By: Cynthia Sillitoe
I have to admit, at first I walked past my new cat. My mom and I were at the Phoenix Humane Society. In my early twenties, I was homebound due to chronic illness. I was still grieving the loss of my childhood cat who had been my constant companion. Life without her was unbearable. Finding a new feline was a strange experience. Cats had always found us. They showed up on our porch and couldn’t understand why we didn’t let them in immediately. That’s how cats are.
A volunteer asked if we had seen the orange tabby.
“Come take a look,” he prompted. “She’s a sweetheart and she is very rare,” he said. “Most orange tabbies are male”
He put her in my arms. She had an amazing coat, with not only stripes, but spots, a white belly and paws, amber eyes (which would later turn green), a striped tail, long whiskers, and a sweet pink nose.
My mom asked, “Is this the one?” I didn’t know. I didn’t feel any special pull to her, but maybe that was expecting too much. There wasn’t any reason not to adopt her, so I said, “Yes.” The orange tabby threw her paws around my neck and snuggled close and then I knew. The volunteer snapped a photo for the adoption wall and we went out to do the paperwork.
We named her Perchance, Percie for short, after a character in a favorite movie, The Spitfire Grill. It turned out to be an appropriate name because that Percie changes the life of everyone she knows and so did our Percie.
That first day, she explored every inch. Everything was interesting and had to be considered. She tried out the litterbox and her food dish, hopped into each sink and the bathtub, and proved adept at opening cupboards with a single paw. She discovered the small aquarium we had and watched the fish for a long time. While I rested, Percie prowled under my bed. She purred so loudly that I could hear her through the mattress.
Percie was unlike any cat I had ever had. She didn’t do her own thing. Instead, she wanted to be involved in everything we did. When Mom cooked, instead of whining for tidbits like our other cats had, Percie sat on the kitchen counter and watched each step with great seriousness as if she thought she would need to prepare cheese enchiladas or a fruit salad one day. She loved to help wrap presents and arrange flowers. Once, I tried to make a paper-mache mask and Percie helped so much with the wet gauze that she nearly mummified herself. (We never did paper-mache again.)
She loved cat toys, but not as a solitary activity. We had to play, too. Mom and I spent hours each day, dragging ribbons or cat toys on strings around the living room, while Percie hid under tissue paper or in a tunnel-shaped bed, waiting for the moment to pounce.
She was so, so affectionate. She loved to have her white tummy rubbed. She would reach a paw up to my face. I’d kiss it and she would squirm with delight. She slept on my lap or Mom’s, in our beds, sometimes cuddled against our faces at night, as if she couldn’t get close or loved enough.
When Percie was young, we lived in an apartment in a courtyard and had a nice, roomy balcony. It opened up on stairs, without a gate or anything. Due to apartment rules, Percie had to be on a long leash. We tethered it to a very heavy chair and then to her collar, allowing her free run of the balcony. She loved to lie in the sun and watch geckos and birds. Periodically, she’d break free and run down the stairs into the courtyard, sometimes dragging a leash behind her, while we raced after her.
Another feature of the balcony was a thin blue rail at the top, probably designed for human safety. Percie thought it made an excellent walkway. She marched across it masterfully while neighbors stopped to watch. Every once in a while, she’d do a balance check, like a tightrope walker at the circus who wanted to heighten the drama for the crowd.
When we moved to Utah, Percie missed her Arizona sun. She didn’t like the cold, snowy winters at all, but there were perks. Finally, she was allowed outside on her own. It reminded me of when lions raised in zoos are released back into their natural habitat. I worried a little about her safety, but I loved watching her rush out each day to greet the world.
Though we wished she wouldn’t, she loved to hunt. It is instinctive to cats and all those toy mice and ribbons had kept her skills sharp. She brought home a dead snake one day and a live vole another. Both got quite a reaction from us. Percie chased cats twice her size, once running one up a tree. She avoided big dogs, but stalked after little ones, her body low and tail twitching, until we brought her inside, much to her frustration.
Percie thought everything inside the house was hers, so everything outside must be, too. She not only loved napping on our porch, but on neighbor’s porches. She’d make her rounds each day, first inspecting our yard, and then went up and down the block of condos. Our neighbors across the way had rose bushes outlined with an arc of pink bricks. On summer days, Percie loved walking across those bricks. They must have felt warm under her paws and reminded her of Arizona.
Percie lived for sixteen years. She was always the best part of every day. Her antics charmed not only us, but her Facebook friends. (Yes, Percie had a Facebook account. I made it as a joke, but found I loved to write from her point of view.) She taught me so much about love and loss. When my mom died, Percie grieved as hard as I did. We spent a lot of time, curled up together, trying to figure out the way forward. My dad moved in with us. (He and my mom had separated amicably before Percie’s time.) Percie wasn’t sure what she thought of him, until she realized he was crazy about her and more likely to give her extra treats. They became great buddies.
When it was time to let Percie go, I did, shattered by sorrow, but incredibly thankful for my time with her. And then I opened my heart and my home to a new cat. Her name is Gabby and she, too, is the best part of every day.
Cynthia Sillitoe is an artist, writer, editor, and cat mom. She lives in Ogden, Utah.