In our quarter-century together, Holly and I have had two cats: Mog, who died in 2004 at the age of 18 1/2 in Berlin, and Sophie Charlotte, whom we got from the Tierheim in Berlin the year after Mog’s death. If Sophie lives as long as Mog did, there is a more than even chance that she will outlive me, and we, Holly and I, will have shared our lives and spaces with only these two animals.
We got Mog as a wee thing from a pet shop in Coronado, California, where we lived for ten years, in 1985; the first pet Holly ever had. It was a spur of the moment impulse idea. I was walking past this pet shop and in the window was a box of kittens, five or six, as I recall. One in particular was more feisty and while the others rolled around playing with one another, the little tiger stripe kept trying to climb out of the box, and no matter how often she slipped back, she was up and at it again immediately.
When I got home I told Holly that if she wanted a cat that I had seen a fine one in the window of the pet shop on Orange Avenue. An hour later, Mog — the name, Moggy, means common cat or alley cat in British slang — came to live with us. Like in the box in the window, she climbed everything, needing to be at the highest point she could reach. She became more than a handful, like a constant two-year-old, lasting until she was well into her teens, or old age in cat years. During her life with us she traveled to and lived in three American states and DC, plus Slovakia, South Africa, and Germany. In her last years, when we are in Berlin, she finally settled down and became a lap cat, crawling onto Holly’s lap anytime Holly sat down. If Holly wasn’t around, she could get on the sofa and curl up behind my legs.
She died on a cold, gray January day in Berlin. She died peacefully in her sleep having never shown any signs of being sick, so it was probably just old age, and we should all be so lucky. For years, for at least fifteen years, she habitually slept on a red knitted blanket kept on one end of some sofa, in whatever room we spent most of our time. That’s where I found her that morning, curled up on her red blanket, and I thought she was just asleep. But she always followed me to the kitchen for breakfast, and when she didn’t come, I came back to get her. She was dead. I had to awaken Holly to tell her, and it was the most difficult task I had yet faced with her. Even now I am not able to describe this any further.
In the pre dawn dark of the following morning, I took Mog in a box and wrapped in her red blanket, to the back of the yard behind our apartment building and buried her in the frozen earth, digging hard for an hour to make her space deep enough so she would not be disturbed.
This is the last picture taken of Mog, on her favorite red blanket that became her burial shroud, about a month before she died on it, in this exact spot.
We waited more than a year, then decided we wanted another cat to share our lives and spaces. Holly decided she wanted a pure black, leopard-looking cat. We went searching for one at the Berlin Tierheim (animal home). From the outside, the Berlin Tierheim more resembles a war bunker or prison than an animal shelter, but inside it is nearly luxurious. There are fountains and small ponds, flowers and trees, animals separated by their kind each in their own building. The cat house was a long, narrow structure with enclosures along both sides of a central pathway. Cats were kept according to personality, so that some were in shared enclosures with three or four or more other cats, while the not-so-social animals had small spaces to themselves. There were kittens and there were much older cats.
We were told that one of the odd laws leftover from Hitler, who loved animals much more than people, was that animals in shelters are not allowed to be euthanized — okay for Jews, it seems, but not for cats and dogs. So once an animal gets to one of these luxurious shelters, if not adopted, it may remain there taken care of for the rest of its life. I don’t know if this story is accurate, but there were many old animals in the shelter. (According to Sophie’s papers, she had been in the shelter since she was a kitten and was then a year old, so she had been there for a year.)
We spent quite some time walking up and down the central pathway, watching cats going about their business, usually oblivious to the gawkers outside. Sophie was in a large communal cage with five or six other cats. Every time we passed, she came to the glass and paced beside us as we walked by. We go by this way and she’d follow, we’d go back the other way and she’d follow. We were fascinated by her blue eye and green eye. She was pure white, the opposite of the leopard Holly intended to get. We read her information card on the enclosure and it noted that she was deaf, a genetic trait of pure white cats with different colored eyes, and we supposed that to be the reason such a beautiful cat had been handed over to the Tierheim as a kitten. Her information card also specified that anyone wanting to adopt her had to promise that she would never be allowed outside — for obvious reasons.
We asked the attendant to get her out of the enclosure so we could see how she reacted to us. She then adopted us.
Here is our black leopard cat a few months after she came to live with us.
She is deaf and probably half-blind, as well, since, as you can see here, her eyes do not both dilate the same way. She probably has clear vision from the green eye, but not so good from the blue one. She has a howl when she wants something that has pulled bodies upright from their graves. She probably cannot hear her own cries and has no idea how loud they are. She also cannot be taken to a veterinary office. This loving, cuddly little lady turns into the beast from hell the moment she smells medicinal alcohol. During her one and only attempt to be examined by a Vet in Berlin, she shredded the welder’s gloves on the hands of both attendants trying to hold her still, and bent two needles as the Vet tried to give her an injection. We suppose she had some horrific experience at some point, maybe when her chip was implanted, and the smell of a Vet’s examining room triggers such a ballistic response. She can only be examined and treated by a Vet who comes to our apartment, where she feels secure.
Sophie has lived in Berlin, near Detroit (with our older daughter who kept her for us while we were traveling on a long holiday), Washington, DC, and now Buenos Aires. She travels well and adjusts to anything new with hardly more than a few minutes of suspicious inspecting.
Here is Sophie granting her approval to a carpet sent to us by a colleague in Kabul.
The other evening, Holly and I are in the living room finishing our dinner wine, Sophie is wandering around doing Sophie things, and Holly says, “I would never want to live without a cat.”
If Sophie does outlive us, I wonder how she will get along without us.