Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Samuel Stillman, thank you my boy. 2000-2013

Today I lost one of the best and truest friends I ever had. Tomorrow I will wake up and my world will no longer be the same. Sammy was much more than a cat to me and I am having a hard, hard time with his passing. See, he was my son.

Sammy, basking in his last sunrise.
 I sat cross-legged on the floor of the animal adoption center in Ojai. All around me a full dozen kittens were either sleeping or wrassling, being kittens. As I sat and watched, my eyes were naturally drawn to the kittens that were up and active, none of which were paying much attention to me. My gaze passed around the room once more and arrested, came back and focused on a runty little tabby parked by himself in the corner. This little kitten was staring right into my soul. I kept looking around the room but my eyes betrayed me. I glanced back at the little cat and he was still giving me this deeply intent stare. I smiled at him and before I could open my mouth to say "hi" he was trotting across the carpet toward me. He hopped into my lap without hesitation, kept looking into my eyes.

At the counter I asked if he had a name. They told me they named him "Sammy" when he was brought in ("But feel free to give him a new one."). I held him up to my eyes and thought that Sammy was a fine name for him. He was around twelve weeks old, but small and somewhat frail. I looked at him, cradled in my arms. He purred at me, a tiny engine of love. I said, "Sammy, I'm your dad.", but it was always he that found me.

This is a story that Ruth is better at telling, but the way it goes is that when I arrived home with little Sammy, all Ruth saw was this scrawny little kitten with a runny nose and one watery eye. She was not impressed. I defended my choice somewhat halfheartedly. I knew he wasn't the healthiest cat from the first glance. Nor was I able to adequately illustrate to Ruth whatever spell the kitten had cast upon me at the adoption center. I sat in a mild funk for a few moments before Sam cured me of that by simply being himself. He climbed onto my shoulder and perched there for a full hour while we watched TV.
From the other end of the couch Ruth said, "I guess he is pretty cute, but he's clearly your cat."

The first time Sammy went to the vet he was still under six months old. He was having difficulty eating and his gums were inflamed and producing the fetid odor of decay. He was feverish and lethargic, didn't look good. We were told that he had a congenital gingivitis and that if we wished him to live the vet would have to pull all his teeth (insert "kitty dentures" joke). Less than a week later the little cat was noticeably gaining weight, his hair was glossy and he had resumed killing bugs and getting into cabinets. He continued to grow, but never got any bigger than the smaller side of average. Sam also didn't develop a voice until after he was a year old, but after that he became the most vocal cat I ever met. He had a lot to say.

The next time Sammy saw a vet was over 12 years later.

"The scourge of neighborhood wildlife."

 You'd think that a cat without teeth isn't much of a cat. Countless small animals and insects would tell you different if they were alive today (and could talk). Sammy was always encouraged to be a cat, by which I mean he lived an indoor/outdoor life. He held and defended his own territory (every other cat on the street  knew that this was Sammy's corner), he hunted, hid in trees, napped in the sun, etc... Sammy was a very proficient hunter, and every bit as sadistic about the kill as any other cat. He got many, many birds. All kinds and sizes of birds. One evening I was pulling up to our house and witnessed Sammy attack an unwary crow. He sprung his trap and the crow had never seen it coming. After a brief tussle the fully grown crow got away, but not without leaving black feathers all over the drive-way. What does that say about whether a well nourished cat can function sans fangs? Sam would "play" with his prey for quite a while, would badger it to exhaustion before suffocating the hapless critter. The loss of his teeth never inhibited Sam though I expect he would have faired less well in the rare cat fights he got into.

Sammy had a habit of sleeping on top of us.

The practice of zen buddhism aims to achieve an emptying of the mind, a complete connectedness to the immediate moment. A connectedness without the expectations of the future or the encumbrances of the past. Cats live in that most zen-like state, their moments are free of worry, stress, concerns, hurts, wants, etc... Sammy taught me that cats are intrinsically the zen masters of the animal world. Cat's do exactly what they want, when they want, and in a manner that is uniquely feline. They are the embodiment of zen, and Sam was a grand master. He reminded me to relax, to enjoy stillness, to fill my mind with an appreciation for what is right in front of me. He showed me a better way to look at the world.

It took over a year before Sammy could "meow". After that he was always talking to us.

You couldn't turn your back on fresh laundry with Sam in the house.
I buried Sam under this very tree.

