In my not-limited experience, when you take your kids to Tiny Lions, no matter how many pep talks, explanations, and look-into-my-eyes-I-promise-you-we-are-not-leaving-with-kittens-today conversations you do in advance, you have two-and-a-half possible outcomes: you are leaving with crying children, or you are leaving with kittens. 

The half—spoiler alert—is leaving having adopted two kittens that you cannot take home that day because it is deep into Kitten Season and all the adoption appointment slots are filled, and your children are crying because of that. (You can be happy for all the adopted kittens and their new owners and sad for yourself, despite these feelings being in conflict with each other. Also remember: Crying is okay. Crying is basically always okay.)

I’d like to tell you there are times you can go where there are only full-grown cats (it is a cat café, after all) or perhaps even old, mangy cats and no kittens, but that isn’t my experience. When I asked one of the (truly, wildly helpful, kind, and compassionate) volunteers who works there when “kitten season” is, she told me, straight-faced, that it was March through December. So, what’s more likely is that you’ll go, there will be what feels like 300 extraordinarily soft and playful kittens milling about, and 299 of them will be already adopted. (You really have no choice but to wonder what’s “wrong” with the one who isn’t. Or so I’ve been told.)

The first time my husband, Jason, and our two kids, Vi (ten at the time) and Abe (seven), went to Tiny Lions last fall, we’d already agreed as a family that we were going to adopt two kittens someday. Jason and I talked at length about finding kittens that would be a good fit for us (small house, smallish children), and set out with reasonable expectations, i.e., “we will not be bringing home any kittens tonight,” to which our children lied to us by saying they understood and they agreed. When we left on that sunny day last fall, of course, they were in tears and I was viciously sneezing; Jason managed to hold himself together, and we went to get sushi.

I went a few more times without the kids. I took an antihistamine and my laptop. I paid my $7 (yes, each time, it goes to a good cause: the Humane Society of Huron Valley) and set up a little work station at one of the dozen or so round tables. I avoided the many comfy-looking armchairs; my to-do list is always long, and three to seven litters of kittens on my lap wouldn’t get it done any faster. (Was I fooling myself or trying to fool others? It’s hard to say; I felt like I was somehow undercover.)

My laptop was open in front of me, but I spent so much time inspecting kittens that I had to touch the trackpad every so often to keep the screen saver at bay while I “worked.” There were quite a few that I liked, but I was very good at finding flaws (i.e., jumps out of my arms, i.e., won’t let me pick them up, i.e., doesn’t immediately appear to love me).

But I did learn the lay of the land. So, on a Saturday in September, we booked an appointment: twelve o’clock, right when they opened. We showed up early and stood outside (this part was the hardest for my son, who paced, peered into windows, and asked roughly every five seconds when noon would be). We tried to see the kittens we’d essentially stalked online before we left home; no dice. Finally, noon happened. We went in and chased, snuggled, and assessed kittens.

An unexpected byproduct of this approach is that, because the HSHV website is so well done (descriptions of kittens, ages, temperament, photos), when you go in and see in person the kittens you’d seen online, you feel like you’re spotting a celebrity. “(gasp) Oh, look! It’s Sunrise Sunset!” (I don’t know who gets to name each kitten or litter that comes in, but they are having a very fun time of it.) I’d always wanted a tuxedo cat to name Cyd Charisse, so I went (I apologize, but I have to say it) on the prowl. Each black-and-white kitten was tested and assessed by me. I picked one: Beach Bum would be our Cyd.

I also had it in my head that a ginger kitten would be a great companion. I stalked Yolo, but he spent the morning in a woman’s lap, and she later adopted him. My husband reminded me that I didn’t get to pick both kittens. I glared, narrow-eyed, at the remaining stock.

“Mom!” Abe called, pulling me out of my scowl. He’d been snuggling the same tabby, Curly, for quite some time. “Come here!” 

I went.

“Look at this kitten,” he said, dreamily. “Doesn’t he just look at you with such love in his eyes?”

It was done. In my experience, when your seven-year-old son utters such a phrase in such a heartfelt way, all you can do is go with it. Actually, it was sort of done. Because, while we technically adopted the two kittens, we left kittenless … and with crying children.

Seeing how sad our kids were, the amazing staff squeezed us into a previously nonexistent slot the following day, on the condition that we could be patient. Jason and I agreed to those terms; we could not hear our children’s response through their tears.

The next day, after a comprehensive adoption appointment that left us all feeling extremely well informed and desperate to get home and play with the kittens, we packed up Beach Bum and Curly, now known as Cyd Charisse (aka Cydney Bean, Bebe Cee-yit, City) and Cosmo Brown (aka Mo, Momo Shake, Mo-sters, Bebe Mo; it turns out T.S. Eliot was right and cats really do need to have several names).

We still look at the adoptable kittens on the humane society’s website (everyone needs a hobby!), and the only complaint we collectively have is that we cannot adopt more kittens for (hopefully) another fifteen or twenty years.

If you want to read the prequel to this piece, check out Searching for Cyd Charisse from the 2022 City Guide.