“Don’t take it personally; she hates everybody but me.” I was visiting Penny’s apartment, and hoping to meet “Chelsea”, her eight-year old tiger cat.

ChelseaI figured it would take some time for Chelsea to warm up to me, so I just found a comfortable spot on the couch and settled in. But “Chels” surprised us both when she strolled over, gave me a sniff, and hopped up into my lap. With that simple gesture, she granted her approval and signalled the start of two wonderful relationships.

I’ve heard the life of a housecat described as a kind of “extended kitten hood” where food and treats and toys arrive as if by magic, and the only hunting involves toy mice. It’s a great life, but the trade-off is pretty clear: an endless supply of food, shelter, and unconditional love in exchange for your independence. Most cats gladly accept, but Chelsea wasn’t interested. Tough, resourceful, and fiercely independent, she saw our home merely as a place to rest and recharge before heading back out on patrol.

Chelsea would stay gone for days and even weeks at a time, and then return dirty, hungry, and sometimes needing to be patched up. On one occasion, she had contracted hepatitis and required a blood transfusion. Another time, an X-Ray revealed a pellet lodged in her spine. On the vet’s stern advice, we kept her in, but after a few days she was so miserable that we let her go. This kitty was meant to run free, and it wasn’t for us to change her. 

Chelsea and I developed a special bond around a common interest: brawling. Her speed and toughness balanced out my size and weight advantage, and she threw everything she had at me – biting, scratching, kicking, and growling – no quarter was asked, and none was given. We would play rough like that for thirty or forty minutes; then, once I was sufficiently bloodied, she would curl up on me and purr herself to sleep. I’m pretty sure that she loved me, but it meant more to me that I felt I had earned her respect.

After about a year together, Penny and I got married and moved into a house in Amelia, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Chelsea adapted easily to the larger surroundings, but her dark side quickly showed itself: she was a ruthless and prolific hunter. Besides the usual moles and field mice, her diet grew to include chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other partial corpses that we couldn’t identify.

If you love cats, you have to accept that they hunt, and females have the additional instinct to pass this skill on to their kittens. They do this by capturing and wounding prey, and then allowing the kits to finish it off, and Chels tried her best to teach us. That meant that we were repeatedly subjected to the horrible spectacle of a chipmunk or baby rabbit with its hind legs chewed off so that it could only cry and hobble helplessly while waiting to be killed. This is nature’s way, but it seemed that the more brutal the killing, the more Chelsea relished it: she purred; she rolled; she stretched and when the pitiful thing finally succumbed, she would amble off for a bath and a restful nap.

Some kills were especially memorable – a work of art in a twisted sort of way. She brought back baby robins one by one, and then marched proudly across the yard carrying the nest in her mouth. We insisted that she leave her “trophies” outside, but she occasionally snuck them past us. More than once, Chelsea would deposit a fully grown wild rabbit upstairs into our bathroom, with blood and guts artfully arranged on the carpet.

One of the most memorable incidents was Mrs. Blue Jay. These birds pair up for life, and Chelsea infuriated the male by killing its mate. Every day, we watched as Chelsea slunk outside and plopped down on the patio, seeming to grin while daring the bird to retaliate. Soon enough, Mr. Blue Jay would appear and repeatedly dive bomb her. She toyed with him this way for about a week until the inevitable conclusion, when he met his wife in Blue Jay heaven.

All of this senseless violence and killing upset Penny terribly, and she sternly scolded Chelsea time and again, all to no avail. But I know that one of the reasons we loved her so was her uncompromising nature. Some animals cower when admonished, but Chelsea was unfazed and unapologetic. She seemed to be saying “this is who I am: take it or leave it.”

When we bought our house, we made sure that it had enough space for a family, including other animals.  A friend from work needed a foster home for his black and white female cat “Helen”, so we invited them over. Helen was twice Chelsea’s size, so we assumed that the two cats would work out some kind of arrangement. We were wrong: Chelsea repeatedly stalked, attacked, and beat up Helen until we were forced to sheepishly withdraw our offer. We tried a couple more times before reluctantly concluding that ours would remain a one cat household.

Our next environmental addition was “Barney”, our irrepressible black Labrador puppy. Barney was smaller than Chelsea for just a brief time, but it was long enough for her to establish dominance. Barney grew bigger and bigger, and soon his nose was even with Chels where she slept on the couch. Of course, he couldn’t resist a sniff, which was immediately followed by a lightning strike and a painful yelp. He would run to us with his nose bleeding from five tiny claw marks while Chelsea yawned and flopped upside down. On cold days, Chelsea would sometimes curl up next to Barney, but he would lay wide eyed and perfectly still, too afraid to move.

ChelseaChelsea was well into old age when our daughter Jennifer came along. As the pictures indicate, she assumed that all of the new baby paraphernalia was for her. Chelsea seemed to understand that the little person’s presence was non-negotiable and adjusted, mainly by staying to herself, but the problems worsened once Jen began to walk. As she told us later, “I just wanted so desperately to pet that cat.” Chelsea would usually bolt, but she nicked Jen’s face a couple of times, causing us much consternation. We always did animal sounds with Jen, and when we asked her “what does kitty say?” she would solemnly respond “hissss.”

 Chels remained active for all of her nineteen years, continuing to hunt and patrol her vast territory. She seemed to know when the end was upon her, and uncharacteristically sequestered herself in a closet. When I found her, I knew immediately that something was wrong; the vet confirmed later that her kidneys had failed. I couldn’t hold back the tears, but she remained tough and strong to the end.

That was seventeen years ago, but we still reminisce about her, even now. Although petite and dainty, she was a true warrior, a lioness who ruled her suburban jungle. Chelsea gave me a vote of confidence and her approval when I needed it, all those many years ago, and remained a loving and loyal friend. I treasure the many peaceful evenings we spent together with her resting easily on my lap. I’m sure I’ll see her again one day – I just hope that if I’m a rabbit or a chipmunk, that maybe she’ll spot me a couple of steps, for old times’ sake.

 Beautiful Chelsea

Lee Robie - (US)  

You can also read about Sekhmet here 

A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.

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