Substitute Kitty

Boys and Cats when they were young Kendrick and Blackie (left) and Keaton and Stormy (right) in 2009 shortly after we brought the kittens home.

In the Spring of 1995, I was finishing up my graduate education and writing my dissertation. I had been thinking about getting a dog, and, since I was spending so much time at home writing, it seemed like the right time. Anyone who has ever had a puppy will probably recognize that that was not the wisest decision, but it worked out in the end. Sasha and I were together for the next 13 years. She saw me through many changes in my life—the most important of which were marriage and children. My sons were 5 and 7 when Sasha died, and it hit all of us hard. Keaton, my youngest son, also saw her passing as an opportunity. He had asked for a kitten multiple times, and I had always used Sasha as an excuse to say no.

Kaylon and Sasha Kaylon and Sasha, November 1995.

After Sasha died, it took me nearly a year to relent to the kitten request. When I finally agreed, the next request was for two kittens. The boys argued that since there were two of them, we should have two kittens. Although I wasn’t completely against the idea, I wasn’t fully committed to it either. I gave the classic mom answer of, “We’ll see.”

Once the decision was made to at least get one kitten, the boys and I sat at the computer and looked at the animals available at our local shelter. Keaton immediately picked out a gray tabby named Stormy. For the next two days, he talked nonstop about his new kitten named Stormy. Kendrick was less certain which kitten we should adopt and wanted to wait until we met them in person. When Saturday rolled around, Keaton had a soccer game, so Kendrick and I went to the shelter without him. When Keaton left with his dad that morning, he was adamant that we get Stormy. Never missing an opportunity to argue with his brother, Kendrick told him, “It’s my kitten too!” I’m sure I sighed knowing the odds were good that I would be coming home with two. When Kendrick and I got to the shelter, I asked the lady in charge if Stormy was still available. She looked at my young son and frowned. “He is, but I don’t think you want him.” She went on to explain that Stormy was six months old and very aggressive. She and I both agreed Stormy wouldn’t be a good choice for a family with small children.

Kendrick told me, “Keaton’s gonna be mad.” I knew he was right, but there was no way I was bringing home an aggressive animal with fangs and claws.

The woman helping us was quick to respond. “We still have two kittens from a litter that was brought in earlier in the week.” She led us to a large metal crate that held two 7-week-old kittens huddled together. A sign told us their names were Donnie and Kristy and that they had been born on July 4, 2009.

Kendrick and I knelt down to get a closer look at the kittens. Kristy, a gray tabby, jumped up to greet us. Her brother Donnie, a scrawny black kitten, barely moved. He looked a bit feeble, and I asked if he was okay.

I was assured that Donnie was healthy, but because he was the runt of the litter, she told me he probably wouldn’t get very big. She went on to say that black cats were the least likely to be adopted. “I’m afraid no one will want him and that he’ll end up spending his whole life here.”

I knew Kendrick and I might be being manipulated, but it didn’t matter. When Kendrick asked if he could have Donnie, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Then I pointed to the kitten they had named Kristy and said, “We’ll take Stormy too.”

Kendrick was confused. He indicated the sign. “No. That’s Kristy.”

“No. That’s Stormy.”

Kendrick’s eyes got big as he finally understood what I was saying. “Oh. We’re going to tell Keaton that that’s Stormy.”


It’s been 15 years since we brought Donnie and the substitute Stormy home. We all agreed Donnie was a terrible name for a cat, and Kendrick soon renamed him Blackie. Like Sasha, Blackie and Stormy have seen our family through many changes over the years. My little boys are young men now, and the bond they have with Blackie and Stormy is stronger than ever. Although my boys barely remember Sasha, they will never forget the two little kittens who accompanied them through their childhood. I know eventually Blackie and Stormy will join Sasha at the Rainbow Bridge, but, for now, they are healthy and happy. Sometimes I think about the original Stormy and hope he found his forever home—maybe on a farm where he could run wild and chase mice. He deserves all the happiness he can get because of all the joy Blackie and his substitute have brought us.

P.S. We never did tell Keaton about Kristy.

Most recent picture of Boys and Cats Kendrick and Blackie (left) and Keaton and Stormy (right) on the cats’ 15th birthday. July 2024.