Junkyu and I are both animal lovers. Growing up, I had a beloved labrador retriever named Ellie who followed me everywhere. My mom and I also took our horses trail riding as often as we could, and when I was in high school, she finally bought some land and now has a growing farm and two adorable (miniature) Australian Shepherd dogs.
When I was living in Japan, I was often lonely and wished I could get a cat, but I knew I should wait until I was settled down and able to take care of one. I told Junkyu when we moved into our place that I wanted a cat as soon as possible. He agreed but wanted to wait until after our wedding/honeymoon. He even asked his friends, who said we should wait until after we have kids.
In America, I think the general mentality is: Get married, try having a pet first, and then you will be more prepared to have children. In Korea, lots of people tell me I should be careful about having a cat because it’s not healthy. I think most Koreans dislike cats because they think cats are dirty (they see a lot of strays) and that they are mean. In Japan, people love cats, but it seems that people in Korea have a love-hate relationship with pets.
Well, Junkyu and I visited a cat cafe in Seoul (and I went again on my own a few weekends ago) and it was really fun watching him pet the kitties, and I could see him warming up the idea of us getting one. He told me, almost jokingly, that if I ever saw a stray cat that would let me pick it up, we could take it home.
One night, it was dark and cold and rain drizzled down on me as I hurried home from work. In front of our building, I spotted a little cat who was digging around in the trash for food. He came up to me, meowing for attention, and even let me pet him. He climbed up onto my arm and rubbed his head against me. His left ear was cut and he was hungry and wet.
I called Junkyu and told me, “There’s a cat outside our house! And he is letting me pet him. I want to bring him in from the rain.” He told me that I probably shouldn’t, that it might be someone’s cat if he was letting me touch him, and that we really shouldn’t have a cat right now. I was so sad to leave him outside, but I went in and waited for Junkyu to get home.
Once he did, I told him to go back out with me to find the cat. We looked up and down the streets, but he was gone. For weeks, whenever we got back home, we would try to find the kitty, but never saw him. Then, I got my new job and we did our wedding photoshoot and went out with friends to give out wedding invitations, and forgot about it.
One day at lunch, Junkyu was looking at something on his phone and I asked what it was. He showed me a website where people posted cats who were up for adoption. I was surprised and asked if that meant he wanted to get a cat soon. He didn’t really answer, but it made me happy that he was thinking about it. With my new job, I am home alone a lot more, meaning I have more time to spend taking care of a pet.
We went to Seoul for a weekend to visit friends and family, and to give out more invitations, and on Sunday afternoon, we got back home and Junkyu told me he had a surprise. He had all the windows in our house counted and measured so that we could finally get blinds and curtains put up. We put up a few cheap blinds in some of the rooms that faced another house, but the rest of our windows were as bare as the day we moved in.
He told me we could go to the store near our house to pick out the color and kind of blinds we wanted. I was so excited, and we had recently found out that the man who owns the store had a cat who liked to sleep there. We went inside immediately saw him. He was sleeping on a chair, curled up and cozy. We talked to the guy about our curtains, but we kept staring at the kitty.
His left ear was cut, and I knew it was the same cat as the one I had seen in front of our house a few weeks before. Junkyu was amazed that it was the same cat, and asked the guy how he got him. The man said that he had been hanging around the area meowing, so he put food and water out for him, but then he kept showing up every morning. He let him inside during the day, but had to let him out when he left at night, and the cat slept on a chair in an unfinished building across the street.
I felt so bad for him, because our neighborhood is full of construction, and I know that a lot of stray cats in Korea get mistreated. I didn’t want him to sleep another night outside, and the man was willing to let us take him home with us as long as we gave him a good home. He even told us he would give us food, treats, and toys for him, and promised to buy a litter box as well.
We went home to discuss the color of our blinds so that we could go back and order them, but we also discussed taking the kitty home with us. I told him I wasn’t really mentally prepared to get a cat so soon, thinking we would get one in a few months at the earliest. But I really didn’t want him to be homeless anymore, and Junkyu was willing to let me keep him, so I got excited.
Back at the store, we told the man what kind of blinds we wanted and ordered them, and I let the cat sit in my lap while we did. He told me we could try to keep him and if it didn’t work out, we could bring him back. We told him we would do our best, and he gave us all the kitty related things he had bought for him. He even went out and bought a litter box and a bag of litter, so we took him home and began our journey as kitty parents.
Initially, he was nervous about being in a new place, so we let him look around at everything upstairs, where we made his home. We decided it would be a good idea to keep him upstairs and away from the kitchen and bedroom, so that it would be a nice, clean, cat-free zone for us and our guests. When I was in middle school, I got two kittens and one of them is still living at my grandma’s house, old and fat. She used to sleep in my bed every night, but I agreed with him that it was good to have our own space.
We brought in the litter box and filled it up, and as soon as he saw it, he climbed in and used it. I was really impressed. He looked young and like he might have been a stray, but he was already litter trained. The man at the store told us he suspected someone might have owned him and then tossed him out.
He still seemed nervous, but we made a box for him to sleep in and played with him until bedtime. We tried out different names on him, but nothing seemed to fit. I knew I had to give him something that suited him, so I waited until I could try something out that he liked.
The next day, I was busy with work and errands, but I knew we should take him to the vet to get him checked out. I thought about names all day and the name Leo kept popping up. I tried it on him in the morning, and he meowed at me and came towards me as if to agree that was his name. Officially, his name is Leonardo DiCatprio, and Leo is his nickname.
Junkyu picked me up, and we called a vet that had been recommended to me because they speak English and are close to our house. They told us we could come right away, so we went and got our little kitty and he shook all over when riding in the car.
Finally, we got there and the vet was a really nice man who spoke English well. He told us that Leo is a Korean Shorthair, about one year old, and that his ear was cut when he was neutered. He had no health problems, and the vet kept remarking about how well behaved he is. He clipped his nails, took a blood sample, checked his vitals, and made him swallow some medicine. He gave us tips for the future and when we were paying and picking up some toys and treats, he gave us an extra bag of treats for free.
Expectedly, Leo was not happy with us, but we weren’t done with him yet. We decided he needed a bath, since he had been sleeping outside for a while, but he was really angry at us afterwards. In the morning, he was back to his normal self, and he smelled really good.
Leo loves to jump in our laps to sleep and he cries for us when we go downstairs. He is super sweet and isn’t scared of other people or animals. He is playful and cuddly and we love him already. It was our dream to get a cat, but finding Leo was like destiny.