The day after I had failed my driver’s test, my husband had to drive me home from work since I obviously couldn’t do it myself. As I was gathering my things from the car, he starts walking towards our apartment, but stops right at the bushes planted around the outside of our building.
“A kitten just ran inside the bush!” he loudly whispers.
When I looked inside the bush, I saw this shivering, scrawny, angry ball of orange fur. It had rained that day so he looked like more like a drowned rat than a kitten. He let us know how pissed off he was about his current situation of being wet and cold in a damp bush with quiet hisses that sounded like air being let out of a bicycle tire. While trying to get him out of the bush, he scratched my husband’s arms with his paper cut claws, prompting me to grab a towel to wrap the kitten in so he wouldn’t maim either of us as we brought him into the bathroom.
Spicy Kitten immediately hid in the corner behind the toilet the moment he was set down on the floor. He viciously swatted at anything that got too close, including the soy sauce dish I had put a little milk in. I left it with the spilled milk and messaged a friend who fosters kittens for advice, who told me to create a safe space for him and sit with him while calmly talking to him. I had an extra cat bed our other cat, Scarlett, never uses and I had just gotten a couple boxes that day for the purpose of shipping stuff.
Two hours later, the only progress he made was inching his way inside of a cardboard box tunnel to lick the soy sauce dish clean of stinky wet cat food I put in and gaining the title of “Emperor Kuzco”, the Disney character who famously did not want to be touched.
He was slightly less angry about his predicament and would chirp back at me when I would talk, but he would not go further than the inside of cardboard tunnel between the wall and the toilet. I was admittedly frustrated that he was content on being a grumpy ball of fur on the solid floor and did something I probably shouldn’t have done: forcibly moved him from his hiding spot.
With oven mitts on, I told the kitten, “You’re going to get on these soft blankets I set up just for you.” He didn’t scratch my oven mitted hands, but he hissed like a canned air canister the entire way to the cat bed.
The moment his little toe beans touched that soft blanket, his whole attitude changed. The anger that consumed him left his little kitten body and he started purring. He plopped down on the blankets, made himself comfortable, and began kneading the blanket with his tiny murder mittens. He didn’t try to attack when I went to pet him.
When I was able to pick him up and examine him, I was able to determine that he was about seven weeks old and had probably been through some shit in his short time on this planet. The very tip of his tail is crooked, indicating that it had broken and healed. He also had a scab underneath his chin that eventually fell off on its own and revealed what appeared to be a partially healed puncture wound that could have been from an animal bite. This was on top of being wet, cold, and starving. No wonder he had been such a spicy boy.
Meanwhile, Scarlett, our two year old black cat, wasn’t happy about the situation. She was the queen of this castle and she was pissed that we let a complete stranger in her domain. She’d whine outside the bathroom door demanding to see the kitten she knew was in there and she would hiss if she caught a glimpse of him while exiting and entering the bathroom. The next morning, she could smell him on me and hissed at me in a way I’ve never seen her hiss before. She rarely ever hisses and when she does it’s super quiet, but she was hissing at me with gusto.
We had a plan in place for Kuzco. The plan was we would see if any of our friends wanted him before we took him to the shelter when it was open in a couple days. My husband threw a wrench into this plan the following night when he expressed that for some unknown reason he didn’t want to bring him to the shelter in the afternoon. Perhaps sensing this kitten was growing on me, he told me, “We could just…keep him here…until we’re able to find him a home. Or… we could keep him.”
“Oh c’mon. We can’t keep Kuzco.”
“Who is that?”
“Oh my God…you haven’t seen Emperor’s New Groove! Well, what would you call him?”
We threw out a variety of names and gauging the kitten’s reaction to the ones we liked. We got it down to Butters (after the South Park character) and Conan (after the late night host). Butters would have fit his now cheerful and cuddly personality, but he reacted better to Conan the second time around.
“How ridiculous: a cute kitten named after Conan O’Brien. It’s perfect!”
In the end, we did end up keeping Conan. However, our apartment doesn’t allow for pets without paying a $40-50 pet fee with exception of a service or emotional support animal. Scarlett was approved for my husband as an ESA, but whenever I toyed around with the idea of potentially inquiring about one for myself I felt that I wouldn’t be approved for one. I think a lot of it had to do with an experience many years ago where a friend had tried to get an emotional support animal and was denied approval despite having a mental health diagnosis. But I was afraid of losing Conan as I had grown to love him so I explained at my six month follow-up how Conan had been helpful with my stress and anxiety.
“You’re actually one of the few I’d actually approve one for and think it would be beneficial for you,” my doctor told me. “Animals naturally make people happy, but you can’t just say ‘I’m depressed. Give me an emotional support animal’. I often deny people because they have no history of treatment with their diagnosis—if they even have a diagnosis—or they are incapable of taking care of the animal. It’s obvious when they just want a pet, but their place doesn’t allow it.”
That explains why my friend was denied an emotional support animal. She thought she could easily get one because she had a mental health diagnosis, but she had refused any treatment for it. Looking back on it, it was obvious she was trying to skirt the pet rules of her apartment rather than actually wanting something that would help with her mental health and the doctor likely picked up on this. My husband and I had been receiving on-going treatment for our mental health diagnoses long before the idea of an emotional support animal was brought up with our doctors so we were approved for them.
It took us a while before we could get Conan into the vet as they were booked solid for a couple weeks when he got him. We were able to send a stool sample and it came back with single celled parasites and a few small roundworm eggs. Until he went through a round of medication and had a check up to get cleared for everything else, we had to have him quarantined from Scarlett to be safe. This was somewhat difficult as he would scratch underneath the door if we kept him cooped up in the bathroom and as Scarlett gradually became more curious of him. The solution was to get a baby gate for the bedroom door and later wedging a particleboard shelf I had lying around in the door frame so Conan couldn’t climb over when he learned how to. That way Conan wasn’t inside a small bathroom that could get rather hot during that time of year and Scarlett could view him like an animal exhibit and not be tempted to tackle him.
By the time we were able to confirm a clean bill of health and bring down the barriers, the two cats were practically buddies. Not the kind of cat buddies that snuggle next to each other, but the kind that play fight with each other like cats do. Scarlett would not realize her own size and nearly suffocate Conan’s tiny kitten body by sitting on him. I’d pull her off Conan, who would be struggling and meowing, and he’d immediately go back for more despite just being smothered. For a while I called her “Lady Dimitrescu” and Conan was like the Resident Evil fan base who could not get enough of the giant lady.
We’ve had Conan for over three months now and he’s grown about three times the size he was when we first brought him in the house. Being a growing, energetic kitten, he now acts like he drank a can of Red Bull before doing a line of cocaine. But then he’ll look at me with those dark, wide eyes of his and I’ll melt like just he did when I set him on those soft blankets.