I Meet Leah

Leah Lapkitty, photo ©2017 David B. Sutton

“I’ll never live with a cat again”.

I heard myself say that, many times, and I was sure it was about the litter boxes.

To be clear: I love both cats and dogs. I have lived with six different cats over the years, and those roommates have enhanced more than twenty wonderful years of my life. I have also met and enjoyed photographing more than a thousand cats through my work at Sutton Studios.

My last pet, a lean, temperamental white cat named Scout, passed away in May of 2010, and with that, I was done.

It just seemed like a good idea for me not to have a pet. Shortly after Scout passed away, I was facing some life challenges and major loss. I was preoccupied.

After things leveled off, my life just seemed freer without someone to feed and care for. I enjoyed a life uncluttered by compulsory dog walks, litter boxes, trips to the vet — and the heartache of watching a companion grow old.

I had things pretty well worked out. I enjoy dog-share privileges with Izze and Sugar Bean, dog friends who live in two different homes where I spend. That counts, right? I meet plenty of cats and dogs through my work as a pet-friendly-portrait photographer, and my daughter and I volunteer at the Evanston Animal Shelter. I get my fix. Why would I need to live with a pet?

I think they call this process rationalization.

When my daughter and I volunteer at the shelter, our job is playing with cats. It gets them out of their small habitats, gives them socialization and exercise. One day, recently, as I passed through the isolation section, looking for someone to play with, a little black and white cat looked me in the eye, rolled over on her back and stretched both white paws through her cage door. Toward me.

Her name was Leah. I started thinking about Leah. Soon I was thinking about her rather a lot. I began asking questions about her.

One day, after she’d been sprung from isolation, I heard that Leah was alone in the getting-acquainted room. I saw her crouched in the far corner, hunkered down under the shelter of a long bench.

I slipped in and sat down. Within a minute, little Leah had come out from under the bench, hopped onto my lap, settled comfortably between my thighs, and claimed me.

For the next several days, I agonized about the dramatic life-style changes I imagined having a pet would involve. I talked myself out of taking Leah home more than once.

At the same time, I worried that someone else would fall for her.

So. One day recently, I found myself at home, an affectionate Leah curled warmly in my lap. I felt so much love for this tiny, furred creature that I could not fathom how I had lived for six years without an animal to come home to.

One of my portrait clients summed things up for me in a recent visit. Her dog had passed away in the months since her portrait sitting. She and her husband had been deliberating about getting a new dog. She felt ready, he did not. As she turned to leave, she looked over her shoulder and said, “You either love and live or you do neither.”