Our family had always talked about getting a cat, but the time never seemed right — our kids were too small, or we were traveling too much, or we couldn’t agree on where this hypothetical cat would eat, sleep, or have a litter box. It wasn’t that we didn’t want a cat; rather, we needed to be certain that we were ready to welcome a cat into their forever home.
We’re considered kind of a creative bunch. I’m an art director, my husband Paul runs a piano studio, and we have three high-school-aged kids who play piano, draw, sing, and generally like to create things. We’re on the lively side.
One day in April 2018, we agreed that the time finally seemed right. We were all on board, and those previous details were no longer concerns. We decided we’d just go “take a look” at our local animal shelter to see what adoptable cats were out there.
(Dear Reader, feel free to laugh at this point because you know exactly where this is going. There is no such thing as “just looking”!)
We chose to “browse” at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center because we’d heard great things about their organization through friends on the MUTTS team. After an introductory call, we were met at the Madison shelter by Nora, their friendly director. She introduced us to Meredith, who knew all about every kitty in their care. Meredith sat with us and asked about our house and preferences, and answered our millions of questions. My husband was the only one among us who’d ever lived with a cat — he grew up around a few shy rescue kitties — so we were open to any and all advice. Additionally, one of our children had expressed some nervousness about rescuing an animal, so Meredith thoughtfully steered us toward cats who were the most friendly and gentle in their play. Her guidance not only made us feel comfortable, but also helped us to narrow down a few fitting choices among many beautiful furry faces.
One of the cats who caught our eye was Jedi, a lackadaisical black and white male with a long nose and a curious outlook. When we had some play time with him, my kids noticed the big heart-shaped spot on his shoulder. That sealed the deal.
By the time we left, it was nighttime and Meredith recommended we keep Jedi in an enclosed room for the night so that he wasn’t wandering around in a strange new house in the dark by himself, which made perfect sense. Once Jedi was securely in his carrier and in the car with us, we drove home, all excited that we had a brand-new family member! And that’s when we learned something new about Jedi — he did not like being confined. Not in the carrier, not in the car, and definitely not in the room we put him in for the night. “Caterwaul” is the perfect description for the cries that came from this cat’s mouth, all night long. We all thought, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” But in the morning when he carefully explored the house, us, and every nook and cranny, we knew we’d made the right decision.
This month we celebrated Jedi’s second “adoptiversary.” Over the past two years we’ve realized there’s no such thing as a typical cat — at least not when it comes to Jedi.
While we had once imagined a mellow and peaceful fuzzy companion, we instead got a bundle of Personality with a capital P. Jedi is so outgoing that he will let everyone pet him. Literally any person who walks in the door (including friends, my husband’s piano students, and the plumber) receives leg rubs and headbutts. He will even allow himself to be dressed up on occasion.
He’s also the most vocal cat that I (or anyone we know) has ever heard. Jumping down to the floor? There’s a Mrrp! for that. It’s time for some food? Hey human, let me tell you about this empty stomach. Oh, are you getting the food? Let me yell some encouragement so that you can hurry that up. We now laugh about how loud he is. Is he part Siamese? Did he have to yell to be heard over other cats? Does he just like hearing himself? We’re not sure but now when he’s downstairs screaming we just yell “Jedi! We’re all upstairs! Come on up here!” so he can find us. We call him the Little Mermaid because he wants to be where the people are.
There’s another trait that goes along with Jedi — he’s a chronic barfer. He never feels full and will eat so fast it comes right back up. We’ve tried slow-feed bowls, dry food, wet food, and special food for sensitive stomachs (he really hated that). We finally hit on the winning combo which requires him to be fed very small amounts every couple of hours. We went from being a family who really didn’t know much about cats to a family of Jedi experts.
Because there are five humans vs. one kitty (who will happily try to convince each one of us separately that he hasn’t been fed for hours and hours), we have The Book of Jedi, a notebook where we log all his feedings and medications, along with any unusual behavior. Sometimes he attempts to eat The Book but on the whole it’s worked out well.
At the beginning we were concerned about how Jedi would fit in with our routine, but he’s a perfect fit. When all the kids were in school (pre-COVID), he would wait at the window for each one to return. And since my husband and I both work from home, Jedi is rarely left alone. He genuinely seems to love being around everyone in the family.
These days, we cannot imagine a life without Jedi, and he’s inspired our family in a few different ways. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is in the child who was a little cautious about the idea of a cat — Jedi was so sweet that he won her over right away. Soon we heard her speaking to the cat in the warmest tones, and petting him. He will curl up and sleep in her bed and is always gentle with her. When a member of the family is upset or not feeling well, Jedi will snuggle up to them and purr. And he inspires all of us to be gentler, kinder, and more playful.
I’m grateful for the way that my kids, who were getting a little old for stuffed animals, can now transfer their snuggles and pets to a friend who will give their face a lick to show love in return. It’s also a good lesson for everyone in caring for those who can’t speak up for themselves. Taking care of Jedi is both a responsibility and privilege, and we need to do our best to keep him healthy and his areas clean and neat.
Not surprisingly in a household of creatives, Jedi inspires art. He’s been drawn, sketched, painted for a high school portrait, and on our Christmas cards. (He has also inspired his own hashtag — #jedithepianocat — on Instagram.)
We’ve also made up several songs for him, singing his praises. A family favorite is “I Can Fluff Your Food,” a bluesy number about how I will push all the food to the middle of his dish so he can eat it more easily. Recently I was out singing for a livestream broadcast, and the kids told me he sat and stared at the screen while I was singing. It wasn’t about his food but he still recognized my voice! We’re part of his tribe now, and we’ll be forever grateful to St. Hubert’s for bringing us together.
Elena Nazzaro is the Art Director for MUTTS.com. She lives and paints in New Jersey with her three kids, her piano-playing husband, and their rescue cat Jedi.