I had just lost my father and, one week later, a beloved feline family member adopted from a local shelter only two months prior, when a dear friend came to me with a proposition: she had friends who were growing old and infirm and were seeking a younger, stronger caregiver for their beloved cat. Sammi had been adopted by them as a foundling kitten off the streets of their Beverly Hills neighbourhood, and had enjoyed their love, protection and company for fourteen wonderful years. Now, their ill health made it necessary to rehome him. Would I be interested?
The last two years of my life had been traumatic, to say the least: at about the same time as I had “rediscovered” my father, who was suffering from a major illness and had dropped off the radar for some time due to a complicated personal/family situation, my soon-to-be ex-husband announced that he was dumping me and our large family of rescued felines at what he deemed a “good” time (because in his estimation, my father's relocation into an assisted living facility meant I could move into his home with as many of our cats as I could. Asking him if he was aware that there could be casualties brought only an affirmative response from him. Forced relocation from our property in an area where we were able to safely accommodate our rescues to a city with quotas on the number of cats a household could care for meant that it would be impossible for us all to be together; and, as our cats were all adults, rescues, and of mixed origins, the odds were not good that I would be able to rehome those I would be forced to part from in the time I had.)
Fortunately, having many contacts in the rescue world, both physically and online, meant we were able to find rescue for everyone except those who would accompany me. Though I will be traumatized for life by this forced separation from so many I love, I was at least confident that they would have safety, shelter, food, and at least a modicum of caring. That will remain another story, for another time.
The upheaval of packing, moving, assuming responsibility for my father's care and business affairs, and starting life anew in a community I did not want to reside in, sans husband and many of my loved ones, meant I had many sleepless nights and much stress for a long time. Eventually, some of the issues were resolved, and life took on a semblance of familiarity; my father's passing followed so shortly by Corrie's leaving us threw me back into emotional chaos, and into this mix came a senior cat in need of a loving home with someone who would commit to him for the rest of his life.
How could I possibly refuse?
Sammi, described as a Maine Coon who had lived all his life as an only cat, was going to have to make his share of adjustments as well, from the comfortable and familiar environment he had enjoyed for so many years to the rough-and-tumble of a multicat family and a caregiver he had never met. How, I wondered, could we possibly make this work? One of my male cats was very amenable – in fact, I often referred to him as “friend to all cats” – but the other, Calo, was quite territorial, and I didn't know if he would appreciate an interloper, especially after the family and environmental adjustments he'd had to make recently. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought!
We'd simply HAVE to adapt.
Being born into a family “with cat” had made me very sure of one thing: adoption should be for life, through thick and thin, in sickness and health (kind of like marriage should be. Hmmm). I was not entering into this contract lightly; besides, Sammi could not return to his former home, and no way would I let him down, at age 14, having lost the only caregivers and home he had ever known. No! Sammi would be staying, I mused.
And so, on a warm September evening, my friend appeared at our front door, holding a cardboard cat carrier. After our preliminary greetings, I ushered her into the room I had prepared for Sammi, closed the door, and popped open the carrier. I was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted me.
Maine Coon cats are large, fluffy, handsome cats; that much I knew. But I had never seen a cat with the coloration of this big boy! Sammi was amber and golden and tawny and striped, with a huge leonine mane, a fluffy bottlebrush of a tail, and the subtle striping of his kind. Looking his colour and coat pattern up online, I learned that he was a Brown Patched Tabby Maine Coon and that this was a very popular type of his breed. ALL cats are beautiful to me, because all cats are loved by me; Sammi was something else entirely, I thought!
My friend visited us frequently and inquired as to how Sammi was adapting. In truth, it was good that we had a large house with plenty of rooms, because just as I'd thought, he was very territorial and not at all sure he wanted to live among a bunch of other cats. On more than one occasion after he'd joined the rest of the family in having the run of the house, I had had to separate him and Calo, even using a broom to try to part them when all I could see was a writhing ball of fury rolling across the carpet. There were times when I wondered how we could all stay together, so severe was the antipathy between the two alpha males.
Sammi's relationship with the females in the family wasn't all smooth sailing, either; our high-spirited calico was very attractive, and he was interested in her, but she was NOT having any of his unwanted attentions, and let him know in no uncertain terms that she wanted him to hit the road. Once, he cornered her in the breakfast room and she peed in fright. Fortunately, I was able to separate them and, as when he and Calo fought, Sammi had to endure some “time-outs” in his own private quarters until everyone cooled down.
The first year was marked by fairly frequent confrontations like these, but I was determined and committed, so we forged ahead; and eventually, the fights grew less and the rancor dissipated, and we became a family. Along the way, there were losses; Calo was one of those who left us, but not before he, Sammi and Samuda had formed a kind of “Boys' Club,” lounging together on the beds in seeming camaraderie. Samuda also departed in due time, and Sammi became the sole male in the house.
Apart from two incidents of urinary tract problems, which meant we had to go to emergency or the regular vet, Sammi was wonderfully healthy. He enjoyed playing with his armada of toys, often chasing a wind-up mouse or a brightly colored “jack” across the laminate kitchen floor all by himself. He had been presented with his very own brand new catnip “snake” when he joined us, and had a lifelong love for this long green “friend”, often kicking, biting and batting it around. A steady stream of different colors, shapes, and types of catnip toys would always get him going and keep him smiling and purring.
We enjoyed close companionship, especially on chilly nights, when he would lie full length under a warm faux fur “throw” on the sofa and help me watch the nature and true crime shows I love. He often slept on our huge California King size bed, with as many of the family as wanted to join us. He stayed close by me during the day as well, helping me in my work and being the world's best Chief Operations Officer in the I.T. Department, i.e., my office.
There wasn't anything wrong with Sammi's appetite, either; he had come accompanied by some tins of cat food and treats, all of the turkey variety, and his passion for poultry, especially turkey, earned him the nickname, “The Birdman of Beverly Hills”, because of his origins in that glittering city. He weighed in at a rather small (for male Maine Coon neuters) 13 pounds, all of it solidly maintained by his fondness for high quality feline formula and the occasional addition of small treats of deli sliced turkey, which he would yell for and steadfastly refuse to move until he received. All in all, he had a joyous life in his new family home.
The end of our time together came quickly and totally unexpectedly one early November evening when I came out to the darkened living room after a day's work in the office to find him lying on the floor, unresponsive. His health had been good almost until the last. I had notice that he was not eating with his customary relish for the last couple of weeks, but he was still eating and drinking, so I chalked it up to his age – 21 – as I did the gradual weakness in his hind quarters. Grateful that he seemed not to have suffered, and that he passed in the home he loved, among those who loved him, I still felt a sense of the surreal surrounding his untimely and unanticipated leaving. That sense surrounds us to this day.
Fly free, beloved Birdman. You are always and ever in our hearts, loved, missed, and cherished. We will meet again.
Jamaka Petzak (US)