Pet Spotlight: Andy and Leo

Andy and Leo are the pair of brothers who have graced our home for over eleven years now. We adopted them from an animal shelter when our kids were young and eager for “real” pets, after the non-cuddly fish in our living room tank stopped qualifying.

We walked into the shelter and entered a long corridor lined with barking dogs. Both children stayed in character: Karenna, then nine, charged through the cacophony to get to the cat room at the other end; Eli, twelve, froze, too terrified to proceed. My husband Oliver chased our swift, eager daughter and I waited behind with our sensitive son and coaxed him onward. Eventually, we all reconvened in the room at the end of the hall.

The walls were stacked with cages housing cats of all ages, sizes, colors and temperaments. We looked for kittens because our children were themselves kittens, and it would be an opportunity for them to watch animals grow into adulthood as they themselves would soon do. We considered several choices before deciding on a pair of tiny black and white siblings.

As a shelter volunteer helped us begin the adoption process, we stood at a counter while the matched set of kittens wriggled and bit and jumped and climbed in frenzy. Feeling uncertain that we’d made the right choice, I turned around to take a last look at another set of kittens we’d briefly cuddled. They sat calmly in their cage: the fluffy, orange tabby we’d eventually name Andy, and the sleek black and white tuxedo soon to be known as Leo.

I followed a strong gut feeling and said, “What about them?”

My family turned to take a second look at the demure brothers, a month older and eons calmer than the pair of hyper kittens we were on the verge of taking home.

Karenna’s argument came swiftly: “But the black and white one has a mustache!”

It was true, the facial patterns of his colorings rendered the little fellow mustachioed.

My counter-argument was equally swift: “So what?”

“You’re right,” both kids said at once. We crossed back to the other cage, engaged in another round of cuddles, and changed our minds.

The kids felt compelled to name their new pets immediately and got right to it on the car ride home. Eli decided on “Andy” after Andy Pettitte, then a Yankees pitcher. Karenna choose “Leonardo” for hers, because for some reason she thought the mustache made him look Italian. By the time we were back in Brooklyn, group negotiation had tailored the names to fit our artsy family: Andy Warhol Lief, and Leonardo da Brooklyn Lief.

Ever since, Andy and Leo have been joyful additions to our family. They turned out to be sweet, loving and exceedingly shy around strangers, tightly bonded brothers who at any given moment might be cuddling themselves into a love-knot or chasing each other in a contest of speed and skill. They’ve both survived life-threatening illnesses—Andy a blocked urinary tract, and Leo a serious reaction to eating a toxic houseplant (no spider plants around cats, please!). Though they still hide when most outsiders step into the house, they’ve started to relax a bit and sometimes emerge to greet the visitor.

They’re getting older now, but so are we. Eli and Karenna have both moved out and on. Andy sleeps beside me every night. Leo curls up on my lap every morning. This pair of brothers bring so much love into our home and it seems to me that they, too, are happy with the arrangement.

Katia Lief is the author of several internationally bestselling crime novels, including THE MONEY KILL, the fourth installment of her Karin Schaeffer series published in 2013 by HarperCollins and nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her newest novel A Map of the Dark is now available from Mulholland Books under the pseudonym Karen Ellis.  She teaches fiction writing at The New School in Manhattan and lives with her family in Brooklyn.