Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Life In Pets - Sabrina & Seiko

My husband, Steve, and I have always loved animals.

When we met, he had a dog, Seiko

and I had a cat, Sabrina.
For our second date, Steve took me home to meet his dog. Upon receiving Seiko's approval, we then took a ride over to Steve's parents' house a few miles up the road where I met my future in-laws. Yes, after I met the dog! A year later, Seiko was just as much my dog as he was Steve's (don't tell Steve that!) and as we were about to merge our households together by introducing Sabrina to Seiko, Steve seemed a little apprehensive.

"I just don't see what people see in cats," he would say. He didn't hate them, but just didn't see the attraction.

"I'm just afraid I'm not going to like ....what's her name? Oh yeah, Sabrina. I mean, what do cats DO?"

I, on the other hand, was more nervous about Seiko's reaction. On walks, he would try to charge after anything "cat-sized" that would scamper away - squirrels, rabbits, and actual cats. Weighing in at 160 pounds, with a thick fur coat that visually added another 30 pounds to his appearance, Seiko looked like anything but the gentle giant he least when he saw a squirrel. Or a cat. I was even beginning to wonder if Sabrina should stay at my parents' house. After all, she had never even seen an actual dog before, never mind a 160-pound one that was sure to chase her.

Sabrina's story was kind of interesting. This is how she came to be mine:

We had has a white cat living on our porch for several years. She had been a stray, and we soon found out she was deaf. We tried bringing her in the house, particularly during cold weather, but she didn't like it. I think her deafness made her other senses hyperactive, and she would constantly flinch or skulk away if she felt the vibration of someone walking around on the other side of the house. So, since she seemed to prefer the porch, and to make it more comfortable for her, my Dad built her a little house, insulated, and we bought her a cozy, fleece bed to put in it. She lived there for about six years.

One day she disappeared. She had been looking pretty old, so I kind of figured she had wandered off to die. But just to be sure, I placed an ad in the local paper for a missing cat, pure white with a purple flea collar. Old and deaf. Surprisingly, I got a call.

"I think I have your cat!"

I was kind of excited, to be honest, even though part of of me had already accepted that she was gone.

"She's all white, has a purple color and a little gray spot on her head. She's a very playful kitten"

I thanked the girl on the other end of the phone, but assured her that could not be my cat. Whitey was all white, old, and not in the least bit playful.

The next day, I received a second call.

"Have you found your cat yet?"

I had not.

"Well, I'm at the XtraMart (gas station next town over from where I lived) and we just found a white cat. Kind of old. With, um, looks like some dirt on her head or something. She's very hungry."

The thought of a stray cat tugged at my heartstrings, but at this point in my life I was actually seriously considering a move to New York City. I did not know if a pet would be part of that scenario. The ad in the newspaper was done more to honor Whitey. She had been a faithful friend, waiting up for me whenever I went out, accompanying my Dad on his daily walks around the "estate", inspecting the various flowerbeds we had planted.

"Thank you," I responded, "But I'm pretty sure my cat is gone." No way could she have made the 4-plus mile journey on her own. Too many cars, coyotes and Lord knows what else between here and there.

After I hung up, something nagged at me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the next night when the phone rang.

"I'm really sorry!" she said. "But...well...I know this is not your cat, and I don't expect you to be able to replace your missing cat but...."

It was the same girl that had called the day before...and the day before that.

She was moving, and could not bring their new kitten with them. At first the new landlord and mentioned that a cat would be ok, but he later changed his mind. Their three year-old daughter was devastated. To make matters worse, the kitten had a cold or something, and if she brought it back to the shelter it would surely be put to sleep. That's why she had been desperate enough to lie to me, hoping that if I laid eyes on this kitten I would not be able to turn her away.

Funny how when you think your life is going to head in a certain direction, something as simple as a sick kitten in need of a home can cause it to change course. As I said, I was about a week away from making a serious decision that would have changed my life...had I ever actually made that decision. I had a place to stay on Staten Island until I could find my own place, I had a love interest, although not serious - just in the flirtation phase, and I even had two people that swore they could get me a job. I told her I would think about it and call her back, and asked when was she moving.

"Tomorrow." she replied.

Well, okay then.

