by Greg Hoots
I had grown up sharing a home with a cat. My folks almost always had one for as long as I can recall. When I moved to Kansas forty-five years ago, I expanded the family by adding a cat to the household. That cat spent his entire life at my side. After moving to rural Dover, Kansas in the late 1980s, I became acquainted with the ways of the “barn cat.”
My wife, Cheryl, had not enjoyed such a longstanding relationship with cats, and, in fact, she had a mild allergy to them. Things would change in 2007 when a family friend found an abandoned four-week-old calico kitten at their home, and Cheryl agreed to take the helpless waif and find a home for it. Once she had brought the tiny multi-colored kitten home and began feeding it, both my wife and I became very attached to the little cat.
Calico cats are sort of like paint horses. They are colorful, spirited, and sometimes a bit wild. Our tiny kitten grew into adolescence with a multi-colored wild hair. When we reported her rambunctious behavior to the veterinarian, he suggested that our young cat just needed a friend, another cat to befriend and do cat stuff together. He said that an addition of a second cat would improve the behavior of the first.
So, Cheryl began her search for the perfect companion for our kitten. By this time, Cheryl was a regular visitor to the area pet stores. A few of the stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area offered space to area shelters to house homeless pets and provide adoption services for anyone who wanted to adopt one. It was at the Pet Smart store in Merriam, Kansas that Cheryl met the kitten who would be the second cat to join our household. The kitten, approximately 16-weeks old, was extremely affectionate, and Cheryl began to stop at the store with some regularity to visit her. In a few days, she decided that this was the perfect partner for our calico cat, and Cheryl came home with a young gray and white tabby kitten.
The veterinarian was correct, the addition of the second cat improved the behavior of the first feline, significantly. At the same time, the new addition to the family enamored herself to Cheryl and myself, as our first shelter-kitten exuded sweetness and the happiness of having a home.
Before the year was over, we adopted a real barn kitten directly from a barn in the Kansas Flint Hills. Our three adoptees became tried and trusted friends, litter-mates by choice. Cheryl still made trips to the pet store for food and to pet the shelter cats. It wasn’t long before she brought a tiny male kitten home who grew into a long, lean, acrobatic young cat with fur resembling Maine Coon linage, while he sported the longest whiskers in the cat world. Our cat family was now complete.
As the cats grew into maturity, they bonded as a single-family unit. The integration into the family of each of the cats had been easy. They had all been kittens when we adopted them, and kittens are easily introduced to other family pets. Kittens are generally non-threatening to an older established cat, making introductions amicable.
In the early days of July, 2010, Cheryl casually mentioned that she had been shopping at Pet Smart, and that they had the most beautiful and sweet cat available for adoption. I asked her what the cat looked like, how old it was, and if she knew any details about it. She said that it was no kitten, but an eight-year old adult female cat. She added that it had the most beautiful sleek black and white coat, the markings of a tuxedo. She quickly added that the cat was incredibly sweet and would sit in her lap to be petted for as long as Cheryl allowed. As a postscript, she noted that the shelter had placed a sign on the cat’s cage, saying that she did not get along with other cats.
The following Friday evening when I arrived home from work, Cheryl seemed abnormally pleased with herself, acting like a kid with a big secret. “I brought the cat home,” she announced. I feigned alarm, replying, “what?” She explained that she stopped to pet the cat on her way home from work, and the person from the shelter told her of the shelter-cat’s life. She had spent her first seven years with an elderly farm couple in Livingston County, Missouri, near Chillicothe. When the husband had died, his widow was leaving the farm and was not able to take their beloved “Baby Sox.” The poor cat had been in shelters for almost a year. On more than one occasion she had been returned by a prospective owner. The “doesn’t get along with other cats,” sign came to my mind. The shelter representative had asked Cheryl to just take the cat home for the weekend, imploring, “she really needs a break from the cage.”
Cheryl had placed the cat-visitor in a spare bedroom by herself along with a litter box, food and water bowls, a soft cat bed and a handful of cat toys. Usually when a cat senses or sees a stranger for the first time, they hide until they feel comfortable with the new person. Just the opposite was true for Baby Sox. She immediately came running to Cheryl who had seated herself on the spare bed, and the black-and-white beauty immediately snuggled against her rescuer. I reached to pet the cat, and immediately she jumped up and moved next to me, hungry for affection. When I petted her, she rubbed against my hands and arms, begging for more.
I heard a noise at the doorway, and I could see one of the resident cats with its eyes and nose to the bottom of the door, straining to see the intruder. Inside the room, Baby Sox paid no attention at all to the other cats, focusing entirely on interacting with Cheryl and me. By the end of the weekend, we had decided that this eight-year-old cat had earned a place in our home and our hearts. Cheryl returned the shelter’s cat-carrier and completed the adoption papers on Sunday.
