A few years after we moved into our lake house a cat showed up. He sat on the front steps and stared into our living room window. It was only later that we realized it was providence.
“That’s Sweetie,” Rob said. “She lives across the street.”
The neighbors were selling their house and after they had loaded up a moving van and were about to depart we went running over.
“Wait! Don’t forget Sweetie,” we exclaimed, holding the cat under the front paws as the rear legs dangled down.
“That’s not Sweetie,” the neighbor said, lifting up a different cat before our eyes. “This is Sweetie.”
Perplexed we dropped the cat and asked, “Then whose cat is this one?”
“Yours,” she said, as the van drove out of sight.
We walked back across the street and cat that wasn’t Sweetie was already sitting outside our front door by the time we reached it.
“Well at least nobody fed the cat,” Rob said.
Our son Jackson looked upward and shrugged. “Does a little tuna count?”
It felt like we were in the middle of a Leave it to Beaver episode.
Our daughter Quinn told us the cat was named Sammy which was later changed to Samuel T. Catt: Resident.
“How do you know his name is Sammy?” I asked.
“He told me,” she said.
That was late summer and Rob began a battle of wits with the cat. It was clear that Sammy had no immediate plans to leave town. Each time the door opened he made a move to get inside and Rob pushed him back with his foot or a broom. The cat was undeterred. We started to trick the cat and run around the house to another door. He ran faster than us.
“No cat!” Rob yelled. “I’m allergic for God’s sake. We need to call the dog catcher.” He announced to anyone who would listen.
“It’s a cat.”
“Dog catchers catch cats.”
In truth they don’t. You have to call Just Strays and then they show up and catch the cat, spay them and then return them back to you. They don’t want them. Their mission is to reduce the population of feral cats. Additionally they ask you for a donation to cover the costs. Sammy wasn’t feral, he had a collar, seemed to like people and had a tattoo inside his left ear. When we researched the tattoo number with the cat registry it came up blank. His previous owners couldn’t have been too bright, they tortured the cat with a tattoo and then didn’t bother to list his number.
“Maybe he ran away from his owners because he’s still mad about the tattoo.” I suggested.
Rob took Sam’s photograph and we posted ‘Found Cat’ signs around town but nobody called. When we sat on the deck he sat with us. When we went to get the mail he went too. When we walked down to the dock he came along and watched us swim. When we pulled into the driveway he was sitting on the stone wall, waiting.
Finally it was decided that Sammy would be our outdoor pet and we took him to the vet and bought a plastic cat house for him to winter in. I laid towels down on the floor of the hut and put a water dish inside. Sammy never considered the hut but sat on the opposite side of the glass sliding door and stared into the kitchen and watched us. Even in the rain Sammy waited. He had a sad pathetic look that made the kids and I melt. This was sort of remarkable considering that I have never liked cats. Rob’s sister had five outdoor cats at one time and there’s a classic image Rob snapped of his father teaching us how to handle cats. I should have felt sorry for them but I didn’t. Sammy seemed different. When the temperature dropped I convinced Rob to let Sammy move into the basement.
“I wash my hands of this,” Rob shouted. “This is all on you and it better only be the basement.” The basement rule lasted one day before Sammy had the run of the first floor.
“That cat is not allowed in the bedrooms!” Rob shrieked.
“I agree,” I said and informed Jack and Quinn of the cat house rules. Cat house rules was an apt term for a cat that ruled the house. He spent parts of each day inside the kid’s bedrooms.
“If that cat so much as puts one paw on the stairs up to our room I cannot be held responsible for my actions,” Rob proclaimed.
“Noted,” I said.
Of course you know the rest of the story. Samuel T. Catt not only went up to the second floor but liked Rob best of all because he slept on his chest. It was as if Sam knew just the person he needed to win over, he was that smart. Rob and Sammy entered into a mutual admiration society. Rob trolled shops for cat trinkets that resembled Sammy from refrigerator magnets to door stoppers and bought numerous cat toys that entertained him for less than a day. Because Sam still spent long portions of each day outside, Rob installed a cat door that only Sam could open with a magnetic key that hung from his neck so he was never left out in the cold again even when we were on vacation. Sam reciprocated by bringing in an assortment of small animals dead and alive as gifts. Rob had the job of removing all the animals as the rest of us ran to high ground screaming. He gave us a snake, numerous mice, birds that played dead and then came to life as Rob went to pick them up and they started to fly. One morning on my way to work Rob called me panicked.
“I can’t leave! Sammy brought a chipmunk in and its running around the living room.”
“Chipmunks are so cute,” I said thoughtlessly on the other end of the line.
“Not when their in the house!” he screamed.
After an hour long battle with the chipmunk Rob took the cat’s key away. It felt a lot like grounding a teenage child from driving the family car. Sam could let himself out but not in. We forced him to sit outside the kitchen door and wait to be let inside, always checking to be sure he wasn’t bearing gifts. If we knew it was going to rain we called his name and he came running. The benefit of having an outdoor cat was he didn’t use a litter pan and the house didn’t smell. One of the downsides was the dangers he encountered. He started to cost a lot of money as the vet tried to clear up one scrape after another. Towards the end he couldn’t fend off whatever animal was out to get him. Eventually the vet wanted to amputate his leg but offered no guarantee of survival and cautioned us.
“Of course if you opt to do this and he lives, he’ll have to stay inside the house forever.”
The idea of confining him to a 1500 square foot home with three legs was more than any of us could bear. Sam was in agony. I was away and Rob called to give me the prognosis before he and the kids went into the animal hospital to say good-bye.
“There just wasn’t enough time,” Rob wept.