Mai Tran began catsitting in 2021 while Tran was on pandemic unemployment, often staying overnight in people’s homes. Tran has now cared for twenty-two cats and traveled to ten apartments all over New York City, observing the interior lives of cat owners and appeasing their neuroses. From home vet visits to black eyes to refugee cats, Chronicles of a Catsitter documents the most memorable days on the job.

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In late 2021, I pick up another gig through the cat rescue Facebook group. The couple I work for lives only a few blocks away, so I arrange to drop in twice a day to hang out and feed the cats rather than stay overnight. The couple keeps four long-haired cats in a one-bedroom apartment. They send me photos of each pet along with detailed bios. The cats’ names, slightly altered for anonymity but the same in essence, are King Fluff, Ding Dong, Pilaf, and Freddy.

My roommate tags along when I pick up the keys. We have a talkative GF / taciturn BF dynamic, and the couple also has a black cat / golden retriever thing going on, so everyone balances out. The wife works on her computer while the husband shows us how to get the cats to stand on their hind legs by holding treats above their heads. When a cat tries to walk away, the husband drags it back and flips it onto its stomach or over his shoulder. The cats don’t seem to mind, but my roommate and I widen our eyes at each other. We debrief on the walk back.

I catsit for the couple several times, and my roommate sometimes accompanies me. We bring our meals, laptops, and books. They sit in the living room while I clear the two litter boxes and refill the drinking fountain and food bowls. I send the couple photos of the cats crawling over our laps. My roommate’s favorite is Freddy because he is soft and cuddly and will let you hold him for minutes on end. I like Pilaf, who has a huge forehead that makes him look like a goldfish. Pilaf and I trip over each other because he is constantly underfoot, latched onto my ankles with no regard for either of our safety.

Sometimes, my roommate and I arrive to find a cat has thrown up or knocked something over, but overall, if the couple isn’t gone for more than a week, the apartment is manageable. They didn’t show us where the cleaning supplies were, so we pick clumps of fur off the couch with our hands and use their lint roller on everything else. There are no windows to open and air out the apartment because they live on the first floor. There’s only a door to a backyard, which we aren’t allowed to crack in case the cats run out and we can’t get them back in.

After about six months of catsitting for the couple, I start a day job and pass the gig over to my roommate. A few months later, my roommate tells me the couple is receiving two foster cats who are refugees from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They found the cats through an agency and will be taking care of them indefinitely until their owners can make it to the States.

I stop by the apartment to meet the new cats, Amber and Karl, who are also long-haired. When I arrive, I can see cat fur flying through beams of sunlight. Karl has settled in with the other four, but Amber seems to hate all of them and secludes herself in the bathroom or wedges herself into small cardboard boxes with her back turned against the entrance. The couple has upgraded to four litter boxes, three in their bedroom and one in the shower. After a few minutes, I start sneezing and put on a mask. My roommate peels open can after can of wet food, spreading them around the living room so the cats don’t stampede a singular bowl.

The cats now deplete their water fountain in a day. One cat repeatedly throws up on the bed, and my roommate has suspicions about who it is. I hate him, they keep messaging me. I hate him I hate him I hate him. They stock up on cat photos and send them to the couple periodically over two hours, wiping the time stamps so it looks like we were in the apartment longer than the fifteen minutes it took to meet the cats’ basic survival needs. How do they live like this? we whispered, and then the couple later mention that they regularly hire a person to clean.

Another year passes, and Amber and Karl are reunited with their owners. It’s my roommate’s and my third year in the neighborhood, which we moved into during the pandemic when rent prices had dropped. At the end of our second year, our building changed landlords, and now that our lease was ending, they were pricing us out. Another friend in the neighborhood also left shortly after us. Not even a quarter through her year-long lease, a note was slipped under her door. NYU had purchased her building, presumably as housing for their hospital nearby, and gave her a month to vacate.

In the months leading up to our move, my roommate prepares by passing the catsitting gig to a college student they know. The couple invites us over to play with the cats in their backyard, and to show the new catsitter around. While my roommate and the husband do their yapping thing, the wife takes me aside because I had previously shared that I was looking for top surgery supplies. She gives me a pillow and some other recovery items from when she had gotten a breast reduction. I assume it’s pretty similar, she said, and she wasn’t technically wrong. “Cosmetic” surgeries for cis people and “gender-affirming” surgeries for trans people are both usually done by a plastics department, and the delineation between “cis” and “trans” plastic surgeries, aside from knowledge and style, was mostly a matter of access and how they were criminalized.

I grow tired before my roommate does and am excited to leave. After dropping off the surgery supplies at our apartment, I take a long, rambling walk around the neighborhood. Before I was a runner, I took walks often, but never ran into the couple. It always surprises me how big or small the city can be. I’ll meet dozens of neighbors once, then never see them again, but, of course, on a random train, I’ll run into a hookup with whom things didn’t end well and be forced to sit together for fifteen minutes because I already made eye contact and it’s too late to pretend like I didn’t, and I’m neither quick nor smooth enough to just say hi and keep it moving.

The couple maintains a friendly rapport with my roommate and me before it naturally fizzles out. They send photos when they adopt a small dachshund, who they dress in costumes and take to restaurants. The cats love him, they say, although the new catsitter reports that they all hide in the other room when the dog is around. Sometimes I think about hiding too, and I fear I identify the most with Amber. I tell myself that my dream is to fall off the face of the earth and do nothing but write picture books and run, yet people keep calling me back.