After a couple of days in her private bedroom, we began introducing “Baby” to our other cats. Initially, none of them seemed to think that they needed a new friend. We created a feed and water station for the new resident, and under supervision we allowed her to roam the house. To the other cats, Baby had an imposing presence. She was solid in her build, even chunky, she was unafraid of anything, and she never backed down in a confrontation with her new housemates. In the eleven years that we were blessed with Baby’s presence, never once did she get into a physical confrontation with any of the other cats…there were no catfights beyond occasional hissing or growling if the new cat became cornered by her new friends. Within a week or so, the cats had established boundaries for their interactions, and Baby Sox became quite comfortable in her new surroundings.
Within 48-hours of moving into our house, Baby “adopted” me. Cheryl decried that Baby was a Daddy’s girl, and it was a difficult thing to deny. Except for the time when I was at work, the tuxedo feline never let me out of her sight. When I would arrive home from work, she would be lying on the foot of my recliner, awaiting my return. She slept next to me, and she enjoyed taking a nap on my chest, my shoulder or around my neck if I were seated. She became a constant companion to me.
It wasn’t that Baby ignored Cheryl. She loved being on Cheryl’s lap for grooming, and during the time she lived with us, Baby spent literally thousands of hours seated on Cheryl’s lap for grooming. She would watch and wait for Cheryl to sit in a very specific chair where she groomed the cat’s beautiful sleek fur with a cat brush. If Cheryl wasn’t ready to brush Baby, she would curl herself into a ball in my wife’s lap, immediately falling asleep, patiently waiting her time for grooming. I often commented that Baby was really a “Mama’s girl.” The truth was that the adopted cat focused all of her time on us.
We had converted our backyard to a butterfly garden containing thousands of nectar-producing flowers and butterfly host plants. One of Baby’s most favorite activities was to spend time lying on our patio while we worked in the garden. She would often nap for hours on the warm, sunny days. None of the cats cherished the opportunity to lie in a lawn chair on the patio like Baby did. It was one of the great pleasures in which she indulged herself in Baby’s life-quest to be next to us.
When Baby was about 15-years old, she developed issues with the thyroid which required me to administer a pill to her every night. Sometimes, cats are reluctant to take a pill. Baby, however, was a perfect patient, making my task and her need for medication very easy for both of us. I always said that Baby had gotten really good at taking pills, and I had gotten better at giving them to her.
Whenever Cheryl or I were ill or injured, Baby sensed the situation and established a vigil beside us, only leaving briefly for a visit to the litter box and food and water bowls. She would immediately return to resume her place beside us. I had been injured just a handful of weeks before Baby passed away, but she chose to spend her final days at my side.
In all of my years of being around cats, I have never, ever known a cat that was so loving and devoted to caring for her owners. Without exaggeration, she was a one-in-a-million addition to our family.
In the week prior to Baby’s passing, she and I had visited the veterinarian, and it was apparent that at nineteen years of age, Baby did not have long remaining in her life. Our sweet cat did not change her routines nor her objectives in the least. We were always first on her list, and lying on a chair on the patio came next.
Cheryl accompanied Baby to the butterfly garden on several occasions, and the beautiful cat savored the moments. By the end of the first week of August, 2021, Baby had weakened, and we made her a bed on the coffee table, so I could stay be her side all day. She loved the attention, and the special accommodations seemed to please her to no end.
On August 12, Baby had weakened more, yet she rested peacefully on her new bed. By noon, I could sense that her condition was serious and life-threatening. I called Cheryl at work, and she left early to come home to be with our beloved Baby. Baby had been unable to groom herself to her usual standards, so Cheryl took a warm washcloth and a fuzzy towel and washed Baby’s face, head, neck and arms. Baby rallied, and Cheryl took her outside for the feline’s last visit to the butterfly garden. She carried Baby around the yard, visiting all of her favorite spots, and then circled the garden again. Then, she took Baby to the patio and held the failing cat in her arms as they sat in one of Baby’s most favorite spots on earth, the patio, next to us. Finally, she brought Baby inside for the last time and positioned her in her bed on the coffee table.
On Friday the 13th of August, Baby died. I called Cheryl at work, and she left immediately to come home for a farewell to our most loved pet. We both cried for days at the pain from our loss.
Baby Sox, the beloved pet of Greg and Cheryl, passed away at home with her constant companion at her side at 1:10 pm on August 13, 2021 at the age of nineteen. She was beloved by all who knew her, and her family mourns their loss.