Most of my rescue stories are pretty dramatic and any humor one can find is usually an offbeat detail of an otherwise grim story. But every once in a while there’s a rescue that’s just plain silly. Sophie’s head was in the clouds a good bit of the time and you could tell she was either thinking lofty thoughts or possibly watching dust motes float around in the air, but when she wasn’t she was always big, soft and squeezable, wildly affectionate and suddenly wild-eyed and frightened, and just plain silly. It wasn’t a surprise to me, then, that when I wrote her rescue story, that was just plain silly too.
October 19 is my anniversary of closing on my home, this home, the one I’ve shared with most of the cats who’ve spent a portion of their lives with me. I call Sophie my housewarming cat because I rescued her just a week after I’d moved everything in to this house and finally moved myself and my cats in, and though I had six cats at the time, apparently I needed just one more to make my new home complete, an odd number, perhaps, or lucky seven.
The Housewarming Cat
Sophie was unique among the cats in my household, big and fluffy and beautiful but with little understanding of her own size, sometimes timid for no apparent reason, and very dramatic, but devoted and deeply affectionate with her own customized vocabulary. I always had the feeling her version of reality was very different from everyone else’s.
She and Cookie were absolute BFFs from the day they met, and the two were my personal guards as they stationed themselves on either side of me whether I was at my easel or at the washing machine, literally on either side of my feet. I called them my “Chariot Cats”, which made me the goddess Freya. That was how they made me feel.
But this was even before Cookie joined my household and just after I moved into this house and so I’ve always called Sophie my “housewarming cat”. I’ve never received a better housewarming gift.
A new house and a new cat
I bought the house where I now live in 1990, closing on October 19 on my little carpenter’s special. Once I had the key I spent about two weeks of nights after work at projects that were much easier without furniture, stuff and cats, like painting walls and repairing or laying flooring, then taking car loads of things every time I went past since my new house wasn’t far from the house I’d been renting.
Finally came moving weekend, the first weekend in November, when friends and I went back and forth for an entire day to just get all my stuff here so I could spend the next full week on vacation putting things away. My six cats were closed in one of the empty bedrooms in the old house with water and a litter box while the world came apart around them. At about 1:00 a.m. I had the new house in enough order, even litter boxes in the basement, and I went back to the old house, packed my cats in carriers, put them in the car, and introduced them to their new home (Kublai had already visited once or twice). I fed them their dinner in the kitchen, which though late ingratiated them to their new home as nothing else ever could have. And even that first night, my wonderful mixed bag of rescues: confident and intelligent Kublai, deaf and fearless Sally, friendly but slightly paranoid Stanley, clueless but fun Allegro, formerly feral Moses and spoiled rotten Fawn all ended up sleeping with me.
Through the week, as we settled in, slowly working my way through all the rooms, I used the spare bedroom as a dumping ground for both empty boxes and those still with contents. The house I’d bought was easily half the size of the one I’d rented and furniture and even kitchen items ended up in there. It was all destined for the attic but I had only a small access in the closet in my larger bedroom and I decided I’d have plenty of time to ask someone to come over so they could hand me things and I could organize them up there, and repack things that didn’t fit through the 18″ x 18″ opening.
On the Saturday before I was to return to work I received a housewarming gift in the form of a check that I would deposit on Monday after I’d returned to work. I worked four ten-hour days then, sometimes five or six, and I was grateful for ATMs since I never made it to the bank in person. I also left too late for work to make any stops on the way, so I’d be stopping at a certain drive-up ATM on the way home.
My workplace was 17 miles from my home, and the ATM was a mere five miles from my home so I wouldn’t mind stopping when I was “almost there”. I pulled off the highway onto the winding roads of the newly-built shopping complex including a strip mall, several free-standing big box stores, an IKEA store, a theater, you get the picture—the place was huge and largely undeveloped, pretty much the only thing off an exit from the highway, dark and deserted by the time I got there.
So I wound my way through the roads in the development to the big deluxe bank and drove around the side to where the drive-through was, which included the drive-up ATM.
I had just exited the highway and my ears were full of highway noise, I had the radio playing the alternative rock station at a fairly high volume, and when I pulled up under the drive-through and opened my window my car engine echoed under the canopy. I could barely hear the “ding” of the ATM as it prompted me to go to the next step in depositing my check.
But I heard a cat meow.
