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The remarkable cat that won this dog lover’s heart

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Miss Kitty never walked; she strutted. (Sally Stephens/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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We never knew where Miss Kitty came from. But she was looking for a family and chose ours.

Years ago, my mom noticed a cat hanging around the outside of her house in Toledo, Ohio. She started to leave water, then cat food, out in the driveway. When I visited for Christmas, we bought a small dog bed for the cat and put it on the open front porch, with towels for added warmth.

It was winter, cold outside, with snow on the ground. Mom was so worried about the cat that she started leaving the front door open — in December in Ohio — so the cat could come inside and get warm. One day, my mom shut the door behind the cat, and Miss Kitty became a part of our family.

We never knew if she got out accidentally, ran away from a bad home or was deliberately abandoned, but she was definitely on her own. Since she had been declawed, she must have had trouble catching food and defending herself. She was looking for a safe haven and found it with my parents.

We had always been dog people. We’d never had a cat and had no idea what to do with her. But at a time when my parents were in their mid-80s, largely housebound and unable to take care of a dog, this cat brought a distraction from illness, giving them something outside themselves to think about, to relate to and to love.

Six years ago, after my dad died, we moved Mom into an assisted living facility. I brought Miss Kitty home to San Francisco to live with me.

I had never really liked cats. They seemed so aloof and hard to understand. Dogs wear their emotions on their sleeves, but cats are more reserved. I took in Miss Kitty because she had been my parents’ cat. But over time, she won my heart.

She’d be at the top of the stairs waiting every time I came home. She followed me from room to room. She talked a lot, in short clipped meows that a friend called “chirps.” She didn’t walk; she strutted.

She never liked to be held, but as time went on, she spent more and more time close to me. She loved to walk across my lap to get to her preferred spot on the sofa as I sat working on my laptop. One time, she stopped mid-lap to be petted and admired, and after she had her fill of attention and moved on, I realized she had somehow managed to increase the font size of the letters on the laptop screen so that each one was more than eight inches tall. She had to sit on three different keys on opposite sides of the keyboard simultaneously to pull it off.

If I slept on my side facing away from her, she’d paw at my back until I woke up and rolled over. Then, she’d smugly walk back to the foot of the bed and lay back down. I loved watching her roll around in the catnip I put on a towel for her. It was the most carefree I ever saw her.

Over the past year, Miss Kitty’s health declined significantly. By last week, her quality of life had deteriorated so much that I decided it was time to let her go.

With her death, I lost one of the last connections I had with my parents, who are both gone now. But mostly, I mourn the loss of my relationship with her. I keep thinking I see her out of the corner of my eye, or start to say something to her, only to realize she’s no longer here.

Pets bring companionship, love, compassion and fun to our lives. Saying goodbye is hard, but our lives are richer for the time spent with them. They force us to think and look beyond ourselves. They expand our horizons.

Miss Kitty was special. Just by being herself, she taught this lifelong dog person how to love a cat.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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