Anna Mahone

Anna Mahone is a fourth-year English and Media Studies student at the University of Virginia. She has volunteered with the Pet Pals and Holiday Sharing programs for the past three years and looks forward to her last year as a Madison House student volunteer.

Posts from Anna:

This week, I noticed more orange kittens than usual at the SPCA.  Or maybe I am just more aware of the color as a result of seeing so much orange at the U.Va. football and basketball games these past few days.  Regardless, orange kittens of all stripes and sizes filled a good number of cages in the kitten hallway on this particular Sunday.  So, I decided today would be Orange Kitten Day.

In a sea of orange, one orange kitten at the end of the hallway stood out among all of the others.  Maybe it was his beckoning meows.  Or his speckled stripes and white boots.  But, quite honestly, I think it may have been the name on his information sheet: Jack-O-Lantern.

the orange cat

…Jack-O-Lantern?  Don’t get me wrong, I see the connection.  Plump orange kitten.  Probably been there since Halloween two weeks ago.  It certainly caught my attention.  But it is now November, halfway to December, and this cute little kitten is still being called “Jack-O-Lantern.”  Shouldn’t kittens with holiday-specific names be eligible for name changes upon the passing of that holiday?

And so, on Orange Kitten Day, I decided to shorten “Jack-O-Lantern” to “Jack,” which soon changed yet again into “Wild Jack” after our initial meeting.

At first, Jack had just wanted to cuddle.  I took him out of his cage and he immediately crawled up over my shoulder and began purring into my ear.  His purring grew louder as I rubbed behind his orange ears and under his striped belly.  He seemed as if he’d be content in my arms for hours.  That is, until he saw all of the toys in the kitten socialization room.

Scratching post and toys on strings in sight, Jack squirmed to get out of my arms and begin playing.  He tore around the scratching post and chased toys this way and that, quickly earning his new name:  Wild Jack.  But one thing hadn’t changed about Wild Jack: he still loved ear and belly rubs.  So, of course, I gladly gave Jack-O-Lantern/Jack/Wild Jack ear and belly rubs galore in honor of Orange Kitten Day that afternoon.  Then, I visited all of the other kittens to wish them a happy Orange Kitten Day as well.

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It is days like this one that make me look back on my past few years of volunteering at the SPCA and smile.  I’ve had the opportunity to socialize so many different animals, of all ages, colors, unknown backgrounds, funny assigned names, and personalities.  I’ve picked up kittens that have been terrified of human contact in the first minute, loving the attention a moment later, and acting as if they’ve known me forever once they’ve set paw in the visitation room.  All of which has prepared these animals to be someone’s pet for the long haul one day soon.  While I’d take all of them home if I could, I’ve truly enjoyed the couple of hours each week that I’ve gotten to spend improving their lives, as they’ve improved mine.

Happy Orange Kitten Day to all!

This past Sunday’s stroll down the hallway of kitten cages led me to Ethel, an adorable little black kitten with white paws, white whiskers, and a white nose. One of her siblings was sleeping in the kitty hammock and the other was being socialized in the nearby visitation playroom, leaving Ethel wide-eyed on the cage floor. She looked like she could use a vacation from the confines of her pink cage.

So I whisked her away to a nearby bench, offering my lap as a playground. She rolled around in my lap with her happy motor roaring for the next twenty minutes, chasing her tail, attacking my name tag, and kicking at “the claw” (that is, my hand) that was coming after her fuzzy belly. All the while, passersby couldn’t help but stop and watch, commenting on how cute she was or just making the standard “Aww!” noise. Ethel was quite the crowd pleaser.

But even kittens know that play comes with work. And Ethel spent the next five minutes bathing her fur, which was standing up all over the place as a result of her flips and kicks. Sitting in the crease of my legs, Ethel pulled each of her back legs, one at a time, up between her front paws and began licking. It was quite an art. I’d like to call it “Downward-Facing Cat.” With this move, Ethel won the hearts of even more passersby.

Yet, her final act—the irresistible cat nap in a lap—may have triggered the loudest buzzer on the “Aw-O-Meter.” Curled up with her head and one little white paw resting on my arm, Ethel had positioned herself facing the passersby. A prime position, indeed. “Her name is Ethel! Isn’t she cute?!” I chimed as passersby stopped and smiled, nodding. There Ethel napped in my lap for the next half an hour, perhaps dreaming of a permanent lap to nap in one day. Little did she know, her cat nap act in front of all of those passersby searching for the perfect pet may have put her well on her way to a dream come true.

Before I left the SPCA that day, I bid farewell to little Ethel, having enjoyed her cat nap in my lap yet hoping she would be napping in a new owner’s lap come next week.

I was happy to finally return to the SPCA today for my first day of volunteering since last semester.  With midterms just around the corner, a good ole session of pet therapy is just what I needed.  And there are always pets in need of human therapy at the SPCA!