Nonsense, I thought to myself, you always hear a cat meow. There’s no cat here, this bank is at the end of the world, all there is after this is graded mud all the way to the highway, winding development roads, not a single house, not even another human being. There is no way there’s a cat anywhere around here.
I had been rescuing for almost ten years at that time, and in addition to the six who lived with me, all rescues to small or great extent, there had already been twice that many who I’d grabbed off the roadside, climbed trees to get, lured to me in my yard, chased along railroad tracks, who I’d captured, treated, fostered, midwifed into life and adopted out to an ever-widening circle of friends who loved animals. That was the end of the 80s when there really were homeless cats everywhere, so it was not out of the question that I did hear cats meow all the time, and they weren’t just in my head.
But I looked past the two drive-through lanes and there, through the scant new hedge bare of leaves, I saw a cat, adult-size, lots of white and some black pacing back and forth at the edge of the light circle from the street light. And meowing, loudly, loud enough to be heard over all the din I was producing, and looking right at me, as if the cat had been expecting me.
I opened my car door and walked around my car toward the cat, leaving the engine running and the door open and my card in the machine, never mind that I was all alone at a bank ATM in a deserted retail development miles from civilization. There was a cat to be caught, one that was literally asking me to catch it, and all ideas of care and safety were null and void until the cat was safely stashed, somewhere.
I began slowly moving toward the hedge.
“Who are you, kitty?”
That cat could run off toward the highway at any moment and not only would I never catch it, I’d barely be able to see it, and it could end in disaster. I didn’t want to think about that, only about a way to get around behind the cat. This was actually pointless because there was no place to corner the cat, but it made me feel better that I wouldn’t be chasing it toward the highway.
“How did you get here, kitty?”
The cat answered all my insipid questions with the same enthusiastic “meow!” and continued pacing behind the hedge. I came around the end of it, squatted down and held out my hand as if I had a treat in it, like this cat might even know what a treat was.
The cat was acting cautious, but not actually frightened, and everything it was doing was telling me it wanted to be caught, if I could only be aware of her feelings and maintain my patience. Shaggy medium-haired, white legs, belly, chest and lower face, big striped saddle and babushka of tabby stripes on the back and head and big floofy tabby tail like a raccoon’s, the cat looked adult size, certainly no kitten, but no clue for gender.
It was not uncomfortable with my presence nor my eye contact, so I kept my eye contact with it and slowly moved forward as the cat ran away a few steps, came back, ran again, came back, meowing with every move.
I finally got within reach of the cat, let it cautiously tiptoe toward me and stretch as many body parts as it could to sniff my outstretched hand. It began investigating my hand as I continued my little patter though the cat was now quiet. When it got to my sleeve I tried to stay relaxed as if I wasn’t planning my one and only chance to grab a scruff and possibly have my face shredded by an unknown kitty.
Distracted by my coat sleeve which smelled heavily of all my six cats since I petted each of them before I left the house, the moment presented itself and I scruffed the kitty, picked it up and smashed it against my coat front before it could get a paw loose, then cut through the little hedge heading for my car and ready to hold onto this cat at all costs until I had it contained somewhere.
The cat was not acting violent in any way, though, just wiggling in discomfort at being suddenly smashed face-first into a wool winter coat. I plopped down into the seat, pulled the door shut, rolled up the window both with my left hand while I “restrained” the cat with my right.
The car sealed shut I loosened my death grip on the cat’s scruff and released the pressure on its back.
It looked up at me and said tentatively, “Meow?”
Okay, so I hadn’t needed to prepare for battle, but cats had done all the things I anticipated and more. The cat seemed confused, as if it had been expecting something else entirely when it met its rescuer.
“Hi, kitty, are you okay?” I continued with meaningless conversation as I gave it a gentle little exam and decided that, since I had no evidence the cat was a boy, that she was therefore a girl and that would be good enough until I had the time to investigate further.
I realized I had nothing to put her into. I had been carrying a cat carrier in the back of my car for several years, but I’d taken everything out to move. She might be okay just sitting here, but what about when the car starts moving? Ever had a cat attack the back of your head?
I looked up at the ATM for my card, prepared to hold her in place as I opened the window to get my card. But my card wasn’t there. The evil machine said I had left the card in place too long with no response and it had taken my card, and that I should visit the bank to get it back.
So much for my deposit and my ATM card, but I had the cat!
Now what to do with her while I drove home down a dark, winding road?
