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September 14, 2003 heralded the arrival of a small, emaciated, presumed pregnant female cat who Joe found walking in the middle of our "driveway", about halfway to the farm. He scooped her up and drove her the rest of the way in. She was the third stray in as many years, but the first to be picked up before she made it all the way down to our farm ... and she would bring our feline pride up to nine! Our nearest neighbor (1 1/2 miles away) reported that someone had dumped her off early that summer by the mailboxes at the end of our road, and she'd been struggling (rather unsuccessfully) to survive on her own for a month or two. She then apparently decided to wander down our way.

She was an absolutely gorgeous long-haired calico with an aloof but loving nature (which, unfortunately, did NOT extend to the other animals) and fully functioning purr. I assumed, as is so often the case with stray females, that this starving little girl would drop a half dozen kittens on our laps in short order. She didn't look the slightest bit pregnant, but how many dumped females aren't either pregnant or nursing a litter? Somer obviously wasn't lactating, so I was convinced she must be pregnant.

We got her settled in the master bedroom where she frantically inhaled the first meal she appeared to have eaten in far too long, then curled up on the bed to watch an old movie with Joe. As is my regular routine with feline additions, I filled the doorway between the bedroom and living room with baby gates so the new girl could become acquainted with the other members of the household without direct contact. She was quick to growl and hiss at any resident animal who stopped to check her out from the other side of the gates, but what concerned me most were the odd wheezing sounds she made when she caught glimpses of the other animals. I couldn't tell if it was an actual respiratory problem or if it was just a stress/anger reaction, but I wouldn't let her have any physical contact with any of the other animals until she had been checked out by our vet. In her emaciated state, she was no doubt susceptible to any number of infectious possibilities. This poor little girl had obviously been on her own for a long while.

We got her in to see our vet a day or two after she arrived. Paul couldn't palpate any kittens, thank goodness, so she either was not pregnant or was in the very early stages of pregnancy. Either way, we scheduled her spay for later that week so she'd have a few more days to rest, eat, and rebuild her strength. She was treated for ear mites, dewormed, vaccinated, and had blood drawn to check for feline leukemia and FIP. She appeared healthy, though very thin. Paul guesstimated her age at 2-3 years which I suspected was correct. Her facial expression was older than a kitten's, but she still had enough play in her for a young cat. She weighed in at a mere 6.4 lbs. She wasn't very pleased with all the veterinary attention, but was quite happy to return home for yet another nap on our nice, cozy bed.

This poor little calico felt yucky the next day, as I expected she would. She was a little growly and less interested in food. Vaccinations and deworming in the same day can be hard on a healthy cat at good weight. It was especially hard on an emaciated little girl like this one. I was sure she'd snap back in a day or two, but I didn't like seeing any animal down in the dumps like she was then. At least her felv/fip test results came back negative, so she had a clean bill of health.

I can't tell you how relieved I was that there would be no litter of kittens born here, though the possibility of aborting even a very early pregnancy caused me some angst. It's difficult enough integrating one cat at a time into this crew, and our newest little lady didn't seem even slightly interested in pleasant interactions with the other four-leggeds. If I could have figured out how to get them to feed her, I'm sure she'd have quickly recognized their value. Food was definitely her #1 priority at that point (and still pretty much is). I could only hope she'd develop more interest in friendships once she established a more comfortable weight.

I fed her premium dry food free choice, along with a half can of A/D (prescription high nutrition diet for debilitated animals) a day. After several days, she was finally full enough to leave dry food in her bowl throughout the day, though she kept trying to stuff more down each time I went in to visit her. It took a long while for her to trust that food would not disappear if she walked away from it and would still be there any time she returned. To my absolute amazement, her stool remained perfectly normal in spite of the drastic dietary changes her system had undergone in the previous few days. She obviously had an iron gut.

