Leroy’s Fresh Start — The rags to riches story of a street cat from Petah Tikvah

This is a short story I performed at a poetry/storytelling slam hosted by The Stage in Tel Aviv.

I wear my cat lady on the inside. At least I did until that fateful day.

Dogs are adorable. Foolishly loyal, active and engaging. Always ready to love…

Sounds like 10 of the last (boring) first dates I had, you know the ones that seem okay on paper but no amount of alcohol can make you think they’re interesting…

Anyway, I digress.

Cats are elegant, graceful, shameless and unapologetically selfish creatures. They’re animals worthy of obsession.

Three years ago, On my way to my car in some horrible part of Givat Shmuel, or as lay people call it — Petah Tikvah, I saw a crow pecking at something from across the parking lot. At first it appeared to be a tiny mouse, but as I approached I realized it was a barely born kitten being pecked to death.

I shooed that nasty crow away and stood over this lifeless animal, and in my best cat lady voice, beckoning it back to life. When I had all but given up hope, and began to walk away in defeat, this little two week old kitten mustered all his strength to lift his head and mouth a pitiful, silent meow.

It’s alive! Oh shit... There’s no way my cat lady heart would let me leave this poor creature to a death of pecking, but there’s no such thing as taking this cat and finding it a home — especially in the land of milk and streetcats. If I take it, it’s mine.

I gathered his little body into a shoe box and drove right to the vet’s office. They saw the little guy immediately. Only one eye was open and the veterinarian wasn’t sure the kitten could be saved. I would need to try to bottle feed my new friend kitten formula every four hours, but be prepared that he probably wouldn’t make it.

I commissioned all of my girlfriends together to try and help me get this little thing to eat. After prodding for hours, he finally began to nurse. Like a new mother I would wake up every four hours, and feed my little baby, clean him up and hope he would live.

Leroy’s first feeding.

Little Leroy did live and helped me transition from merely a single woman in Tel Aviv, to a cat lady. After a long weekend of feedings, petting and endless cat videos, I had to find a solution for my kitty while I went to work everyday.

You may not be aware of this, but every apartment building in Tel Aviv has one verified cat lady. It’s part of the zoning laws. I approached my vad ha-chatul with little Leroy in toe. As she opened her apartment door I presented him as a gift to her, like one of her cats presenting a dead rodent. She agreed to be my kitty nanny and extended her cat lady services to typical day care hours.

Leroy became one of my greatest joys. And was a favorite among all of my friends, that is until I moved apartments.

My beautiful, Tel Aviv, 2 floor, rooftop apartment apparently did not suit Leroy. Maybe it was the new space, or perhaps my new roommate who thought cats shouldn’t nap on couches (you can’t stop cats from napping anywhere they want in case you weren’t aware) but my little angel Leroy picked up a nasty habit. My kitty would grab people with his long claws at the most random moments. His aggressive outbursts slowly but surely created a rift in my living situation and personal life. Nothing will block a single cat lady more than a pussycat who grabs back.

Desperate, I turned to the internet, forums, friends, my vet and eventually a cat therapist — who i paid 300 shekels for worthless advice and a Prozac prescription for Leroy. I dosed my little kitty like clockwork everyday, hoping to take the edge off of his stressful Tel Aviv life, while rescuing my relationships and dating life.

Around this same time, I also had begun wrestling with my life in Israel. Although I didn’t resort to physical attacks, I was questioning if Israel was still a fit for me. After 8 years, it seemed apparent that it may be time to revisit possibilities back in the U.S. Eventually, I opted to go for it.

As moving day approached, my biggest concern (bigger than closing my phone contract with Orange, bigger than sorting out Bituach Leumi, bigger than packing up all my stuff) was how would I get this insane cat onto a plane and into the U.S.

I overpaid a company to advise me on the matter, paid for private vet visits, got my little kitty chipped and prayed to God that during our journey home, he would be okay. The last thing on my checklist was a visit to the official Veterinarian for Israel (cause apparently that’s a thing) at Ben Gurion airport for his signature on Leroy’s papers.

As I questioned this all-knowing vet about sedation and traveling with my cat, he looked at me and said, “you know, your cat is only reflecting your own anxiety. If you are calm, he will be calm…no need to sedate.” I couldn’t filter or hold back as the words “are you fucking kidding me” poured off my lips. “Thank you for the kitty therapy, please just sign the papers.” (The nice thing about Israel is that my response is 100% socially acceptable.)

Moving day arrived! As I loaded the last of my four suitcases into my friend’s car. I prayed for strength to get my freshly sedated best friend into his cat carrier (which he loathed of course) for our long journey home. As I walked up the stairs to my bedroom one last time, an empty space greeted me, matching the empty numb feeling in my heart about this scary move. Also, like a miracle from heaven, my crazy cat had on his own volition, crawled into his travel crate and curled into a ball for a cat nap. I’m pretty sure I shouted “hallelujah” as I shut the door to Leroy’s cage and to our lives in Israel.

Preparing for our long journey home.

Being the neurotic Jewish cat mother that I am, I booked our tickets on Lufthansa, since they had the best record for transporting animals. This meant a stop over in Germany and final destination in Atlanta, 8 hours from my mother’s home in Lexington Kentucky.

With tears flooding my eyes, and Xanax pumping through my bloodstream, I approached the poor airline gatekeeper begging for a word on my best friend during our layover in Germany. “Please, please just tell me Leroy is okay, please can you check.” She awkwardly obliged and scurried off, quickly returning with news that he was fine, and meowing.

I had somehow convinced my brother to drive 8 hours to Atlanta to pick up Leroy and I. “Michael, you don’t understand, if something happens to Leroy, and I’m alone in Atlanta and have to drive, I will just die. I’ll die. Please, help me not die.” To this plea, my brother had no defense, and agreed to pick our tattered bodies up in Hotlanta and shlepp us home.

After a few months in the U.S. and living a very different life in Lexington, New York began to beckon. Moving to Manhattan and leaving my best friend behind, was a very difficult decision. But my one bedroom apartment is simply not big enough for the both of us and apparently all little Leroy needed was to hunt and kill small woodland creatures to chill out, cause he’s a happy, drug free kitty these days.

As one of the only Jews in Kentucky, Leroy has made quite a name for himself in my mother’s neighborhood. Everyone is in awe of this little kitty, who traveled so far from the Promised Land to follow his American dream. And although I cursed Israel’s official vet that day, I’m beginning to think that Little leroy and his crazy, neurotic tendencies, might have been more nurture than nature.