Conversations

About cats

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.

Mog and her red blanket, age 18

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.

Sophie Charlotte's eyes, Berlin, 2005

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.

Sophie approving Dick's Kabul carpet, January, 2010

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.

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4 replies »

  1. You’ve changed again. Is this a sign of the changes in you I wonder or simply the desire to continue evolving? I approve wholeheartedly whatever the reason.

    I don’t do cats I’m afraid, never have, but I enjoyed reading about yours and can appreciate why you and Holly feel the way you do about them. The description Of Mog and her end was unashamedly emotional and I did genuinely feel your loss there, but how clever of Sophie to choose you both. She obviously knows which side her bread is buttered and probably had you banged to rights the minute you entered the animal shelter, knowing it was just a matter of time and patience as she observed you walking up and down.

    Some things are just meant to be and makes me wonder how much we do consciously choose in life only to find that actually, we were the ones who were chosen.

  2. I changed the format, Tracey, because I got tired of seeing my own eyes staring back at me every time I opened the site. And also, I wanted a larger font — old eyes.

    Thanks for making a comment about this. Holly always says that Sophie chose us, not we her, especially since she is virtually the opposite of what we were looking for.

    I think, vis-a-vis your last paragraph, everything in our lives is coincidental, random, capricious. and purely accidental, even when we trick ourselves into believing that we have done this or that through conscious, directed choice.

    Look how we met. (What is the Internet version of to meet?)

  3. Mog sure looks like she’s got a personality, even near the end of her life. Sophie looks regal as always.

    One of my ex. bfs got his cat, a black maine coon, by accident too. He visited a friend to see the new born kittens and this black one, just the size of my ex’s palm, came staggering towards him and started eating his shoe. my ex. had never wanted to get a cat up to that point but took Wesley home anyway. I shared my life with Wesley for some time too – he’s very smart and independent, but very loyal.

    Years later when I wanted to get a black cat, even saw one I liked at the pet shop but the bf I lived with at the time thought the kitty was already ‘too grown up’. We went to different branches of SPCA, saw a very sweet tabby one we wanted but he was sick and most likely dying. Then one day I drifted into a SPCA again and there’s Taro, looking all scared and innocent, anything but the cat I’d imagined having (clever and feisty, like Wes). Taro turns out to be quite a silly and clingy cat, but so very sweet, now I feel I’d never have wanted a different cat in my life.

    I do believe everything that happens is coincidental, esp. encounters with other lives.