Norbert was an accident. No one could have planned a creature as special as him — he is clearly the result of questionable decisions, a late-night adventure, and a genetic anomaly.
He is either an F3 or F4 Savannah cat that was not listed as such when I adopted him. No, he was simply adrift, a kitten lost in the flooding when hurricane Florence inundated Wilmington, NC.
His mom happened to be pregnant with him when this event occurred, and she happened to be rescued near a less-than-scrupulous Savannah Cat breeder, but who could have predicted this outcome?
For those who don’t know, Savannah Cats are genetic abominations crafted from the unholy union of a domestic feline and a literal wild African cat that looks like a toddler’s poor attempt at drawing a cheetah. The offspring — known as F1s — are similarly…interesting-looking. See the below image for proof.
Naturally, I had to adopt the one cat in the batch from that rescue that was (they now assume) an accident resulting from his hoe mother’s heat-fueled break-in at the breeder’s home. As he grew, my beloved son became more and more…unique.
Eventually, an expert at the vet’s office informed me of her opinion that he is, by her account and physical assessment, a really off-brand Savannah. Now, he’s an off-brand fat-ass Savannah cat. Oops.
This assessment came after she said “wow, that cat is not normal” when I brought him in, and before she said, “well good luck, girl, because you’re going to have one high-maintenance cat living under your roof.”
Ominous, right? And she was correct: he is the derpiest yet handsomest cat I have ever met, and he behaves like an ADHD toddler on equal parts meth and some serious prescription opiates.
He’s taught me a lot. I felt it was time he got the credit he’s due.
Norbert Lesson One: There Is Always Something To Be Said For The Unexpected
I wasn’t planning on adopting a cat when dearest Norbert crossed my unsuspecting path. I’d just lost my best friend and companion cat, Monk, a Maine Coon I’d had the honor of owning since I was 6 years old.
A coworker had witnessed my mental and emotional breakdown in my cubicle upon the death of said Maine Coon, and a while later saw a picture of a cat who vaguely resembled him. She sent me the post, and naturally, being the impulsive moron that I am, I immediately got suckered right on in.
I was convinced there was a universal bond happening here, a serendipitous alignment of souls in need. Maybe there was — but that's a pretty poetic way of describing the whole thing, considering how ridiculous the events that followed were.
What I saw was a small, curious-looking kitten. What I got was a 20-something pound, long-legged beast who still can’t figure out how to drink water. Seriously. He requires a “special needs” bowl so he can stop smacking his face into the sides of normal ones.
He was definitely what I would call unexpected. Sometimes he’s really, really high-maintenance. Honestly, though? He saved me from going crazy during a difficult time in my life, and he’s taught me a lot about love and happiness that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Unexpected things have happened since I got him, and all of them have led to me living a more authentic, joyful life.
I like to think he started that chain of events with some kind of mystical, derpy magic power. The unplanned parts of living are often precisely the ones that end up meaning the most to us, he says. Kind of. At least, I think that’s what he means when he sneezes directly into my ear at 7am.
Norbert Lesson Two: You Can Be Dumb And Smart At The Same Time, So Find Your Complements
Norbert may be categorically incapable of drinking liquids out of a bowl, but he knows how to turn doorknobs, solve puzzles, and arrange balls into very organized straight lines. That counts as intelligence, right?
Oh. He also grasps the concept of trade. I’m not kidding. If he wants something from one of my other cats, he brings them a “treasure” (such as a used earplug) and “gives” it to them before he takes his desired target. He also tries to use earplugs and toys as currency when seeking entry into closed-off rooms.
I haven’t decided if the toll should be 2 earplugs or 3, yet. It depends on what the CDOT (Cat Dept. Of Transportation) decides at our next council meeting.
Anyway, Norbert has lots of small ways in which he displays intelligence. At the same time, he has fallen off the second-floor stairs at least twice because he doesn’t understand the concept of railings, he thinks plastic bags are satan incarnate, and despite several heinous experiences he will still try to lick anything that smells like menthol with his entire tongue.
We all have limitations. The key is to maximize your strengths and find people who can work with your weaknesses — these people will become your people. I’m happy to grab Norbert as he totters dangerously over precipices, and I don’t mind protecting him from his own menthol addiction.
His strengths, you see, include being my buddy, and therefore it all works out evenly. We complement each other. Who else will beg to play fetch with me in the middle of the night, or bite my toes when I least expect it? When you find your people, it all works out.
