Chilli : A Memorial

A short and incomplete biography of an incredible cat.

An account by Paul Smith and Elizabeth Yuan

At the time we found Chilli we were living in the town of Clifton, New Jersey in a small home near the Montclair border. We found Chilli while picking up dinner at a Chili’s restaurant on route 46 in the town of Little Falls in December 1993. I distinctly remember the manager of the restaurant complaining about how he kept trying to sneak in. The weather outside was cold and snowy and he clearly was trying to find a warm place to stay. After leaving the restaurant, we found him in the snow in the back of the parking lot, he was cold, wet, and uncomfortable. Another couple was there looking at him and begged us to take him (they said they could not). Elizabeth pointed out that he had been de-clawed, and would be unable to defend himself. At the time, we had Palouse and Mohawk to contend with and I felt another cat would become difficult. Elizabeth was insistent, so I finally caved in and agreed.

We picked up Chilli and drove him home with us. He did not complain, and just sat on my wife’s lap, looking out the window of the car. I should have realized that this was an indication of what was to come later in his life, but I was not entirely pleased by the idea of another cat and did not pay the attention I should have.

Chilli was at this time already an older cat (7-10 years we guess) and appeared to have been abused by a previous owner. Both front legs appeared to have been broken and had set slightly off. Chilli’s front paws rested at 45 degree angles to his body, and both legs had a certain odd angle to them when he sat.

We brought Chilli home, bathed him and blow-dried his coat. He did not flinch or complain at any point and seemed to accept the treatment. I figured he was desperate for attention. We kept him locked up in our basement for a month taking him out once the following day to a local vet and on several occasions just to give him a change of scene.

The vet was insistent that we put him down immediately due to a concern over rabies (which is rampant in New Jersey). Apparently New Jersey state law requires all strays with visible wounds to be put down; luckily, Chilli had none. We finally managed to convince the vet that he was worth keeping and agreed to keep him in quarantine for a month just in case he had rabies and had wounds that had healed or were not visible.

Introducing Chilli to the other cats was a difficult process. Palouse, our first cat, originally a stray kitten from the town of Palouse Washington (south of Spokane), was not pleased with another cat in the house and bickered with Chilli constantly. Several months passed before the cats finally accepted each other.

One of Chilli’s more disgusting foibles was that he tended to drool. When we first let him into the rest of the house, he joined us on the bed one evening while we were watching TV. My wife (whom he always seemed to favor) began to scratch him behind his ears causing his eyes to roll back in his head and his mouth to drool. I grabbed a tissue and started wiping the drool from his mouth. This upset him. From that day forward, whenever we touched his face he would shove his lower jaw forward and close his mouth tightly so that he would not dribble on the bed, chair, our laps, etc.

Most mornings starting at this time, Elizabeth or I would wake up and find Chilli’s face silently hovering about 1 inch above our face sniffing and listening to us. This became his hallmark technique for waking us up (Palouse’s technique to wake us up is to sit with his rear end facing us and fart). On weekends, when Chilli got frustrated by our insistence to stay in bed past 8:00 AM, he would repeat this with the addition of a drop or two of drool on our face or in our eyes. Needless to say, this was one time we were not happy with him.

Partly because I still was not thrilled with having a third cat, partly because of difficulties between Chilli and Palouse, we gave Chilli to Elizabeth’s brother, Jeff in Boston. Jeff was looking for a companion and we thought Chilli might be a good choice. On President’s Weekend 1994 we drove Chilli to Boston. Chilli returned to us during the Summer of 1994, about 4 months later. On several occasions, Jeff had taken Chilli out on a leash around Boston. After several times on a leash, Chilli started asking to go out at 4:00 AM every morning. Chilli also developed a stinky intolerance to dry food during this time which remained for the rest of his life.

While in Clifton, Chilli became obsessed with one of the neighborhood cats who, late at night, would periodically jump on the outdoor sills on our first floor windows and stare into the house. Chilli, being the protective cat that he was, would patrol the house at night in our defense, going from room to room on the first floor checking each window for the interloper. If the interloper was found, a fight would ensue through the glass. Later in life, Chilli would patrol the apartments we lived in, monitoring the windows for any interloper that might happen to appear.

On November 3, 1997, I started a new job near Ogden Utah. So that the house in New Jersey could be maintained while on the market, I moved out ahead of Elizabeth. For a number of reasons we focused our attention on apartments in Salt Lake City, eventually finding a small 1 bedroom apartment in Sugarhouse that would (quietly) accept three cats. Elizabeth came out for Thanksgiving, bringing Palouse and Mohawk. Chilli came back with me to Utah on my return trip from New Jersey at Christmas. Elizabeth moved out in March after we sold the house in Clifton.