Later that week, we got some great news! We took our little girl in for her spay appointment only to discover that it had already been done! Paul gave her an injectable sedative in preparation for the surgery, then shaved her belly. Low and behold, a very visible abdominal surgical scar emerged. Paul said, "OK, we're done! That's the quickest spay I've ever done." WHEW! So, home she came again to shake off the last of the sedative with no surgery from which to recover. I was so relieved! That certainly explained why this stray female cat wasn't nursing a recent litter and/or pregnant, but it also intensified the question about how and why she ended up here. Oh well. She was here now, and here was where she was going to stay.

So, the process of integration into our zoo would soon begin for this little girl. The Bossy Aussies were DYING to get into the bedroom and check her out, but the cats were generally trying to ignore her existence. Lamie figured out there was an intruder in the house, though, and she was NOT at all happy about it! She spent most of her time slinking around the house looking very nervous. Bartholomew was the cat who showed the greatest interest in the newbie. He stood up against the baby gates while she stayed about a foot away on the other side, staring back at him. He tried very hard to sneak into the bedroom to see her. He couldn't WAIT to get up close and personal with her. Weasel, I feared, would have a very different response. I expected he might try to kill her. Then again, I'd never tried to integrate a female before. I didn't expect her to be outwardly aggressive like Weasel and Mew were, but I wasn't sure.

The calico was already gearing up for battle by putting on nearly a pound in her first six days! Her coat was also starting to shine up. I was so glad to not have to put her still-too-thin body through the stress of major surgery. She was reluctant enough to warm up to me without associating me with that sort of pain. She was definitely Daddy's little girl at that point. She LOVED Joe. I was tolerable as the food source, but that was about as far as it went with me. The only time she actually got excited about my presence was when she thought I was bringing her more canned food. She was quite satisfied ordinarily to lie on the bed or floor near me with her butt facing me. The little calico didn't look at all unhappy, but she did give the impression of "doing time" with us while waiting for her "real" family to come bring her home. It made me sad that I couldn't give her what she so obviously wanted.

She was (and is) definitely a princess with entitlement issues. She was both quick to purr and quick to growl - an emotionally volatile little girl. She was a thoroughly domestic house cat with a typically female habit of holding grudges. But at least she wasn't a biter like Weasel and had shown no inclination to shred my hands like Mew. She certainly wasn't a spook, either. She regularly slept through all-dog alerts without so much as a tail twitch.

Somer in the window

After weeks of sitting with the little calico, trying unsuccessfully to tune into her and see if she would tell me her name, she finally showed me. This little girl did something I've never seen a cat do before - something that made me laugh. I was sitting on the floor with her scratching her head. Like so many other cats, she responded by lowering her head into a head-butt position, but unlike other cats, she continued to lower her head all the way down to her chest. As I let my fingernails travel down between her shoulder blades, she curled her head even more downward and inward until she rolled completely over in a perfect somersault! It was sooo cute. Of course I had to see if she'd do it again, and I'll be doggoned if she didn't do another perfect somersault! I'd never seen a four-legged do a somersault on purpose before. It was hysterical! It didn't sink in immediately, but I finally figured out that since she hadn't had any luck getting me to tune in to her name telepathically, perhaps that was her way of letting me know that her name was Somer (pronounced summer). Once I "got it", she never did another somersault again.

Now that Somer had a name, I decided it was time for her to start making face to face introductions. Noddy seemed a good choice to begin with. He is, after all, the Lion King and a favorite with the ladies. I figured he'd be nonaggressive and unintimidating in spite of his immense size, and he just so happened to want to go into the bedroom. I let him come in with me through the master bathroom, and Somer ran in to greet me as she always did (since I often brought food with me). She looked at Noddy and trotted right past him to her food bowl. He wasn't expecting to see an unfamiliar cat, so he arched up and hissed at her, then realized she was completely ignoring him. He slunk past her and into the bedroom. I went into the bedroom and waited for Somer to realize I hadn't brought any new food with me. After a minute, she came into the bedroom and saw Noddy lying on the floor at the other end of the room. She laid down at her end of the room. I sat on the floor between them. They did a little mild hissing and growling back and forth before Noddy relaxed and started to roll around and purr while I rubbed him. He walked around a little bit but never got too close to Somer, while she stayed put in her spot on the floor and watched him closely. Eventually he got bored and walked into the bathroom and stood by the door to be let out. End of intro.

I knew how badly Bartholomew (Mew) had been wanting to get into the bedroom to see Somer, but I was nervous about allowing it because he was just too eager. I waited until Joe got home, and after we'd eaten and everyone was settled and quiet, he went into the bedroom to watch TV with Somer. After he spent some time with her and she was all relaxed and happy, I came in with Mew. Somer trotted into the bathroom and started to eat out of her bowl, while Mew walked up to sniff her. She hissed once at him, and he kept walking into the bedroom. He was a little nervous about being in the same room with Somer but put on an amazingly nonchalant act. In the bedroom, he laid down on the floor near me. Somer walked in, and Mew got up and moved away. To my utter amazement, Somer started to pseudo-stalk Mew. He stood his ground, and they touched noses! He puffed up a little, but there was absolutely no hissing or growling. She turned around and walked away, and he went under the bed. I played with him for a while with a string toy, and she jumped up on the bed to take a nap. When he got tired of playing with me, he, too, jumped up on the bed and laid down near her to nap as well. Over the next few days, Mew had several brief "play dates" with Somer. At one point Mew was playing with me and got a bit overzealous and jumped on and slapped Somer. She jumped up, smacked him back, and laid down again without missing a beat!

Given how tense Somer was with Noddy and how utterly relaxed she was with Mew, I decided she and Mew must have known each other in the past. Since I was also convinced Mew and Weasel came from the same place, I figured either all these cats had followed each other's trails from their old home to our farm, or their former owners had been been dropping them off on our road one by one over the years. As certain as I was of their prior familiarity with each other, I still was not looking forward to letting Somer and the socially inept Weasel into the same room together. Weasel not only outweighed her about 3:1, but he's always had a volatile and violent temper. Somer was no wuss, though. The notch out of her ear and scabs on the back of her neck told the story of a scrappy little girl.

I had a feeling it was going to be much more difficult for Somer to adjust to the dogs than to the other cats. When we started letting Raggie back into the bedroom at night, Somer was not happy about it (she even started warming up to me because she was so angry at Joe for lifting Raggie onto the bed). Somer even started having bloody stools which I assumed were stress-related. Of course, there was nothing even remotely intimidating or threatening about Raggie. In fact, I doubt he even realized or cared that Somer was here. Things didn't bode well for Somer's introduction to the Bossy Aussies who DEFINITELY knew she was here and were VERY ANXIOUS to make her acquaintance.

Finally the big day arrived. Somer decided she wanted to come out into the rest of the house, so down came the gates and open flung the doors. Somer boldly explored the rest of the house (exclusive of the basement), ignoring all the other cats who seemed, to my utter amazement, perfectly happy to reciprocate the non-interest. Even Weasel had surprisingly little interest in interacting with Somer. He followed her trail a bit and smelled where she had been, but he made no aggressive advances toward her. He did lie down on the floor near her, rolled onto his back, and leisurely stretched a paw in her direction to see if he could make contact, but she ignored him. I couldn't have been happier ... or more surprised ... with Weasel's uncharacteristically gracious behavior.

Somer checked out every room, even jumping on the guest bed where Noddy and BooBoo were napping together. Somer didn't make the slightest move to challenge any of the resident four-leggeds, so they didn't see her as any sort of threat. Occasionally I heard a little light growling or quick hiss while Somer was out and about, but it was usually in response to the Aussies' curiosity. When Somer had enough, she retreated to the master bedroom where she napped on the bed with Pippin! I was astounded. I never imagined integrating a girl kitty would be so much easier than a boy, but I should have. After all, testosterone is the root of all evil.

I was a little worried about Somer the day after her first excursion, though. She seemed ill, and I was hoping she was just totally exhausted from her initial adventures around the house. She ate and then spent the rest of the morning sleeping soundly on the bed - not even bothered by both Pippin AND Tasha jumping up to join her for a while.

