Overcoming Loss: How a Family Found Room in Their Hearts For a New Cat Named Virgil

Credit: Wendi Aarons
Dickens, our lovely girl for nearly 20 years.

A few days before Christmas, our beloved 19 ½-year-old cat, Dickens, passed away after a quick decline. My husband, Chris, and I were beyond devastated to lose our sweet calico girl whom we’d had for so many years. We’d found her in a parking garage the week after we got married and just couldn’t imagine our lives without her. So when our 8-year-old son, Jack, asked if we could get a new kitten, we immediately said, “Not now, honey. We need to wait awhile.” It felt wrong to even imagine another cat in our house.

But as the weeks went by, I definitely noticed the huge void in our lives. I desperately missed Dickens, but I also missed just having a pet to love. It was strange to not have an extra little heartbeat in our home. To not have someone we looked for as soon as we walked in the door. To not have a yowling fur face begging to be fed at the crack of dawn. (Well, that part was actually not too bad.) But even so, I wasn’t sure I was ready to take the leap again.

That’s why, when my husband suggested we all head to the Austin Animal Center “just to look” a couple of months later, I honestly thought we were going there “just to look.” I even glared at him and the boys before we walked into the building and proclaimed, “There are four of us going in, and there will be four of us going out. I’ll check your pockets if I have to. We are definitely not getting a cat today.”

As usual, no one listened to me.

Virgil Makes an Appearance

Just minutes after we walked into the bright, sunny shelter room filled with mewing kitties waiting to be adopted, we found The Virgil. Or, rather, The Virgil found us. A longhaired, smoky black cat, Virgil’s big, gold eyes immediately locked on the boys, and he joyfully launched himself against the window of his glassed-in room to get their attention. Obviously, Virgil knows a good thing when he sees it.

“Daddy, come in here!” the boys were soon squealing from inside Virgil’s room as they watched him jump and chase the toys the shelter had given him. “This guy’s so much fun! He’s a total playboy! And he’s majorly fluffy!” They’d both loved Dickens like crazy, but neither was around in the days when she was young and playful like Virgil. A cat who actually zoomed around and didn’t just sleep under the bed all day was a true revelation to them.

“Remember, we’re just looking,” I whispered to Chris as he waved to the boys, then nearly sprinted over to meet Virgil. “We are not taking him home.”

“I know,” he whispered back. “Don’t worry.”

Virgil Makes a Play

Credit: Wendi Aarons
Virgil, the cat who recently wormed his way right into our hearts.

But as soon as Chris walked into the room, Virgil started rubbing against his legs and purring like a motorboat (again, the cat’s no fool), and I immediately knew that my feline-loving husband was a goner, too. As I stood outside the room with my arms crossed over my chest, all three members of my family hugged Virgil and looked up at me with expressions that can only be described as smitten. “Please, Mommy?” the boys pleaded. “Please can we take him home?”

“No, guys,” I finally forced myself to answer. “You know our family isn’t ready for a new pet yet. Why don’t you come out of there and let more people meet Virgil? I’m sure someone else will adopt him today since he’s so sweet. Let’s go say hi to the dogs, okay?”

I felt awful as I watched the boys reluctantly say goodbye to Virgil and close the door on his hopeful little cat face, but I was determined to stick to my guns. After all, it’d be completely ridiculous to adopt the very first cat we saw, right? It’d be like signing up for Match.com, then getting married to the only person who met you for a date. And that’d be totally crazy.

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