Chilli several months after arriving at the apartment in Sugarhouse 
(April 1998)

At the end of March 1998, we purchased a property in the mountains east of Salt Lake City with the intent to renovate. Due to the time required to draw up plans and get permits from the town, we finally had to move into the house before starting the renovation. While there, we became familiar with a Golden Labrador retriever named Mango who would come visit quite often. Mango quickly became scared and then respectful of Chilli. Initially Chilli would attack Mango when provoked (remember Chilli was de-clawed). On one occasion, Chilli tried to attack Mango and fell into large waterbowl we set down on the floor for Mango to drink from. Later Chilli and Mango would willingly hang out next to each other with Chilli treating Mango like another cat. If Mango was over when we fed the cats at dinner time, Palouse and Mohawk would line up for dinner and Chilli and Mango would line up together.

When the renovation started, we moved out of the house and into another apartment in Midvale Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. The apartment complex was large and had a significant lawn. We started leash walking our cats and decided to try using a leash on Chilli. Chilli understood the idea of leash immediately, walking in stride next to me or my wife. He would generally walk wherever we went, occasionally insisting on eating a piece of grass or inspecting a hedge. If we called his name, he would return to us. When walking on a leash, his gait was half a strut, half a sequence of small hop, I believe due to the damaged front legs. By comparison, Palouse never quite grasped the idea of a leash, darting from item to item and never walking in stride with us. Mohawk never really learned to walk on a leash at all, but would willingly go with us if he could sit on my shoulder.

When the renovation completed in November 2000, we moved back into the house. During the move, I had to cart Chilli back separately (we took Palouse and Mohawk first so they could acclimate before Chilli arrived). Chilli sat on the passenger seat during the entire trip, looking out the window of the car at the passing scenery and occasionally looking over at me. It was this point that it dawned on me that Chilli actually enjoyed riding in cars.

In the newly renovated house we installed door stops made of coiled wire that would make a loud boinging noise when kicked. One evening shortly after moving back in, Chilli discovered the door stops while waiting to be let out of the bathroom where we typically fed him. From that point forward, Chilli would notify us that he was done eating breakfast or dinner by playing with the door stop with his paw. In a number of rooms around the house we were forced to remove the doorstops completely.

Family visited for Christmas of 2000. At that time my sister, a vet, noticed symptoms of kidney failure which was confirmed by the vets at University Pet Clinic. Chilli was started on a regimen of subcutaneous IV fluids injected into his back which kept his renal failure under control and actually cause some improvement in his kidney function. Chilli was accepting of the treatment, sometimes waiting by my feet while I prepared the fluid. The treatment was sometimes difficult, we found we needed to use a large needle (18 AWG) to get enough fluid into him and he would often vomit after the procedure completed. We did this every other evening without fail and without complaint from him for almost 2 years, until his death.

We began taking Chilli out on a leash around the house and down the road (when the weather allowed, this was winter time and the winter mountain weather can be harsh). The local pack of dogs could not figure him out, Chilli walked on a leash like a dog, but did not look or smell like a dog. He also did not bark like a dog, but hissed instead. He also fought back and did not run away as any reasonable cat would be expected to do.

Chilli’s first long car ride was just after Christmas 2000. An adopted aunt came to celebrate Christmas with us. Since her flight home was two days later than everyone else’s, we offered to take her out to see Utah. She asked to see the Utah and Nevada desert. The four of us left early in the morning and drove from Salt Lake City west on I-80 across the salt flats to Wendover Nevada. From there we drove south to Ely Nevada and Great Basin National Park. We returned to Salt Lake City that evening through the town of Delta. Chilli appeared to enjoy the ride although seemed to have some difficulty due to a constant need to urinate caused by his kidney failure.

When the weather improved in the Spring of 2001, we decided to take Chilli out in a car around the town as an experiment. He alternately sat on each person’s lap, looking out the window at the passing cars, houses, etc. At first we took him out for short times, then out with us for large parts of a day, taking his porta-potty (a special dishpan we filled with cat litter) on the floor in the back seat of the car. Sometimes he would curl up on our lap and sleep in the sun, or on the backseat. When standing on our laps, Chilli would keep himself stable by leaning against us.

On several occasions we took Chilli to Sugarhouse Park. Chilli enjoyed going to the park greatly. Often we would walk around the lake together with Chilli stopping periodically to watch the ducks swimming in the water. Chilli also enjoyed walking along the stream in the park. There he would watch the children play and drink water from the local watering hole. The first time we took him to Sugarhouse park he refused to leave. We eventually had to carry him back to the car.

