Sassy was a stray.
Alone and pregnant. Ready to give birth.
A kind soul found her, and she allowed herself to be brought to an animal hospital in a west suburb of Denver, Colorado.
The next day she gave birth to five beautiful kittens. She was an attentive mother and her babes were adopted when they were old enough.
Yet Sassy remained at the hospital. Nobody was interested in adopting her. The vet techs at the hospital chose the name Sassy as she had “catitude”—sweet one minute and a warning bite the next.
I had recently lost my first cat and a friend who worked at the animal hospital asked if I would be willing to adopt her. The animal hospital wasn’t the ideal environment for any healthy animal to live in, and not many of the employees gave her any attention. I said yes without hesitation. I am a sucker for animals in need of a home and will always provide one if at all possible.
Sassy came home. That name, Sassy, had to be changed. It was what my mother called me when I talked back to her, and it didn’t seem to fit this petite girl.
I was working at a hospital and our office was across a rather busy street from the main hospital, so I’d often be scurrying across the street, braving traffic to attend meetings. My boss remembered the title of a song by The Twisters back in 1961, called “Run Little Sheba.” As we’d run across the street, she’d shout, “Run little Sheba, run!” telling me to hurry up before a preoccupied driver hit me.
Sheba seemed the perfect name for this new cat. She was a small tuxedo cat with shorter fur, pink toes, white paws and chest, and bright green eyes. She was quiet and merely gave a sweet coo when hungry or when she wanted to be petted.
This sweet cat taught me much about life.
1. Ask for what you want
Communication is key for us all. Never make others guess what you need or what you want. It is not fair to expect anyone to read your mind.
Sheba always made it clear what she wanted. She had an expression for “my litter box is too full” and would look at me directly, then look at the litter box, then back at me until the box was cleaned.
She wandered around and cooed when she wanted her breakfast. A small nip would follow an effort to pet her if she wasn’t in the mood. A coo would accompany a touch if petting would be allowed. She made her wishes known.
2. Always be curious.
Curiosity does not kill the cat—it actually increases the enjoyment of life. I find when I experience something with cat-like curiosity, my senses are enhanced.
Sheba enjoyed watching birds and squirrels through the windows of our home, but then we moved into a renovated school bus and started traveling. We would stop for the night in various random places. Sheba then began to enjoy the new sights and sounds, and would perch herself near or on the steps leading into the bus, occasionally venturing outside to feel her new surroundings. She would also enjoy observing through the bedroom window, tucked in her bed, occasionally poking her head out to look around.
The world around us is an amazing gift and we should treat it with wonder and curiosity.
3. Everyone is not going to like you.
Tigger joined our household about two years after Sheba. She is a larger and louder Bengal mix cat with a sweet disposition unless your name was Sheba. Tigger is brown with spots and stripes and a striped tail, and she is quite vocal.
Despite following all the guidelines of how to introduce cats to each other and keeping them separated for a period of time, they just didn’t get along. In the beginning, there were a couple of brawls that resulted in some bloody wounds. Nothing too serious, but not pleasant for any of us.
They would assume their own “territory” of the house, but then one would challenge the other and the territories would change.
Just like humans, cats don’t always like each other but can learn to coexist rather peacefully. Once it can be accepted that you don’t need to be liked to be happy, and to just be happy with yourself, the more happiness you will have in your life.
4. Live in the moment.
Sheba enjoyed life as she knew it and adapted surprisingly well to becoming a nomadic cat. She thoroughly enjoyed those moments of being stroked and scratched on her terms. She enjoyed watching her world wherever that was. She never worried about her needs being met in the future because they were being met at that moment.
Why worry about what has not even happened yet or what happened in the past? Neither can be changed and they are not worth our energy. This moment, this breath, this touch, this smell, this taste is what deserves our attention—nothing more. This is true, pure joy.
We were in Fargo, North Dakota, and had just stopped so we could grab some lunch and walk around downtown for some photographs. We returned to the bus and Sheba was dragging around her back end. Her back legs were not moving. I gently picked her up and put her on the couch, and she moved around a bit, but still dragging her back end. She got to her food and had a nibble to eat, then wanted to go to her litter box, but couldn’t stand up on her own.
An emergency veterinary hospital was a short drive away. During the drive, I held Sheba close to minimize the bumpy ride for her and to try to see if I felt anything unusual in her small frame, but it all felt normal to me.
She was taken into the hospital and her vitals were all good. After an examination and x-rays, the veterinarian on duty told me she suspected a spinal lesion that was causing pain and her inability to use her back legs. In order to better diagnose Sheba’s condition, an MRI was recommended, but we would have to drive to Minneapolis, about 300 miles away. We placed Sheba in her fluffy gray bed and let her rest. She had some opioid pain medication, so I gave her a dose of it. However, as I tried to move her and she cried out.
My heart was breaking.
I wanted more time. I wanted her to be the way she had been that morning. Realizing there was no way we could comfortably get her to Minneapolis for an MRI, and possibly surgery with a potentially lengthy recovery period, we made the hard decision to let her cross rainbow bridge, to leave her painful earthly existence and let her soul soar.
Despite COVID-19, the veterinarian on duty agreed to do the procedure in our bus. I gathered Sheba up, curled in her bed, and took her from the parking lot to the hospital so an IV could be inserted. It was dark and there was a light drizzle in the air that mixed with the tears running down my face. I tried to give her as much time as I could to smell the air around her one last time.
It seemed like years until they returned with our sweet girl snuggled in her bed. As she looked around, alert, they gave her the first injection to allow her to sleep. The next injection ended her life in that small body. She went limp. They gave us a moment and then took her body away, no longer filled with her soul and spirit that seemed much too big for her tiny frame. Prints of her paws in clay and on heavy paper were given to us with her bed a bit later to be kept safely, as she will always be safely held in my heart.
Our bus, though still filled with two dogs and one cat, is emptier. I catch myself wanting to check to make sure she’s on the bus before we leave.
A few days after her passing, I heard an audible coo. I believe she was telling me that all is okay and that she understands. I hope she checks in from time to time.
Thank you, Sheba, for sharing time with me during your life, and for the lessons you taught me and each of us.
May we all remember to ask for what we want, always be curious, understand not everyone likes us, and live in each moment with which we are blessed.
Run little Sheba, run!