In early November of 2008, we had taken in a stray that had been roaming around our apartment complex. She immediately made herself at home. She was the first cat I have ever had. We named her Caramel.
Little did I know that only a few days later, at the end of the very same month, I would find another stray in our apartment parking lot. It was already dark when I came home from work. After I parked my car, a cat came out from under another car, meowing. In the darkness, I thought I saw a collar. I figured since we had good luck with our first cat, we could try to do a favor for this one. I told FO about her. FO went out to look at her.
FO told me that, first of all, I was mistaken. She did not have a collar at all. I had mistaken her tabby stripes for one. Also, she was injured. She had a gash on her back and was bleeding. She was also starving and crying for food. We later learned that she had been declawed on all four paws, so if she had been abandoned, she would not have been able to hunt for her own food. The gash was a burn from trying to warm herself under cars.
We had no idea what to do with a stray in this condition. We enticed her into a cat carrier with a bowl of cat food, and took her to a shelter that my brother had volunteered at a few years before. They agreed to take her in and take care of her.
FO could not get her out of her mind, and visited her in the shelter. The shelter had named her Christabel, but FO was already thinking of her as “Pepper”, due to her coat, which looked like it had sprinkles of salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. She was a “red patch tabby”, a tabby with stripes but also flecks of red.
Even at the shelter, she was lovable. I would pet her and she could not get enough. She would turn her head so each spot could get more pets.
Another one of her personality traits was immediately evident. We were in the playroom in the shelter to visit her, but she wanted to explore.
FO didn’t want to lose the chance to have Pepper, so she pre-adopted her. We picked her up the day before Christmas Eve.
Our plan was to keep her in a room by herself for a bit, until Caramel had gotten used to her. Pepper had other plans. She cried until she was allowed out to explore.
She explored around the house until she found a cat castle. She got on it, and her face registered surprise: “I like this!” She settled down and slept there for several hours.
When we had moved into our apartment, the lease had no mention of pets whatsoever. The following spring, however, the apartment sent out notices that pets were not to be allowed. We quickly found a house we could move into for our cats to have a safe home.
Pepper’s favorite hobbies:
- Exploring and finding new places to sleep
Of course, Pepper’s first favorite place to sleep with us was the cat castle. We think she generally liked hard surfaces with a little bit of soft texture, and she also liked putting her recovering back against the parapet.
Then Pepper started sleeping on an office chair, which Caramel had already learned the joys of.
If Pepper could, she also liked to combine sleeping with getting what we called a “hookah high”: lying motionless while having a catnip toy in front of her nose. (As opposed to sniffing cat nip and then playing energetically, which is what other cats seem to do)
We first noticed her having a hookah high upstairs, where she also liked to look out the window at rabbits.
FO had ordered a large cat tower, but when we got the notice that pets were not allowed at the apartment, we didn’t open the box. Pepper found a use for it anyway.
She loved that box. When it was time to eat, she would get off the box to eat, then run back and get on it again as fast as her little legs would carry her.
There were times she also used our other big tower.
When we finally opened the box and assembled the new tower, she got use out of that, too.
What we didn’t know for some time was that Pepper was older than we had thought. We first thought she was a kitten because she was so small. The shelter later estimated her at 5 years old in 2008, when the vet examined her teeth. However, we now think she was at least 8 years old then (making her at least as old as Lady), based on her developing iris atrophy a few years later. This meant that eventually she had a harder time jumping into towers to sleep, but she continued to explore to find new sleeping locations.
Because Pepper looked like a teddy bear…
…we started nicknaming her “Bear”, and we called the places she found to sleep in “Bear Caves”. One of her cutest Bear Cave discoveries was when she started sleeping in the upstairs closet after FO organized it.
But over the years Pepper managed to find lots of places she could transform into something special just by sitting on it.
When Pepper first entered our lives, she didn’t seem to know what to make of us. We would pick her up, and she would deliberately turn her head away, as though she didn’t want to look us in the eyes.
FO had a plan. When FO was on the bed, she would tempt Pepper by calling to her, “Little Pot! Little Pot!” (which was her nickname for her at the time, from Pepper Pot Pie) This enticed Pepper onto the bed. Because Pepper was not very athletic, she could not jump directly to the bed. We had a “staircase” made of totes to help her up.
After Pepper learned to get on the bed, she learned how much she loved cuddling. At first, she would wait for an “invitation” (us tapping the bed).
