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Pets Large & Small

He doesnít feel empty anymore

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(5/2012) The rat race. Thatís what heís heard it called and when heís in the car for the three hours it takes to get to and from work, in stop-and-go traffic, he figures the description is pretty apt.

Heíd done it. Worked his way up the corporate ladder, made his parents proud, kept up with the Joneses, created a life for himself. Heíd bought a nice house, furnished it well, and keeps himself in decent shape.

Sure, he sometimes works 50 to 60 hours a week, but he figures itís a relatively simple burden to bear to have the life that he does.

These are the mantras he tells himself as he unlocks the door to his home Ė sometimes well after the sun has already set, even in the summer time.

He looks around at his granite countertops, recessed lighting, leather sectional sofa, and nearly wall-to-wall entertainment system and he tells himself itís worth it.

And if occasionally he notices his own footsteps seem to echo on the floors as the only sound in the house, he ignores the small pang of solitude and doesnít even think the word loneliness.

His life goes along in an orderly fashion, just like he planned, until one evening when he arrives home and, as heís jiggling the keys in his hand, he hears an odd sound. Itís an almost human-like cry, quite soft, and it seems to be coming from the neatly trimmed bushes Ė maintained by a company that does the work when heís not even home Ė just off the front porch.

Curiosity more than anything makes him stop and peer over the railing. Heís not at all prepared for the sight of a small, gray kitten with striking green eyes looking up at him through the branches of his shrubbery.

His first thought, he has to admit is, a cat? Really? His family had a few dogs while he and his siblings were growing up and he really doesnít have anything against cats, itís just, heís a dude and has an image to uphold and plus, heís never really spent time with a feline.

Still, he schools his voice into a bit of a soothing murmur and asks, “Hey there. Are you okay?”

The kitten immediately steps out of the bush, tail high in the air Ė almost happy-looking Ė with a trilling meow for accompaniment.

Something shimmies in his chest, producing a warm sensation and he smiles. Itís dumb, but it feels kind of nice to have something respond to his presence in that way.

Against his better judgment, he makes the trip to the store for cat food and bowls and tells himself itís just so the poor thing doesnít starve. The old blanket he finds in the back of his closet, he convinces himself is just for warmth.

And if he maybe, in his head, calls the kitten Chevy after his dadís favorite 1967 Chevrolet Impala, itís only in his head, never out loud. And if he comes to think of the spot by the porch as Chevyís place, it doesnít mean anything.

If sometimes on his ride home, he stops off at the store for a cat toy, itís just so Chevyís got something to relieve boredom. And if in the middle of the day, at work, he finds himself smiling at the thought of Chevyís greeting when he arrives home, itís just because itís become so commonplace.

He gets a little worried the evening that Chevy races past his feet and gets into the house before him. He tries to stop the squirt, but the kitten walks around as though the house has never been off limits.

He spends the next hour chasing the kitten from room to room, with meows and mischievous feline looks for company. He laughs outright when Chevy discovers the full-length mirror and jumps at least a foot in the air at the reflected image.

A few minutes later, he sighs to himself, retrieves his keys and goes to the store to get a litterbox and litter.

He becomes ridiculously well-versed with things like cat trees and scratching posts and catnip toys and even the concept of spaying and neutering. Heíd never set foot inside a vetís office before, but the girls at the front desk start to recognize him after a while.

Three months after the fateful evening heíd discovered a vagabond transient beside his front door, Chevyís sleeping on the pillow next to his head and batting him awake with her soft paws Ė never claws Ė for breakfast each morning. He barely needs an alarm clock anymore.

And when the footsteps that join his on the stairs are four-legged, his house and his life, though both well-earned, donít feel quite as empty anymore.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau