After the warmest February in years, followed by a spring filled with tank top temperatures and snow flurries, it’s natural for me to fondly recall my late, great Cassie the weather cat. A once-feral feline who never lost her shyness, Cassie displayed a talent for knowing what weather awaited us, often long before the TV meteorologists’ warnings.
Even on a shimmering summer day, with breezes ruffling the trees and a cloudless Crayola sky, Cassie might swivel her ears, lift her head slightly, then, in deliberate slow motion, drop into a crouching position. Almost parallel to the floor, she’d slink, with rapid efficiency, to the innermost spot in my home, a tiled corner in the windowless bathroom next to the bathtub—exactly the place experts tell us to hunker down when hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters loom. Cassie would curl herself into a circle of fur, head toward the wall, paws tucked underneath her, and let the storm outside roll by.
Which it did: within 20 minutes of Cassie’s “forecast,” that bright blue sky shaded to ominous gray, breezes blew into wind and sheets of rain slanted down, blurring the perfect day. Cassie stayed put, motionless, until the storm moved on. She’d emerge once the last thunderclap had sounded, then glance out a window, noting the raindrops that glistened on the glass, before resuming her usual activities, which included spying on the birds and chasing crumpled Post-it notes.
If Cassie were here today, she’d have a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, an Instagram account and a Snapchat following. She’d star in a blog and rival the current celebrity cats for attention from adoring fans. Cassie would probably be asked to predict the kickoff forecast for the Super Bowl, or maybe she’d do a YouTube video demonstrating how to get ready for a hurricane. But Cassie was a 90s cat, needing no technology or publicity for her special skill. A devoted, one-person cat, she gave all her attention, affection, joy and trust strictly to me. It was the perfect gift, precious and limited.
A pastel calico with a silvery coat soft as a rabbit’s, Cassie took pride in grooming her peachy patches and tiny white feet. She gazed at the world with a luminous pale green eye. Yes, eye: Cassie the weather cat was also a one-eyed wonder. Her “good” eye was the left one, probing her surroundings in a restless ping-pong motion; on the right side, a partial orb was barely visible, just a tiny green glimmer, permanently hooded by her protective eyelid.
Cassie had apparently been born this way, spending her early years in a Virginia cat colony, surviving in the elements, seeking shelter, existing on whatever wild fare came her way. She and her mates were rescued when construction flattened their woodland home. Shy, nearly fearful of most people, Cassie was not the model adoptive cat, not seeking attention or lap time or even human contact. Hunched miserably in a cage at adoption events, Cassie watched as other rescued cats found their forever homes, then hid under the bed or in a closet at her foster family’s home.
When I heard about Cassie, then known as Popeye, I knew I needed her. With a new job in a new city, a new cat was the next logical step, and after another potential adopter said “She’s just not P-R-E-T-T-Y,” this bundle of quivering kitty came home with me. I named her after a one-eyed thoroughbred racehorse, Casselaria, whose courage had captured hearts. Cassie certainly had captured mine.
As she gained confidence, Cassie came to me to be petted. She’d hop onto my bed, nestling near my knees and sleep, her tiny, almost inaudible purr telling of her growing contentment. Like all cats, she was curious, and sometimes monitored my old-school answering machine, parking herself on top and listening to voices that reminded me to call my parents or come into work early. Somehow she learned to press the record button, and instead of messages from afar, I’d hear two minutes of purring.
But Cassie’s real skill was knowing the weather, and within two months of arriving in my life, she reminded me when I’d need an umbrella. The season or time of day didn’t matter: Cassie instinctively knew if precipitation was in the air, and always got herself into position to wait out the storm. She had a “weather station,” a little wicker wastebasket turned on its side, in her preferred hideout. When we moved to an apartment with an under sink cabinet, Cassie readily adapted to this roomier version of her weather station, pawing open the door and slipping inside till the skies cleared.
I named her after a one-eyed thoroughbred racehorse, Casselaria, whose courage had captured hearts. Cassie certainly had captured mine.
Three different vets worked with Cassie in her lifetime but none could fully explain her actions, guessing only that she was highly sensitive to the movement of barometric pressure and reacted strongly to it, even before we humans could register the weather shift. Just as animals sometimes foretell of disasters—remember, that 2004 Thailand tsunami was heralded by wildlife, animals fleeing the area hours and even days before it hit—Cassie knew something was going on, and decided that no way was she going to be caught in it.
Perhaps her weather awareness was honed by her time living outdoors, without shelter or warmth, extra vulnerable due to her missing eye. Keenly aware of her surroundings, Cassie was never caught unprepared. Even in winter, before settling down to sleep, she’d look out the window, scanning the nighttime skies and sniffing the air for a hint of snow. Cassie showed us that cats “know something” and, if we just pay attention, they’ll tell us about it.
Even when Cassie began to fade at age 12, she continued to predict the weather. She hated receiving the IV fluids required by the renal failure that would eventually take her from me, but she’d always rally, giving a tiny meow as she’d tiptoe toward her weather station.
Sometimes when a distant thunder rumble awakens me, I’ll imagine a warm lump near my knees and sense a movement, slow but deliberate, toward a safe spot to await the storm. With Cassie on the case, we always knew the rain was coming, and that sun, and purring, always followed.