72: The Motown Cat

72: The Motown Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

The Motown Cat

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.

~Albert Schweitzer

When my little black cat Calpurnia died, I was bereft. She had been my companion for all but the first three months of her sixteen-year life, and the loneliness I felt when she wasn’t there to curl up with me at night was palpable. After months of grieving, I finally summoned the courage to contact my local rescue group.

“Do you have any black cats?” I asked. I knew — and Dawn, the volunteer I spoke with, confirmed — that black cats were harder to place for adoption.

Calpurnia had been the runt of her litter, a homely little black fur ball that no one had wanted. She had grown into a beautiful, loving cat with a playful, comical personality. I couldn’t hope to replace her, but I did want to give a cat a chance that might not otherwise be adopted.

The rescue group had one black cat named Sugar Plum. Someone had rescued her off the street when she was a very young cat with a litter of three kittens. In the year and a half that she’d been available, her kittens had grown up and been adopted, but no one had expressed interest in Sugar Plum, a chubby little thing with half a tail.

I brought her home a week before Christmas. I had learned the first time I’d interacted with her that she’d been mistreated. She was a friendly, curious cat, but if I tried to pet her anywhere but on her head, she would mew fearfully and reach back to gently nip my hand in warning. She had not been born with a shortened tail; someone had mutilated it. While she appeared ready to trust, her instincts told her to be wary of humans.

I understood. In the years before she came to me, I had suffered my own heartache and pain at the hands of ill-intentioned humans. I resolved to be patient with her, to help her feel safe.

Before she became comfortable in her new home, we moved to a cabin in the mountains. I had looked forward to this move as an opportunity to live amid nature, to get away from the clamor of a congested city, and to experience the quiet whisper of tall trees and birdsong. While the cabin didn’t disappoint in regards to watching birds from the many wide windows on three different levels, the move itself was stressful for both of us, and Sugar Plum became clingy, following me from room to room, never far when I was at home.

One night after a particularly long day of unpacking boxes, I finally had a chance to relax in a hot bath. I left the bathroom door open, and Sug, predictably, followed me in and jumped on a tall cabinet, curling up on top of my clean pajamas. Her eyes were wide with anxiety, and I wanted to comfort her, but she was sitting across the room from me.

I thought of what had comforted me in the saddest times of my life, what had brought me solace when my heart was breaking, and I simply started to sing. I hadn’t really given much thought to what I would sing; the words just spontaneously emerged.

“Sugar pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you . . .”

Then I sang The Four Tops hit, “I Can’t Help Myself,” which had been a favorite of mine since junior high.

Apparently it struck a chord with Sugar Plum, too. As I continued to sing, I saw her body relax. Then she curled her head around and rolled over on her back, belly up and paws extended.

It made me laugh to see her react in that way, but I convinced myself it was a fluke, that she really wasn’t reacting to the song at all.

The next day when I came home from work, she met me at the door as usual. I reached down to pet her, and out of curiosity I sang to her again, the same song. This time she flopped on her side from a standing position and again rolled over on her back, paws in the air.

In the weeks that followed, I tried every “sugar” song I could think of, but she showed little response — unless it was to walk away with her tail in the air. For some reason, that one song by The Four Tops was her favorite. As we both adjusted to living in this wild place, I would sing it to her whenever anything happened to frighten her, such as raccoons racing across the roof or the occasional bear peeking in the window. It always generated the same response.

Five years later, she still loves when I sing to her. So when she crawls under the covers with me at night, I often sing us both to sleep as she purrs happily beside me.

~S. Kay Murphy

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