-as told by Kimberly Kohler-
In the summer of 1998 we already had 3 cats in a one bedroom apartment, so we were certainly not in the market for any others. In fact, 2 or 3 rescued strays has passed through our house (or those of our non-allergic friends) on their way to shelters or new homes already that summer when we met Sukey. The morning of June 17, 1998, Joel went down to the laundry room to retrieve a load of laundry we had accidentally left the night before. This process, in our Roger's Park apartment, required going out the back door into the alley outside. A few minutes after he left, he reappeared (without the laundry) saying, "Come out here with me. You have to see this."
What I saw was a cow spotted kitty, with an enormous black tail. She was standing on the landing below ours, and despite the extreme poofiness of her tail, didn't seem terribly afraid of people. She was perfectly willing to sniff at our fingers when we offered them and even allowed Joel to pick her up, but she did seem a little timid and nervous.
We checked her over, and determined that she was past kittenhood but certainly not large enough to be full grown (even the vet, on a visit a week or so later couldn't place her age, but estimated it at 6-8 months). She didn't appear to have any fleas or ear mites; no scrapes or scratches; her white fur wasn't even a little dirty. She was carefully inspecting the doors along our stairway, and even though she bore no collar, I was certain that she probably belonged to a neighbor and had slipped out. Surely, whoever it was would notice she was missing soon and find her still in the alley.
Joel wanted to bring her inside, but it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I didn't want her people to worry if she wasn't around when they went looking. It was awfully hot, though, so I left a bowl of water on our landing. No food, though. I didn't want to encourage her to stick around for free food if she belonged to someone else. We peeked out at her once more as we left for work at about 6:30 in the morning and found her sitting on the stairs, halfway to the third floor, watching us between the support beams. On the way in we discussed the kitty and eventually I agreed that if she was still there after dark, we'd take her in for a week or so and try to find her people. Personally, I didn't believe she'd be there any more. Her excellent condition and the inspection she was conducting of our neighbor's doors seemed to indicate that she belonged in one of them, or perhaps one of the other stairways on our alley, and I was sure she would quickly find her rightful home.
That night, we went out to eat and did a little shopping after work, so we didn't arrive home until dusk. Joel insisted we go in through the back door to see if the cat had found her way home. We peeked around the alley as we went and saw no sign of her. Just as I was about to say "See, I told you she'd find her way home," I looked up at our landing and saw, sitting primly on our back door mat, the very same cat, looking for all the world as if she'd been waiting for us to get home. She politely stepped aside as Joel fiddled with the lock on the back door, but as we stepped through, she marched right in - and right back out, with a hissing Coconut on her heels. She chose, instead, to wait on the landing while Coco was removed, and then allowed us to pick her up and carry her to the bathroom, which was designated kitty quarantine in any such situation.
We made up some "Cat Found" signs that evening and went out in the dark and plastered them all over the neighborhood. I was determined that if she was lost, her people would know as soon as they walked out of the house that she had been found and was safe. I know that's what I would want if one of my cats got lost and was found by a neighbor. I also called all the shelters and animal hospitals in the area (including the big Anti-Cruelty Society downtown) to report that I had found her. I even put an ad in the Chicago Tribune's lost and found classifieds, but despite my best efforts, there were no phone calls to claim the kitty.
Meanwhile, Joel was undertaking a campaign to make me fall in love with the cat. (He claims this was for my own best interest, as he could tell from the moment I laid eyes on her that it would be too painful for me to give her up.) He began by trying to give her a name. Because of her Holstein-esque patterning, he tried various cow-related names, such as Bessie, Elsie (the famous Borden cow), Jersey, and Holly (for Holstein). I rejected them all out of hand, mostly because I refused to name her while I was determined to find her home, but also because I simply didn't like any of them. He then suggested Sukey, which he claims is a universal cow call, like "sou-ee" for pigs. I didn't believe him (and am still pretty doubtful) but he was able to point out an actual documented occurence of a cow called Sukey - in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods". I could hardly dispute such a classic as the "Little House" series, and so, while I refused to actually name the cat, I did take to referring to her as "the Sukey Cat".