But she always had permission, and then would get on us at any time.
When we bought a new digital camera and came home, I sat down, started filming a video, and the very first thing Pepper did was walk over to me for a cuddle:
She would climb on FO’s chest, grab on tight with her paws, and then nuzzle.
She loved being on us and being combed.
There was a period of time when Pepper would get on my lap every single night.
I had thought of Pepper as a “person cat”, but when I reviewed our pictures of her, I was surprised to see how often she was with another cat. I don’t always know who initiated their cuddles, though.
Maybe it goes without saying that a cat would enjoy eating. Pepper had a special zest for it, though. She especially loved wet food.
Once, at the old townhouse apartment, I was eating a cinnamon roll on the bed. Pepper twitched her little nose, came up to my plate, and snatched a bit off, like it was hers and she needed no other reason.
There was a time when FO would share some of her dinner with Pepper.
Of course, many people consider it a bad idea to feed cats people food, and after an upset tummy caused by eating spicy crock pot turkey, we greatly reduced the food we would share with Pepper.
- Looking and going outside
Many of our cats enjoy looking out the window. Pepper was unusual in not being particularly interested in birds. Caramel, Trinket, Tabby Saddle, and Missy are all huntresses. Pepper seemed to enjoy just looking (though, as mentioned, she did seem fascinated by rabbits). She also liked to wait for us, when we had left, in the window.
I see in that picture that Pepper is looking down even as she looks out the window. It seemed to take her some time living with us before she would regularly look up with confidence.
Our neighbor had two small dogs (about the size of Pepper!). Once, when Pepper was looking out back, she saw the dogs and heard them bark, and she ran off. But she quickly regained her courage and went back, looking at them with fascination.
Because Pepper was our best-behaved cat, we gave her the privilege of going out on the porch. Even with her, I was afraid she might run off, so I first used a cat harness and leash, before deciding it was unnecessary.
Pepper also liked to explore the yard. She found a wild catnip plant growing there and ate it.
In July of 2013, after we had some work done on the house, the back door blew open in the night. I only noticed this when I woke up to use the bathroom, and I had no idea how long it had been opened. We found Lady outside, frightened, by the back door. Cheddar was there, too, but ran off from me when I came out. But when I followed him around the house, who should I see but Pepper on the front porch, sitting by the front steps, looking so calm that you’d never know how worried I had been about her. I can barely imagine that little girl walking around outside, but I’d like to think that our early time spent on the porch taught her that was a safe space to be, and that she went there must have been a sign that she liked going out.
Because Pepper was an elderly cat, she had health problems. Her first chronic problem was over-active thyroid. We treated this with methimazole, first trying liquids and topical creams, both of which she was allergic to, before settling on pills, exactly like what a human would take and even from a human pharmacy, which finally controlled her T4 levels. But then she developed heart problems, and needed baby aspirin to prevent embolisms, and kidney problems, which required a special diet. An x-ray found a calcification in her leg, the embolism weakened her back legs, and she seemed to have arthritis. On top of all this, her having been declawed did not help.
We had a set of pet steps she could use to climb on the sofa when a stack of totes was too much for her. But one day, she spontaneously tumbled off the bed. We decided it wasn’t safe for her on the bed anymore, and took the steps away. We set up areas on the floor for her to sleep. I slept next to her, and sometimes she would cuddle in to me.
She was starting to develop pneumonia at the beginning of this year. She was amazingly tough and pulled through.
Because Pepper could no longer get into the windows on her own, we had to take her on the porch for her to enjoy the outside.
Pepper had some eccentricities, and one she developed was her habit of using a water dish as a pillow.
I got a kickaroo for her this past weekend to use as a pillow instead.
One treatment we were using for Pepper’s kidney issues was subcutaneous fluids. We took her 2-3 times a week (2 due to holidays such as the 4th of July closing the office).
On Tuesday, July 28, I woke up, and again Pepper had inched her way next to me. I did not photograph this; I just cuddled with her. Later that evening, I took her to her fluid treatment. She died on the drive back home.
When Lady died, FO had seen her rainbow bridge in the morning while driving west. FO told me that she wanted to see Pepper’s rainbow bridge.
The day after Pepper died, it was hot and sunny. But around the time I would have gotten back from the vet and wanted to sit on the porch with her, I could hear the rain come down, and see that the sun came out from behind the clouds. I went out onto the porch, and Pepper’s rainbow bridge appeared.