Those are words Juan would repeat while kissing & nuzzling into Saffron’s (AKA: Saffi) nape. I think the routine started right after we got her and I’m sure that helped instill her love of kisses. She was a special girl with a diversity of life experience beyond her one and a half years of life. We don’t know the circumstances of her early life. We first came into each others’ lives when she was about 5 or 6-months old at the Happy Cat Sanctuary — an extraordinary organization and facility located in Medford, NY on Long Island. My sister, sensing that we had recovered from the loss of Mercury, a Russian Blue who I adopted in 2002 and who died in 2012, wanted to give us a kitten for Christmas last year and learned of the sanctuary through her pets’ veterinarian. It was a remarkable place– a house and yard in a suburban neighborhood containing hundreds of rescued cats. The kittens were kept in a room to themselves. When we arrived (Juan, my sister Jen, and I), we were brought into that room and given time to meet the 20 or so kittens under a year old. The scene was surreal–for those with a fear of cats, it would be the stuff of nightmares. Imagine a kitten leaping from one side of the room to land, clinging to my sister’s arm, while the rest swarm seeking attention. Saffi came over, we held her, she was friendly… maybe a little aloof as she didn’t beg for the attention, and certainly the most beautiful. We never could have known upon meeting her that she would prove to be such a wonderful companion, such a joy, so much fun, and such a positive and grounding force in a time of great change for Juan & I.
That was December 31, 2014. I had one more semester of commuting back-and-forth from NYC to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, upstate-NY. I was away half of the time, so those first months really belong to Juan & Saffi. That’s not to say the she & I didn’t bond, we did. And very strongly. But our period of intense bonding came a little later after we decided that we would be moving to Medellín, Colombia. Juan left to lay the groundwork for the big move 3-months before Saffi & I. There were a lot of loose ends to deal with and obligations I had to fulfill. This meant for 3-months of rapid change and shifting locations. I had to be at Skidmore for the month of June, so my sister and her family graciously took Saffi in for the month. After that, she & I moved into a studio sublet in Brooklyn where we would remain until the end of August. It was a rough space–literally. It was not technically a living space. It had no windows. It had an air conditioner, but it only really alleviated the heat when you were right in front of it. It was a particularly hot summer in NY. From then until 2-days ago, we were more-or-less inseperable. I worked part-time for the summer, so aside from those hours, I was with her. Since arriving in Colombia 7-months ago, we three have been more-or-less inseperable. Both Juan & I only recently started working and even now, it is only part-time. Of course we’ve had an occasional overnight here and there and one extended, by which I mean 5-day, trip to Bogotá during which time she stayed with friends, but we had all become very accustomed to and attached to being together most of the time.
When I sat at my computer to write the post, I didn’t anticipate it becoming such a detailed history. I thought I’d write a few words and then post a photo gallery. I’m finding, however, a need to continue. I guess I don’t want to forget anything. This is a way to preserve my memory of my little monster.
Let me back up a bit. Saffi had so many little idiosyncrasies and behaviors that I must recount some of them. I cannot recall exactly how fetch began, but she had a Santa-hat toy with some crunchy material inside that she loved. The sound it made was similar to crumpled up receipts, which, it follows, became her new favorite. Everytime I would come home from shopping, she was waiting, excited for a fresh new receipt. Not only did she enjoy batting them around like most cats, but she began playing fetch! I would throw the crumpled receipt across the room, she would race to get it, carry it back, and drop it — eager for the next throw.
Her list of favorite toys continued to grow. While at my sisters house in June, my nieces gave her a blue boa, which she would carry around and cuddle with, chartreuse beads, to become known later as her pearls, and even a balloon! She would climb the carpeted lally-column in the basement, grab the balloon string, and carry it around, chasing the string when she let go and the balloon started to float away. We took so much pleasure and laughed so hardily watching the spectacle of a cat trailing a ballon behind her. It should be noted that while with my sister, another new habit emerged. In addition to climbing, so liked to burrow into small, dark, confined places. Later, those places would becomes closets (she would stand in front of our closets here in Medellín, begging to be let in. She would try climbing our hanging clothes to get higher and higher. Eventually, I would help her into my highest cupboard after prompting her with the question, You wanna go upstairs?, which she would reply to enthusiastically.) and blankets, but at first, she discovered a way to get into the drop ceiling where her Santa-hat would be lost.
I mentioned a moment ago, that she would reply to my questions or prompts. Whenever we (and Juan in particular) had to scold her for getting into mischief, she would immediately cease the activity, but not without talking back– a terse little meow in obedient defiance. In fact, she had a whole language that we were still figuring out. She would make utterances that seemed specific to different situations or different prompts. When she was being fed, her meow became a chirp. If we would address her when she was feeling playful, she would come out with what sounded like sentences: Mwa-wah-wa-wae. If there was a fly in the apartment, she would become a reluctant, yet fierce hunter, and again string together a variety of sounds coupled with a twitching face full of nervous energy. If we were in bed watching TV or getting ready for sleep, she would come in meowing while carrying one of her toys in her mouth. Time to play, daddies! I wish I managed to capture some of these moments on video so I could hear her again.
