How We Adopted Miranda

Poor Annabel. Morning after morning she would get into the box and strain to pee, forcing me to watch her as I waited to clean the box of its overnight deposits. I thought she had cystitis, a female problem in which you “gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now,” even when there's nothing inside to go. I had cystitis when I was ten years old; it's no fun, but it goes away.

But then Annabel stopped peeing altogether. It was a Saturday, the day after Christmas, so my husband and I waited until first thing Monday morning before we rushed her to our vet. By the time our vet took his first x-ray, poor Annabel's bladder had gotten to be the size of a grapefruit.

The most urgent task was to get a catheter into Annabel before her bladder exploded. This was when our vet told us something that amazed us: Our previous vet had been astonishingly lax. Annabel is a boy. This was actually quite good news, since it meant that “her” problem with urination was not caused by cancer, a tumor, or anything else horrible. For all or virtually all mammalian species, the male urethra is much narrower than the female urethra, since it has to share space in the penis with the vas deferens. It is much, much easier for the male urethra to get clogged.

(Annabel is our “powder puff puss,” and “her” little balls are virtually invisible in the fluffiness of fur. But I still have to wonder how our previous vet failed to notice “her” true gender. We switched vets after our six-year-old cat Biscuit died suddenly, probably of heart disease or cancer — and our previous vet had blown off all of my concerns about Biscuit's bleeding from his eyes as nothing to worry about.)

Jerry and I talked Annabel's amazing “sex change” over that night, and we decided to change his name to Angel. I like the name. It's suitably androgynous, and it reminds me of the David Boreanaz character, although Jerry insists that's not whom he was thinking about when he suggested the name. Angel is a remarkably sweet-tempered, loving puss who thinks Jerry can walk on water.

Angel was in the “hospital” for several days. That first Monday afternoon, someone brought a stray kitten in — a little girl, perhaps four or five months old, coal black. The same color as our cat Phineas Finn, known as Finny. Jerry and I had been in mourning for almost a year, for three pusses who left our lives within the space of about two weeks. This kitten's appearance was a Sign.

Jerry asked the people at our vet's not to send the kitten to Animal Control, but to let us adopt her on the spot. Alas, the law is the law, and the law demanded that the kitten be sent to the pound, more than 20 miles from our home. So the next day, with a heavy sigh at the rigidity of bureaucracy, Jerry and I drove most of the length of the county to visit the kitten and start the paperwork for adopting her.

There was one minor snag: The county's rules are stern. You may adopt a pet only if you have fewer than five pets at home. Jerry and I are cat lovers. We had eight cats until our disaster early in 2004, when death and misadventure deprived us of Abby, Biscuit, and Hobbes. Still with us, and much loved, are Finny (adopted in 1997), Sophy (adopted in 1999), Annabel/Angel (adopted in 2000), Henry (adopted in 2001), and Patience (adopted in 2002).

We were lucky, that Tuesday, that the pound's computers were down, or our adoption of the black kitten would have been stymied right there. Jerry and I talked about it on the long drive home. We decided on a casuistic approach to the problem: The rule posted on the wall stated that you could have no more than four cats at home. Annabel/Angel wasn't at home, he was in the “hospital” at the vet's; we only had three cats “at home.” Quod est demonstratum.

But that Tuesday afternoon, December 29, we had a breather. The nice staffer behind the counter told us that we would have to wait until Monday, January 4, to adopt the kitten. That way, if she was a stray — maybe some sad child's Christmas present — there would be a chance her lost family would find her. We understood perfectly, although we were sorry the kitten would have to spend almost a week in a cage. Better to err on the side of caution than to risk breaking a child's heart.

But two days later, on the last day of the year, someone from Animal Control phoned us. They had changed their minds in the face of the imminent New Year's holiday. If we could make it across the county before 5 p.m., we could adopt the kitten on the last day of 2004. “We're on our way,” I told them.

Everything about the adoption went smoothly until the last moment, when the computer, now working again, showed the nice lady behind the counter the names of five pets: Annabel, Finny, Henry, Patience, and Sophy.

Jerry and I put on grieving faces. To the nice lady behind the computer, we said sadly, “Annabel is an Angel now.”

“Oh, I'm so sorry,” the nice lady said sympathetically. And she allowed us to adopt Miranda.