After a week of having the Sukey Cat in quarantine in our bathroom, I had still had no response to any of my many attempts to find her people. I then tried asking friends if they might want to adopt her, and calling various shelters about their adoption policies. I didn't have much luck with friends, and was uncomfortable with the idea of bringing her into a shelter where she would have to live in a cage and only maybe get adopted. To top it all off, I had to admit I was starting to fall in love with the little urchin. She had the cutest habit of rolling about in little somersaults to attract your attention, and I could tell she was getting comfortable with us because the poofy tail (which we had begun to assume was simply her natural shape) had finally relaxed to a normal size for a short haired cat.
Joel, realizing that he and the cat were close to winning me over to their side, started blatantly calling her by name, and appealing to my logical side with arguments like "She's so small. She won't take up any space at all!" Finally, I folded. I had been unable to find another home for the kitty that didn't involve a shelter, and I just couldn't bear to send her anywhere that she'd be kept in a cage. I agreed to take her to the vet, and if she passed all the usual health and disease checks, we could keep her.
The vet, apparently, was in cahoots with my husband (whether he knew it or not) because he kept telling me what a beautiful cat she was, how adorable the little triangle on her nose made her look, and how small she seemed to be, despite apparently being old enough to have reached full size. The clincher was when he picked her up and said "You're so cute! How could anyone have given you up?"
I was sold. Sukey passed her vet check and came home as a new member of the family. The name became official, and over time I appended a middle name, simply because "Sukey Lou" sounded right and seemed to match her sweet and simple disposition.
Once the adoption was official, we began the job of introducing her to the other cats. Our usual method is to keep the new cat in the bathroom during this period, occassionally opening the door for short periods of time to let them all see and sniff eachother. Ordinarily, this process involves keeping the new cat from dashing out into the world beyond the bathroom door until we're sure there won't be any big fights. But Sukey was content to remain in the bathroom. The other cats would come in and explore a bit, see her and hiss (or not, as they got used to the idea of her). Eventually, we got to the point of leaving the door open all the time so she could come and go as she pleased, but she chose to stay put.
During this time, our good friend Jen came over regularly to play with Sukey. She was in love with the kitty, but couldn't take her because Julian, her soon-to-be husband, is allergic to animals. Nevertheless, Jen has a strange, psychic connection to Sukey. One day, a few weeks after we had begun opening the bathroom door all day long, I commented to Jen that Sukey didn't seem interested in leaving the bathroom. We had even tried moving her food dishes and litter box into the hallway just outside the bathroom door, and as far as we could tell she was going out only to utilize these, and returning to the safety of the bathroom. I was a little worried that she would stay there forever. A bathroom isn't the most comfortable place in the world, and she had taken to sleeping on a pile of towels in the linen closet, which made them basically unusable for actually drying anything.
As if she had overheard my comments to Jen that day, Sukey ventured out that evening. But she didn't just take a nervous stroll into the hallway. No, she went stright into the livingroom, took a look around, and proceeded to make her way onto every horizontal surface in the entire apartment. She spent several hours tearing about and knocking things over, and then settled down on the foot of the bed, which is now her designated spot.
Another example of Jen's psychic connection to my cat is in the matter of her voice. Several weeks after Sukey left the bathroom for good, I commented to Jen that I hadn't yet heard her meow. In fact, she hadn't made so much as a peep - even on her visit to the vet. I was beginning to wonder if she was mute, or if I should take her back to the vet. The very next day, when we arrived home, Sukey greeted us, clear as day, with a "Meow", followed by the most delightful sound any cat can make, her "murmle."
