beginning, things were pretty normal with Nipsey (named by my husband after the late Nipsey Hussle). He was shy, dirty, and hungry. I cleaned him up, which he wasn’t too fond of, and he went from a grayish-brown to a beautiful, white and striped kitten.

He wasn’t what I pictured for our next cat. In fact, we weren’t even planning on having a next cat.

It wasn’t until after the first week or so that we truly began to notice things were different with Nipsey than they were with our other fosters. For one, he really didn’t like being held. But it was more than that. He didn’t even seem to like being near us and would hide when we entered the room.

I tried everything. Everything. I tried swaddling and rocking him. I tried carrying him around with me. I tried treats, toys, you name it. Nothing worked.

However, he LOVED our boys.

Jiji cuddling little Nipsey

The three bonded very quickly. Every day, Nipsey would cuddle with Goblin and Jiji. He would play with them, let himself be groomed, and acted as if he had always been part of the family.

As it turns out, this is common behavior for feral cats.

At this point, my husband and I weren’t sure what to do. Should we rehome him? How could we? He wasn’t socialized at all, even though we were trying our best. And he got along so well with Goblin and Jiji.

So we decided to give it more time, thinking he would eventually come around.

That was three years ago.

The past three years of living and working alongside a feral have been interesting.

A few weeks after Nipsey came to the house, I heard from the girl that brought him to us that all of the rest of his family had died after remaining outside through a spell of particularly bad weather. I instantly became so thankful that we were able to provide him with a safe place to live and be happy, even if he didn't fit my original idea of the perfect house-cat, I knew he found his forever home.

Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs. Like that month when he decided he didn’t like the litter we were using and made it very clear by leaving up “presents” on the mat right next to the litter box every morning. And all the times we’ve forgotten to put away the paper towels or left out a roll of toilet paper only to come back and find a room full of white shreds.

And, he’s gotten BIG.

We really should have known by looking at his oversized head and too big paws when he was a kitten that he would grow into a good-sized cat. However, nothing prepared us for his delayed growth spurt, six months after most other cats reach their full size.

Full grown Nipsey & Cleo

But there is no denying that Nipsey has become part of the family and we wouldn’t trade him for the world.

Is it ideal? No! Because his big fluffy belly looks so fun to rub but he won’t let us anywhere near it!

However, Nipsey has taught me so much about love, patience, and that having the “perfect” family doesn’t mean everyone in it has to fit my idea of perfect. As it turns out, you can’t always choose your family.

Once we realized we couldn’t justify rehoming him, it was already too late, we loved him too much. And so did our boys.

Over time, we’ve learned his quirks and how to love a cat that is not directly affectionate. Most importantly, we’ve learned that having a nonaffectionate cat does not mean having a bad cat.

Overall, Nipsey is perfectly well-behaved.

Sure, he does still have some feral tendencies, like making “nests” under our bed with all of his favorite things. But he also loves to sleep in my spot on the bed when no one is around.

Despite his large size, he is super gentle and not at all aggressive to us or our other cats. (In fact, he doesn’t seem to understand that he is actually the biggest and most intimidating of all our cats and often still acts like the littlest kitten).

For the most part, Nipsey doesn’t cause any trouble and is pretty easy to care for. He even lets me pet him on occasion! (Usually when we’re playing, or when he’s hungry and follows me into the bathroom).

When we introduced a little girl kitten into the mix, he easily transitioned into the older brother role. Cleo, now fully grown, is only half the size of Nipsey but he never uses his size to his advantage when they play.

Nipsey & Jiji playing

What we love most about Nipsey is how happy he is. While some might think that a feral cat could never adjust to living indoors, nothing could be further from the truth.

So while I wouldn’t really recommend going out and trying to rescue a feral cat, it’s been an experience that I am forever grateful for.

Nipsey is a constant reminder of why I chose to foster cats in the first place and has helped me get over my fear of what people might think when I talk about raising street cats.

Now, I embrace the crazy-cat-lady label as part of my job as a foster, because I know that nothing could replace the joy I feel knowing I've made a difference in the lives of these loving companions who give back to me just as much as I give to them.

And although he may never be cuddly, or a “lap cat,” he is ours, and we love him all the same!


Alethea Cho

Wandering Sun Witch. Published fiction writer / journalist. Time traveler and rescue-cat mom, running a magical bed & breakfast on the East Coast of South Korea.

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