My initial stroll down the hallway of kitten cages quickly brought me back to a familiar place:  cages upon cages, full of adorable kittens beckoning for your attention with their paws and squeaky voices.  Within seconds, one particular kitty chorus had caught my attention.  There were three of them, all boys.  One black and two tiger striped.  According to their colorful information sheets, their names were Mr. Coffee, Glover, and Mittens.  Mr. Coffee was the black one, said to be named for his energetic personality (which was later confirmed).  Glover and Mittens were the little tigers, with no such name explanations.  An unusual little tiger paw waving out between the bars of the cage, however, soon told the story.  This paw had seven toes, compared to the typical five found on a feline’s front foot.  And it was Glover’s.  Glover’s glove, if you will.

Mr. Coffee had gloves on, too!  As for Mittens, his name is still a mystery to me, as he had the usual five toes…

Anyway, I began to chat with another interested volunteer, who called them “polydactyl cats.”  While I had heard of this term before (a good English student knows some of the oddest things about authors, including Hemingway’s obsession with such cats), I had never actually seen one.  Now, I had two polydactyl cats right in front of me!  Overtaken by their sweet faces, soft cries, and fascinating feet, the other volunteer and I immediately gathered up all three of them and took them into the nearby visitation playroom.  For the next hour, we watched them do what boys do—tear around like maniacs, wrestle, make pieces of carpet fly off of the scratching post, and chase a toy on a string that we dangled in the air around them.  At the same time, Mr. Coffee, Mittens, and especially Glover were just as eager to take breaks to curl up in our laps, twenty-two toes and all, and enjoy our company as we enjoyed theirs.

Mirabella the cat

At five o’clock last Thursday afternoon, I returned from my last class of the week before Spring Break. Freedom, you might think? Not quite. With four mid-term papers down and one to go, I cringed at the thought of that last paper standing between me and a much-needed break. As usual, procrastination began to kick in. I ate ice cream. I cleaned. I stared blankly at my computer screen. But I still wasn’t mentally prepared to get to work. I knew that I desperately needed to get out of my apartment, even if for only an hour.

And an hour is what I had, before the SPCA closed for the evening, that is. Oh yes, the SPCA. The perfect escape. A place where your worries melt away at the purr of a cat or the wagging tail of a dog.

So, I fought the five o’clock traffic and finally arrived at the SPCA with about half an hour of pet therapy ahead of me. I made my rounds, saying “Hello” to all of the cats and kittens and petting the occasional furry feline head pressed up against the cage bars. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alice (the cat from my first blog) had been adopted since the last time I was there. Feeling happy for Alice, I went in search of a new pet pal to socialize and prepare for a future home.

It didn’t take long for me to make a new feline friend. Her name was Mirabella. From inside her pink cage on the kitten hall, her little “Meow” caught my ear at about the same time her big bright eyes caught mine.

I stooped down to open the cage door and greet her. She immediately wiggled onto her back, welcoming my attention. But I had to do some persuading to get her out of the cage at first. It may have had something to do with the too-close-for-comfort barking of nearby dogs. Or maybe she just hadn’t had the best of luck with humans in the past. It’s often hard to tell. But I was determined to show her that I was there for her. I was her pal. And once she decided it was safe to come out of the cage and into my arms, it didn’t take her long to become my pal. In fact, Mirabella’s motor was up and running in a matter of minutes. She continued to purr as she rolled around in my arms, occasionally looking up at me and stretching a little black paw up toward my face. And it was in one of these moments that I realized that I had the ability to melt away Mirabella’s worries just as she had mine.

Alice the Cat

You’re not Alice…, I thought as I peered through the silver bars of the cage at a cat who clearly wasn’t Alice, the usual round, black and white resident of this particular cage. With what I’m sure was a panic-stricken look, I raced to the front desk to inquire about Alice’s whereabouts, hoping that maybe she had been adopted yet feeling a bit down that I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye. After searching the database, the guy at the front desk relieved the latter of my worries with two simple words: “window box.”

My roommate Alex and I went to the window box and soon spotted little Alice, now with two roommates of her own. As I opened the door to the cage and attempted to hold back the larger of Alice’s new roommates, I coaxed Alice to the crack of the opened cage door and couldn’t help but smile when she looked up at me with her face full of white whiskers before making the jump to quasi-freedom. Once out, she stretched her legs as she took a quick stroll of victory around the room, as if flaunting her newfound freedom in front of all of the other cats. She then casually made her way toward my feet, encircling me like a little furry shark and tickling my leg with her tail until I reached down to pick her up.

At this point, she greeted me as she does every week—an Eskimo kiss on the nose followed by an attack on my name tag. But this week, our visit was promptly interrupted by a herd of squawking children. “Kittyyyyy!” they squealed as they hurled themselves toward me and Alice. I stooped down and said “This is Alice,” reminding them to “Be gentle” as they made over her and ruffled her fur with their little hands. All the while, Alice simply enjoyed being the center of attention. Meanwhile, I was surprised to see how well Alice handled the situation—patient and loving. Now, that’s what I consider a true companion!

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