Sukey's murmle is one of those phenomena that can not be adequately explained by veterinary science. It isn't a purr, and it isn't a meow. It's more of a constant, pitched rumble that eminates from somewhere deep inside her little chest. An average murmle session continues for about a week - almost constant sound, varying slightly in pitch depending on the message she wishes to convey. After about a week, she goes quiet again (although she does meow for attention occasionally) until the next time.
At first, I thought the murmle might be heat. The vet was unable to tell if a small scar on Sukey's tummy was from spaying or simply a badly healed "belly button," so we didn't have her spayed ourselves. We figured we'd take care of it if and when she went into heat. So, when the murmles began for the third or fourth time, I called the vet and explained my theory. He disagreed, however. He said if she were in heat she'd be yowling. She'd want nothing to do with us (Sukey is most affectionate when she's murmling), and would be trying her darnedest to get out of the house. None of these seemed to fit Sukey's state, so the vet suggested it was just her way of expressing herself. Perhaps the timing had more to do with her being exceptionally happy, or nervous, or what not - the same reasons most cats purr. So the murmling continues, and is the most beautiful thing you've ever heard.
In October of 1998, we almost lost Sukey. We were in the final planning stages of our wedding and had dozens of friends and relatives passing through our house. With crowds of that size, the cats always go into hiding under the bed or in a closet, so we don't see them around much. The night before the wedding, the crowd had thinned a bit, and I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce the cats to my parents. Try as I might, I could not find Sukey, and after turning the house inside out, we determined that she was not inside. We combed the alleys around the apartment, calling her name, but it was already too dark to see much, and we all had a very busy day to prepare for. We called off the search for the evening, and I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next morning, we all searched a little more, before the wedding, but we found nothing. The excitement of the wedding took our minds off the missing kitty for a while, but several friends and relatives went back to the neighborhood that evening for one last look. The next day, we made "Lost Cat" signs, and for the second time, plastered all the vertical surfaces in the neighborhood with posters for a cow-spotted kitty.
That evening, we were cleaning up after dinner and I propped the kitchen door open to let in the breeze. We remained in the kitchen a little longer than neccessary that night, talking and looking out the window in the hopes that Sukey would see the lights and hear our voices and come home. As I was preparing to go to bed for the third time without Sukey at my feet, Joel came bursting in from taking out the trash, screaming for me to come quick. He headed straight for the bathroom and thrust a skinny, dirty bundle of fur into my arms - it was Sukey.
She was certianly worse for the wear. Confirming my belief that she had never been a stray to begin with, her 3 days on the streets had left her beautiful white fur a dingy brown. She had some scratches on her ear, a large scrape across her face, and was favoring her right forepaw, but she was home and I couldn't have been happier. She managed to clean herself up, back in her old bathroom that night, and the next day, the vet determined that she was in good health. Her injuries indicated that she had fallen from some height and been in at least one fight, but she had not been hit by a car or picked up any diseases. From this, we determined that she must have escaped through a torn window screen while watching the birds there and fallen the two stories to the alley below. We ordinarily kept the windows by the bird feeder shut because of Sukey's habit of tearing holes in the screen during her abortive attempts to reach the feeder's clients, but the warm autumn air and crowd of people in the house had caused me to open every window I could.
The vet bandaged her broken foot in a blue fiberglass cast with a pink pawprint on it and sent her home. Sukey objected to having to wear the cast, but eventually learned to live with it. It was too heavy to hold above the ground when she walked, but she didn't lift and thump it like a peg leg. Instead, she learned to push it around in front of her as she ran about the house - like a hockey player using his stick to guide the puck. She also used it as a weapon, to swat Coconut whenever the other cat got on her nerves. She eventually figured out how to get out of the cast, and left it (and it's three successors of various types) in one of my shoes. Eventually the vet determined that the foot would have to heal itself. As an indoor cat, she wouldn't rely on it's strength, and the casts were causing more frustration than healing.
Today, Sukey's paw is fine, though she does favor it on very cold or stormy days. Her outdoor birding days are over, and she is content instead to chase and capture crinkly balls of paper - her favorite prey.