Sammy had several habits that are particularly poignant today, behaviors that I will deeply miss.  Sammy would often spend most of the night out prowling but for years he always came into our room to get a morning belly rub before I left for work. He'd be sitting outside the bathroom when I got out of the shower and would follow me to the dresser where he'd flop on his side, stretching out for that sweet morning rubdown. I was a sucker for it, every time. Sammy would also be waiting out front in some flower bed until I got home from work. As I pulled in he'd walk out to the driveway, meowing a "hello" as I stepped out of my truck. He did this many hundreds of times over the years and it hurts to think of how much I am going to miss that. He had a habit of gently placing one paw on your hand or arm, just the sweetest cat. For a while Sam would sneak up on us at night, park himself on Ruth's or my pillow and where he promptly began to clean himself. He often found ways to sleep on top of one us, and I'm remember many naps with him knocked out on my chest. Sam enjoyed stepping on the buttons on Ruth's digital alarm clock, and Ruth was late to work more than a couple times because he had somehow messed up the settings. You should have seen him freak out the first time he turned on the clock's radio. I was dying it was so funny. He could hear a can opener from across the street, was fascinated with cabinets and closets (and got stuck or shut in a few times). He knocked over several Christmas trees and ate a few aquarium fish. 

What was very special about Sammy was that I never had to look for him. When Ruth or I were home he was always within our sphere. He really did want to be near us and we both know that he was really there for us during the ups and downs of life, a quiet friend offering only unconditional love. His nature often reminded me that the world needs more gentleness and grace. 

Sam's facial structure changed due to the loss of his teeth. Still, he was a handsom devil.

About six weeks ago I noticed Sammy limping badly, and overnight he looked somehow older. It turned out he had an infection, probably from a thorn puncture. More worrisome, and what I'd suspected for sometime, was the sad news that Sammy's kidneys were failing. I'd seen him struggling to take in enough water, but he couldn't absorb what he needed. He was losing muscle tone and at times he was unable to make easy jumps. We were given another few weeks time with our friend, and I tried to make the most of any opportunity spend with him. In a way, convalescing from my own health crisis at home afforded me nothing but time to spend in his company. Sammy's infection resolved quickly with treatment and for a few weeks he seemed to be his usual self, but he soon began a rapid decline and in the last couple days he became increasingly somnolent and lost interest in food or fluids. It was time.
Sammy wasn't a fan of the vet's office. He only had to go to such a place three times in his entire life. Like me, Samuel was born lucky.
Dave & Sammy, 02/11/13, the day before I took him in.

Yesterday I just sat with him cradled in my arms, just like the first time we met. I held him and rocked and mourned the loss of my friend. I am a solitary person, with very few close friends and I have been very broken up by his loss. Last night I held him close, an all-night vigil. I just couldn't bear leaving him to die alone in the dark. At one point in the night we had a moment, he looked at me with that deep gaze and I knew he was telling me that it okay and that he was ready. This morning I gathered the blanket with Sammy, the little bundle I'd held tightly all night, and sat him in the morning sunlight. I stroked him and told him everything he'd ever meant to me. I took him in to the vets office at nine and he passed very peacefully.  

Sammy's last morning. He wasn't taking fluids or eating. It was a tough morning for me. It's been a tough day. It's been tough writing this.
Goodbye my son, I love you and will always miss you.


  1. i am sorry for your loss.

    one of our four cats died here at the house yesterday.

    we have been mourning her coming death for some time.

    at sunrise she'll be buried in the backyard.

    -= b =-

  2. i'm sorry he died but am glad you two brought each other so much happiness - thank you for telling his story

  3. David, this is a beautifully written and heart felt tribute to Sammy.

    Sounds to me like he had a perfect life, a loving family and the opportunity to explore all that cats enjoy.

    I found my cat in the parking lot at work in 1999 and he's been with me since. I'm not looking forward to what you went through, and trying to appreciate him more everyday. Thanks for the story.


  4. sorry he died thanks for this post

  5. My heart goes out to you. We lost our dearest companion Shibby at the grand old age of 22, just last month. I still fill up at the thought of her unending affection. Like Sammy, her kidneys failed in the end and like you we experienced a very special moment the evening before she passed. It was time and she knew and accepted that. It was a very special and intimate "thank you, but it's time" moment. It will get better for us. I know not when.. but it will.
    Karen and Graham