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The Specials: Adopting A Deaf Feral Cat

We didn’t have nice things (like a couch), but we had Elsie. She was a black and white, domestic shorthaired cat with a crooked tail that, when upright, was shaped like a candy cane. Elsie was deaf, feral and had the most perfect black triangle on her nose. I foolishly thought I could tame her as I had with other feral kittens. But I couldn’t.

fostering and adopting a deaf, feral cat

Do Rescue Pets Have Issues? Sometimes, But So What.

Lots of well-meaning people like to set me straight on shelters and rescue animals. Rescue pets are damaged; shelters are messed up and make mistakes; and my personal favorite, you can’t save them all.

I am pretty clear on all these things. But thanks for sharing.

I have had rescue pets for 45 of my 50 years. Some, but not all, have had issues. So what? I have also worked or volunteered, on and off, in shelters for 25 years. Shelters are far from perfect. Some are better than others. But generally they are underfunded, understaffed, and dealing with the worst of humanity twenty-four hours a day, trying to save a few lives in the midst of an emotional war zone.

Although I wish things were different, I don’t actually believe we can save them all – only that more can be saved. I would love to snap my fingers and transform the world into a magical place where all animals and people were wanted, safe and in good homes. But that’s not the world we live in – maybe someday but not now.

Rescuing and adopting a deaf, feral cat

Broken But In A Good Way

All of my pets have been complicated, but Elsie the most so. Elsie joined our family in January 1999 as a foster kitten. She wasn’t supposed to stay, but we all know how that goes. She passed away on Labor Day of 2016, dying in the same way she lived – on her own terms. Whereas all our other cats over the years died of cancer or kidney disease, Elsie just got tired and went to sleep.

Our first apartment was on the second floor of a two-flat in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. There was a long winding hallway that connected all the other rooms, kind of like a railroad flat in New York, but not really. Elsie was quiet during the day, but at night would wander up and down that hallway chirping – her chirp was sweet, like a songbird. I used to lie perfectly still, staring at the ceiling, listening to her happy chirps at an imaginary moon only she could see.

In addition to being deaf and feral, Elsie also had seizures and some pretty hardcore litter box issues. We went through four couches and a gazillion cat beds. I consulted with veterinarians and behaviorists and pretty much tried everything to get her back in the box. She would play along for a while, but always revert back to her litter box-be-damned ways.

Were there moments when I thought to myself – I can’t do this anymore and we can’t afford another couch? Yes, there were many.

But whenever I reached my breaking point, Elsie would do something so Elsie-like that I couldn’t possibly imagine life without her. She would chirp at the moon, raise her crooked tail in a half-greeting, or flirtatiously rub up against Tommy (our wobbly cat) with such gusto that they would both topple over in a happy heap. And there was that black triangle on her nose and her wide green saucer eyes when I got too close. Elsie was a little bit broken, but in a good way and I loved her dearly for it.

Chirp At The Moon Moments

All this is to say, I am OK with my pets being complicated and a little damaged. In full disclosure, I am complicated and kind of damaged myself, as are most of my favorite people. I don’t know that you can live fully and not be a little broken. Like Elsie, I hope I make up for the complicated parts with the good stuff.

The thing about life is it is not supposed to be perfect or easy. Living things whether trees, pets or people are imperfect and that’s what makes them so extraordinary. We are not flat – we are round, dense, bountiful, and complex.

Anything worth doing is hard – sometimes crazy hard. A relationship is hard, parenthood is even harder, and caring for pets is hard, too. But then there are those blissful, chirp-at-the-moon moments that make all the other stuff tolerable.

adopting a deaf feral cat

Elsie kept her distance from us for 16 years, but in her final year she occasionally joined me on the couch (ironically) usually in the silent, still hours before dawn. When she wasn’t chirping or chasing the other cats, she moved as quietly as a shadow. I would look up from my laptop and find her within petting distance, staring at me. And in her last days, sometimes she would even relax, close her gorgeous green eyes, and purr.

I waited 17 years to hear her purr and I would wait all over again.

Rest in peace, Elsie. I hope you are somewhere, somehow, chirping at the real moon.


Life with a rescued deaf feral cat

Elsie is part of The Specials, an award-winning blog series focusing on special needs pet adoption. Senior pets, those with chronic medical issues, behavioral or temperament concerns as well as overlooked or misunderstood breeds like Pits and black cats. If not for the courage and compassion of their adopters, many of these animals might have been euthanized in shelters or died alone and hungry on the streets. You can read more special needs adoption posts here


  1. Mark Muller
    September 18, 2017 / 6:20 am

    that was a very touching story… Elsie you were such a special girl… we love you…

  2. Molly the AireGirl
    September 18, 2017 / 9:56 am

    What a beauty you were, Elsie, with such a special story. Godspeed♥

  3. Marg
    September 18, 2017 / 10:51 am

    What a wonderful post. I so admire you for all the good you do for the animals. I have a deaf cat but he isn't feral and I have a very feral cat living in the house that I cannot touch but she sleeps on the floor right beside my bed.So the animals do let us know that they are happy in their own way.

