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Pets Large & Small

"We were supposed to meet, weren't we?"

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(10/2012) The bus pulls away from the end of the drive and for a second, she has the insane impulse to snatch her daughter right back off.

Abby's six and so excited about starting kindergarten, but mom is a little more nervous. Her baby's growing up and it shouldn't be as scary as it is. It's natural and what's supposed to happen, but she still finds herself wanting to chase after the bus to keep her daughter from moving further out of her sight.

Taking a deep breath only makes her inhale the distinctive school bus exhaust smell and she tries to tell herself she's being ridiculous, that Abby will be fine, and that her six-year-old is being far more mature than her own mother at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to work.

The tiny meow is probably one of the only things that could pull her out of her what-if spiral. And it works. She narrows her eyes, thinking maybe she just imagined it, but the soft sound comes again and she discovers the orange kitten behind one of the garbage cans.

She hesitates. She has no idea how to care for a kitten. Sure, she had animals when she was growing up, but she was only a kid at the time -- the majority of the responsibility for the care fell to her parents. She's got work and Abby and other worries now. She doesn't need a kitten.

It's about the time that she's talked herself out of it that the kitten bravely steps out from behind the metal can and puts a little paw against her pant leg -- so fearless for one so incredibly small -- green eyes imploring, asking. It's absurd to think that the kitten is trying to tell her something, but she gets an odd shiver that suggests otherwise.

She's pretty much doomed.

The kitten goes to the vet a few days later and they discover he's a boy and she and Abby decide to name him Harry after that curly-haired fellow Abby loves from One Direction. Her daughter spends a few days crooning "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" to the cat and it melts her heart. Every. Time.

Harry becomes a staple in their lives.

Abby's first sleepover at her best friend's home is a tough one. The house feels empty without her daughter around. She wonders if Harry knows this -- he sleeps tight against her, all night.

The week at summer camp is a decision she really wrestles with. She wants her daughter to have different experiences, but the thought of letting her sleep outside for a week at a campground fills her with worry. She knows she watches too many crime shows, but you just don't know what could happen in the world today.

Abby, as precocious and curious as ever, doesn't even see an issue and talks non-stop about it for weeks prior to the event.

It's Harry who meows a hello when she gets back from dropping Abby off at the camp and she strokes his orange head, so glad the house isn't empty.

She never thought helping Abby decide to play the flute in the band would mean she would have the opportunity to go to Florida -- seven states away. She makes Abby promise to text her or call every day and she thinks Harry is almost as excited as she is when the phone rings each night.

Graduation is amazing. She couldn't be more proud of her daughter and the future she has ahead of her. The party is in full swing and she's gotta go to the linen closet to get more paper towels when she sees Harry on her bed. He has an incredibly pleased look on his face. When she whispers, "We did it, Harry. Our girl is ready for the world," she would swear he practically nods at her.

The dormitory is new construction and full of promise. She considers everything her daughter will become in this space and tries not to let her eyes fill. Abby made her promise not to cry.

If she has trouble seeing the road through her tears on the ride home, she figures it's okay as she swipes at her wet cheek -- Abby doesn’t have to know.

She's in Abby's room that night. Most of what makes the room Abby has been stripped and is in a dorm room the next state over. A quiet purring sound is the only warning she gets before Harry is on the bed with her.

She absently strokes his head and realizes that in 18 years, this is the first time she's really had to contemplate letting go, letting Abby make her own way in the world. Her stomach clenches with a variety of emotions and she hopes and prays she did right by her daughter.

Empty nest, indeed.

Taking a deep breath, she wipes her eyes and knows she has to figure out what to do for herself now. Harry shoves his head into her hand and she murmurs, "It's just you and me now, kid."

He purrs and crawls into her lap. As she sniffles into his fur and tries to get through this right of passage, she shivers -- the same feeling she had when she looked at the tiny orange ball of fluff behind a garbage can all those years ago.

At that moment, Harry glances up from her lap and she knows she's not really alone as long as he's here and she's struck again by the feeling of divinity, of something bigger than she is, of a quiver in the room of something she should know but can't quite grasp.

"We were supposed to meet, weren't we?" she asks aloud to a pair of incredibly knowing green eyes. "You were supposed to be here with me … through all of this, weren't you?"

His deep purr is the only answer she receives.

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