Samson by Kathy Sacksteder / Mommy

Samson was gorgeous and wonderful. He was supposedly 1/4 bobcat, and 3/4 bengal, but he was built exactly like and had the same fur type as Paul, my registered Ocicat (Paul just looks grumpier!). He had a tail about 2″ long and was built like a Min-Pin (dog) when I got him at 11 weeks old, at an animal swap meet on 9/10/98, and he used to answer the door very much like a dog.

He used to sit on his butt next to me on the couch with his legs pointing forward and his back against the back of the couch, lean against me, and watch TV with me. After a while, he’d fall asleep and I’d accidentally brush the side of his head with my arm and he’d give out a “meow” (with his eyes still shut). I’d wait a minute or two and stroke the side of his head again -one time- and he’d “meow” again, with his eyes still shut. I’d repeat it a couple more times and after the 3rd or 4th stroke, he’d wake up enough to climb in my lap, settle back in, and go back to sleep after being properly petted for a few minutes.

He was negative for FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) when he came here. I brought home a kitten (Akechta) for socializing on 12/29/99. Since Akechta was too small to test for FeLV when he came here (barely 1 1/2 pounds) and he looked completely healthy, I didn’t worry about testing him. 6 weeks later, Akechta picked up ringworm that my other guys had gotten over a month before he came here, and then picked up a URI that my other guys had gotten over just before he came here. I tried medicating him with amoxy and he didn’t respond to it, then we tried baytril, and he got worse. Then we had him tested for FeLV and found out he was positive for it. Very positive. I had to put him to sleep because he was so sick and there wasn’t anything we could do for him since he didn’t respond to antibiotics.

A month later, I had to start testing all my other cats (there were 26 here at the time). After 60 tests and a year of testing, I ended up with 6 positive for disease and the rest fine. Samson tested positive for exposure from the first test in 3/00 until his last test a year later, but he seemed to be doing fine.

On 7/5/01, when I woke up, I noticed that Sam looked like he was out of breath from a play session, so I watched him. A half hour later, he was still out of breath. I took him to the vet as soon as they could get him in that morning, and they did chest x-rays on him and found out that where the lung space should be black, both lungs were solid white. They tried doing a chest tap, in the hopes that the white we saw on the x-rays was from fluid and not from solid masses, but they could only get about 3cc’s of fluid off his lungs. Both lungs were massive tumors. It helped his breathing enough that I was able to bring him back home for a few hours, but he needed to go to Rainbow Bridge that afternoon, because of his breathing. He’d just turned 3 years old on 6/27.

When he died, the guilt was horrible. I felt like I’d given my beautiful baby FeLV as surly as if I’d taken a syringe full of the virus and injected him directly myself. Saying I was heartbroken doesn’t even begin to hint at how horrible I felt. I spent the evening curled up on the couch sobbing. Momma (the best foster mom cat I’ve ever seen and the mother of Sam’s mate) sat on the arm of the couch with one front leg around the back of my head, and spent the evening alternating between washing my forehead and bangs and resting her chin on top of my head. She didn’t take her paw from around my head for almost 3 hours straight.

I couldn’t forgive myself for Sam’s getting sick, because it was totally preventable. The type of cancer cells they found is only seen in cats with FeLV. I grieved for Sam like I’ve never grieved for any other cat. I had a vacation scheduled for 4 days where I was going to drive and camp around in the bigger state parks in Kentucky a week after Sam died, and I kept fighting the urge to go to a TICA cat show in Lexington the weekend of my vacation and look for another cat who looked like Sam, then I kept fighting the urge to call and see if I could visit a couple breeders in Kentucky and see if I could find another Sammy there. I was able to fight the urge, but it was very hard. I kept reminding myself that finding a lookalike was not the same as bringing Sam back. It took a lot of convincing, but I resisted.

20 days after Sam died, I was at work at the pet shop I worked for, when a gentleman came in with a 3 1/2 year old registered Ocicat named Picasso. He’d stopped in out of desperation on his way to the pound. The gentleman who brought Picasso in adored his cat, but he was going through a divorce, and his wife said she wanted to keep both cats, so he signed a lease for an apartment that didn’t allow cats. A couple days later, his wife told him she only wanted to keep her cat, and he’d have to find something to do with Picasso.

The girl who was working the counter that day said we couldn’t take him in because of his age, and mentioned to me in passing on the way to get the nail trimmers that there was an adult ocicat at the counter, but it was OK, because she’d already told him we couldn’t take him. I was livid. She was just a sales associate and it wasn’t her job to say who we could or couldn’t take. I was the assistant manager, I’d worked hard to get that position, and it was my job to decide who we took in.

I went up to talk to the gentleman, and he told me Picasso’s story, but I barely heard any of it. Picasso had the same fur type and body structure as Sam! His tail was longer than Sam’s, but shorter than normal, and his spots were a reddish brown instead of blackish brown like Sam’s, but otherwise, they could pass for littermates. Picasso won me over on the spot. He looked like he wanted to take my hand off, and he had a fearsome growl, but at the same time he was pushing his head into my hand for petting and pushing his body against my stomach. He was also neutered, negative for FeLV and vaccinated for it!

I told the man that the store couldn’t take him in because it was the middle of kitten season, but that I would love to take him personally because I’d just lost one that looked just like him. I mentioned that I did rescues and he said he’d spoken to me before and was desperately hoping I’d be there. He wanted Picasso to go to me, if he could find me and I was willing. I had to clear it though the district manager, but I knew that would be no problem – especially considering his age and the time of year. The worst the DM would do is pick a price out of the air and have me pay the store for him. I didn’t have to. One good growl from Picasso and the DM was more than happy to let me take this vicious beast for free (he’s not vicious at all, but I wasn’t going to let on about that!).

At that pet shop, we never got in spotted mixbreed cats, and a spotted purebred is unheard of. Had he come in anytime the day before he did, the day after, that evening after 5:00, or even an hour later (when I would’ve been at lunch) than he did, he would’ve missed me, and Picasso would’ve gone to the pound (where they euthanize) and I would never have known about him. Picasso looks enough like Sam to keep his memory alive, but enough different that I didn’t try to make him be Sam. I had still been feeling guilty over Sam’s death, but Picasso’s coming got me out of my depression and helped to dispel some of the guilt and grief I’d been going through.

I don’t believe in coincidences, everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t know what that is and can’t see what we’re supposed to learn from a tragedy at the time.

A year or so before all of this happened, I had a “visit” in a dream from one of my spirit guides. Among many other things, he told me that whenever any of my cats were sick or hurt, or having problems, I could call to him for help and he would do whatever he could and/or whatever was in their best interest (like if it was terminal). I asked him how I would know him, and he said, “your friends and children would know me as “Paul McCart”, but you can call me “Michael”. I’d already had a cat named Michael (not to mention a brother by that name), and I wanted to give Picasso a new name to help him adjust to his new home better, so I named him Paul.

I have no doubt that Paul was sent to me from someone on the other side. I believe that Paul was sent to me because I was having such a hard time with my feelings about Sam and because Sam couldn’t be helped. Getting Paul was like getting a message from the other side that it’s ok to let go of my guilt and grief for Sam. It was kind of like Sam saying, “Mom, it’s ok, I know you wouldn’t have made me sick on purpose or let me get sick if you’d known about the kitten. I love you and I forgive you. It’s ok to forgive yourself.”

I know I’ll see Sam again, but I still miss him every day. He was one of those Very Special Ones you never forget and always hope to find again.


Sammy, Forever In My Heart,
Kathy Sacksteder