Stella the Cat

Stella the Cat

Last year on June 15, 2013, Daniele and I got back from our honeymoon and I was officially living in Rome with no return ticket out of Europe. This new stability meant we were ready to make a life decision that I’ve wanted to make countless times in the past, but had to resist because I didn’t know where I was headed. We adopted a cat.

We had talked about it for a while and had planned on looking into getting one after the wedding. Now that we were back, we started by visiting some shelters here in Rome to meet some contenders. Rome has a few really cool cat sanctuaries. A famous one is in Largo Torre Argentina. This is an Ancient Roman ruin, that is fenced off. The volunteers and inside cats are in an office carved from the side walls surrounding the ruins. The healthy cats can roam about the fenced-in ruins outside. They are a very organized and large shelter.

Around this time there was also a cute orange tabby kitten hanging around the parking area of our apartment building. We thought about adopting him, but we couldn’t be sure that he didn’t belong to one of the families in our building. Before we made up our minds, we stopped seeing him. He was very cute, so I hope he found (or already had) a good home.

The next animal shelter we visited was also located in a Roman ruin, similar to the one at Torre Argentina, this one is in Rome’s Egyptian-style Pyramid, “Piramide”. They are not quite as organized, and give the cats away for free, but still needing to visit a vet. Daniele liked that they were free, but we paid the same having her spayed ourselves.

When we arrived there were two groups of kittens. Two tabbies that were already adopted and three solid-colored (two black and one gray). We wanted a kitten to give a cat a forever-home right from the start. Also, Daniele didn’t grow up with pets and a kitten is easier for that situation. There was a man there who was taking the gray and one of the black kittens, leaving just one female back kitten left. I held her and she fell asleep in my arms, leading everyone to insist she was destined to be mine. Daniele saw her sleeping and thought she was going to be calm and well behaved. He didn’t know that the kittens sleeping turn out to be the craziest once they wake. You need to see a cat awake, playing, moving to know its personality. But he didn’t tell me this was why he liked her, just that he did and he wanted to adopt her right away.

We hadn’t been planning on adopting that afternoon, so we had nothing. The shelter lent us a carrier to bring her home and gave us samples of the food she had been eating. Then on the way we quickly stopped (in underground parking) at the mall to get food dishes, a litter box, kitty litter, cat shampoo, and one toy (a bird on a string on a stick).

It probably took an hour to get her home, we then proceeded to traumatize her further. We shampooed her (she was kinda dirty). We clipped her nails. We tossed her in her giant (compared to her then) litter box, and she impressed us by using it right away. Then Daniele, who was working a night shift, had to go and left the two of us alone. She slept in the crook of my arm, and it’s been love ever since.

We named her Stella. A name that sounds American to Americans and Italian to Italians. Perfect for our family and perfect for my little star.

A day or two latter we went back to the shelter to return the borrowed carrier, and the man who took Stella’s two siblings had returned them!?!? His wife had told him to bring them back. The volunteers asked if we were interested in them, but one cat was already a big step for us. They were still cute little kittens, so I’m sure they found homes. Still, what a tool!

We adopted Stella on July 2, 2013. She was still very little when we had Daniele’s 30th birthday dinner at our apartment on July 8th and was the star of the night. It was our guests that night who first called her “Stellina”. In Italian, you add the suffixes -ino / -ina or -etto / -etta to say something is small; the suffix -one to say it is large. She’s been Stellina ever since.

Those first couple days were an adjustment. Especially for Daniele who had only ever had a kitten for a short period and that one lived on their balcony. She was a constant ball of energy. She relentlessly attacked our feet under the sheets (but never if on top of the sheets). This would wind up Daniele, which in turn would wind her up further. She still hadn’t learned to jump high with her giant rabbit feet, but had super-kitten upper body strength that allowed her to climb up things, like the backs of chairs and onto the table. But just like she quickly grew bigger, she quickly became calmer.

We moved over the course of August and September, and Stella was one of the last things to come to the new place. She saw all our stuff and took to it like home right away.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, I planned on spending the whole month back in the States. Daniele was going to join me a few days after Thanksgiving and come back with me before New Years; though his departure ended up being pushed back to mid-December. Since that was too long to leave her, I brought her with me on the plane. It was pretty easy, I just called United and added her to my reservation. To the airline, she was something between extra luggage (how I paid for her) and an extra passenger (she had her own reservation number). She flew by my feet in her new soft carrier and handled the flight pretty well. It was actually more of a concern getting her home to Italy at the end of our trip than into the US. Europe controls pets more. But I’ll go into this in greater detail another time.

Back in New Jersey, she made friends with Moo and Flake (my cats at my parent’s house). Though it is debatable if they made friends with her back. She seemed to really enjoy it, from socializing with other cats, to running full-speed up and down the stairs, to walking through snow for the first time.

We sometimes let her into the couriyard of our building, but there is an old lady who yells (in Italian) “No cats in the courtyard!” whenever we do. So more often we put on her harness and leash and bring her out for a walk around the neighborhood or in a park. She likes the parks much better than the streets.

She’s met lots of people who come to our house, especially our AirBnb guests (, and she likes them all and they always love her. But when we take her outside, she is afraid of everything and everyone.

Daniele was slower to warm up to her than I was, not having grown up in the more american pets-are-part-of-the-family culture that I did. They bonded a bit when I left the two of them alone to go to a wedding in San Francisco last August. Then more and more over time. He worries about her food and litter box. And now he even asks me to leave her to sleep with him when he gets home from a night shift. A big change from not wanting her in our room at night, like when we first brought her home.

By Easter she looked fully grown. She had gotten pretty long and very muscular. She felt surprisingly heavy when you lifted her up and had really defined haunches. Or at least she did. Right after Easter she visibly lost some weight, and I think has lost some more since then, to get a bit smaller. We had taken her to the park a few times, so I thought it was the exercise. But thinking about the time-line better, I think we changed her wet food to a higher quality brand around that time. She used to actually like her dry food better, but the new stuff is definitely her favorite.

As mentioned earlier, we regularly trim the tip of her front claws. But she is very gentle with them anyway. If she starts playing with you, she’ll gently bat you with her soft paws…until you feel confident and unsuspecting, that’s when she bites! We’re also lucky that she likes to stretch her claws on cardboard, wood, and metal, but not fabric (so far, fingers crossed). Though she will shred papers if I leave them out.

Her most characteristic traits are her big ears, her big glowing eyes, and her constant meowing. She’s the most talkative cat I’ve ever known. And although, in theory, she could hide very well being all black, the profile of those ears or the light catching her eyes always gives her away.

During the days, I work from home and she keeps me company. Even though it’s still pretty lonely working alone at home, she makes all the difference.

Her hobbies include hiding in boxes, being made into the bed covers, and eating my papers. She spends most her day handing out by my computer or sleeping in an almost comatose state.

She’s a bit of a bad cat. She is terrible about going on the table and in the sink. She doesn’t seem to have much aversion to water. We just keep pushing her off and cleaning with a bleach solution

So that’s the story of our first year together with Stella.

The full album of all the pictures I’ve taken of her this year is here: