Sammy Jo came to live with us one evening in June of 1987.
I had just come home from hospital that day, still groggy from the anaesthetic and feeling rather sick and uncomfortable after an internal operation. Jim helped me into the house and rather than go lie down in our bedroom, I opted for the sofa in the living room.
We had not been home very long when Jim announced he had something to do, but would not be gone too long, he put on a long belted jacket, unusual, he rarely wears jackets, even in winter. Then picked up his bicycle clips and left.
About one and a half-hours later, he returned. Looking very much like a sack tied in the middle! With a look on his face that I knew meant he had been up to something. He stuck his hand inside his jacket and pulled out the tiniest tortoise shell kitten, she didn’t look old enough to have left her mother and I don’t think she was much more than four weeks old.
Jim told me that he had heard one of the local farms had a bunch of kittens they were trying to re-home. He knows I love cats and although we already had a Persian called Caruso, he wanted to get me another cat. All the kittens were housed in an old greenhouse, where they had been born. As soon as he set eyes on the little tortoiseshell, he wanted her. The farmer’s wife tried to persuade him to take one of the others instead, the others were much prettier, according to her. But he and Sammy Jo had ‘clicked.’
He set her down on the carpet in front of me, she was really tiny, with a wisp of a tail, great big worried eyes and a little stripe of pale cream fur just across her top lip. It made her look like she had been drinking bleach! Her fur was quite long and it was obvious she was going to have a lovely long fluffy coat.
I was thrilled with her but at the same time, I was quite worried. Caruso, our Persian cat was a big 10-lb bruiser by then. A real Jekyll and Hyde. At home with us he was a really affectionate softie, but whenever he got outside, he became the terror of the neighbourhood.
It hadn’t always been that way. The ‘top-cat’ in this isolated farm community belonged to our landlord, the local farmer. He terrorised every cat in the vicinity, including Caruso, who came off worst in more than one confrontation. One day he came home and I thought I detected a limp, plus he was terrified of this bully of a cat who was hanging around outside. I told Jim that I thought Caruso had hurt his paw but we could not find any wound. He kept limping however, so the next day we took him to see the Vet. Sure enough, he had hurt it, the Vet found a puncture wound between his toes, the Vet told us that an injury to the paw can be very serious if it becomes infected and he prescribed anti-biotics. We were also instructed to keep Caruso grounded for at least two weeks.
Poor Caruso, he hated being cooped up, he would sit in the windows watching any movement outside longingly. One of his favourite times of the day was early morning, when the racehorses from a local training establishment would come past the house with their grooms and jockeys. As soon as he heard the sound of their hooves, he would race to the nearest window and jump up to watch them go by. The jockeys were so used to seeing him, they actually would wave to him as they passed by! I think Caruso’s fascination with horses began when he was serving time in the quarantine cattery, after arriving from the USA. Behind his little cell, there was a paddock, with a horse usually in residence. Every time we visited Caruso, he would be sat looking out of his window and the horse would be stood, head over the fence, peering in at Caruso. I swear they had some sort of communication going on.
When Caruso’s two weeks were up, we let him go out again. Not too long afterwards our landlords wife told us that her cat and Caruso had been at it again, this time Caruso knocked seven bells out of her cat and sent him scurrying into the farmhouse kitchen for safety. She was laughing about it, she said from that day forth, Caruso would come and jump up onto a table outside their kitchen window and glare at her cat, who sat shaking in a corner.
So now Caruso was the ‘top cat’ in the vicinity, and he wasn’t very nice to the other cats. Several times Jim had to go and break up a fight between Caruso and another neighbours two cats, fur flew everywhere, usually Caruso’s, since he had a really long fluffy coat, the scene often looked like the floor of a cottonwool factory.
My concern was for this tiny little kitten, she wasn’t much bigger than a large mouse, just a juicy mouthful for Caruso maybe. I was worried he might kill her. I needn’t have worried though, when we introduced them Caruso immediately fell in love and promptly sat down on top of her, purring. All we could hear was the furious spitting, hissing and outraged squealing of this poor little kitten who thought she was about to be suffocated under this gigantic fur-ball.
Caruso followed Sammy Jo everywhere, her spitting and hissing did not deter him one bit. For such a tiny creature she was really feisty. In the kitchen we had a Welsh Dresser that had a gap under the base that only Sammy Jo could get under, I could not even get my hand and forearm under it. She took to hiding or running under it when Caruso got to be too much for her.