  4. Julie
    September 18, 2017 / 11:58 am

    Elsie was a BEAUTIFUL kittyLoves and licky kissesPrincess Leah xxx

  5. The Swiss Cats
    September 18, 2017 / 1:36 pm

    What a beautiful and moving story ! That's a wonderful post ! Paws up for all what you do for special and less special anipals ! Purrs

  6. Brian
    September 18, 2017 / 3:11 pm

    Such a dear, dear girl and oh so special indeed.

  7. Madi and Mom
    September 18, 2017 / 3:59 pm

    What a loving story of a feral who became a loving house cat on her own terms. Which is how most cats are domestic or feral. WE have to wait for them to decide what contact they want.Beautifully written KristinHugs Cecilia and Madi

  8. Idaho PugRanch
    September 18, 2017 / 5:14 pm

    Beautiful memories of this very special girlhugsHazel & Mabel

  9. Eastside Cats
    September 18, 2017 / 5:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing this special ladycat with us! That triangle on her nose and big green eyes were beautiful! And thanks for visiting my blog too…nice to meet you.

  10. ♥♥ The OP Pack ♥♥
    September 18, 2017 / 7:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story about Elsie. We bet her time with you gave HER many of the chirp-at-the-moon moments too – she was well-loved and she knew it. Woos – Lightning, Misty, and Timber

  11. da tabbies o trout towne
    September 18, 2017 / 8:19 pm

    elsie; you are and all wayz will ree mane a gorgeouz gal; ewe were a cats cat…N we think that… N yur storee; is total lee awesum ~~~~~~~~ ♥♥♥♥♥

  12. Sue G
    September 18, 2017 / 8:27 pm

    Beautiful puss, lovely story.

  13. Denise Gruzensky
    September 18, 2017 / 9:36 pm

    What a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eye! Elsie was stunning, oh those green eyes! I love your point about us all being broken in some way and so what. The quirks that come with the brokenness are priceless, although things like Elsie's litter box drama can become exasperating, there is unconditional love even from the beautiful feral kitty. You too, Kristin, are priceless. Thank you for such an amazing series that continues to bring a voice to "the specials"!

  14. Lola The Rescued Cat
    September 18, 2017 / 11:12 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to Elsie. She was a beautiful soul who had a safe life with you.

  15. Beth Patterson
    September 19, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    Elsie was a lucky girl to have found her way into your heart. I know that consider yourself just as lucky to have known and loved her. What a beautifully written story.

  16. Cathy Keisha
    September 19, 2017 / 5:37 pm

    This is the best post ever. TW sees a lot of me in Elsie—the beautiful green eyes and some of the bad stuff too. She hopes someday I'll purr for her like I purr for Pop. Like myself, Elsin found a family who understands her. TW has almost sent me back lots of times and my litter box etiquette is good. Aunt Pauline says because of me she'd never adopt from a shelter. I think she needs to read this.

  17. BoSoxAmy
    September 19, 2017 / 6:37 pm

    This is beautiful!

  18. Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat
    September 19, 2017 / 6:53 pm

    This is a truly beautiful tribute. Funny how life never goes how we plan – but somehow turns out better than we imagined. We got Kitty when I was in middle school … and it took years for me to recognize the ways she told me she loved me (she wasn't much of a cuddler and most of the time, you couldn't hear her purr). The "broken" tend to not fit anyone's idea of normal or ideal – and it takes another broken being to appreciate that. I think Bear and I recognized that in each other the first time he met. I wasn't sure how he'd do going from outdoor only to indoor only … but it worked. And he saved my life.

  19. Random Felines
    September 19, 2017 / 6:55 pm

    What a wonderful story. so glad there are people out there willing to give the Elsie's of the world a chance

  20. The Island Cats
    September 19, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    What a beautiful post and tribute to your sweet Elsie. You're right…many rescued animals are not perfect and have issues. I can attest to that with my Zoey…the cat that I never really wanted…or so I thought. Someday I need to tell her story. ~Island Cat Mom

  21. Cathy Armato
    September 20, 2017 / 1:14 pm

    This is SO beautiful! Sometimes I think you are a Saint, Kristin. You have so much love, patience and understanding for the Special animals. Elsie sure was a special kitty, she had a wonderful, long life with you. You're so right about shelters, they always seem to be underfunded and understaffed.Love & biscuits,Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  22. Kamira G
    September 20, 2017 / 1:31 pm

    RIP sweet Elsie. Bless you for being such a great advocate for animals for 45 years. This was a lovely and inspiring post. I will never understand the pessimistic nay sayers that give up on animals or say "you can't save them all". Clearly the numbers aren't in our favor, but to save/change 1 life is worth it to me. Thanks for sharing your story.

