The Story of Sumo

Yesterday was that wondrous celebration of all things Irish, St. Patrick’s Day! And, as one of many Americans proud to have substantial Irish in my blood, I did go out celebrating it for just a bit. But it’s also the birthday of my cat, Sumo. It’s not his actual birthday, but who cares? I had to give him a day to mark his unknown birth, so naturally I chose this one. We know he was born in 2001, so he’s a robust 9 this year!

It was July 2005 and I was typically overworked at my property management job when I decided it was finally time for me to adopt a cat. I had always wanted to — I grew up with cats, which were always treated like a member of the family, and loved just as much. But shaky finances, recognition of my own irresponsibility, and crazy roommates, among other things, stopped me from doing so. At 23, I lived with three amazing roommates who also loved animals. I felt ready, so I took a trip to the local no-kill shelter with my boyfriend Eric, whom I’d been dating for not quite four years at the time. I had seen pictures of two cats in particular on their website that I couldn’t wait to meet, but they’d both been adopted when I arrived.

I went around visiting with all of the other cats. None of their personalities really gelled with mine, although of course I love any kitty. I was putting a big patched cat named Charlie back in his kennel when I felt something looking at me. I had seen something lying on the floor in my peripheral vision that I’d assumed was a large white pillow. It was not uncommon for the staff to place pillows or a chair in that area of the room for people to sit and visit with the cats. Yet as I turned, I saw that the pillow in fact had two large round eyes that were staring at me with a ridiculously cute, almost beseeching expression. I locked up Charlie’s door and the pillow, which was of course an enormously fat feline, got up and lazily walked out of the room. I was amazed — not at my mistake, but at the fact that one of the shelter’s free-roaming animals could be so much heftier than the ones confined to kennels.

I headed back into the shelter’s front room, somewhat dejected that I hadn’t made a match. The nice girl at the front desk said, “Didn’t see anyone you like?” I told her no, and that I was going to go home and think about the cats I’d liked the best and maybe come back and try again … and then that white behemoth walked over and sat down right next to me. I paused to look at him again.

“Who’s this?” I asked. “That’s Bobby,” she said with a smile.

I hesitated. I knew I wanted a cat I could pick up and lug around, but not all cats dig that. “Can I pick him up?”

“Sure, just make sure you support his back.” I bent down to grab him. He didn’t resist. I gently lugged him up and almost fell over. He was a ridiculously heavy cat. The girl said he’d once clocked in at 26 pounds. He started purring in my arms. I was totally smitten. It was all over.

Today, Bobby “Sumo” is a wonderful presence in my life. Every morning, he comes to wake me up by batting at my face or standing on my head. If I dive under the covers to get away, he figures out where my head is and then leaps onto it with all four paws at once. If I stagger out of bed, feed him, and then go back to sleep, he comes after me again when he’s done eating. He uses that same wide-eyed expression that I first saw him wearing at the shelter to persuade me to feed him, pat him, play with him, or brush him. He is quite vocal and enjoys lazing around meowing for no reason. He hated feet when we first brought him home – he looked scared and ran when I tried to give him the light “foot pat” I used to give all our cats – but today he nuzzles my toes. His weight has gone down quite a bit with a careful diet, but he still runs for the food dish whenever he feels scared, annoyed, or angry. If I’m sitting down, not paying attention to him, and let my hand hang down from my chair, he grabs it in his paws, yanks it over to his head, and nuzzles it. He knows that wiggling fingers mean he can run over and get his head scratched. If we stay away too long, he sits by the door meowing loudly the second he hears us come into the hall, and won’t quit until we open the door and pick him up. He salivates over birds flying outside. And he loves his sister Domino — when she had a hairball once and started coughing it up, he mewed, leaped up and ran over there to check on her. He’s a great cat and I love him tremendously. I would suggest anyone who is feeling lonely and can support a pet look into adopting an adult cat from your local Humane Society or other shelter. Thanks Humane Society of Montgomery County (Christiansburg, Virginia) for allowing us to give “Bobby” a home — one that no one will ever make him give up.

Happy Birthday, Sumo! I meant to post this yesterday, but got distracted by a suggestion that we go out to dinner and drink some Guinness. Here’s a birthday video Eric made for Sumo back in our old Blacksburg apartment two years ago. As you can see, my big polar bear kitty is also quite tolerant of all the foolishness we impose on him. Hehehe.

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