Amelia Heller turned 15 at the end of April. During her drive-by quarantine birthday party, one of her friends brought a kitten that they were fostering and let Amelia and the family hold her. The family all joked that she was so cute they might just have to adopt her. After this interaction, the Hellers did not discuss getting another cat for quite some time, but in mid-May, discussions began anew.
At first Rabbi Joshua Heller, senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah, was opposed to the idea of adopting another cat since the family already had two. He said, “Having a pet is a big responsibility. I don’t want to take on the responsibility if we can’t do it 100 percent.” Even with his reservations, the children and wife Wendy Heller wore him down. On May 19, Ellie, the very same kitty from weeks earlier, arrived at the Heller’s house and was welcomed with hugs and snuggles.
Amelia said, “Ellie is a small 1-pound, 7-ounce tabby with big blue-grey eyes, a skinny ringed tail, and black and gray striped fur. When she is not sleeping, Ellie is quite curious, excited, energetic, and playful, but always ready to cuddle. She loves all of her toys, the laser pointer and string, but she especially loves climbing and exploring her new home.”
The Heller family’s experience with cats began in 2014 when they adopted their first. Prior to Ellie, the Hellers had two felines, Rashi and Tosefot, named for the Talmudic sages. The family has not yet introduced the other two cats to Ellie, but it seems clear they are aware of her. Currently, Ellie is located in the basement, and the other two cats are on the upper floors of the house.
Rabbi Heller had one condition: If the family was to get another cat, he would name it, and he had picked out the name “Rabbeinu Tam” long before Ellie.
The Hellers seriously considered Tommi as the name for Ellie but knew that variations of “Tam” would never quite fit a girl kitten. Rabbi Heller explained, “I like that the first two are named Rashi and Tosefot, and wish we had named our third Rabeinnu Tam. That is my greatest disappointment.”
The night the Hellers got Ellie, they had a long conversation debating names like Josie, Princess Carolyn, Duchess, Tommi, Missy and Rava, but they could not agree. A name the whole family liked was Ellie because it could stand for so many things: Elazar Ben Azaria, Eliyahu Hanavi, Eleanor, and Elliot, all of which had cultural, family or Jewish significance and many cute variations that could serve as nicknames. Eventually everyone agreed that Ellie would be the new kitten’s name.
The children knew when they first got cats that most of the duties would fall to them. Caleb, the oldest child, gives the cats water daily; Amelia, the middle, cleans the litter boxes and is responsible for medications; Ezra, the youngest feeds the cats; and everyone pitches in when it is time to go to the vet.
These responsibilities have increased since Ellie arrived because kittens are especially needy. Amelia continued, “Ellie needs a mix of kibbles and canned food four times a day and goes to the vet often for immunizations and check-ups just like an infant would. Because she is secluded in the basement, Ellie needs constant attention, but that feels less of a chore because the entire family enjoys spending time with her.”
Though the Hellers cannot say for sure as Ellie is very young, they intend to take her out on a leash occasionally like they do with Rashi. Ellie will not have lengthy outside outings to avoid the dangers that come with the great outdoors like coyotes, fleas and getting into trouble with other stray animals.
Ellie, welcome to the family! You landed on a good perch.
Amelia Heller, a student at The Weber School and aspiring journalist, contributed to this article.