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Pets Large & Small

A second chance

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(3/2018) Things have been kind of funny around here recently. Momís been putting a lot of stuff in boxes and dadís been moving the furniture Ė not to another room, either, heís taking it out of the house.

I donít really understand, but since Iíve been living with mom and dad Ė almost six years now Ė I realize that sometimes humans can be a funny species.

Just as Iím getting ready to have a little nap, mom comes along for a cuddle. I donít argue too much Ďcause itís been a while since mom or dad has had a chance to snuggle with me. I rub my nose along momís chin, automatically start to purr and sort of settle in.

Then another weird thing happens. Mom apologizes. Says sheís sorry. Iím not really sure what for, but her voice sounds funny and she sniffs a little like sheís crying.

She stands up with me in her arms, but this isnít unusual. Itís been a while, but she used to carry me through the house when I first arrived. Sometimes sheíd even call me her "little baby" back then.

By the time we make it to the front door, I can feel a tiny knot of worry grab a hold of my belly. Iím not a fan of whatís on the other side. Iíve never really liked the outdoors. Itís creepy and smells funny and isnít comfortable like the house. Plus, there are those animals Iíve seen. Some of them are just downright scary.

When mom opens the door, I feel a jolt up my spine. I donít want to go outside. Itís hot; the air hits my face and fur like the draft from an open oven door. I donít even want to be here even if momís holding me. I start to squirm a little in her arms.

She whispers in my ear, "Be safe" and the next thing I know, Iím on the porch and the front door shuts behind me. I think I hear the lock click, but itís hard to tell over the panic that has taken over my heart.

I jump at the unexpected sound of a truck door slamming in the driveway. I can see the words U-Haul painted on the side, but have no idea what that means, so I turn to the door, and start to scratch.

Mom and dad took me to the vet when I was about six months old and when I came back, my paws hurt every time Iíd take a step and I didnít have my claws anymore. It took me a while to recover from that and my toes felt weird even when the pain went away, but I got used to it. I wish I could claw up the door to get momís attention now. I want back inside the house.

Doors close inside and I swear for a second I hear my mom sob a little. She only does that when sheís really upset about something. Now I need to get inside. I know how to comfort her. I sit in her lap and let her rub my fur. That always helps. I cry a little bit myself, hoping mom will hear and come get me.

Thereís a noise behind the house and I realize itís the sound of the sliding glass door. Mom must be on the porch. I go as fast as I can around back, sticking close to the house, only to see mom get into the big red and white truck Iíd heard earlier.

She must not have seen me. I get a little closer to the vehicle, but it pulls forward in the driveway and I can see dad behind the wheel. Where are they going? Why would they leave with me still outside?

I cry again, but the echo gets lost in the rumble of the engine. I try to follow, but the truckís so big and Iím awfully scared and the hot pavement of the driveway burns my paws. I step into the grass just as the truck turns down the road and speeds away.

And thatís when it hits me. The truth of what has just happened crystallizes in my mind like a sharp piece of glass. Theyíre gone. They cleaned out the house. Took the furniture. Packed up their valuables. But left without me.

I can feel myself start to shake. I have no idea what to do. Iíve never been on my own before. Mom and dad have been my whole life from the time I was really little. I turn back to the house and stop dead in my tracks.

There, not two feet in front of me, is the animal Iíve seen out the window for the past few months. Heís gray and covered in scabs and scars. His eyes, I swear, are almost black. Heís a cat, like me, but itís clear heís never known a home.

Centuries-old instincts kick in and I hiss and puff out my hair. I try to make myself look bigger. More intimidating.

My adversary doesnít move.

I figure if he comes too close, Iíll scratch him Ė and in the same thought I realize I canít. I donít have my claws. Mom and dad left me alone, outside and basically defenseless.

The awareness of how much trouble Iím actually in makes my insides go cold. I really donít stand a chance out here and I know it.

Somehow, I think the cat across from me knows it too. When he moves, surprisingly, itís not to attack. He simply steps forward, almost hesitantly and stretches his nose out to mine. I let him introduce himself and get a few sniffs in of my own.

I wonder if maybe he feels bad for me. Maybe he knows whatís happened to me. Maybe his scars arenít actually from fights he started. Maybe Iíve misjudged him.

Iím very nervous and donít warm up right away, but amazingly enough, the old timerís nice. He tells me stories of his life Ė heís been everywhere and apparently, sometimes humans arenít that nice. He warns me that other animals can be worse Ė territorial, he calls it Ė and I should be careful.

Iím not sure what he saw in me that makes him sort of take me under his wing, but he does. Shows me a good place to sleep, watches out for me, helps me get food, but it never tastes nearly as good as what mom fixes for me. I mean used to fix. What mom used to fix for me.

Eventually, the perils of living outside take their toll and I just canít do it anymore. I donít want this life. So I ask my friend for an answer. Somewhere we could go.

Thatís when he tells me of a place where homeless animals are taken to get better, to get medicine, to get shelter, to get love and to get a home. He takes me to a building just down the street and tells me if I wait on the porch, by morning, someone will arrive and take me in. He says this is the place that helps homeless pets.

The sign reads Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter.

Eventually, he wishes me luck and says he hopes I make it. I thank him for his kindness and as he moves away from me, down the street, I canít help but wonder if Iím meant to lose everyone whoís important to me. If love and happiness are only fleeting, never enduring.

I know my future isnít what I thought it would be. Mom and dad are long gone and theyíve left me own my own to live their life without me.

As I wait by the doors, I canít help but wonder if this place, this animal shelter, after everything, might be what I need. As night falls around me, I send out a silent prayer that maybe, just maybe, this place will be my second chance.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau