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How a finicky cat named Sassy taught a sportswriter about life

scottteaser-215x160Right about now — just three words into this column — I would have been interrupted by my cat, Sassy. She already would have leapt up onto my desk and started meowing orders for me to stop typing, so I could tend to more important matters — such as stroking her furry head, plopping food or treats into her bowl, or letting her outside for one of her mysterious neighborhood adventures. And I would have had no choice but to comply because Sassy was one relentless, headstrong feline. She never took no for an answer.

But as I write these words there are no interruptions, no derailments of thought. Just silence, as a lonely, teary-eyed writer tries to fill an empty screen and a hole in his heart.

See, Sassy, left this earthly realm Friday night, and the void is beyond enormous. What I wouldn’t give to have her here right now driving me to loving distraction.

My kids are adults in their 30s, who flew the nest long ago. My beloved bride works crazy, in-the-middle-of-the-night hours, so I see her less frequently than I would like. And I string words, sentences and paragraphs together mostly from home, in solitude. But thanks to the irascible, never-a-dull-moment Sassy, I rarely felt lonely. She wouldn’t let me.

We adopted her — or should I say she adopted us — on a rainy, overcast February day nearly a dozen years ago from a wonderful organization known as GRASP — Greece Residents Assisting Stray Pets. She was a “rescue cat,” and, as I long ago realized, we didn’t rescue her; she rescued us. Our timing — and hers — proved impeccable. A few months earlier, I had been “down-sized” after nearly 40 years in the daily newspaper business. Less than a week after that crushing blow, our precious cat, Oscar, died. Christmas that year wasn’t very merry.

A listener to the popular morning radio show my wife co-hosted knew how much Beth loved animals, and knew how much she was hurting from the loss of Oscar, with whom she had formed an eternal bond. She called Beth about fostering a cat from GRASP to provide a salve for our grief. That cat would be the indomitable Sassy. She was roughly 2 years old and already had been shuffled around to several foster homes.

When Beth mentioned the possibility of fostering a cat, I chuckled. Fostering implied something temporary, but I knew this wasn’t going to be temporary given Beth’s passion for our furry friends. On our drive home with our “foster,” Beth and Sassy sat in the backseat and lovingly conversed. I could sense another unbreakable bond forming. Upon arriving at our townhouse, we let Sassy out of her carrier and this whiskered wonder spent the next 20 minutes bounding about, exploring every nook and cranny. After a thorough inspection of our premises, she settled on Beth’s lap and fell asleep. We had aced the test. Sassy had agreed to adopt us. Our lives would never be the same.

For the next 11 years and eight months, she would exasperate and entertain. She definitely was high maintenance. We jokingly referred to her as a PITA — a pain in the you know what. Despite that well-earned moniker, we couldn’t help but love her. She had us wrapped around her little paws.

Like most cats, Sassy, was a remarkable athlete. Although our 12-pound superhero might not have been able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, she easily ascended tall countertops and occasionally climbed atop the refrigerator, an ideal perch to observe her human parents in action. Given her propensity for jumping and fetching tossed balls, we surmised she had been a dog in a previous life. I have vivid memories of her sprinting like a bat out of hell across our backyard to the breezeway door. She would have made one heck of a running back, though her lack of discipline and refusal to take orders probably would have resulted in her carrying the ball into the wrong end zone or up into the stands.

Sassy loved the outdoors, and occasionally caused angst by disappearing for hours at a time. Thankfully, she always returned home from her hunting expeditions, often with dead mouse in mouth. In a primal nod to her Serengeti big cat ancestors, our huntress was merely bringing us gifts — gifts I would be responsible for burying. Beth and I sometimes wondered if Sassy would have been happier as a mouser in a barn. Fortunately, we discovered she was happiest where she was. With us.

Some of our fondest moments occurred when the peripatetic Sassy was still. I loved walking into the living room and seeing her ensconced on Beth’s lap while my bride read a book. A cat and a book. An unbeatable combination. Sweet, too, were those moments when I was watching a ballgame or a movie in my recliner, and Sassy settled onto my chest. I’ve always been full of hot air, and she clearly appreciated all those British Thermal Units I generated. Each morning, before confronting the stresses of impending deadlines, I rubbed her chin for a minute or two while telling her how much I loved her. Such a soothing way to begin each day.

Sassy taught me much about unconditional love and living in the moment — something I and most humans are terrible at. Too often, we obsess about what’s next, rather than savoring what’s now. During those precious occasions when I stared into her piercing green eyes and listened to her purr loudly, I felt serenity and calm. It was as if she was pulling all the negative stuff away from me, allowing me to experience true tranquility.

She had been in declining health for some time, but was a trooper till the very end; a profile in perseverance. In a time of pandemic, polarization and isolation, she was my rock, my furry muse and mentor.

For the first time in a long time, I am completing a column from start to finish without distraction. And that makes my soul sad. What I wouldn’t give to have that lovable, finicky feline bugging the heck out of me right now.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,”  is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.

8 comments

  1. I just read your heartfelt story about Sassy with our puppy, Weego, sitting on my lap.
    I feel your pain, my friend.
    Kathy and I have been saying for months as we sequestered in our home, that Weego made everything easier for us.
    If it wasn’t much of the things you described Sassy as doing, it was the daily walks that forced us to leave the house.
    Watching her butt scoot across the floor in excitement because we uttered the magic words, “want to go for a ride?”
    We know the day will come when she will no longer be with us. Just as Sassy decided it was time to leave you two wonderful people.
    Sending our heartfelt love to you and Beth.
    Hoping all those great memories with your kitty will bring a smile to your face and warm your heart.

  2. So sorry for your loss. Loosing my wife of 23 years was very tough, but I, fortunately, have a 15 year old Jack Russel Terrier that sat by my side and insisted on at least three walks a day. Don’t know how I would have survived the first few months after Judy’s passing with all the Covid restrictions, without Pippi. Thank you Scott for a sensitive and uplifting article.

  3. Thanks, Max, for your kind words. Savor and cherish every moment with Weego. .

  4. Thank you, Frank. So glad that you had Pippi to help you through the loss of your beloved wife. It truly is amazing how much our pets become loving members of our families and help us through those difficult times. Be well.

  5. My bride just shared Sassy’s passing with me. Suzy and I remember Oscar and how his departure was made somewhat less traumatic by Sassy’s entré into Beth’s and your life. Your article reminds us just how critical and symbiotic our lives with loved ones (furry and otherwise) can be if only we slow down for those moments and take a measured break from what we think is critical only to realize what is truly important. You’ve done that for me and many others Scott. And we love you for it.

  6. Lovely sentiments, Scott. I feel like I knew Sassy from all of Beth’s Facebook posts. It is stunning how much a pet can claim your heart, even as you barely notice it happening. I daily curse the shenanigans of our Zoe and would be heartbroken without her timid “Meow” turning to a howl if she doesn’t get the attention she wants. My heart goes out to you both. I hope there’s a kitten in your future!

  7. Thank you, David, for your kind words. Sassy indeed prompted Beth and I to jump off the crazy merry-go-round from time-to-time, so we could enjoy the beauty and wonder of the present. She loved us for what we were, not who we were – and she did so unconditionally. Pretty powerful lessons. Love to you and the girls.

  8. Thank you, Joy. At times, they can indeed drive us to distraction, but there’s a loving method to their madness. Somewhere down the road we hope a new furry friend will adopt us. Be well.

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