While Saffi always wanted to be with or at least near us, she was not much of a lap-cat. Over the last couple of months, however, she was starting to become a great cuddler. She always loved being pet and handled. She was even quite docile and permissive when being examined by the vet. She would happily submit to being picked up by her scruff, which I had to do on occasion to get her out of places she was not supposed to be. She even liked having her little pink toes and fingers rubbed and she was especially fond of having her belly stroked.
She had a fairly regular feeding schedule. Dry breakfast at 7am, dry lunch at noon, and wet dinner at 7pm (give-or-take). We grew into a morning routine that was so… heart-warming and life-affirming; it made waking up every morning a cherished moment. She tended to spend most of the night nearby –sometimes at the bottom of the bed, sometimes on the shelf behind the bed, other times curled up in the floor, by the floor-to-ceiling window under the bamboo tree. But very morning, starting around 6 or 7, she would make her presence known, but never in a demanding way. Over he past month or two, she would gently paw at my face. She knew I wanted to linger in bed a little longer, so she would curl up in the nook of my right arm and chest and go back to sleep until I was ready to get up and start the day. She did begin to get a little more insistent, but I think it was insistence on cuddle time, not necessarily feeding time. If I was sleeping on my side, she would take a single claw and tap be on the back. That was my cue to roll over to give her my nook, which I would always do with great pleasure. She sometime took the time to bathe, to beg for scratches and kisses, or simply to sleep. That was always a special time of day. Over the past week, waking up has not been the same.
My nickname for her, Monster, or My Little Monster, was entirely justified. While she had so many domesticated/human qualities, her animal nature was never far from the surface. I have already written about her climbing and burrowing tendencies as well as her skills as a fly hunter. She also enjoyed hunting me! (I used the nickname, Little Terrorist on a number of occasions too.) It started while in Brooklyn — again, it was just the two of us in a confined space. I recall being in bed while she circled, occasionally leaping up to strike at a limb or my head (never or rarely with claws– she only broke skin on a handful of occasions when she was really worked up). Then, she figured out that from the ground, she could burrow up, underneath the blankets and attack from there — a game we called, Bed Shark. She continued this all through our time here in Colombia. In fact, the game expanded. Sitting on the sofa, she would swat at my ankles from below. She got into the habit of biting too as a way to get my attention. Often she would do this when I was late with dinner (or if she was hungry early). I would be sitting unexpectedly and suddenly feel this sharp pinch on my shin or calf. Such a little monster. Juan always got such a kick out of the way she harassed me. And I loved it too.
Rather than sitting idly by, waiting for her attacks, I started hunting her too. I fancied myself her father, teaching her how to attack and stalk her prey. We would stare at each other, eyes locked, me laying on my belly in bed and she crouched in the shower. We would stay still for minutes. She would crouch lower, wiggle her rear, her pupils would dilate and then, attack! She would run, leap onto the bed, and pounce, swatting at my head. I would tackle her and we roll around and start again.
As adults we do not get many opportunities for play. Saffi was such fun to play with. And you learn a lot about others (whether human or not) through play. This is one of the great lessons that she taught me.
One final oddity before ending with more pictures. Like a lot of cats, she liked to knock around her water bowl before starting to drink. I always wondered if they did this to agitate the surface of the water so they could see it better and know how deep to put their faces. While that may or may not be true, Saffi took it to another level. While in Brooklyn, she only liked drinking out of non-traditional (for cats) vessels. But she always ended up tipping them over, spilling water everywhere. So I started using a pitcher that was heavy and hard to tip. That worked pretty well. When we arrived in Colombia, Juan had alreadfy gotten her a pretty sturdy water bowl, so the spilling ended. However, she started drinking out of her hand (ok, her paw). She would stick her entire paw in the water and start drinking. I think she was multitasking: she was both washing her paws while drinking. But then, of course, she would shake the excess water everywhere and track her little paw prints all over the apartment. Since her death, I have been looking around the apartment for signs of her– a paw print in the sink where she liked to curl up, or near her litter box, a bit of fur left in her spot at the back of my closet. We did a good house-cleaning yesterday, so any physical signs that were left, are no more. I choked up putting her food and water bowls away. They will not be repurposed, but will remain. Her pearls and her boa too. We have put them away, but they will remain.
Saffi was diagnosed with feline leukemia on Tuesday of this week (March 15th). We had brought her to the vet for a second time on Monday. They kept her to run tests and to observe her. They called on Tuesday morning with the news. We went to see her to decide what to do. Her red blood count was so low that she needed an immediate transfusion, which our vet could not do — apparently, if I understood correctly, there was only one place in Medellín to do that. She was so weak and the virus was so active that the stress of taking her elsewhere for an uncertain, but probably bleak outcome, that it did not seem right to put her through more. Just from our presence and from handling her, she got worked up to the point where she was gasping for breathe and could not support the weigh of her head. Through our tears, we realized that we really did not have much choice in how to proceed. The vet and staff were all very gentle and very kind, but I remain in shock. She was vaccinated in the States before we left; she had no other contact with other cats; I do not understand. I will have to come to terms with that and with a precious life cut short.
On her last night with us, I went to bed before Juan, and Saffi was resting on the sofa. Juan brought her in to me understanding that all she seemed to want over the past several days as her condition worsened, was to be close to me. She curled up in my nook and neither of us moved all night.
**29 March 2016 addendum: I found many more photos & Juan shared a lot of his — many from her early days with us in Washington Heights. I have integrated some with the original post and added others below.
And lastly, a video that makes my heart purrr…