Eventually we moved to another village, where we live now, and Sammy Jo was growing fast. She and Caruso had finally become really good friends but Caruso’s bad habits outside continued. He didn’t just fight with other cats, he tried to kill them. Although Caruso had been spayed, he started spraying everywhere and the smell was dreadful. He even sprayed our video machine which stopped working and had to be sent away for special cleaning. We took him to the vet, who gave him special hormone shots to try to calm him down, but nothing worked and he just went from bad to worse. In the end we had to have him put to sleep, it broke my heart because he was such a beautiful cat in other ways. I feel very guilty about it still, but we didn’t feel it was right to abandon him to the life of a feral cat, as one vet had suggested.
When Sammy Jo was just over a year old, she had her own first litter of kittens and she produced some lovely cats. Most of her kittens were re-homed in pairs but we kept three of hers, Tombi, Temba and Trixie. Tombi and Temba were from her first litter, they were both beautiful long-haired black and white cats. When they were just a few weeks old, they both became sick and I nursed them, feeding them with special kitten milk from tiny bottles every two hours. Tombi recovered fairly quickly but Temba was really ill and we thought we were going to lose her. She became weak and cold so I snaffled a pair of Jim’s socks and turned them inside out to the heel, placing her inside. Then I carried her around everywhere with me, inside my jumper. She was having a saline solution fed to her every 20 minutes by eyedropper, on the recommendation of the vet. At one point I thought she was dead, she seemed to have stopped breathing and had gone floppy. I massaged her chest and she rallied. She recovered eventually and went on to grow into a big beautiful cat.
We lost Tombi when she was about five years old, to leukaemia and Trixie too some years later. We think that Sammy Jo may be a carrier, although she herself has never shown signs of it. Temba disappeared on Easter Monday of this year, we believe she was killed by dogs belonging to a local farmer, but we never found her body. She was fourteen years old, very healthy and a soft, affectionate home-loving cat.
Sammy Jo is now sixteen years old, we thought we were going to lose her late last year, she wasn’t well and refused to eat anything. She got so thin she looked like a bag of bones covered in fur. One day I was making Tuna sandwiches for lunch and I put some tuna on a saucer and gave it to her. She gobbled it up and asked for more. I opened another tin and she ate most of it in one sitting. From that moment on she ate and drank nothing but tuna and milk for two or three weeks, then she started eating cat foods again. At one point I thought she would be better off eating tuna packed in oil, rather than the tuna in brine that I normally buy, so I bought some specially for her, she turned her nose up at it, "tuna in brine if you please!" Now, whenever I open a can of tuna, it doesn’t matter where Sammy Jo is, front yard, back yard, she comes streaking in yelling "where’s mine?" Woe betide me if I don’t save her some on a saucer!
She also likes balls of ground beef and chunks of chicken, as soon as she hears me chopping onions, she is right there, "where’s mine?" (Not the onions dummy – don’t you know meat goes with onions!) She has become quite a demanding cat in her old age, she asks for the doors to be opened, rather than use the cat flap to go out. As we live in the middle house in a triplex, if she wants to get to the front yard from the back, or vice-versa, she will walk through the house and demand we open the appropriate door, rather than walk the long way round through a neighbours garden. I have written three poems about Sammy and her demanding nature: "Sammy Jo" "I Want" and "I Want – Part 2"
She still loves to be cuddled and will ask for that too. She likes to come upstairs in the morning to tell Jim it is breakfast time and she will continue to nag, if he is on the computer, until he picks her up and carries her down stairs to the kitchen. She purrs so loudly when picked up she sounds like a popcorn machine or a coffee percolator.
In recent months, our youngest cat, Calli, has been trying to get close to Sammy Jo. At first Sammy didn’t seem to want to be bothered with this lively young thing who kept chasing her upstairs, she would grump at Calli and cuff her on the head with one of her velvet paws, not always too gently either. Calli’s persistence appears to be winning out, they are often to be seen fairly close together now, sleeping under the lilac bush in the front yard.
Sammy Jo has seen a lot of cats and kittens come and go, she lost her two best friends, Caruso, and a lovely natured Tabby cat called Tabitha, who was poisoned by something ‘that’ farmer sprayed on the nettles in the field in front of us. Tabitha was blind but she got around really well in spite of that. We believe she brushed against the sprayed nettles and ingested the poison when she washed herself. We rushed her to the vet but she died on his table before he could do anything to help her.
I don’t know how much longer Sammy Jo is going to be with us now, she is not the plump, healthy cat she used to be although she is still very lively for her age. She still likes to play chasing games on the lawn with pieces of string or long grass stalks and she is still very much an outdoors cat. Her hunting days are over though, she can’t jump as well as she used to and she is very cautious about jumping on or off anything now. We will miss her terribly when her time comes.
Every day now is a bonus.