Hope for the best. I let her go and she explored the car. When I began driving she hopped gracefully into the passenger seat and then came for me, getting onto my lap and then stepping up onto my arms outstretched to the steering wheel so she could…stand there and lick my face all the way home. She was a very grateful rescued kitty.
But now where do I put the kitty
Arriving home some time later for having to drive about five miles per hour while not being able to see much around the cat’s face and fuzzy head, I realized that I had no place in the house to put the kitty, either—no spare cat room had yet been established. I looked at her and said, “You’re staying in the car,” held her, got out, tossed her to the passenger seat and closed the door. She ran to the window and meowed, and all the way up to my house I could hear her…I felt like a total criminal for abusing her trust.
I ran in, fed my cats their canned food—I didn’t leave food out even then and the long day had been long enough for them, it was now near 11:00 p.m.
As soon as I had their food down I ran upstairs to the spare bedroom and opened the door. I could swing the door open, otherwise the room was stacked with boxes more than halfway to the nine-foot ceiling.
Well, I thought, there’s no time like the present to get these things into the attic. I moved as many as would fit into my bedroom, closed the door against curious kitties, opened the closet door, got the ladder I had stashed in there, moved the attic access panel out of the way and started shoving boxes into the attic. So much for being organized. When that was done I closed up the attic and moved another set of boxes to my room. Finally, there was enough space in the spare bedroom to fit a cat and a litterbox and food and water, and nothing would come unexpectedly tumbling down from anywhere.
I grabbed a carrier and went to my car. The cat was desperately leaping from seat to seat and looking out the windows and still meowing loudly, but I got my hands on her easily, got her in the carrier and into the house and past six sets of feline eyes suspicious of this entire process as several of them had seen it already a number of times in the old house…a new cat was in the house! Their new house!
The spare cat room
So that was how the “spare cat room” was established, practically at the same time I moved into this place, and though it’s my studio today that is only a development from this in over two decades in this house. While also serving other purposes, that room has welcomed nearly all the other new cats who’ve joined my household, from Sophie, my housewarming cat, to Mimi and the Fantastic Four when they were just three days old. It’s also kept convalescing kitties comfortable, and kitties on the last part of their journey safe when I couldn’t be with them for part of a day.
I always had the feeling Sophie was sent to me, appearing in that desolate place more than a mile from any house right when I’d be there—it was muddy and damp but she was fairly clean—and seeming to be waiting for me, not objecting to being caught and actually thanking me once we got in the car and every day afterward.
But it was her confused reaction to my cautious and defensive methods—it was as if those who sent her to me had told her, “We’ll put you here, and the human you are to take care of will come along and pick you up and take you home …”, but no one had warned her of all my defensive scruffing and smashing, it just wasn’t at all what she’d expected.
Sophie was a girl and a juvenile kitten, though such a big girl at that age indicated perhaps she had some of a large breed in her heritage. I had thought possibly she was in heat with all the talking, and when I went back to the bank to get my card and asked if they had seen her—the drive-through windows looked right out on where she had been—they had not, but would ask if anyone had lost a cat, and if she had kittens, they’d adopt one. But Sophie was not expecting. I had her spayed and that was the end of that.
My mother fell in love with Sophie’s beauty and adopted her from me and kept her for about two years, but Sophie’s enthusiastically affectionate and silly ways, like pulling a flower from a silk arrangement and presenting it to her with vocal accompaniment early in the morning, and licking my mother’s hands and face, were a little too much for my mother. My mother had also had two major back surgeries in that time and I brought Sophie back to my home and visited my mother daily in her recovery to care for her; we were both concerned for her balance. So Sophie came back to be with us permanently, met her BFF Cookie who had joined us in the meantime, and spent the rest of her years with us, with lots of stories to tell of taking care of her human.
And you may recognize this photo of my Sophie in a typically dramatic moment!
I lost Sophie at the end of November 2006, one of the four I lost during that 12-month span of losing all my oldest kitties, to a likely growth that had begun from a cutaneous horn growth that had been removed from above her right eye a few years previous but recurred, growing in her sinuses and throat, and impossible to find. When I talked on the phone Sophie always talked to me, perhaps thinking I was talking to her, and when I recorded the message on my answering machine people remarked about the cat talking in the background. I never realized that, and from them on I made sure Sophie was a part of each message recording as I changed devices and systems. I recorded the message on my voice mail in her last months, and it’s still there today, outdated for content, but I can’t bear the thought of losing that connection with Sophie. I still miss her, every day.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!