Couple goes the distance to adopt shy cat

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Zoey Crooks the cat sitting on the corner of a carpet
Leslie and Keith drove from Reno to Salt Lake City to adopt a cat they can’t touch, but love all the same.
By Natalie Wordtmann

Zoey Crooks has always been sure about one thing: She’s unsure about people (at least at first). When the six-year-old, blue-eyed cat first came to Best Friends in Utah in 2016 from West Valley City Animal Services as a kitten, she didn’t like being in a strange place with strange people and was skeptical of anyone who wanted to interact with her.

After much coaxing (and with a little help from some baby food), Zoey Crooks slowly came around and was adopted. She spent the next five years being loved and looked after, but then her adopter could no longer keep her and brought her back to Best Friends.

Just like the first time she came to Best Friends, Zoey Crooks was stressed to find herself in a new place surrounded by strangers, so she went to a foster home where she could settle and decompress. This, says Monica Ostrom, a Best Friends lifesaving specialist in Salt Lake City, was key to helping Zoey Crooks feel better.

“Having a peaceful, comfortable and safe home for a fearful cat is so important in forming loving, trusting relationships with people,” says Monica. “For Zoey Crooks, it gave her the opportunity to feel settled, and to slowly and carefully become more open to new people at her own pace in an environment that was completely her own.”

[Shy Dogs and Cats: How to Help Timid Pets]

Over the next six months, the Best Friends team learned a lot about Zoey Crooks’ personality through details shared by her foster caregivers. Though she’s an exceptionally shy cat, it started to become clear that she could thrive with a family willing to give her the space and time she needed.

Captivated by a cat’s story

Meanwhile, Leslie Girsch and Keith Chesnut, a couple from Reno, Nevada, who are animal lovers with a fondness for cats, came across Zoey Crooks’ unique story on the Best Friends website. They lost their beloved cat of 20 years last December, and thought Zoey could be a natural fit.

Sure, they could have adopted a cat closer to home, but there was something about Zoey Crooks’ photo (you must admit, she’s a stunner) and story that captured their hearts. “It mentioned that Zoey would need a quiet home with a sunny window,” says Leslie, and the couple have plenty of sunny windows to share. With that, Leslie and Keith set up a virtual meet-and-greet.

Needless to say, they were both excited to see Zoey Crooks for the first time. Though Zoey spent much of the meet-and-greet hiding under a bed (even hissing when the camera got too close to her face), Leslie and Keith were confident that they could give her a home where she would feel comfortable. After all, with three cats at home already, they’d had a lot of practice. Leslie says, “We are pliable humans, willing to give our cats as much of their own world as they can handle, so they can boss us around a little bit.”

An eight-hour journey for a lifetime of love

The next step was to meet the shy cat in person, so they hopped in the car one morning and made the drive to Salt Lake City. If all went well, they’d be driving back to Nevada that day with Zoey Crooks in tow. Spoiler alert: It went well. So well, in fact, that it took no time for them to decide to adopt her.

On the ride home, Keith and Leslie didn’t hear a peep from their new friend. While Zoey Crooks rested in her carrier, they told her what she could expect in Reno. “We told her we were committed to her now,” says Leslie.

[Cat Scared of Strangers: How to Calm Anxious Cats]

When they got home, Leslie went into the house first to corral their three cats. Then Keith escorted Zoey Crooks to her designated bedroom, which they had set up with a cat tree, toys, a litter box, food bowls and a few beds so she could choose her favorite. And yes, they made sure to pick a room with a sunny window for her to enjoy.

The next day, Leslie and Keith decided to add a wireless camera to Zoey Crooks’ room so they could monitor how she was adjusting without disturbing her. They were excited to see her spending time out of the carrier and noticed that she had already picked her favorite bed. If Leslie or Keith went into Zoey Crooks’ bedroom, she would run and hide under the bed, but as the days passed, she spent less time there.

Cat fearlessly explores her new home

After about a week, Leslie and Keith started to leave the door to Zoey Crooks’ bedroom open so she could come out as far as she was comfortable. Each day, she explored a little bit farther.

When a month had passed, with the insights provided by their wireless camera, Leslie and Keith decided it was time to leave Zoey Crooks’ bedroom door open at night and see how she fared with their other cats. As Keith put it, jokingly: “Let’s see if we have a house in the morning.”

[Cat Scared of Noise: How to Help Fearful Cats]

Fortunately, Leslie and Keith did have an intact house the next day. And the day after that. In fact, today Zoey Crooks is starting to warm up to her fellow felines, and Leslie and Keith are enjoying watching her make their house her home.

Photo by Leslie Girsch

Cat’s journey to confidence

According to Keith, “Zoey is pushing the boundaries a little bit.” And Leslie says food and toys are the windows to her soul. They have also discovered that Zoey Crooks is very partial to tall cat trees and adores Leslie’s suncatcher. Though Leslie and Keith still can’t touch her, they find that she does allow them to get closer and only hisses on occasion. “We’ve seen significant improvement over the last three months and the rest of the house is now her home,” says Keith.

Zoey Crooks has come a long way in a short time, and both Leslie and Keith are optimistic that she will continue to adapt at her own pace. She’s lucky to have found an understanding and supportive home, and this shy, fearful cat is now well on her way to becoming a confident kitty.

Photo by Leslie Girsch