In this exclusive excerpt from the new book Girls and Their Cats, a trio of women recall how they first welcomed a funny, feline companion into their homes.
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True "cat ladies" take pride in the moniker. In the latest book Girls and Their Cats, author BriAnne Wills and contributor Elyse Moody celebrate the concept of "cat ladies" by spotlighting 50 women from across the country who, like the cats they share their lives with, are strong, independent, and unique. When Wills began documenting the relationships between women and their cats on her popular Instagram account @girlsandtheircats, she sought to redefine the tired stereotype of "cat lady" as a modern, joyful idea.

In this exclusive book excerpt, three women recall welcoming a new cat into their home.

Gabrielle SIlverlight
Credit: BriAnne Wills

Gabrielle Silverlight

Editor's Note: Silverlight is a ceramicist and jewelry designer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Follow her and cat Miss Mabel at @gabriellesilverlight on Instagram.

The story of Miss Mabel and me begins with my first cat, Zolaska (aka Zoli), a beautiful Turkish Van with rabbit-like orange-and-white fur, big emerald eyes, and giant-mitten polydactyl paws. I adopted Zoli from a shelter in Boston in 2003, when he was about a year old and I was in college. The shelter staff called him Mr. Personality, because he was beloved by every­one, humans and animals alike. I asked to hold him and knew I could never let him go. For the next fifteen years, he was the best cat-panion a gal could ask for.

Zoli lived happily with my roommates' cats in Boston, so after I moved to Philadelphia I decided that he could use a furry friend. I like to joke about Miss Mabel's creation story and tell people she came into being from the loose fluff that floated off Zoli when I brushed him, but the truth is she's from a shelter in south Philadelphia. When I first saw her, I couldn't believe this mini Zoli look-alike. Here was another year-old Turkish Van with the same orange-and-white coat, but she had black patches on her paw pads and tail and orange jack-o'-lantern eyes, and was less than half his size. I have to admit I made my initial decision to adopt her based on looks, because although she was (and is) very sweet, I didn't quite know the full extent of her personality; she was still drugged and recovering from the situation the shelter rescued her from. She was malnourished and sickly (she eventually even had to have most of her teeth removed), but I brought her home and nursed her back to health. Since then she has blossomed into the weirdest and most awesome cat, sweet and petite as a forever kitten.

In 2016, when Zoli was fourteen, he was diagnosed with inflam­matory bowel disease and small cell lymphoma of the intestines. After two years of treatment, he was doing much better, but then he developed a very aggressive bladder cancer, which is rare in cats. My husband, Brian, and I did everything we could to help him, includ­ing traditional and alternative treatments like acupuncture. We both work from our home studio, so we were able to tend to him with his medications, treatments, and weekly vet visits. After a few months of caring for him around the clock, I had to say goodbye to my Zoli. Recognizing that it was time to let him go was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. He fought very hard but was not responding to his treatments. I'm so incredibly grateful to our veterinarian, who came to our home and made Zoli's transition as peaceful as I ever could have hoped. Brian and I lay on the bed with him, and just as he passed, the bells from a nearby church rang. The moment was completely beautiful.

My love for Zoli was always enor­mous, but my heart opened up to make space for Miss Mabel as soon as she came into our home. They made a dynamic duo with their very different yet complemen­tary personalities. They both loved cuddles and kisses, but Zoli always wanted you to hold him, while Miss Mabel prefers a lap. He had an adventurous palate (chips, popcorn, cookies, whitefish, even his own loose fur), while she prefers a simple diet of cat food and tuna treats. He loved to spoon in bed; Miss Mabel prefers to sleep on top of me. He would jump on every surface you didn't want him on, bulldozing anything in his path; she daintily creeps around each object. She runs away when the bed is being made, but Zoli loved dashing between the sheets as I tried to make it up. I liked to describe his long meows as his lovely singing voice, while she makes an array of chirps, squeaks, grunts, and varied-tone meows—I'm always trying to figure out her code. Zoli always looked perfectly handsome (I dare say he was the most handsome cat ever). Miss Mabel makes me laugh because sometimes I catch a glimpse of her looking like a little gremlin.

While we were adjusting and mourning, Miss Mabel and I gave each other so much comfort. Cats show (or rather don't show) pain in very different ways than people do. The space Zoli left behind felt immense. Of course, our cats had different spots in the house that they claimed as their own. A week or so after Zoli passed, Miss Mabel made herself comfortable for the first time ever in a Zoli-only zone: a rattan butterfly chair that I called his throne. Maybe she had always had her eye on it, but I like to think that sitting there made her feel close to him.

Jayde Fish and her cat
Credit: BriAnne Wills

Jayde Fish

Editor's Note: Fish is an illustrator and designer in San Francisco, California. Follow her and cat Mrs. Brown at @jayde.cardinalli on Instagram.

In 2014, my partner, Jeremy, and I watched the movie St. Vincent, starring a grumpy Bill Murray who bonds with a fluffy white Persian. We fell in love with their relationship and decided we really wanted a cat. I had wanted one ever since I was a kid (my dad was allergic). After some searching, we found a woman who had several chocolate British Shorthair show cats. Their squished, hilariously angry-looking little faces and short legs won us over. A very special re­tired one named Irbis had a snaggletooth. The show-cat community considered it a flaw, but it made us like her even more. The woman really liked our artwork, so I gave her a drawing—a portrait of a lady with hair made up entirely of brown cats—in exchange for gifting us Irbis.

We now call her Mrs. Brown, or MB for short. (Her full name is Mrs. Irbis Brown Cat Fish.) The name Mrs. Brown comes from my grand­mother, who I was very close to. It was the name she used when we played house. We used to pretend to be young working women with silly little dramas, and dressed up in funny outfits, costume jewelry, and hair extensions made out of nylons. It was a pretty funny sight. I went by Mrs. Jones. My grandmother passed away right around the time I got MB, and because she was a brown cat, the name fit perfectly.

As soon as MB set foot in our house, she was friendly, out and about, and looking for a scratch—not the kind of cat to hide. It took some time for her to get really cuddly, but now she's like my shadow.

Her one eye looks a bit cloudy because she had to have surgery on it, to repair a wound she got playing with a toy; it wouldn't heal on its own. The damaged outer layer had to be removed. It's a common issue in flat-faced, or brachycephalic, cats due to the large size of their eyeballs and the fact that they don't have a long nose to protect them from debris and scratches. We like to pretend that she got into an alley-cat fight over a piece of tuna, though—you should have seen the other guy.

MB had some other health problems a couple of years ago. She went into stage-four kidney failure when she was given Meloxicam (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like human Advil, that has been linked to renal failure in cats) after a surgery. We thought she wasn't going to make it, but with the San Francisco SPCA's help she quickly turned around. I'm happy to say that her kidneys are back to normal, but for a while there she had to have IV drips. I can't recommend pet insurance enough.

Ever since the scare with her kidneys, MB has been infatuated with water. Staying hydrated with compro­mised kidneys makes sense—she's a smart cat. She loves to jump in the shower, bathe her paws and face in her water fountain, and get sprayed with a spritzer bottle. Every day when I wake up I make my coffee and spritz my plants and my cat. It's a ritual.

She also loves to lie in the warmth of the LED light on my drawing table and can often be found there, belly up, partially covering the very drawing I'm working on, like a furry assistant.

There are so many things I love about MB: how soft she is (she often gets compliments on her bunny-like fur), the way she head-butts almost everything, her big orange eyes. She's really integrated into our little family, always cuddling with us on the bed and eating with us when we have lunch or dinner. And she's very social when we have friends over—she just naturally looks pissed off, especially with her tooth sticking out. Her personality is hilarious. There's a lot more laughter in the house with her around.

Monica Choy
Credit: BriAnne Wills

Monica Choy

Editor's Note: Choy is an artist and cofounder of the Creative Workspace Action Studios in Portland, Oregon. Follow her, and cats Linus and Zorro at @choybot on Instagram.

Early in our relationship, my partner, Souther Salazar, and I moved from Los Angeles to a house on a river in rural central California. We found a feral kitten in our backyard and named him Popcorn. We felt like a little family of hermits. Popcorn started appearing in South­er's art, and Souther even made a stop-motion short with him. We had a home studio, so we spent a lot of time with him every day. Just over a year later, we sud­denly lost Popcorn to feline infectious peritonitis, a rare and fatal disease. We were completely heartbroken.

Souther said he wouldn't be able to adopt another cat for a while. Before Popcorn, he lost his cat Morrison to cancer, and it really hurt to lose another friend so soon. I missed Popcorn so much that I would go to Petco just to pet the cats in the adoption area, knowing I couldn't take any of them home with me.

A month later, a friend of ours messaged Souther about two kittens he'd found on his property in Grass Valley. We were going to San Francisco for my birthday, and he said he could meet us there with the kittens. Souther secretly drew a coupon for "One Free Kitten of Choice" to give me as a surprise if we connected with either one.

When I met the kittens, I didn't know we could adopt them, and I was so envious of them. They were such love bugs. The two eight-month-old black kitties were twins in every way; they mirrored each other's movements and seemed to share one energy. There were only subtle differences between them: One purred immediately when you petted him or picked him up; the other loved to wrestle. They would lie so close together that you couldn't tell where one cat ended and the other began.

When Souther gave me the coupon, I was so surprised and happy. But which one would I choose? After sleeping on it, we agreed that we had to adopt both of them, and started calling them the Cat Bros.

The Cat Bros have lived with us for eight years, in central California, San Francisco, and now Portland. Zorro, who's named after the masked vigilante, is built like a jungle cat. He's burly, with a swagger in his step, and his tiny fangs stick out a bit. Linus, who's named after the Zen Peanuts character, has a lot of poise, and I often think of him as a cat model. He's always posing with his paws and tail positioned just so. As they've grown up, they act less like twins and do their own thing. But I love it when they slip back into their kitten selves and cuddle together in a pile or eat meals side by side, synchronized tails twitching.

Linus still purrs right away. And he makes friends wherever he goes. In our old neighborhood by Belmont Street, he went out at night sometimes and came home smelling like cigarettes or perfume. He was getting pets from the barflies on the corner. One of our neighbors even offered to adopt Linus because he started coming to his house every day to visit his cat, Mouse—she and Linus were having a love affair. Mouse is an indoor cat, but she would sit by the sliding glass door while Linus sat outside, and they would gaze into each other's eyes. One time she ran out to protect him from a giant raccoon. He is easy to love.

Zorro is more standoffish with strangers, but he is loyal and tender to those he's chosen as his people. He throws his whole body into head-butting you for pets. He talks more than Linus, but instead of meows, he makes a sound that is more like "MAAAH"; it's his usual greeting. He has a certain route he likes to patrol in our neighborhood.

I love the little things about our life together: how Linus sits on the edge of the kitchen counter watching me, how Zorro touches his forehead to mine, how they gallop to the car when we come home from the studio.

Adapted from Girls and Their Cats by BriAnne Wills with Elyse Moody, published by Chronicle Books, 2019.


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