My Sunday morning started out with the saddest words I think I could ever hear – “He’s gone”. My sweet, sweet cat Sammy was gone. I looked down at the little black head tucked in my palm, the long white whiskers shooting out from his cheeks. Sam, the cat with seven toes on each foot, who always sat perched on the counter when I came home from school, Sam with his little pipsqueak meow now lay still on the table in the vet’s office. The vet slowly pulled the syringe out of his leg and whispered “I’m sorry” as she stepped back. I could barely see anything through layers of tears in my eyes as I petted Sam’s soft little head. Contrary to what you may believe, Sam’s story isn’t a sad one. Granted, standing there holding him as he passed away was a heartbreaking moment, but Sam’s life as a whole was a beautiful life. For a cat, Sam lived an incredible story. I remember the first morning I ever saw Sam. It was Christmas and I was four. I had been asking for a kitten for months after our older cat Max died and couldn’t believe it on Christmas when Santa brought my sister and me TWO kittens. The first one I saw was Andrew, a little grey and tan Siamese kitten with big blue eyes. On the card, Santa had written Andrew was my kitty. Sam was meant for my sister. It took us several minutes to find Sam – he was tucked under the chair in the corner of the room. We all crouched down and stared eye to eye with the most terrified looking cat I had ever seen. Sam was small and black, with a white chest and white paws. His big green eyes stood out contrasted with his fur, the frightened look on them making them look even bigger as he inched slowly back closer to the wall. This is how I remember Sam for the first few years that we had him. I hardly ever saw him; the only person he let feed him was my dad. Andrew was sweet and social from the beginning, always wanting to be petted and cuddled. Sam was the exact opposite. In fact, we almost gave Sam back to the rescue shelter after we had had him for a few weeks because my parents were frustrated with the kitten who wouldn’t come out of hiding. I don’t remember the story exactly, but my dad tells it well. Apparently, I was riding with my dad in the car with Sam, taking him back to the shelter and my dad was trying to explain the situation to me. He knew way back in his mind if he brought a little kitten back that nobody would want him because he didn’t like to be touched, that he would probably be put down soon. I sat there looking at Sam through the bars on his carrier and asked my dad, “If we don’t love him, who will?” Somehow I guess this hit a nerve in my dad and for some reason he turned the car around and drove back home. That was one of the best decisions he ever made. Like I said, for the first few years we had Sam, he was like a ghost. A shadow cat. The only glimpse of him I might see for days would be the darting of a black tail and he hurried away out the door. Sam was always there, but he wasn’t an important presence. Somewhere along the way, he started liking my dad more and more. He was still very shy, but he began to let my dad pet him more and more. My dad would hold him to let my sister and me pet him, but I could feel Sam’s little body tense up when we began to pet him. We nicknamed him “Sammy Four-Socks”. A couple years after we got Sam and Andrew, we moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta. The move only scared Sam more. In the new house, he founds all sorts of hiding spaces and sometimes we’d spend hours looking for him. He was still like a little shadow cat, but he began to have more and more influence on my family. After we settled into Atlanta, Sam began to trust my dad and actually be affectionate with him. He’d purr as my dad would scratch his back and bite at him when he stopped. Sam started becoming more tolerant of us too. He wouldn’t run away every time we entered the room. A few years after we moved to Atlanta, we moved again to another house down the street and that’s when we had a big scare with Sam. We left town for a week not long after we moved in and the house-sitter called to tell us she couldn’t find Sam. My dad assured her that Sam was extremely shy and was probably still nervous from the move. But after a few days of her worried calls, we ourselves became worried. When we got back home, we searched the entire house, but couldn’t find the little black cat. We searched for a week and still no Sam. He had been gone for almost two weeks by this point and we were beginning to feel frustrated and hopeless. Sam had survived wild coyotes and crazy LA traffic, so we knew he was tough. But where had he gone for two weeks? We soon had our questions answered as my sister and I were riding with my dad in his truck home from school. We were rounding the bend, passing our old house, when my dad suddenly slammed on the brake. We looked out the window at our old front yard and saw the tiny outline of a cat sitting under a bush. My dad said he didn’t think that it could be Sam, but nonetheless climbed down from the truck and started calling him. Sure enough, the little black silhouette scurried over to him and my dad scooped him up in disbelief. We took Sam home and he was a mess, skinny and covered in burrs. But he was happy to home. And, for the first time, we realized he truly loved us. He had walked all the way back to our old house when we left for the week, trying to find us in our absence. He had missed us and had come looking for us. This thought was surprising, but so sweet to think about. After that incident, Sam’s attitude seemed to change. Not only did he stop running away from the rest of the family, but he actually started to let us pet him. Slowly, but surely, Sam began carving out his little place in our family, still the shy cat, but also the sweet cat who would calmly let you scratch his ears for hours. In fact, if you scratched him behind the ears long enough, he would slowly begin to dip his head down until he was bent in a curve, head laying flat on the counter. Yep, Sam was a special cat. I don’t even remember how it happened, but through the years I got to be very close with Sam. Every afternoon when I’d come home from school, Sam would be perched on the counter. He would meow his squeaky little voice and, if you walked by and ignored him, he would swat at you with his huge paws. In the next few years, we got two more cats – Charlie and Logan. Andrew, sweet as he can be, had grown into a rather awkward animal and seemed to sneeze on you whenever you petted him. Logan, the fluffy orange furball, scampers around the house, chirping to himself and chasing nothing in particular. And Charlie, the big ole Maine Coon, can usually be found dragging in a dead chipmunk or ignoring everyone completely. As all the other cats became more independent, Sam, as he got older, seemed to desire company more and more. He went from being our shy little cat that some people doubted even existed to being the sweetest and friendliest cat anyone could ever ask for. He would greet us every afternoon in the kitchen and would always stop for a scratch behind the ears. Sam never really liked the whole “cuddling” aspect that some cats like; he would tense his body up awkwardly whenever anyone picked him up. Though he didn’t like to be held, that didn’t mean he didn’t want attention. If you ignored him for too long, you could expect a set of sharp fangs nipping at your elbow. Earlier this year, Sam stopped eating and got really skinny. We took him to the vet and they gave him some appetite stimulant, but warned us that it could be stomach cancer, which would only get worse. For a few months, Sam seemed to be getting a lot better. But sometime in the last few weeks, Sam suddenly stopped eating again and medicine wasn’t helping anything. Sam went from bad to worse in a few short days and the vet said there wasn’t anything they could do. Sam was too weak to survive surgery, but surgery probably wouldn’t help anything. He was too sick to survive any treatments. Sunday morning, my dad woke up to find Sam stumbling around the kitchen. He ducked away when my dad tried to pet him, something he’d never done in the past. Sam went outside by himself and laid down in the dirt. I ran out with a blanket to wrap around him and found a neighborhood cat picking on him. I scooped him up, wrapped him tight, and just held him for a while on the couch. His breathing was so light and just relaxed and let me hold him, something he usually wouldn’t let me do. At this point, there was only one kind thing left to do. My dad and I loaded up the car with little Sam and he stayed calm the whole drive, just laying in my lap. Somehow I found the courage to hold him while the vet talked to us about the process. I felt sick, but tried to keep a brave face for my dad. They took him away and brought him back with a catheter in his leg. I held his little head as they gave him the shots and felt the weight of him relaxing. After a few minutes, he was gone. Tears streamed down my face as I leaned down to kiss him one last time. I whispered to him that I loved him and that he had been a great cat. Then we left, only stopping to look one last time at the little black cat sleeping on the exam table. This image will both haunt me and comfort me for the rest of my life.
April 20, 2010