Pets as Gifts from God
Every evening I try to spend an hour or so in the library, sitting in front of the fire place. Our beloved Norwegian Forest Cat, Hammi, sleeps in the library/community room every night. Hammi is as happy as he can be when the entire monastic brotherhood is gathered together with him. He’s an important member of our community, loved by all of us, and the only cat I know who has his own Facebook fan page, started by a woman who met him on a pilgrimage to the monastery (if memory is correct).
The first time met Hammi, a large male cat, [was] as I was walking between our old trailer house (now gone) and my cell, some eleven years ago. We startled one another, but as I reached down with extended hand, Hammi came to me. When I picked him up he began purring immediately, so I opened a can of salmon, and he never left. A month after his arrival we took him to the vet to be checked out. It was the veterinarian who suggested he was most likely dumped by someone from Seattle, as happens frequently when people want to dispose of a pet and make sure the animal can’t make way back their home (impossible, of course, from an island).
I often tell people that Hammi domesticated me, since I’d not previously been a cat fancier, being allergic to cat dander. Little did I know at the beginning that Norwegian Forest Cats do not have dander. They have a very soft double fur coat, large paws, sweet facial features, and a very loud purr box. They are known to be personable, liking to be around people. Hammi greets everyone who comes to the monastery, escorting them up the steps from the parking lot. Everyone who’s ever met Hammi falls in love. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have stated they don’t like cats, but want to get a Norwegian Forest Cat like Hammi after they’ve met him.
Intelligent breed that they are, Hammi has learned to let us know just what he wants, be it water, food, cuddling, sleep, whatever. He is a great companion for all of the monastic community, even going into the forest when one of us takes a walk on the Valaam Trail. He has a special game which he seems to enjoy with me particularly. I’ll head out on the trail with Hammi running ahead. He’ll hide behind a large fern, and even though I know he’s waiting, he always manages to scare me. Then I’ll run ahead and hide behind a tree or a stump, and as he walks by I jump out at him. We play this game until the end of the trail!
He’s slowing down a bit with age, just as am I. We both suffer from arthritis and like to sit by the fire on a cold evening, with him cuddling in my lap. I’ve grown so attached to him that I can’t even begin to think of what life would be like in the monastery without my beloved Hammi.
Animals teach us so much about life and about unconditional love. I’ll never forget the day Hammi spotted our newly arrived Rhode Island Reds for the first time. I was sitting on the veranda of the trapeza with some guests. Hammi sat up when he spotted the hens, [and] started walking toward the Saint John Chapel. Our hen-house is behind the chapel. I followed him, as did our guests. When we were standing by the hens, Hammi crouched down, ready for the kill. All that was needed was for me to say, “No, Hammi, they are our friends.” He turned away and walked back to the veranda, leaving me and the guests alone with the chickens. He’s never bothered them since.
Although I’d grown up with dogs and cats, they’d not been in my life throughout my adulthood, until Hammi came around. I’m so glad he did.