I first read about him in an advert in the newsagent’s window in Kings Norton. He had been bought from a pet shop when he was only four weeks old, by a family with two small children. They called him “Snowy”. Although he was much loved, they quickly discovered that the Mum and one of the children were allergic to cats and sadly had to find him a new home.
I brought him home complete with toys, collar, litter tray, food bowl, favourite blanket, and flea powder. He was tiny, with pink nose, tongue and pads, but had enormous ears.
He was always going to be an adventurous cat and went outside as soon as he had had his vaccinations. He also loved food and would eat anything at this stage, even to the extent of snaffling a Brussels sprout from my hand. This wasn’t to last though and, like Ginny, he settled on fish as his favourite food. He particularly loved climbing the cherry tree when he was a kitten and was frequently found swinging from the underside of a branch, trying to pull himself up. It was probably this that caused him to injure his knee when he was about 4 months old
I noticed he was limping on his right hind leg just before Christmas. The vet took X-rays and nothing was found, so I took him home with a steroid injection to ease the discomfort, and he seemed a lot better. He and Ginny stayed with Tim over Christmas much to Sam’s delight: Tim had a huge Christmas tree with angel hair and shiny baubles, which Sam joyously dismantled over the few days of his stay. However when I returned to collect him, his leg was much worse again. The vet X-rayed again and found that Sam’s patella was fractured in three places. The new veterinary assistant was a bone specialist, so he pinned the knee and we had two months of antibiotics and weekly visits to the veterinary hospital in Cotteridge. The final insult was to be castrated at his last visit, when he was now six months old.
Controlling Sammy’s use of the injured limb was impossible. He wanted to play all the time. His particular pleasure was leaping on Ginny which he did at every feasible opportunity. Ginny, who was six at the time, HATED him when he was a kitten. She flattened her ears and looked at him with utter contempt.
In January it snowed. A lot. My small back garden filled with drifting powder. Sam loved it. It reached over his head and sprayed up when he leapt into it. After several times round the edge, Sammy had created a compacted track with sloping sides – the kitten equivalent of the Cresta Run! No way was he going to rest his knee.
One evening when he was out in the snow, a big tom cat from the next street ventured into the garden. Sam puffed up his fur and spat furiously but he was no match for the tom cat. Injured knee or no injured knee Sam was up and over the fence, and the next one, and the next… I was desperately worried about him, especially as he was due for a check-up the next day. I went from garden to garden, calling him through the gates. Ginny came too and mewed at every garden! Eventually we found him in the next street, thankfully none the worse for wear.
For two years you wouldn’t have known he had a pin in his knee. He did everything with enthusiasm and at high speed. He was however extremely vocal and growled like a terrier if something annoyed him. Maybe he was in pain throughout that time, but we had no way of knowing that. He was also not the friendliest of cats, liking company but not being handled or fussed.
In November 1991 we moved to North Yorkshire. Both cats had to be sedated for the journey, and Sam was very distressed for the first few days, growling if I so much as looked at him. He quickly adapted to living in the country however, and demonstrated a phenomenal ability as a hunter. His trophies ranged from tiny voles, shrews and field mice, to moles, rabbits, pigeons, and even a seagull.
By June 1992 we had moved again, to a nearby village where he lived for the rest of his days in the idyllic surroundings of a houseplant nursery and farmyard. It was about this time that he injured his knee again. He was playing with my friend Judith, chasing shadows on the wall. Suddenly I noticed he was limping again. The vet took X-rays and discovered that the patella hadn’t healed properly and was greatly enlarged, still in three pieces held together with fibrous tissue. The pin was found further down his leg and protruding through the skin. The only option was to remove the kneecap altogether and graft some muscle from the thigh to mend the wound. For this he had to stay in hospital for some days and was thoroughly miserable and off his food.
Sam showed a remarkable ability to recover though, and was soon back to normal except for a tendency to sit with one leg outstretched. Even this diminished as he got older.
Because of his love of adventure, Sam got into all sorts of scrapes. I always believed he wouldn’t live a long life but it would be full of excitement. Once he got his tail caught on rusty barbed wire and developed an abscess, after which he wouldn’t permit anyone to touch is tail. Then we discovered he was allergic to flea bites and developed bald patches; not only that but he had a rare reaction to Tiguvon (his skin blistered where it was applied) and had to go on the more expensive Program for flea control (NB I’ve just googled Tiguvon and it seems nowadays to be prescribed for lice control in cows, sheep and goats and there are some articles in veterinary magazines from about the time Sammy was having it about monitoring adverse reactions in cats and dogs). Visits to the vet were a nightmare because of the difficulty in handling him, and the vet received war wounds with each visit. When Sam later got chlamydophila I refused to take him in or try and apply ointment to his eye – fortunately he healed quickly with oral antibiotics.
There were a few funny incidents with him. On one occasion, some friends, Sarah and Mick, were visiting and brought with them their large but very placid Labrador, Jenny. After a few warning hisses the cats allowed Jenny to settle down on her beanbag by the fire. All was peaceful until Sarah went into the kitchen to fill Jenny’s bowl with water. Sam, who firmly believed that the whole of life was set up for his benefit, rushed into the kitchen thinking food might be on the cards. Meanwhile Jenny ambled in and loped towards her water bowl. Sam was outraged. He planted himself in front of the bowl, bristled up his fur and growled menacingly, not satisfied until Jenny had fled upstairs and hidden under the bed!
He did mellow a bit as he got older (although never around the vet) and although it was impossible to pick him up he often chose to sit on my lap, or sleep on the bed snuggled up. He kept his kitten habit of kneading my clothes all his life. When I came in from work he always ran to greet me, meowing as he ran. Likewise if he had been outside and saw me when he came in. My neighbours said that if I went away for a few days he sat miserably outside the garage waiting for me to return.
Another odd habit he had was to ask for his head to be washed. He must have watched me many times washing my hair in the bath, and from a kitten sat on the edge of the bath with me. I don’t remember how it started, but very soon began to push his head in my wet hands and I discovered he liked to have warm water poured over his head. This became a ritual every bath time.
In November 1995, Bugsy and Muffin arrived on the scene. They were ten weeks old and full of life (despite Muffin having a broken leg). At first Sam was extremely put out and hardly deigned to come in the house at all for the first week or so. It was some weeks before he finally decided they weren’t going to go away so he’d have to make the best of it. I had made a tunnel for the kittens to play in, out of a cardboard box with holes in each end. The kittens were racing through the tunnel when Sam suddenly must have thought it looked like fun because he dashed into the box after Muffin! Unfortunately the holes were kitten size and Sam was a large cat so he ended up stuck in the box with his head out one end and his back legs out the other! He looked for all the world like a tortoise. Thereafter though he was fine with the kittens and positively loved Muffin, even grooming her from time to time.
As time went on, Sam established a wide and varied territory, which included the pot plant nursery, the farm over the road (where he was often to be found stalking on the barn roof) and some way down the lane towards the next village. It wouldn’t surprise me to find he visited other people’s houses as he was often well out of earshot when I called. This is what made it so difficult to track him down when he died. He went missing on November 4th 1996. By the 7th I had searched the farm, put notice in people’s letter boxes, rang all the local vets, Cats Protection, and even the Council cleansing department. Nobody had seen him. Finally a local farmer said he had seen a white cat that had been hit by a car a way up the lane, in a direction opposite to that which I believed Sam usually took. Maybe he had been spooked by a firework.
Sam is buried in the back garden, together with the last mouse he ever caught. Over the site there are snowdrops, white anemones and a white lily.