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Milestones

An Orange Tabby With Nine Lives--and Now a Family

March 05, 2001|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one knows the story of her past, how far or long she traveled before arriving at the San Clemente Animal Shelter last April.

Near death, Brownie was brought in by a woman who said she found the cat wandering near an upscale townhouse community. When filling out the papers, however, the woman left a fake telephone number, casting doubt on her story.

Perhaps she was the cat's owner and could not afford Brownie's medical treatment, says Cindy Kane, an assistant manager at the shelter. Or, perhaps, the woman could no longer bear witness to the cat's sorrowful demise.

Indeed, Brownie's appearance was shocking. Her hair had fallen out, revealing sores and scabs. Her eyes seemed vacant, unabsorbing, reflecting an absence of life and will.

"She wouldn't eat and didn't pay attention to anything," says Kane. "She just kind of sat there with her face against the wall."

An orange tabby, Brownie was diagnosed with diabetes and placed in the short-term care of one of the shelter's volunteer foster parents who happened to be a registered nurse with a diabetic cat of her own. With insulin and a strict diet, Brownie recovered.

Her hair and spirit returned, full and lovely, allowing her to be placed back in the shelter for adoption. The fact that she had rallied from great depths made her a favorite of the staff and volunteers. They pulled for her to find a good home, begin a new life--the milestone of all shelter animals.

So Brownie waited. And waited.

Weekends were the busiest times, attracting streams of people--sometimes entire families--but after reading the sign describing her past health problems, people seemed to pass her by as damaged goods.

The average length of stay at the shelter is 20 days, but by mid-February, Brownie was coming up on 10 months, longer than any other animal at the shelter.

*

Ann Davis, 28, of Laguna Hills, was driving around with friend Amy Curtis, 18, on the day before Valentine's Day. She had waited until the last moment to buy a gift for her fiance and had no idea what to get.

She and Kai Luthi, 27, had moved into their own apartment in January and plan to marry this fall. She wanted something sentimental to somehow mark the beginning of their new life together, the beginning of a family of their own.

Davis and Curtis were driving past a pet store, and it sparked Davis' idea that they drive out to the San Clemente shelter. She and her fiance had talked about someday getting a cat, and Davis decided that the time was right.

She envisioned a kitten but was immediately drawn to Brownie, who is closer to 5 or 6 years old. Brownie seemed shy, if not withdrawn, at first. Davis climbed into the large cage and sat down.

Although Brownie no longer needs insulin, her diabetes requires a special diet of weight-loss food, which is why she was housed with Miss Piggy and the other "fat, old ladies" of the shelter, as Kane refers to them.

It's not the most exciting bunch to be around, and mostly what they do is take naps. There is little interaction, so no one paid much attention to Davis at first.

Davis called out to Brownie, "Hi kitty, kitty." Slowly, Brownie took notice and went to her.

After listening to the story of Brownie's brush with death, Davis knew that Brownie was the one.

Even Curtis, who never considered herself a cat person, was touched. She ended up taking Miss Piggy home.

*

Luthi knew something was up when he saw the box. When Brownie hopped out, he says he was immediately thrilled.

Brownie and guest, Miss Piggy, who has been renamed Roxy, moved cautiously through the apartment. They sniffed, they licked, made note of food, water, cat box.

Brownie then walked into the bedroom and hopped on the bed, which thrilled Davis. Her childhood cat slept with her, and she was hoping Brownie would do the same.

Brownie has settled in nicely, Davis says. On nights when there's too much snoring or tossing about, Brownie flees to the overstuffed chair in the living room.

When she wants attention, she rubs up against or pats Davis and Luthi with her feet. She seems fond of reggae and country music.

"Sometimes she'll be lying down by her water," says Davis, "and when she thinks no one is watching, she'll reach over and instead of getting up to get a drink, she'll just drop her head in the water. She's a little lazy."

But no one is complaining.

To share a milestone, large or small, e-mail duane.noriyuki@latimes.com.

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