Her behavior continued to be worrisome as she acted very aloof and displeased with any sort of attention, even growling lightly when I picked her up. I didn't know if she was feeling stressed or if she was responding to painful ears. She'd already had two ear mite treatments, but her ears developed a secondary infection that required antibiotic ointment for ten days. Between the painful ears and the ointment which she hated with a passion, Somer spent much of the next few weeks avoiding the household humans and working herself into a particularly foul, combative mood.

When Somer did venture out from her hiding places in the bathroom or under the bed, she continued to become acquainted with both the house and its residents. I opened up the basement kingdom to her, and she enjoyed those explorations. Unfortunately, she decided to explore her social boundaries, as well. Suddenly, the Princess Brat-Cat presumed to demand a place of honor in the social hierarchy of our pride. She chased Mew (who hated Somer as a result) and Billy (who hated her even more). She even jumped on and attacked Billy one morning right after we treated her ears. Noddy and Weasel didn't trust her and were giving her a wide berth. Somer seemed to target BooBoo as easy prey, but it took BooBoo a while to figure that out. She wasn't terribly upset or intimidated by Somer until she realized Somer intended to keep chasing her. Pretty would have made even easier prey, but Somer never caught onto that. Pretty was feeling a bit stressed by Somer's presence, nonetheless. Somer did seem to sense that Lamie was not to be messed with. She made no aggressive moves towards Lames, and my little black queen was showing no vulnerability.

I was being awakened at obnoxious hours of the morning as Somer tried to chase the residents into submission. At least she didn't seem interested in chasing all night. She'd go into attack-kitty mode just before dawn. For such a tiny thing (weighed less than 7 lbs at the time), Somer sure was making a big impact. Just goes to show, it's all in the cattitude!

To my great frustration, no one was standing up to her. Even Weasel couldn't muster the courage. He saw the way Mew ran and hid from Somer, and he wouldn't stand up to Mew. Therefore, Somer must have been twice as scary for Weasel. All these big boys running from a little girl in a multicolored party dress! My attempts to come to their aid weren't terribly effective, either. Somer was completely unaffected by my verbal reprimands, no matter how loudly I delivered them. I was not used to being quite so thoroughly ignored by my kids.

Eventually, Somer started to settle in a bit more harmoniously. She was not as inclined to chase the others and even began spending some time in the guest bedroom with them during the day, albeit under the blanket covering Joe's digital piano. After having kept her distance, acting like she was not particularly glad to be here for many weeks, Somer finally wanted to spend a bit of time near me. She even started to purr again - the first time I'd heard that lovely sound since before we started treating her ears for infection. She REALLY held that one against us.

Somer arrived here near starvation, determined to wait for her life to return to "normal", whatever "normal" had been for her before being abandoned at the head of our road. We couldn't give her back her "normal", but she did ultimately decide we were where she wanted to be. She is the one cat who will defend me fiercely if she feels I'm in danger, and if she senses I am upset, she anchors me solidly to the couch until I have regained my equilibrium. Somer is the only member of the Pride of Shadowood who confidently greets visitors and demands the adoration she is so certain she deserves. She will not tolerate invasions into her personal space, though she has not the slightest compunction about invading the space of others. Oh, and that starvation thing? Let's just say Somer has made certain she has adequate reserves to sustain herself should she ever become separated from her food source again. ;-)

On November 19, 2012, at the estimated age of 11-12 years, Somer left this life not long after being diagnosed with mammary adenocarcinoma (mammary cancer), hyperthyroidism, and probable renal insufficiency. The hyperthyroidism and renal issue would have been manageable, but the mammary cancer proved too formidable a foe. Maddeningly, the likelihood of Somer developing mammary cancer could have been reduced by 91% if whoever had her as a kitten had spayed her before her first heat. One irresponsible oversight cut my beautiful girl's life short and left a spot forever empty on and in my chest where Somer would lie. I'm so sorry, Somer, that I couldn't protect you the way you protected me.

Somer posing

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