--- For BadKitties, because Tommy reminded me of Sam and Sarah ----

Seven inches of fresh snow and BadKitties' diary Tommy: A Love Story inspired a stroll down memory lane.

It was love at first sight.

My friend and I were on our way somewhere when he wanted to stop in at our local animal shelter. Two little black fur balls, huddled in a back corner of their cage. It was love at first sight.

This pair of female kittens were rescued urban street kittens. They had lost their mother and were a few months old, completely wild. I paid for the tests, (feline aids and feline leukemia), paid for their spaying, adopted them, and took them home.

They hid right away and I couldn't find them. I put out food and water and it would disappear when I wasn't around. They would sneak and use their litter box, without making a sound. Food, water, poop. Never caught a sight of them. Eventually we found out where they were "living." They had taken up residence under my bed, tearing a hole in the bottom of the box spring and climbing up in there. I was sooooo proud of their resourcefulness! Samantha and Sarah were smart. They were clever. They were determined. They were survivors.

They were scaredy cats.  They ran and hid any time there were visitors. They would not allow themselves to be picked up. These cats did not run to the door, or rub against your leg purring. Oh they were social all right. They played with each other, chased each other, shared their food and water bowls. But when it came to humans, they minded their own business.

There were a few issues.

Whenever a certain male friend was in the house, the dominant one peed on my pillow!

... a few pillows came and went from my life...

... it took a loooooooooong time to socialize them, and acclimating them to being brushed began on the sly. One little stroke, when they were sleeping on the couch. Poof! Gone! Under the bed. A week later, she would drop her guard enough to once again be caught napping “in public.” Repeat…. Repeat… Repeat… Over time, that is how they came to learn that being brushed is wuuuunderfuuuullllllll.  Purrr, purrrr, purrrr… ever so slowly they learned that humans were not the enemy. One of them became a lap kitty during the months I was at home writing my PhD thesis. With lots of patience and treats we were even able to teach them to sit still while we trimmed the tips off their nails.

They often spooned when they napped, or curled up yin/yang. On the windowsill they would sit opposite each other such that they were often quasi-symmetrical, except one would have their tail hanging down in a curl while the other had hers tucked under.

Unconditional love. As many of you know, New York City is not a cat friendly environment, so to let them out in the little garden (shared with neighboring buildings), I trained them to come when they were called. The trick to this was only letting them go out when they were hungry, before they got fed. Shaking the food bag was their pavlovian bell. They explored gingerly at first, gradually going further and further, even under the fence, beyond where we could see them. Occasionally they would come dashing madly back into the yard, leaps so long as they practically flew back inside to safety. They would bring trophies, occasionally even little birds and mice into the house and play with them. The poor little critters were already dead.

We were mildly horrified by this ritualistic abuse! So we promptly set up a trophy exchange ritual, where whenever they brought a trophy they got their favorite dinner and treats, so we could donate their trophies promptly to the trash. These were smart kitties. Before long they became efficient. They would arrive with their trophy, drop it in their food bowl, sit there and wait to be fed.... no more ritual mouse tossing games under the table in the kitchen.

Many fun years went by...

After one move, from Apt A to Apt B, they suddenly began sleeping at my head, one at one ear and one at the other. They started grooming my hair, literally licking my head, or rubbing their head on mine, they way they did when they nestled with each other. I would go to sleep, quite literally, with purring in each ear. No recorded beach sounds or white noise machine can ever match that.

They were very quiet and didn't meow much. As is life, about 17 years old, Sam (Samantha) couldn't keep food down anymore, and gradually became very thin. She stopped eating. We took care of her, and gave her extra vitamins and fish oil but did not believe it ethical to force-feed an elder cat. She shriveled up to skin and bones and finally died. It was hard to watch her decay, but we took loving care of her and she was still purring the day before she died.

After that the Sarah suddenly became vocal. She started "meowing in her sleep." The most mournful meows I never imagined came forth. She was grieving! And then she started "talking” to me when I cooked. I listened carefully and looked at her, occasionally nod in validation. I imagined she was regaling me with all her adventures in her interesting feline life.

Yes, she had had some adventures. A day or so after one earlier move, (here in NYC), she had gotten outside. It was in the winter, and she refused to come inside. We put out food and water, which disappeared. We couldn't find her.

We put up flyers in our building and around the neighborhood. Nobody called.

Day after day we looked and passed out flyers on the sidewalk. No one had seen our Sarah. No one called.

A deep winter freeze arrived soon after and we searched and searched. Still no luck, so we rigged a 50-foot shop extension cord from our second floor bedroom window and connected it to a small electric blanket, nestled into a cooler set on its side on our back terrace. We put out hot food and water several times a day. It would disappear or froze in just a few ours. We called animal rescue and they gave us advice about a trap, couldn't really help us. We called every vet in NYC. No one had turned in stray cat. We could tell something was finding refuge in the electric blanket, because the blanket would be rearranged. But we couldn't find her, and never saw her come to eat.

Weeks went by. It was the middle of a cold winter. Two snowstorms came and went. We lost sleep. We worried. One day there was a tiny "mew", but we didn’t know if it was Sarah and we couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

Then silence. Another week went by.

Then….. wait. ……what? … ssssshhhh…..was that…?


Another "mew", "mew".... , “mew, mew, mew.”


And a search that night with a flashlight! The flashlight found her eyes, and we figured out she lived in a little crawl space at the back of the adjacent property, a high rise building. We couldn't get there because there was no street access and a very high fence at the end of our building's terrace. For about 2 months she lived there, and it took another 2 weeks after “she made contact” before we were able to coax her to come back inside.

She was a wild kitten, and had never before gone voluntarily into a building! We had to somehow teach her that an open door leads to safety. This involved leaving our terrace door open in the middle of the winter. Gradually restricting food, forcing her to come to the door. Eventually we resorted to restricting outside feeding altogether. She would have to walk inside to get it. It took a couple days. Feeding her a dusk turned out to be the critical feature..

Her sister didn't recognize her, walked up to her, sniffed, then hissed and growled. We took her to the vet, got her a bath and she was the. most. grateful. house cat from that day forward. Before she had been very independent and often aloof.

One day Sarah started walking funny and would fall over whenever she tried to jump up on the couch or the bed, or walk along the back of the couch. It seemed her difficulty was all on one side. We worried that she had had a stroke or something and took her to the vet. Dx: Idiopathic vestibular disturbance. Essentially the cat had vertigo, which  lessoned over time but never went completely away. While at the vet we also got a plug in pheromone device, which was a way to lesson her distressful crying. The pheromone  “treatment” is thought to mimic the comfort of mommy cat nearby.

She got older, slept more, "talked" less, snored more, and started having seizures. We gave her our own kitty hospice care until....  and she died in her sleep.

That is the story of Sam and Sarah.

Peace, love, and snow!

Originally posted to Occam was an Optimist on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:17 PM PST.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing and PWB Peeps.

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