Norbert Lesson Three: There’s Someone For Everyone Out There, So Don’t Worry So Much About Fitting In
I’ll preface this with a few more Fun Norbert Facts. He can, generally speaking, leap approximately a foot over my head when he’s in good shape. Currently, he's a bit on the larger side, if we’re talking tummies, so perhaps thankfully his parameters have shrunk.
He not only eats houseplants — he rips them out of their pots and lovingly brings them to you, usually by putting them on your pillow after dragging dirt all through the house.
He hides earplugs everywhere. In shoes, under rugs, under pillows, in the laundry, in drawers that he opens and then carefully closes…it’s cute, until you trip on one and faceplant.
He can be destructive, he needs a lot more taurine, stimulation, and exercise than an average housecat, and he’ll always have issues with separation anxiety. Norby has unique needs — and a lot of people wouldn’t have kept him during the first few difficult months of his adjustment in a new home.
If you sign up for a Savannah, some things are expected. But when you adopt one accidentally — which is extremely uncommon and can’t be predicted — the whole experience can be a bit trying, to say the least.
In a lot of ways, though, he’s perfect for me. It’s uncanny how much his quirks align with my ADHD sometimes, and as an artist, I’ve always loved weird, unconventional people and things. Norbert was a bit much, but so am I — and despite all the other possibilities for him, he ended up with me.
I find that this pattern holds in many areas of my life. If you let yourself be as you are, eventually you’ll find yourself in the company of people who really, deeply appreciate you and are loyal to you precisely because of your oddities. Norbert knows how loved he is. He never tries to hide his personality.
Partially thanks to him, I don’t, either. It was only after adopting him and raising him to adulthood that I found the courage to quit my conventional career path and pursue the life I truly wanted. It’s a life that goes quite well with my extra-ness, and Norbert likes that I work from home and am available to play at all hours.
Things work out if you let them.
Final Norbert Lesson: Why Shouldn’t You Follow Your Curiosity? Norbert Says, Go For It, No Matter What
When a cat like Norbert wants to figure something out, no force on Earth can stop him. No obstacle is insurmountable if your curiosity is sincere and your intentions are pure.
Except for chess, though he’s gotten to the point that he at least enjoys moving the pieces around when my boyfriend and I are engaged in a match. I mean, to be fair, chess is technically just a process of pushing objects across the board in some sort of pattern. He’s got the basics down, at least.
Anyway, Norby is by all accounts a very happy, very lucky cat who’s living the dream. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if curiosity hadn’t led his mom and him to the rescue staff, or if my curiosity hadn’t invited him into my life and kept him there.
Curiosity leads us through our lives. If you embrace it the way my dear, farsighted cat does, with a heart that’s free and loved, you’re bound to lead yourself somewhere good.
Norbert has taught me to look for opportunities where curiosity meets innocence. He’s shown me how to be persistent in spite of how unconventional my choices might be, and to accept things when they don’t work out or weren’t worth the effort.
Most of all, he’s taught me that two curious hearts can bring untold joy into each other’s lives if they’re allowed to meet. Maybe he’s not so great at “being a cat,” but maybe I’m not so good at “being a human” as other people expect me to be. Curiosity allows us to free ourselves from convention, and that is a beautiful gift.
Norbert appreciates things in his own way. He gets attached to certain people, toys, and activities for reasons the outside world can’t understand — but based on how things have gone, this eccentricity has worked out well for him.
Maybe you’re the Norbert in someone else’s life. Maybe you are blessed enough to have a Norbert in yours. Our best teachers often have no idea that they’re even occupying that role in the first place, which is perhaps the reason their lessons hold such simple depth and touch us so easily when we need them most.
Some people adopt a cat and love them, but they don’t consider their companion a teacher. That’s okay — a pet makes a wonderful addition to one’s life, regardless. Still, once in a while you meet an animal who’s just different, and if you take the time to appreciate them, they’ll take you on a journey.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about the one Norbert and I are still at the beginning of. I think he’d be flattered to know he had an impact on other people out there, at least for the five seconds of brain space he has available for such thoughts.
Also, seriously. Check the background of a cat before you adopt them. The signs were there, people — they knew what I was getting into! BE WARNED. And for the love of God, toddler-proof your house if you’re going to adopt a Savannah cat. Trust me on this one.