What’s in a Name?

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Holiday Stories 2014 | Comments Off on What’s in a Name?

A Star-Crossed Stray Finds Love At Last

by John Deal

Olivia Tusca in her forever home

Olivia Tusca rests comfortably in her forever home after overcoming all odds


What’s in a Name?

If the number of pet names a cat acquires is a mark of how well-loved he or she is, then our cats are positively smothering in verbal affection. As evidence for this proposition, allow me to introduce you to our newest family member: Olivia Tusca, more colloquially known as O.T., or Livie Tuskie, or Livie, or Cookie Puss, or Cookie, or Cooktapus, or Cooks, or even Bobsled Baby. To be honest, however, I mostly think of her as The Cat Who Lived, a miracle baby whose story seems appropriate to tell this time of year.

You see, O.T. was a death row cat, and she was advertised as such on a tortoiseshell lovers’ Facebook group on February 2 of this year. Her original name was Overtime, both because of the Super Bowl’s taking place the weekend she was plucked from the street and brought to Manhattan Animal Care and Control as a feral stray, and because she was living on borrowed time from the minute she arrived at ACC. We changed her name to O.T.—and thence to everything else under the sun—as soon as we could because we wanted her to put her sad, scared past behind her. It was a rocky and winding road for her to get to that point, though.

Deemed hostile to humans (terrified out of her wits, more likely) and thus unadoptable, Overtime was scheduled for death at noon that same Sunday. I only learned about her at all because that morning I was up early doing the washing at our local laundromat. I saw her picture while checking my Facebook during the rinse cycle—about nine o’clock or so. I headed home to put away the laundry but I couldn’t get O.T.’s sad, frightened face out of my mind.

At home, I managed to get her pulled off the kill list with literally eleven minutes to spare. We picked her up two days later and brought her to For Animals, where my wife and I volunteer. There, she was nursed back to health: she had a nasty respiratory infection, and she refused to eat on her own for a full month. Theresa Bachu, the amazing woman who runs the shelter, force-fed her and medicated her every day without complaint or hesitation, and with no regard for the numerous scratches and bites she received in exchange for her troubles. My wife and I visited O.T. as often as we could, and during those visits I sang to her, read to her, stroked her, and prayed over her.

Sometime around the beginning of March, O.T. decided she wanted to live, even after everything she’d been through. She started eating on her own regularly, and she began to get over her infection. I remember the moment clearly: it was opening night of my school’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, and I got the happy news about a half hour before curtain. As I said at the time, you could have dropped a sandbag on my head backstage, and I wouldn’t even have cared.
Two days later, we took O.T. to her forever home—ours—and began the long, painstaking process of socializing her and convincing her that the world of humans was not always a terrible place.

She’s come a long, long, loooooooooong way in the nine months she’s lived with my wife and me, and she has developed rituals, favorite spots, and even ways of showing affection. She will probably always be a bit wary and a little skittish; we speculate that she was abused and dumped before she became a stray, but if you could see how far she’s come, and what a sleek, healthy, contented cat she’s since become, you’d be amazed at her resilience and ability to forgive past wrongs.

O.T. is definitely a daddy’s girl, though she loves my wife as well, and has even begun making friends with a few of our other cats. Rare is the night she doesn’t sleep puddled up by my feet, and rare is the day she doesn’t trot briskly around our apartment, following me attentively as I move from kitchen to living room to bathroom and back.

I love little Olivia Tusca more deeply than I had ever known I could love anything, and while I don’t know who posted her picture nine months ago, I will always be in his or her debt. More to the point, every time I look at little O.T., I remember how, when I asked Theresa if O.T. could live at the shelter indefinitely while she got her bearings after the traumas of her ACC capture, spaying, and relocation, Theresa said yes, absolutely, of course, as long as she needs. It’s this kind of incredible generosity of spirit that has allowed our little Cookie Puss to recover and to thrive in spite of every odd stacked against her.

I had known for years that For Animals was a good place staffed by wonderful people, but this year I needed the shelter’s help more than ever. They were there for me, and for O.T., immediately and unwaveringly. If love is indeed measured by nicknames, then there aren’t enough combinations of letters in the English language for Theresa and the other volunteers who helped me to bring my little Cookie girl home for good.