Mr. Norris came into our lives in September, 2003. We were living in Kenya but had spent that summer in the U.S. while Nathan, our middle son, received treatment at Shands Medical Center in Gainesville for a benign tumor (another story for another time). Nathan’s bravery and stoicism while being poked and prodded and jabbed earned him a reward and, for him, the best reward was a kitten.
A few weeks after returning to our Kenyan home, we piled into our orange Daihatsu jeep and made the 20 kilometer trip out to the Nairobi suburb of Karen where the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA – https://kspca-kenya.org/) housed dogs, cats, donkeys, and other assorted animals. The cat section, filled to overflowing, included a mama cat and her kittens, born 6 weeks prior in July. The mama and her litter were all calico except one, a black and white fur ball. Nathan, at first glance, was convinced a calico was the only cat for him, even when each one he reached for hissed and scratched. It took him a while to notice the gentle black and white kitty who’d jumped out of the box and circled gently in and out and around his ankles. Once he noticed him, however, he quickly realized that he should probably pick the kitty that had picked him first. That kitty was Mr. Norris.
The name Mr. Norris came from the character Mrs. Norris, the unpleasant cat belonging to Argus Filch, caretaker of Hogwarts. While Nathan’s new kitty (who quickly became the darling of the whole family) was in no way unpleasant, it was a catchy name, and also happened to be the name of our friend and neighbor, Mr. David Norris. (David once shared that he was often humored when he would hear his name echo over the garden wall as we called our pet to dinner. “Mr. Norris, time to eat.”)
It took very little time for us to realize that Mr. Norris was the perfect cat for us. Tiny as he was, he quickly subdued our german shepherd dog, Annie, into believing it was he, not she, who ran the house. In spite of that very cat-like bossy trait, Mr. Norris also displayed many dog-like behaviors. He would follow us around, would generally come when we called, and before long, would curl up next to Annie in her dog basket and snooze away. His attitude exuded confidence that let everyone know he was a major player in our family structure.
One of the many benefits of living in Nairobi was the gorgeous weather that allowed us to keep our screen-free windows open. Mr. Norris took full advantage of this and would hop in and out of the house at his leisure. He would often bring in treasures (?) for our enjoyment, including small snakes, bigger rats, and the occasional bird. One Christmas stands out as a sad but memorable moment when Mr. Norris displayed his hunting prowess. A few days before Christmas we’d been visited by a pin tailed whydah, a tiny East African bird with fantastic plumage, who would peck at our glass windows and flit around our verandah. Christmas morning was warm and sunny so I opened the windows to let the breeze float in. At some point the small bird flew through the window and landed exactly atop our tree where he sat motionless. I whispered to the boys to come downstairs, for indeed, a Christmas miracle had occurred. At the exact moment the boys saw the bird sitting as still as an ornament, Mr. Norris, from seemingly nowhere, flew through the air and made quick work of our yuletide miracle. The boys screamed, I cried, Devan held back laughter, and Mr. Norris paraded his prey proudly. No amount of “bad Mr. Norris” would dissuade him from thinking he’d saved us from great harm and another tale was added to the lore of Mr. Norris, Kenyan Cat.
When we decided to move back to the U.S. in 2006, there was never a doubt Mr. Norris would make the journey as well. He was our cat; we were his people. We went through the nightmare of logistical red tape that accompanies bringing an animal through U.S. customs–quarantine requirements, shots, a binder of paper work–and bought his ticket based on British Air’s glossy brochure picturing animals being gently loved and fed by pet experts. We were reassured that upon landing Mr. Norris would be personally brought to us for our joyful reunion. While waiting in the baggage claim area, however, Jack tugged on my shirt and said, “Mom, look. Mr. Norris is on that machine.” Sure enough, someone had placed our precious kitty’s crate right on the baggage belt and as he rolled down amidst the Samsonites and backpacks, his crate fell and flipped and flopped. The mournful yowls of a terrified cat filled the terminal and he did not cease howling for at least two weeks. Even now, these many years on, the sight of a crate will send him hiding into dark corners.
Yes, Mr. Norris is still with us and is celebrating his 15th birthday this month, so woven into the fabric of our family that we cannot imagine life without him. He continues to be more dog-like than cat, accompanying us when we walk leashed Good Dog Macy Mae around the neighborhood or running to us when we call. More than dog-like, he’s simply Mr. Norris. A monstrous cat, weighing in at 20+ pounds, we’ve abandoned all hope of helping him slim down. His extra bulk doesn’t seem to hinder him from all types of yoga-stretch moves but we can see the effect of old-age as he slowly climbs the many steps to our front door. He loves to sit fearlessly close to our winter fireplace and will also lay demurely, his paws crossed one over the other, in the midst of a thunderous rain storm. He is shamelessly aware of his grandiose beauty, and while he doesn’t care for baths, he submits to them with grace.
Happy Birthday Mr. Norris; you are a feline among felines. Thank you for sticking around so long, providing our family a tangible connection to the amazing years when Kenya was home. Thank you for loving the Veatch clan so well and for making each one of us secretly believe that we are your favorite human, when in fact, we know you love yourself most of all.
“Indeed, there is nothing on this earth more peaceful than a sleeping, purring cat.”
― Jonathon Scott Payne
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”
― Abraham Lincoln
“Dogs have important jobs, like barking when the doorbell rings, but cats have no function in a house whatsoever.”
― W. Bruce Cameron,
“Cats are the lap-dancers of the animal world. Soon as you stop shelling out, they move on, find another lap. They’re furry little sociopaths. Pretty and slick — in love with themselves. When’s the last time you saw a seeing-eye cat?”
― Andrew Vachss,
“Cats are a mysterious kind of folk.”
― Walter Scott
“Let’s face it. It’s a cat’s world.”
― Anthony T. Hincks
“Dogs make great pets, but cats make good owners.”
― Anthony T. Hincks