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Pets Large & Small

Could he be waiting for you?

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(11/2012) Sometimes he just canít sleep; fear is a troublesome bedfellow. Plus, waking up is difficult Ė especially when he remembers where he is Ė in a cage, in a shelter, with so many other felines like him.

Granted, his current conditions are far better than his previous ones. Heís warm. Thereís food and fresh water. Thatís new. How many nights had he tried to sleep with a grumbling belly? He'd been so hungry so often he thought that was how his life would be. Living on the streets is so tough.

Plus, someone changes the blankets and towels every day. And theyíre really nice. He loves when they hold him. Cuddle him. Pet him. He never experienced that when he was out on his own. Humans were the enemy out there -- so many of them hated him.

He purrs when the staff pays attention to him. He didnít think he could anymore, but amazingly, he does. He has to admit, no one else has ever given him a second chance like the people at the shelter, so thatís something.

Most of the time, though, he trembles, curls himself inside the litterbox theyíd put in his cage. He knows it's ridiculous. He must look bizarre and he should be tough coming from the streets, but heís just so scared.

The other cats seem hopeful. He wants to scoff at them, tell them what happens when you get your hopes up, but for some reason, he canít bring himself to do it.

And the kittens! To have that energy! He canít remember a time when he was happy like that. It feels like he was born an adult. He never really had a chance to be young, living on the streets.

He watches the kittens "go home" as the staff calls the adoptions. He listens to the oohs and aahs of the people who want to adopt them. "Oh, mommy, look, theyíre adorable!" they'll say and he rolls his eyes.

He stays in his litterbox. Whatís the point? He knows heís not adorable. Heís just a regular black cat with green eyes, whoís a little rough around the edges. Heís nothing special. If people look close enough, theyíll see his scars. On his ears, on his neck, his legs, but itís the ones you canít see that really hurt.

He knows he canít compete with kittens for the attention of the people.

He tries to stay grounded in reality. It hurts less that way. When your expectations arenít high, you donít get disappointed when they arenít met. He sees so much hope around him, some days itís sickening.

Hope is for fools. Hope is the easiest way to get your heart stomped on. One of the older, tougher cats on the outside told him "hope is the denial of reality." It was apparently a reference from a human book. They'd both laughed when he said it. They understood their reality. He still does.

He refuses to be a fool. He wants to face life with his eyes open, understanding what could happen so he doesnít get caught off guard.

But, sometimes -- and God, this is so stupid, ridiculous, laughable -- sometimes, at night, when he can get a few moments of sleep, he dreams. And his dreams are quickly becoming dangerous because they make him feel exactly what he doesnít want to: hope.

Heís heard the stories Ė you canít help it around here Ė and on rare occasions when he was out on the street, heíd actually seen evidence of it. Heíd glance up to a window and see one. The cat with a home, asleep on the back of a couch, such a peaceful expression. He didnít think that kind of serenity was even possible.

Sometimes, he sees it here. The faces of the cats who have an "adopted" sticker on their cages. Relief. Ease. Like the proverbial weight has been lifted. He sees the photos that the people send to the shelter staff -- of the animals in their "forever homes," as they're called. He knows those animals are the lucky ones.

And, God help him, in his dreams he sees her. The woman he calls his mom. She has such gorgeous hair. It smells like apples and she lets him run his nose and paws through it when he sits behind her on the couch. Her eyes are incredible Ė so understanding, so compassionate. They look into his and he knows she knows. He knows she understands what heís been through. She knows heís not perfect, not the most beautiful creature on the planet. But she opens her heart anyway and loves him. For who he is. Scars and all.

And he loves her back with everything he has. He purrs in her lap, rubs his head against her legs. Tells her every day, every second, even though he canít speak in words, how very much she means to him.

The dream is beautiful Ė so very vivid that for a few minutes, he knows what peace would feel like. With his mom he would never again be hungry, afraid or lonely. She would protect him. He would be safe.

But he wakes, every time, inside the litterbox. In the cage. At the shelter. And the pain of his reality chokes him.

Itís foolish to hope; he knows that. But on the days after an especially intense dream, he canít stop himself from looking. For her. The door will open sometimes and he'll find himself glancing up, lost in that stupid feeling -- hope.

Despite everything, all his previous experience, he wants to believe sheíll come for him.

And so he waits. Heís still waiting.

Could he be waiting for you?

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