I adopted Pepper from a shelter in 1992, just after I moved to Philadelphia. I had cats growing up on a farm in Wisconsin, but never had the opportunity to have one as an adult, due to various rental agreements. From 1992, to 1998 when I met my partner Neal, it was just us two. I had had relationships during that time, but perhaps Pepper knew that they would not last and therefore didn’t pay much attention. Then I met Neal and after several weeks he began to notice a change in her behavior, saying one day, “You know she’s trying to kill me.”
I don’t want get ahead of the story. Neal is a psychiatrist and I used to joke that he had previously diagnosed Pepper with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Oppositional Disorder; a charge he strenuously denies. Since she had the propensity to throw-up if she ate too fast (usually while sitting on one of us), he did characterize her as bulimic. But this was the first time any type of sociopathy was hinted.
Things started out just fine with Pepper until she figured out Neal wasn’t going anywhere. First she would just glare at him. Then he said he would notice that while sleeping he’d be woken up with Pepper placing her paw firmly on his carotid artery. At this point I need to mention that when I had gotten her from the pound, Pepper had only one tooth left (which had to be removed because it was infected), had been declawed by her previous owners, and weighed all of 8 pounds her entire life. She was not physically intimidating. She was a good, kind, kitty cat—totally non-violent--a saint really. If fact she did Yoga with me every morning.
But Neal explained it to me further. “I think she was upset because I was disrupting her domain and daily patterns. I was the interloper in her mind. It really made sense. She was the focus of your life for so many years, and when I entered the picture things changed a bit. You were still devoted to her, but your routine adjusted. We obviously spent a lot of time together, traveled, etc. Pepper was always well cared for, but things were different and in her mind I was the culprit.” Even though Pepper’s brain was the size of a walnut, I conceded that he had a point.
Anyway, the good news was that they eventually made a truce. She figured out she didn’t have enough upper arm strength to do any permanent damage to him and he acknowledged the important role she played in my life. They actually got along quite well.
Unfortunately in the spring of 2001 Pepper’s health began to deteriorate. I took her to her regular vet and then to two specialists. But in the end she simply passed. I was very distraught and Neal was too. But I am heartened to know that they both really liked each other towards the end and that I gave her a good life for nine years. Her ashes are in a pet cemetery in North Jersey.
Every now and then I still ask Neal: “So, did you think she was sociopathic?” He usually replies: “Well, let’s just say she had issues and leave it at that.”
Lee Arnold is a librarian, archivist and travel writer living in Philadelphia.