Samson came to us at 9 ½ years of age. I had known him since he was only 9months old, when he came to see me for his first grooming appointment. Samson was owned by an elderly couple who had never had a cat before. They purchased him from a breeder in South Georgia, and when they went to pick him up the kittens were living on the front porch, free reign! Probably not much of an actual breeder I would suspect. Nonetheless, Samson, a “purebred Ragdoll” was one of the coolest cats I have ever known. Every time they brought him in for grooming, he was a MUSH! He would willingly lay on his back for his stomach shave, I could comb him out, trim his nails, shave his tush all on my own without needing any assistance. He purred through the whole thing. In fact, most of the time, he brushed himself!
His parents and I really got to know each other over the years. After all they came in four times a year for a while you wait grooming appointment and visited us in between for medical visits and food pickups. I made it abundantly clear that if anything ever happened to them that I would gladly take Samson and provide him with safe haven. One day, when Samson was about 8 years old, they broke the news to me that his mom had been diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. She did not have long to live, took a few trips, visited with dear friends, planned her own funeral, and basically had a goodbye gathering before she started to feel really bad. Samson was by her side, like a good little nurse, once she became bedridden. The story is just so sad, when she passed her husband was lying beside her in bed holding her hand and Samson was right there beside her until her last breath. I wasn’t sure what his dad would do, but he kept Samson and tried to do right by him for a year and a half. Then I got the call.
Samson’s human, his dad, called the clinic one day and as soon as I was told that he was on the phone I knew why. He told me that he had had a heart attack a few months back and an ambulance came. The doors to the house were left open and all he could think about was what if Samson got outside? He also said that he thought he missed a woman’s touch and that he wasn’t enough for him. I completely understood and told him to bring him to me. Now, this was a bit of a crapshoot mind you, Samson had lived as a single cat his entire life and had never lived with a dog. We had about 9 cats when we brought him home (I think, maybe 11?) and we had Elsa, the Bernese Mountain Dog. This could have proven to be a recipe for disaster, but did I mention how amazing Samson was? He was cool as a cucumber!
As per usual Samson was set up in the “purple bathroom”, the room where all animals start and end life in this house. Soren was the ambassador of happiness and welcomed Sammy Jams with open paws. Samson did not eat wet food, cat treats or human food. He was raised on Hill’s t/d his whole life and that was really all he liked; positive reinforcement was a challenge is my point. Oh, yeah and he also “didn’t play”. And well, he didn’t really play a whole lot, but with time we got him interested in and acknowledging some lure toys, mostly liking the stick end and not the attachment. So, for the introduction to the other cats, we got creative, one thing Samson could not get enough of was brushing, so every time he would see the other cats, he was brushed! We put up these baby gates and would play and offer treats to our guys and brush Samson’s little cheeks! Thankfully, he was incredibly easy going and this worked like a dream. He introduced himself to the household quite quickly. It was eating here that was going to be a challenge!
We have fed exclusively out of foraging toys for 17 years now. And remember, he didn’t like wet food or treats. Cats typically will not work for food out of food puzzles that has been free, so filling up a food puzzle full of Hill’s t/d was not exactly going to teach him to forage. So, even though Samson was getting along with everyone way quicker than expected, he went to bed in his own room each night so he could learn how to eat in this house! Boy oh boy did I make it easy for him and all of this became excellent fodder for my foraging lecture!
I would put Jams in his room with loads of food puzzles, gushing with kibble. I left my Foraging Cups “open” and laid on their side so he could easily extract food with his paws, I gave him super easy muffin tins with a few balls and mice as obstacles (counted the pieces of kibble in each well to monitor use!) as well as other, overstuffed, stationary foraging boards gushing with novel kibble and some treats, just hoping. I even left a plate of wet food for him each night, just to see if he might take me up on it. He didn’t. I would take photos of the foraging boards the night before and then compare in the am to see if he engaged with them. It is imperative to remember that you absolutely cannot force a cat into eating how and what we want them to eat, that is a great way to make your cat very sick. In as quickly as three days without eating, fat can mobilize to the liver causing hepatic lipidosis, (a.k.a. fatty liver disease), this results in your cat’s skin turning yellow and is very serious. We had to take our time and ensure he ate each day.
But he got it! Boy, did he get it. In fact, Samson became what I would call a “master forager”, chirping and brrrping and purring all the way! It was so incredibly precious to see him light up, engage and be a cat! Samson became the super star of my Fundamentally Feline YouTube channel; he is still featured in my talks and pics of him doing all kinds of amazing and adorable behaviors are plastered across my social pages. This cat did find ONE wet food he would accept as a treat, Hill’s a/d! He learned to ride a skateboard at the age of ten with a/d as his reward! Once we found this as a tool, we could teach him anything! His repertoire of tricks included go to mat, go to stool, sit, shake, hi-five, give ten, spin in a circle, run through a tunnel, thrash on his skateboard, sit up and we even used clicker training to acclimate him to his asthma inhaler later in life when that developed. No surprise, there is a how-to video for that, starring Jams!
Sammy Jams decided that living on the countertop and the adjacent kitchen table was to be his home base. This was awesome as Jake missed having a Sous Chef after Kodiak Bears passed away and we adored having him front and center. It also meant a bigger hole was left when he was gone. Jams filled the Sous Chef shoes nicely, complete with a set of naughty attention seeking behaviors…he truly enjoyed knocking everything off the counter. This did not start immediately. He let us get good and comfortable. And at first it was little things, soft things, unimportant things. Gradually, overtime he upped his game. He was free to do whatever he wanted, could’ve gotten in our laps while we watched TV, instead, he enjoyed sitting on the counter, glancing over at us innocently, giving us one of his classic Samson, “brrrps” and just ever so slightly pushing the treat jars off, then my water bottle, then he really kicked it up a notch and moved on to full sized canisters of sugar and flour! Keep in mind, he didn’t want the cat treats, wouldn’t eat them if they were free, this was truly attention seeking behavior and we did try to secure items to the countertop so we could more effectively ignore him, but he literally started trying to move the entire coffee maker! One night we came home from being out to dinner and the floor was just littered with stuff, he was busy in our absence! Naughty, naughty Jams!! Not gonna lie, we freakin’ loved it.
