In the summer of 1991 my friend Karen told me about a cat that was hanging around her house in Playter Estates. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to adopt a cat someday, and when she told me her story, my heart went out. Apparently, there was a cat who was living in the bushes outside the house, trying to sneak food from the recycling bins. When Karen tried to get close to her, the kitty would run away in terror. Most of the time, Karen only knew the cat was there because at night, particularly when it rained, she would cry a lonely plaintive wail.
Eventually, after about a week of trying, Karen was able to pet the cat a little bit while giving her some food on the porch. Karen became convinced that it was an abandoned and abused cat, because she was terrified of any movement, terribly skinny, and she was also declawed. Together, we hatched a plan to rescue this poor thing from the outside, where she was defenseles and having a hard time of it.
Our first attempt didn’t go too well. The plan was fairly simple — Karen would feed the cat, and if she was able to get close enough to and was able to pet her for a little bit, she would grab her. I would then run out of the house with a box we had ready with some holes punched in it, and we would package up the cat so I could take her to my place.
Everything worked but the last part.
Karen grabbed the cat, I ran out from where I was hiding, and we put her in the box. Clearly, the cat was terrified and in a frenzy. Never except in a cartoon have I seen a box thrashing about quite like this. Then…. it stopped. I looked at one of the air holes we had punched in the side of the box, and I saw a beautiful green eye staring back at me. Then I saw a cute little nose. Then I saw the snout around the nose. Then some whiskers. Then a whole cat’s face. Then, like the scene from Alien, the cat burst out of the box and took off like a brown blur, into the bushes. How she had the strength to blow that box apart I have no idea, but she did.
Our second attempt fared better. This time, we had a real cat carrier, and although she tried, she couldn’t get out. I took the cat back to my place, and let her out. She then ran off under my bed. At this point, the cat was more or less unnamed, but my plan, should the gender thing work out correctly (we had no idea whether she was male or female at that point, the cat had very long hair) was to name it Sigmund, as a tribute to Sigmund Freud. You can see where this is going.
The first night, the cat wouldn’t let me anywhere near her. She crouched in terror under the bed. Slinking away whenever I tried to pet her. That night, Sig yowled and cried so loudly that I couldn’t sleep, and I worried I might get evicted from my apartment. The next day at work, I was a wreck. That night, I tried to pet her again, but no luck, so I went to bed and slept peacefully. The night after that, I was up all night while the cat cried, but the night after that, I slept quietly again. I couldn’t figure out why she would cry one night, but not the next, then I realized, she was crying both nights, it’s just that every second night I was so exhausted, I could sleep through it.
Eventually, I managed to corner her and take her to the vet, and had her checked out. The vet told me that she was a healthy, spayed, declawed female, either a Maine Coon, or a Maine Coon cross, about four years old, and although she was underweight, she was healthy. Clearly the name Sigmund was out, but I decided I liked the name Sig, so officially, she was Sigourney, though I only called her that on special occasions.
Over the next year, I didn’t see Sig that much. Once in a while when all was quiet, she would come out from under or behind whatever she was using as her hiding spot and slink across the floor, staring at me with big scared eyes the whole time. I was depressed we weren’t better friends, but I was glad she was in out of the cold weather, particularly once the fall and the winter came, and I think she was too.
Then one night we shared an experience that brought us closer. You know how late at night the smallest sounds seem amplified because the background noise isn’t there anymore? One night, I was jolted out of my sleep by a noise that sounded like a garbage truck getting sucked into a jet engine. It was very unsettling. Rather terrified and discombobulated I ran out into the living room only to hear the noise stop. I looked around, and couldn’t see what might have caused the sound. Then I saw a bit of movement beside the couch, and heard a clinking noise. Then it stopped. Then it started again, only louder and faster. Then it stopped. Then there was a blur of motion and a cacophany of noise and I saw a brown blur streak around the room, looking like it was being chased by a ghost.
After it was all over, I was able to reconstruct the series of events that had led to this moment, but at the time I had no idea. You see, I was trying to be a good recycler, and I had been collecting Sig’s cat food cans in a bag to take out to the bins. I guess I was planning on taking them out that night, but I hadn’t, and left the loblaws bag full of empty cans on the ground. Sig, always interested in another meal, had been out exploring, and smelled cat food coming from the bag, and gone to investigate. Only problem was, somehow she had started her investigations by sticking her head through the hole in the handle of the bag. At some point as she was sniffing around, she must have moved her head, realized she was stuck, pulled vigourously, and made the cans rattle. The noise of the cans scared her even more and she started running, which made the cans rattle even louder, creating a spiral of panic and noise.
At the time, I didn’t really know what was happening, so after the shock had disappated a little bit, I started chasing her, to release her from her predicament. This did not help the situation. Now something was around her neck, making scary noises, and there was some other giant creature chasing her. I have never seen Sig move so fast, jump so high or be so scared. Somehow we ended up in the kitchen, with her so supercharged on fear that she jumped up on the counter and even though she had no front claws, she jumped onto the kitchen window and was trying to climb up the screen onto the ceiling. I grabbed her, pulled her down, ripped the bag off her neck and just held her tight. We stood there for what seemed like an hour, both of us terrified and upset, our hearts beating wildly. It was probably the first time I had ever held her that she didn’t try and escape, and her terrified little beating heart and the innate humour of the whole situation, which was starting to dawn on me, really made me love her.