I never got to meet Sue. The following day was spent moving and by that evening she had to get their three year-old daughter settled in their new apartment, so her husband picked up the last thing at the old place, a kitten named Sabrina, and drove her to my house.

It's been years since that night, but I think of this family fondly very often. You just know when you cross paths with "good people". The car lumbered up my winding street, leaking transmission fluid and sputtering to a stop. It looked as though bubblegum and duct tape was holding it together. A very young man, no more than 22, knocked on the door. Before he brought the kitten to my house, he said his wife was so grateful I decided to take Sabrina that she wanted me to have these things - a brand new litter box, bag of kitty litter, dishes, box of kitten chow, toys, and last but not least, $20. The thought never crossed my mind to take the money, but he held his hands up, refusing to take it back, even though I knew they needed it.

And then came Sabrina. Actually, I went to get her. She refused to come out from underneath the front seat of the car, but I finally pried her loose, trembling and mewing away. In the light of my kitchen, I noticed her eyes were goopy and runny, and I could hear a slight wheezing as she breathed. What was even more painful was the uncomfortable guilt I felt radiating from this young man, trying to do the right thing. In one of my proudest moments, I tried to insist he take the $20 back. I even lied, saying I had a credit balance at the animal hospital (What? You should have just said your uncle was a vet or something...) But no, he was under strict orders. He said, sheepishly, "We know you're probably going to have a higher vet bill than you were expecting".

And so it came to be that I owned a cat named Sabrina. We got her respiratory infection cleared up in a jiffy, but for the majority of her thirteen years she had a chronic runny-eye problem. The consensus was, after trying ointments and antibiotics and examining her eyes for injury, that, well, she was a white cat. All cats' tears are brownish-tinged anyway, so they just show up better on white cats. Plus, she had no pigment in her skin (the rims of her eyes were pink, not black or brown) so she would be more sensitive to dust and things. Whatever it was, it didn't hold her back. She was playful and cuddly, around me, although terrified whenever anyone came over.

Which is why I was nervous about her introduction to Seiko, but we figured it was inevitable. I felt really bad at first, because she was TERRIFIED of him. She literally hid underneath a nightstand for two days, creeping out only when Seiko was outside, dashing back undercover if she so much as heard him bark.

Seiko, on the other hand, was curious. Thankfully he showed no aggression towards her, but to Sabrina his relentless curiousity was the same as if he was chasing her. Finally, one night I decided it was time to intervene. I grabbed Sabrina and brought her into the living room, holding her protectively yet firmly while Seiko approached. The massive dog poked and jabbed at her with his muzzle, tail wagging, ears perked up. Sabrina just shrunk away.

"Oh, Sabrina! Come on! Stand up to him!" I said, and I grabbed her paw and tapped Seiko's nose with it. Amazingly, she got the hint! And repeated the motion. Of course it did not hurt Seiko at all, but he backed off with the poking and prodding. And little by little, Sabrina came out of her shell.
She never ran from Seiko again, and in fact would commandeer his water dish when she was thirsty. He would step back and wait his turn.
She eventually lost her fear of people, too. We found that out one day when a contractor was in our kitchen, writing up a proposal for us. As he leaned over the kitchen counter, filling out his form, Sabrina hopped up, strolled across the counter onto his pad of paper, and head-butted him. I never saw fear in her again.

Guess she figured since she had defeated a giant drooling colossus of a dog, she must be invincible.


Joanna Jenkins said...

What a wonderful story. Pets can make such a difference in a person's life.

It's been years since I've had pets but I used to have two glorious cats. I placed them in good homes in NY when I moved to California. It was such a sad thing for me to do that I haven't had any since.

Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this post very much.

Have a great week.

Lissaloo said...

What a great story! I love that last picture there with them both sharing the dish that is so cute :)

Willoughby said...

I love them both! What beautiful animals.

Our cat used to like to "box" our dog's nose like Sabrina did to Seiko. I always thought it was sort of cute!

5thsister said...

This has to be one of my very favorite stories from you. It reminded me of sweet Phoebe when she was little and ill; of Winston who left us when he was 13; of all the sweet animals that have ever owned us! Thank you for sharing!

Gracey said...

I LOVED this story! Thanks for sharing!