  23. Three Chatty Cats
    September 20, 2017 / 1:44 pm

    Your posts are magic – just like you! Your heart is so big and your rescue pets are so fortunate that they found you, including sweet Elsie. I, too, hope she's chirping at the moon!

  24. The Menagerie Mom
    September 20, 2017 / 2:09 pm

    This is such a powerful piece. Elsie was and always will be beautiful. She was perfect in her own special way, just as we all are. And you are such an amazing person for doing all that you do. Thank you for sharing each and every one of your beautiful stories such as this one.

    • 24 Paws of Love
      September 20, 2017 / 8:05 pm

      I agree. Powerful, amazing and beautifully broken. Just the way we like it!

  25. Sadie and Co.
    September 20, 2017 / 7:58 pm

    Beautiful post for a beautiful cat. Thank you for sharing. I especially love your term 'chirp at the moon moments.' I will remember that.

  26. M Dawson
    September 20, 2017 / 8:42 pm

    Love the story so much. I lean towards adopting those who really need help and Elsie looks THE most challenging BUT totally amazing cat you could have.

  27. Bryn Nowell
    September 21, 2017 / 12:59 am

    I love this story. Thank you for telling it. Our local rescue has started calling cats that may reside in a home but never fully become a "pet" as spirit cats. They're there (for you, ruining your couch(es)) but in the outskirts, keeping a watchful eye on you and reminding you that they're there with chirps and moments of whimsy. I like this term because, they're spirit remains long after they're gone. Thank you for sharing how this cat impacted your life!

  28. Sweet Purrfections
    September 21, 2017 / 1:05 am

    What a heartwarming story about Elsie and all of the other special needs animals. I know your heart probably swelled twice its size when Elsie purred for you.

  29. Dolly theDoxie
    September 21, 2017 / 2:21 pm

    You have a compassion for animals like no other person I've ever known. As much as I love animals I can't stand to see suffering so you'd never catch me in a shelter or volunteering, I just don't have the stomach for it. But, I can love animals for all their flaws and I've had a few, but don't know if I would be able to care for a special needs cat. Elsie seemed to never get over her nocturnal drive but she let you cohabitate in her space which means a lot. Sandra and Dolly

  30. Happy-Go-Doodle
    September 21, 2017 / 2:24 pm

    Oh, what a tender and heartfelt post. I wish you many, many "blissful, chirp-at-the-moon moments" and many, many happy memories of sweet Elsie.

  31. Jan K
    September 21, 2017 / 5:06 pm

    Elsie was a beauty and your story was even more beautiful. There are times I've struggled with issues with animals, and there are times when I wonder why I have any at all. Not because I don't love them more than anything, but because when they are not well, I wonder if I can handle the stress and worry, or even worse, the loss. But what would I be missing out on without them in my life? I can't even, and don't want to, imagine. My first dog was a shelter dog and she was the best. We've had shelters/rescues since that have issues, but I would still never trade them for anything.

  32. Robin
    September 21, 2017 / 6:26 pm

    Elsie sounds like she was a really unique girl. I'm glad that she finally purred for you. Surely she had stored that affection up for you all of that time and wanted to make sure that you knew before she left you. We are all a little broken, but brokenness can be what lets our light shine out for everyone else to see.

  33. Pam Greer
    September 30, 2017 / 1:03 am

    What a wonderful story. I'm so glad that she finally purred for you. I so wish that I had been able to pet our feral kitty Winston.

  34. Eileen Anderson
    January 10, 2018 / 12:06 am

    How beautiful. I got such a sense of her in your port. I'm so with you on the damaged ones, the quirky ones, the difficult ones. My feral cat got friendlier as she aged, and downright affectionate in her last months. It felt like such a privilege when she would come solicit attention.Thank you for Elsie's touching story.

  35. December 5, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    What a beautiful and touching story! Elsie and you were lucky to find each other and into each other’s hearts. This puts a lot into perspective for me. Sable was my difficult one and I empathize with you on the litter box issues. But, I could not and refused to give up on her. She had been returned to the shelter and I could not do that to her. She gave me 10 wonderful years. I lost 2 cats this year. You made me realize that all but one of my 7 cats have been a rescue. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

  36. Kelly
    February 19, 2019 / 12:30 am

    The story brings tears. It makes me want to take more and more under my roof and do everything I can to make a good life for as many as possible.

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