Newton Street Cat in Residence
By Kathleen Newsom
Nina Porter, my father's mother, loved to tell the story of how she acquired
"Foxy". Grandma worked as a seamstress in the back of her single-shotgun house on
Newton Street. One day, while she was sewing, she heard crying outside the back
door. She knew it was a cat and opened the door to find, on her doorstep, a
mother cat with long gray fur surrounded by a litter of crying kittens wandering
around her feet. The mother cat looked tired, hungry, and overwhelmed. Grandma
was a single parent, so she understood how motherhood could take its toll,
especially on feral cats. She went to the kitchen and carefully opened the screen
door with scraps of meat for the mother cat and a bowl of milk for the kittens.
Maybe she was tame or perhaps she was too tired to be frightened, but the mother
cat greedily ate the meat and the kittens surrounded the bowl from all sides and
drank. Grandma snuck back in the house, not wanting to disturb them, and went back
to work on the sewing machine. After some time, Grandma heard a tiny cry. She
knew it wasn't the mother cat and thought there was trouble. She opened the door
and looked where they had been eating. The mother cat was gone, along with her
litter -- except for one. Between the empty bowl and where the remnants of meat
lay sat a little gray kitten. Looking very much like the mother cat, he just sat
there looking up at her without moving. Apparently, as Grandma was fond of saying,
the mother cat left him as payment for the meal. Foxy was brought into the house
and thus began the tradition of adopting feral cats into the house on Newton Street.
My father and I moved into the old shotgun house in 1991 and had no cats at the
time. Foxy had outlived Grandma by five years, passing away at 18 in 1986. Dad
was recovering from esophageal cancer surgery and I was finishing my last year of
undergraduate work at the University of New Orleans. It wasn't that we didn't want
a cat in the house, but we had other priorities at the time.
My father had a habit of going out in the backyard to drink his morning cup of
coffee. Over a series of mornings, he befriended a feral cat he called "Pretty".
She had spots of black, gray, and white. She became tame enough for Dad to be able
to place his hand down to pet her head for about three seconds before she would run
away. This went on until one day Pretty didn't show up, and more days of absences
followed. Dad noticed that she was pregnant, so he assumed she had had her litter
and was in seclusion.
It was on Mother's Day in 1992 when we discovered Pretty's litter under the house,
which wasn't long after Pretty's disappearance. There were five kittens. Three of
them were dead and Pretty was nowhere to be found. The remaining two, each barely
filling the palm of my hand, were flea-infested and dehydrated. With the help of a
neighbor, the kittens were washed, dried, and "de-fleaed" by hand. Dad filled a
dropper bottle with milk and crushed up dried cat food and we began the feedings.
One was a full tabby and the other was a mottle of white, gray, and black. The
curious distinction between them was the tabby has pure black on the tip of its
tail and the other had a tip of pure white. We kept them in a cardboard box with a
blanket. Each day they progressed better than the next.
Once they were stronger, we took them out in the backyard. Little furry bodies
climbing on and over my high-tops like children on a jungle gym. Dad stood on the
back steps and clapped and called, "Babies!" The tabby made a floppy bee-line for
Dad. I think the decision was made for us -- we were keeping them. We called the
tabby "Tygre" and the other was called "Sascha". I gave them feminine names
because I thought they were female. This changed when we had them neutered and
found out they were both male (so much for my veterinary expertise).
Tygre and Sascha were constant distractions and companions for Dad. He'd spend his
day getting them out of the crawl space under the wall heater, climbing the ladder
after Dad as he was adding a drop-down ceiling in the den, and following him
everywhere he went in the house. They also performed a unique trick. Dad was fond
of Sun-Maid raisins in the medium-sized red boxes. They were spoiled -- only red
boxes. They would have nothing to do with the green Del Monte raisin boxes. Dad
crumpled the boxes up and threw them for the cats to chase. If one end of the box
had a raised lip, Tygre would pick it up with his teeth and take it back to Dad.
Sascha never got the hang of fetching, but he chased the bouncing crumpled box as
often as he could. They even managed to get them into Dad's shoes.
Tygre and Sascha were strictly inside cats. One day the screen door was
accidentally left open. It had been years at this point since their backyard trek
as kittens. How far did they get? Tygre was on the second step of the back steps. He laid down and cried. Sascha made it to the side of the house, but he cried as
bad as Tygre.
In 2003, Tygre began acting listless and not eating. After a battery of vet tests,
we learned he had a blood disease. For a year Tygre had blood transfusions,
medications, and vet stays. He'd shown some improvement for a time, then take a
downward turn, and then bounce back. Like Dad, Tygre had his good days and bad
ones. So long as there was a chance for Tygre to have some quality of life, we
continued the treatments. Tygre would take his place next to Dad's side on the
couch and purr -- that was worth everything we did for him. One day Tygre went
missing. We looked under beds, behind furniture, and then I noticed the door of my
linen closet slightly ajar. I had to pull large suitcases and carry-ons and Tygre
had somehow squeezed his little furry body in tiny spaces and hid in the back of
the closet. I took this as a sign that he was preparing to move on. I took him to
the vet for overnight observation. Tygre died during the night.
It has been said that when an organ in the human body fails, others compensate.
Sascha was never second best, but he took a supporting role in my father's
relationship with Tygre. Suddenly Sascha began sitting on the couch with Dad,
something he wouldn't do when Tygre was with us. He began sleeping on Dad's bed
and waking Dad up when "he" thought Dad should get up and feed him.
My role never changed. I'm convinced Sascha views me as my father's "pet". After
all, Dad sees me out in the morning, so the last thing Sascha witnesses is Dad
letting me out. Then in the evening, I return, so Dad lets me in.
Sascha is a well-traveled cat. He came with us when we evacuated during Katrina.
He was never a fan of the "pet taxi" and seems to transform into Cujo whenever
he's in there for any length of time. Imagine over 14 hours the day before the
storm hit, driving to the Alabama state line with talk radio discussing the storm
and Sascha serenading us every minute. Still, he was a trooper. We were fortunate
enough to get a room at a hotel that accepted pets. There was enough space between
our beds for Sascha to jump back and forth from one to the other. It reminded me
of a kid on vacation jumping up and down on a hotel bed. It took us six weeks and
traveling a round-trip distance of 1,700 miles, but we made it back home. Sascha
acted as though nothing had happened and he was never out of sync with his normal
routine. I envied him in that.
Ever since Sascha was diagnosed with a liver disorder, I've had to administer
medicine to him every morning and night, so now he associates me with medication.
Therefore, I am the personification of evil in his eyes whenever I open the
refrigerator door (his medicine needs refrigeration). I have to chase him around
the house (Dad does a great job with blocking and retrieval) and then console his
cries quickly followed by a blue pill down his throat followed by two syringes of
liquid. Sascha escapes after the medication event and goes to eat like he needs to
get the bad taste out of his mouth immediately. He licks places I can't mention
here -- how can medicine be worse than that?
This coming Mother's Day will mark Sascha's sixteenth birthday. In some ways
he's like a teenager -- fiercely independent, doesn't listen to anything you say,
and does exactly what he wants. In some ways, he's like an old man -- set in his
ways and dependant though he doesn't want to be.
Dad and Sascha are good company for each other, and are my foundation of home and
family. They're both up there in years and now I can't imagine life without either
of them. But none of us were built to last forever. The best we can hope for is
one more day, one more moment to hold onto, and to cherish them all for all their
A cat has always been in residence in our shotgun on Newton Street and hopefully
Sascha will remain with us for quite some time.
Kathleen Newsom is a writer in Greta. She can be reached at
kathleennewsom @ bellsouth.net.