One of the first things I figured out was that whoever was mean to her in the past was obviously a man, because although she was skittish around me and terrified of any guys who came over, she would come out and explore when there was a woman in the apartment. So long as I was quiet and still, Sig would cautiously emerge to be petted by whoever my lady guest was. Eventually, she got used to the idea of me as well, at first because of food (I was the meal ticket after all) and then because of the brushing. Sig never shed much, but she had a lot of hair, and she loved being groomed. Her purr when you brushed her was like a little outboard motor, and after she was done, she was so sleek and beautiful your heart would squeeze in admiration.
A couple of years came and went, and Sig and I got very close. So long as I didn’t make any sudden moves when I was standing up near her, she wasn’t afraid of me anymore, and in fact, she came to love being near me. She would come when I made little clucking sounds with my tongue, and the two of us used to have little conversations. She was a very vocal cat, and not always in a loud way. She had a quiet meow, like a hello, she had a loud meow, saying she wanted food and she had a plaintive yowl that she would use when she was lonely or confused. She also had the cutest little trilling noise she made, particularly when she used to jump up on things, or when she was really happy. It’s a trait of Maine Coon cats, and if you ever heard it, you know what I mean when I say it was really sweet.
And then Timmi moved in. Whether it was because of a gift that Timmi has with animals, or whether it’s just because of the civilizing influence of someone home with her all day, Sig underwent a metamorphosis. She became calmer, sweeter, and more loving. I know anyone who didn’t know Sig in the first couple of years has a hard time believing my descriptions of how she used to be, because anyone who has met her for the first time in the last 10 years or so didn’t meet a shy or strange cat at all, but a happy, sweet, gentle and very loving one.
Sig was the only cat I’ve ever owned, , so I don’t really have a lot to compare her with, but it’s difficult to imagine a better pet or companion. She used to wait for me at the door every night until I got home from work. She would snuggle you when you were near, and even when she wasn’t in the mood for petting and cuddling (which wasn’t often) she would just want to hang out nearby, where she could see you.
In the last few years, Sig’s hearing had gone, so we didn’t get to talk like we used to, but that was okay. She was friendlier than ever, and gentler. When our friends brought small kids over, Sig was always very popular, partly because she was a beautiful and fluffy cat, and partly because of her sweet temperament. You could have knocked me over with a feather to see how Sig reacted to little kids, given her history, but there was nothing a child could do to her that would upset her.
Over the last year or so, she started having real problems climbing the stairs, so we used to carry her. She would patiently wait for you to pick her up, and purr like an broken accordian the whole way up the stairs. She spent most of her time asleep, but when she woke up, she immediately wanted to know where we were, because she always wanted to be near us. That was fine by us, because we always wanted to be near her too.
Here are the things I miss about her today:
- How much she loved cheese.
- How she used to share a glass of water with me at the end of the day.
- What a klutz she was. The back of the couch was almost a foot wide, but she’d wipe out every time she tried to walk along it.
- How even at 19, deaf, and with no claws, she still could catch mice with ease.
- How she would wait for me at the door at the end of every day, no matter how late I got home.
- How she loved Swiss Chalet chicken, and wouldn’t let us eat in peace until we gave her some.
- How she would steal my seat every time I got up, just so she could sit where it was warm.
- How she used to wait for a ride up the stairs.
- How sleek she looked after a good brushing.
- The way she rested her head on my neck when I picked her up.
- How much she loved eating ribbons, and the way she would pounce on a ribbon the minute we let our guard down for a split second.
- The noise her feet made when she was trying to catch a laser pointer.
- The way she wanted to get inside any box we had, even if the box was too small and she spilled out the sides, like a muffin.
- The crazy positions she used to sleep in. How could they have been comfortable?
- The way she would change text sizes in browsers and send instant messages by walking or laying on keyboards.
- The way she would always look like she wanted to go outside, but if you gave her the choice, she inevitably realized she was happy inside.
- The way she would lick the frozen windows in the winter.
- The way she assumed that any movement from anyone at any time within an hour of her dinner time meant they MUST be going to feed her.
- The way she would reach out with her paw to pull your hand over to pet her. She was intensely jealous of any mouse , keyboard or eating utensil.
- How much she loved catnip. One year, we got her a bag for Christmas, and figured that since it was inside four layers of plastic, it was safe. We woke up the next morning to find all the plastic ripped open, and her lolling, stoned, in the middle of the floor, covered in it.
- The way, once in a while, she would lay on my back or my side when I was laying on the couch. I don’t think she, or anyone else, understood how happy that made me.
Sig died in my arms on Easter Sunday, 2006. I hope that me holding her made it easier for her somehow.
I love you Sig. You were the best friend and companion that I could have ever asked for, and made my life better every day. I will never forget you.