Shaffer: Christmas cat warms a dog-lover’s cold heart

jshaffer@newsobserver.comDecember 22, 2013 

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    Safe Haven for Cats is a no-kill shelter located off Durant Road in North Raleigh. Adoption fees are $25 until Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, see

— A few key questions can be trusted to divide humankind into neat groups: “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”; smooth or chunky peanut butter; dogs or cats.

For me, it’s always been “Star Wars,” chunky and dogs. At one time, I owned three canines. At the same time, my parents had four and my sister had two. That’s nine dogs at Thanksgiving dinner.

So imagine the predicament that rose in my household when my 6-year-old son wrote his Christmas list with a single wish:

Dear Santa,

I want a cat. I will feeb it.

Love, Sam.

Cat Stevens? Katmandu?

No. The shed-on-your-sweater, pee-in-a-box kind.

The head-scratching began. We’ve always been dog people. How had we raised a cat person? Was it “Puss in Boots” and all his related paraphernalia? Didn’t he get enough enjoyment out of our 16-year-old Labrador, who barely moves?

First came the resistance. No way. We’ve been to cat people’s houses. They ... well ... how to say this? ... they can possess a strong fragrance if you’re less than vigilant. Plus, cats are famously aloof. What if Sam wakes up Christmas morning to a pet who wants nothing to do with him?

Then came surrender.

Just look at that plea to Santa Claus written in blue crayon, with the adorable backward d. Do I really want to introduce a 6-year-old to the harsh reality that wishes frequently don’t come true? Do I want him to think that letters to the North Pole are a meaningless farce? All because I’d prefer an animal that pees outside?

An email from my father, a longtime volunteer for Lab Rescue, cinched it: “Get the kid a @#$% cat.”

So we drove to Safe Haven for Cats off Durant Road, a group I’ve written about before. Back in 2008, when I met Pam Miller, her no-kill shelter had just taken in 32 cats from an animal hoarder on a family farm. They’d been crammed inside chicken-wire cages, eyes cloudy with waste fumes and paws cemented with old litter.

Safe Haven has adopted out more than 5,000 cats in the last 20 years and sterilized 15,000 more. They’re good guys, and they introduced us to Tomas.

Big and orange, formerly feral, he curled up and sat in my lap. Here was a pet a boy could enjoy, a warm, purring companion for math homework and movies.

But while we spent time getting introduced, a black paw kept jutting out of a nearby cage, as if coming from an eager student raising his hand Arnold Horshack-style from the back row. Look at me!

Out came Brunner, smaller, black and white, one of eight cats dumped at Safe Haven’s door in November. He batted at fingers, toys, elbows, everything, showing off all his tricks. Pick me, judge. I’m the best one.

Our only real standard for a cat was that it show undying affection, and that it behave – and I apologize in advance for saying this – in a doglike way.

Brunner won. He’s going to be so much fun. I can’t wait to see Sam’s face. I almost feel like we’ve gotten him a brother. By the way, if you see Sam before Christmas, don’t tell him. It’s a surprise and stuff.

We are cat people now. We join your whiskered ranks. We will feeb it.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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