The last straw was Kodiak’s urn, yep, guess Samson decided, “I have replaced you as Sous Chef, you must go”. Yeah, that’s right one of our cat’s urns is on the kitchen counter, what? That was his favorite spot, best place for it! And by last straw, well, I don’t know what I mean, except that we glued what we could back together, got a new urn for Kodiak Bears and literally fixed all canisters to the counter with museum gel! He did try knocking the ENTIRE DISHRACK off the counter a few times but quickly gave up on that.
I can’t say enough good things about this cat. He got to really be a cat while he was with us. He learned to ride in the stroller and that was pretty bee’s knees, he even came out on his leash and harness and enjoyed a good roll in the bazillion pieces of yard debris leaving his fur in shambles. The only toy his dad told me he liked were sparkly puff balls! We would toss them to him, and he would bat them back to us using both of his precious giant fuzzy mitts! This was a great game and one I wish I had more of on video. He loved the cat tunnel and cardboard boxes were well, his jam. This cat could not get enough, if only he were here to have helped with the CNN piece on cats and cardboard boxes. He would’ve been perfect. Our kitchen table was set up exclusively for Samson, complete with FOUR cardboard boxes on each corner and a Catit Self Grooming station in the center, because he could never get enough cheek scratching sometimes, we had to let him take care of that on his own. I didn’t even give him bedding when I brough him up to the clinic for blood work, he preferred the hard cage floor and a cardboard canned food tray, by far! Damn bedding was just in the way.
His dad came to visit him at the clinic twice when he came in for rechecks and one Sunday, he even came all the way down to our house to see Samson in his new habitat! It was sweet that he made the effort to do that and see that he was safe and thriving with us. Samson did not have a dramatic display to these visits. It was a little sad, but it also helped me feel good in that I think Samson was pretty happy here and had truly settled in. His first human dad passed away a few years after he gave Jams to us. I think Samson was about 11 or 12 years old. I used to send him photos and videos of all of Samson’s adventures and he really seemed to enjoy them. Then I stopped getting replies…one day I called, and a friend answered, Samson’s previous human dad had made the right decision in giving him to us when he did. That was the last time I spoke to him, he was in hospice, and passed shortly thereafter. I can only hope that someone will do for me what I did for Samson when it is my turn to leave this world. I hope to time it just right and not leave anyone behind, but that is near impossible to predict.
One of the first ways that you know that something is amiss with your cat is a change in behavior. All of a sudden, Samson started coming upstairs, A LOT, and even started sleeping with us. He never did this the first few years. We loved it, but it gave us pause. We would even say to him, “Jams, you dying? You got a tumor? Why do you love us more all of a sudden”? He would “brrrp” and purr and make his ginormous biscuits on us as his answer. He still engaged in all of his normal behaviors he was just now sleeping in bed with us. Hard to complain, but I now believe this was the start of a problem we never actually diagnosed.
Our cats are weighed every month, I’ve been told I can tell they have lost weight when they have only farted! Samson’s weight was stable. He had developed asthma over the years, and we had that under control, but he had other weird, not descript things happen. Even the asthma diagnosis seemed like we were reaching to fix a cough that was not 100% asthma. He would have really thick mucousy, yellow discharge from one nostril, only the one. I would get it cleared up, but it would recur. In the early stages of weirdness labs were beautiful, X-rays and ultrasound normal. It was hard to be alarmed.
He just continued to get weirder. His kidney values started creeping up, ok, no big deal, we can treat that! Then he started having accidents on the bed but we could not pinpoint why, waterproof blankets on the bed it is, we’ve been here before (Vader), nothing we can’t handle! Then he started getting weak, hard time even standing up, this became a little dangerous as he lived on the kitchen counter and table and we didn’t want him to fall, but it was also a good sign that he was still in his routine and wanted to be in these places. Then, what seemed to be neuro issues started. He would try to squeeze himself into weird spaces, he was incredibly lethargic, body temperature having a hard time regulating. We were hospitalizing him at home in the giant breed dog crate, he was on an IV catheter here at the house and I would wake every few hours to check on him and turn him over. I did this for many nights. I would express his bladder to lessen the mess but ultimately, I had to bathe him daily and blow him dry to keep him clean and warm.
We had an appointment at the neurologist, but the morning that I awoke to bring him, his temp was low and he was not stable enough to undergo any diagnostics there. We were frantically trying to treat what was possible acute kidney failure that came on like a bolt of lightning and or some sort of brain tumor that was setting a cascade of other weirdness’s throughout the rest of his little body. We had to call it, he could stand or eat on his own, the dignity was gone. It wasn’t fair. Nor was it fair that we only got to love him from age 9-1/2 to 14 years. We missed out on so much and he was ripped away from us far too soon. He had so much left to do here!
We let Samson go that night, we said goodbye in his favorite spot on the kitchen counter.
We miss you so much, Samson! What did Samson teach us? Do NOT underestimate your cats! Cats CAN be trained, senior cats CAN learn to forage, walk on harnesses, and take stroller rides, sometimes single cats CAN mesh into a multi-pet household and thrive (though he was an exception and not the rule) and you can absolutely train an old cat to learn new tricks.
There are now TWO cat urns on our kitchen counter. As it should be.