The Cat of a Lifetime

painting of cat outdoors
Sherman's Portrait No. 1

Sherman’s family had not lived with any cats prior to Sherman, and have adopted none since, in fact, they are allergic to cats. Yet when an animal-loving friend needed to move from Pennsylvania to Texas and wanted to place as many as possible of her cats and dogs in homes before she left (taking the “unadoptables” with her), they met Sherman and decided to take him home. He was a full-bred ruddy Abyssinian with the gregarious personality and intuitive nature of the breed and adapted immediately, managing their schedules and greeting the neighbors.

If you’ll only be able to share your life with one cat, then finding a cat like Sherman is truly finding the cat of a lifetime.

Sherman is one of the rescued cats featured in my Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book. The opening paragraph is his “rescue story” from the book, and here is more about him and his people.

When their friends with four children and a house full of animals needed to move, they thought it would be best if they found homes for as many of their cats and dogs as possible rather than make them endure the long drive and resettle. They had a number of animals they considered “unadoptable” because of illness, age or temperament, and those would travel with them. They would try to find homes for as many of the others before they left, but take any who hadn’t been adopted.

“We went to visit them and we came home with a cat!” said Rose. “The last time we visited they told us they wanted us to take Sherman.”

Sherman apparently had an idea what was going on. “I didn’t really want to adopt a cat, but Sherman knew Lou would be easier to work on so he started rubbing around Lou’s legs,” Rose recalled. Then Sherman wrapped himself around Lou and wouldn’t let go. Of course she couldn’t say no, and of course she fell in love with him too.

“We were totally unprepared,” they said “Of course we had nothing for a cat. We don’t remember what they gave us, a litterbox and some food maybe, I’m not even sure if we had a carrier.” They drove 40 miles with him sleeping in the back seat until he started wandering around the car, even trying to get under the gas pedal, but they were almost home.

Rose never had a pet of her own, though her sister had had a cat growing up, but Lou never had a dog or a cat ever in his life. What made Sherman’s owner approach these two as his adoptive family? Knowing them myself I would think it was something about their kind and gentle natures. Sherman probably knew he could easily manipulate them. It was meant to be.

Sherman was eight years old then, but was so friendly and outgoing he sometimes seemed “like a puppy”. “He adapted right away,” Rose said. “It was as if he’d always been here.” He hadn’t been just manipulating Lou, though, Sherman just fell in love with him, and began the continuing habit of sleeping on Lou’s pillow.

This was when the allergies surfaced. Lou had always had some allergies and symptoms of asthma, but never having had a pet had no idea what the effect would be.

“The doctor said I had to get rid of the cat. I told the doctor, ‘No way, I’m not getting rid of the cat.’ The doctor said keep him out of the bedroom, I said ‘No way,’”

So Sherman always got his way. It was because they loved him so much.

They were amazed at some of his abilities.

“He could read your mind, he knew how you felt and what you wanted to do,” said Rose.

Lou worked night turn, when Sherman decided Lou had slept enough he would pull Lou’s eyelids open.

“He loved everyone,” said Lou. “When we would take walks, no leash or anything, it wasn’t necessary, he would walk along with me, go up to greet people, and sometimes sit to wait for people to walk up to him,” he continued. “On a day when a lot of people were around or out in their yards the walk would take a long time, especially when there would be an open garage door and he would have to go and investigate until he was satisfied.” Of course, Lou would patiently wait on the sidewalk until Sherman was done with his investigation.

Rose recalled that when someone come to do an energy audit of their house, after the tour they settled down at the dining room table to talk over the findings. The guy had a beard, and Sherman started grooming this guy’s beard.

“Lou has a beard, and Sherman groomed his beard too” Rose said. “I think Sherman thought Lou was a big cat.”

And though most of the memories of Sherman involve his relationship with Lou, Rose had her time with Sherman as well. “He was very comforting because he was so soft to touch. Sherman had a silky coat, it looked soft and it was soft,” she remembered

Sherman lived to be 18, a good ten years with a very special cat.

After they lost Sherman, Lou “realized how much breathing he had been missing”, and they both decided another cat was probably not a good idea.

“We see cats and we talk about it, but he’s allergic. He’s not so allergic that he can’t visit someone with pets, some he’s more allergic to than others,” Rose explained.

Sherman is still a big influence, and they still use his name whenever possible.

Sherman’s portrait set was one of the ones I needed to rephotograph in order to print the calendar. They are small, 8” x 8” each, and I had painted them in 1994 (the calendar says 1996, but I had the wrong date on my paperwork from way back then). The photos I took then were fine to trim down and add to my portfolio book, but enlarging them only lost detail and the colors were impossible to adjust. The lens I had then made focusing on something small very difficult; shortly after that I finally purchased a high-quality scanner and used that for anything small enough to fit in the scanner bed.

And even when I visited to pick up the portraits—I needed to bring them home to photograph them—the stories continued, and Lou was concerned about how long Sherman’s portraits would be away.

“He knew when the kids would be coming home from school, and would sit at the top of the steps to greet them,” both Rose and Lou agreed, “and then he’d be back in the house getting involved in whatever we were doing.” He also waited for Lou to come home from work, sitting on a chair which Rose had placed in front of the screen door.

Creating the portrait

Rose and I worked together for several years in the 90s, and in addition to her day job Rose is herself a textile artist, so though we worked in different departments we would sometimes discuss local art events, like the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and what we’d seen there and were working on. Later, when I needed to learn about cold-set dyes and purchasing blank t-shirts for my Tortie Girls prints, she would also be the person to explain the different types of fabric dyes and guide me to Dharma Trading Company where I buy my blank shirts and dyes.

Remembering Lou’s relationship with Sherman, she decided a couple of years after they had lost Sherman she’d get Lou a portrait of him that he could keep forever.

As we discussed Sherman’s portrait and looked at photos considering postures and settings, we initially decided on the image one of him outside on the patio since they had spent much time out there and it was simply a nice image, appealing to both of us.

Yet she had mentioned more than once him sitting on the chair in front of the door, and knew that was a very special memory for Lou.

Sherman at the door was a big, strong memory, but simply not as nice to look at as the one on the patio, yet the one on the patio wouldn’t serve all on its own, and I knew this from trying to choose images for portraits of my own cats.

I suggested two small portraits and she liked the idea so we didn’t have to choose one and eliminate the other, risking a regret later, and the possibilities of framing and hanging them appealed to her as well.

However, she didn’t have a photo of Sherman at the door. Well, I rarely work from one photo, and often add things that people have described to me, painted in backgrounds from photos I have, imagined what an animal looked like before the cataracts or the amputated leg, or tried to visualize an animal from the one and only photo available that shows the animal very small, blurry, and the flash washing out its face. If I have enough information, I can visualize the rest. It’s a different sort of a challenge to create a portrait from scratch.

We discussed the type of screen door and chairs they’d had, the house was pale yellow brick, and I took it from there.

painting of cat at door
Sherman's Portrait No. 2

Here is Sherman’s page in Great Rescues

great rescues page

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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