Sam lived next door but one to me but it wasn’t long before he was making his way over the two intervening fences of the gardens to interact with Biggles, Garfield, Charlie, Billy, Timmy and Joey – my six ginger boys.
Jet black, with an inscrutable expression on his face, he would sit in the garden and watch as my six boys went about their business. Occasionally he would make his way into the house and have a sleep on one of the available cat beds or chairs.
With perfect manners, he never attempted to eat from any of the food bowls that were down in various positions on the kitchen floor, but always left when my cats had their evening meal. He’d return the following day after breakfast and spend the hours that his own human family were out of their house with us, often curled up asleep with Timmy.
He would rummage in the toy box and find a little grey catnip mouse. I’d be knitting in the front room and he’d drop the mouse by my feet, sitting down nearby waiting to see what I’d do. So I’d stop knitting and pick up the mouse taking it out to the stairs I’d say: ‘ready, steady, GO!’ and throw it up the stairs on ‘go’. Sam would bound after it and bring it back down, placing it at my feet before I’d even sat down again.
This game would go on for as long as I could keep up with Sam and he seemed to enjoy it as he always instigated the game. Occasionally a soggy catnip mouse would be put through my letter box late at night as Sam had chanced his paw by secreting one about his person as he left for the evening. I appreciated his humans returning the mouse as they realised that Sam spent most of his day at my house playing with my cats.
A few months after Sam had started coming over the fences, a terrible tragedy happened. Biggles was run over and killed one Saturday morning in May 1997. I was beside myself with grief for several months and although I wasn’t taking care of myself, I did take care of my cats. Sam still came each day and he’d sit and look at me with that inscrutable expression on his face, as the house was plunged into deep sadness and mourning.
Six months after Biggles sudden death, tragedy struck again. On Christmas Eve at 9.30 in the morning, little Joey was also run over and killed and once again, the light went out of my days.
In January 1998, just a month before his first birthday, Sam made the momentous decision to move in on a full time basis. At first, I would encourage him to return to his own house and I’d put him out in the garden and tell him to ‘go home, Sam.’ I’d close the back door but before I’d even got as far as the hallway en route to the front room, he’d be back.
I wrote a note to his humans with suggestions to keep Sam inside for a couple of weeks with no access to the catflap and to play with him as much as possible to make being at home with them more desirable. They couldn’t be bothered to make that kind of effort so I offered to let Sam live with me. They weren’t happy about it but as I’d tried for ages to encourage Sam to return home each day and they weren’t overly bothered about trying to make his life happier with them, they reluctantly agreed that Sam could live with me. Sam never went back home again, not even to visit them.
As Sam had got to know all of my cats over a long period of months, moving in full time didn’t cause any problems; he was already good friends with Timmy and they often shared a bed together, curled up like spoons, Sam’s glossy black fur in sharp contrast to Timmy’s dark golden ginger fur.
Over time new cats joined us: little Ellie, the only female cat I’ve ever had, who, at 10 weeks of age, had been kicked, beaten and put down a toilet; Ricky, who’d been kept in a rabbit hutch for a year by his ‘people’; and little Ollie who’d been dumped at a local pet shop when he was about 4 ½ months old. All these newbies were accepted without question by Sam who often presented them with a chewed up catnip mouse as a ‘welcome’ present.
Sam saw the passing of first Ellie, then Charlie, then Garfield, Ricky, Timmy and Billy. Last February (2013) Ollie encouraged a little mackerel tabby stray to the delights of the Daily Mews Kitchen, and Casey made his home with us, having spent the cold, wet, winter months of 2012 outside on the decking refusing to come in. Sam didn’t take to Casey although Casey did everything in his power to make Sam like him. Whether it was because Sam, just 16, with kidney problems, was feeling that Casey – a 2 year old – was too bouncy for him to cope with, I don’t know. But sadly Casey wasn’t able to win him over and they kept to different parts of the house, Casey running to hide if Sam came into a room that Casey was in.
July 2013 saw the sudden death of Ollie and once again, my world became dark with sadness and despair. In October 2013 a small lump appeared above Sam’s left eye which grew over the next couple of months – an inoperable tumour, which compromised his vision and made life unbearable for Sam. On Friday, 3rd January 2014, I had to make the decision that no loving pet parent likes to make; I had to let Sam have peace.
Sam was a beautiful cat, very loyal and protective. He had a repertoire of meows and somehow, between the two of us, we would have a conversation. He would always report absolutely every thing to me when I’d return from a trip away, whether it was a two-night break in the UK or an overseas holiday for two weeks. Leaving out no detail, he’d meow all that Ollie, and the others had got up to while I’d been away while he, himself, was an angel, as he frequently told me!
Who knows why a cat chooses to leave one home – a perfectly good home in Sam’s case – and moves in with another cat family elsewhere. It has to be the highest honour that any animal can bestow upon us poor inferior humans. I feel privileged that Sam chose my home and for the next 16 years of his life I was blessed to have a non-ginger cat spend his time with me and my band of ginger boys.
Sam would have been 17 on Valentine’s Day (2104) and I’m sad that he didn’t quite make it. I think he would agree though, that everyday was Valentine’s Day living with my cats and me.