When that summer came, the car would get hot. To keep him from roasting in the car, we decided to see if we could take him into a store with us (a Pier 1 near downtown Salt Lake City). The store was willing so we took him in. He sat on my arm, looking at the shelves of merchandise and the people with interest. We tried this again in a Petsmart, placing him in the basket of the shopping cart. Chilli sat in the basket as we rolled the cart around the store, looking at the bags of cat food and shelves stocked with collars, toys, birdseed, etc. After several more successful trips to local stores, including a local Mall, we picked up a Samsonite leather dog carrier (the type with the flaps that can be opened on the top, front, etc.). He immediately understood that this was a carrier that he could ride in. Chilli would sit in the carrier with his head sticking out as we went from store to store running our weekend errands. We normally wrapped the strap over our shoulder and petted him with one of our hands as we walked.

On one occasion, we had Chilli with us and needed to eat lunch. We went to a local taco stand at the intersection of 9th and 9th in Salt Lake City. We took Chilli with us and placed him on a chair on one of the outdoor tables in front of the stand. He attempted to climb on the table only once. There he would sit at the table with the food in front of him, taking bites by reaching his mouth out over the table while keeping is paws on the chair. The taco stand would prepare a special soft taco for him with just meat and cheese. While eating, Chilli would watch the chickadees hopping under the chair and around the table, or the people with their dogs walking past. Often his tail would dangle out of the back of the chair as he sat, making for a very cute sight. On many occasions, the proprietors would come out of the store and sneak glances at him, using the guise of cleaning already cleaned tables as an excuse.

We repeated taking Chilli to restaurants with us on many other occasions. However, no matter where we went, Chilli always seemed to prefer the taco stand, often expressing a desire to walk towards it anytime we walked within three or four blocks. Chilli also always perked up whenever we were in the car nearby. Whenever we visited University Pet Clinic to check Chilli’s kidney function, we would take him out onto the lawn in front of the clinic afterwards. He would often suggest going towards the taco stand (by walking in the appropriate direction and stopping just before the leash was taught). On one occasion, during a street fair sponsored by local businesses, we walked to the taco stand with him, there he found a bench by the door to the taco stand and jumped onto it. There we sat for 45 minutes, watching the street vendors and sipping coffee from a coffee shop down the street. After we (Chilli) had seen enough, Chilli walked in stride with us back to the car, insisting on stopping several times so that he could sniff plants and eat grass.

Due to the kidney failure, we could not leave Chilli at home for more than ~48 hours at a time which limited our ability to take vacations. In the fall of 2001 we took Chilli with us to Ketchum Idaho for a weekend vacation. Chilli handled the experience well, enjoying the walk around the town of Ketchum and about the local stores and art galleries. On the Saturday morning we took Chilli with us to a local coffee shop in Ketchum, Chilli received bits of cheese and meat from my wife and other patrons. Chilli enjoyed a trip into the mountains around ketchum as well as the journey to/from Salt Lake City. On the very last part of the journey home, we stopped near Ogden Utah, to pick up my car from the company parking lot. I most especially remember seeing his ears just peaking out above the dash of my wife’s car when I looked back at them through the rear-view mirror. Chilli was sitting on the console between the two front passenger seats, next to my wife, looking out at the passing world.

In November of 2001, Chilli modeled for the front cover of our Christmas card. I setup the camera on a tripod in front of a chair. Elizabeth tied a bow around Chilli’s neck and placed Chilli on the chair. At first, Chilli jumped down. Elizabeth placed him on the chair again and he stayed, looking at me and the camera. I started winking at him while snapping pictures. After 4-5 winks, Chilli winked back at me.

Part of Sequence of pictures taken of Chilli for the Christmas 2001 Christmas Card

For Christmas of 2001, Chilli received a red coat from our parents so that he could romp around the town during the winter. This allowed us to take him out in colder weather. At first he would walk with some difficulty while wearing the coat. Later on he learned to walk more normally. The coat was a god-send; we were beginning to recognize that he was getting old and his time was coming and wanted to give him as many times to romp as possible. Chilli ventured with us to Sedona Arizona in February 2002 where we stayed at a B&B called “Grace’s Secret Garden.” We met my parents at the Flagstaff train station. Elizabeth, Chilli and I watched my parents roll into the Flagstaff train-station on the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Chicago. While in Sedona, Chilli had the opportunity to explore some of the red-rock around Schnebly Hill, wander around the town of Sedona, visit shops in the town of Jerome (1/2 hour south of Sedona) and see sections of Southern Utah and Arizona from the car window.

We continued to take Chilli out with us around Salt Lake City. When the weather was warm, we would roll down the windows of the car and let Chilli poke his head out as we drove. Chilli acted almost like a dog, but did not stick his head out quite as far. Chilli liked to smell the air, but did not like the wind going into his ears. On several occasions, we took him again to Sugarhouse park where we enjoyed picnics together of fried chicken or Chinese food.

Chilli at Sugarhouse Park (Summer 2002)

During this time, Chilli began to show indications that he understood what we said. One evening when we were getting ready for bed, Chilli was getting ready to go to sleep on the downstairs sofa. I said to Chilli “Go see your Midi.” Chilli looked up. Again I said “Chilli, go see your Midi” at which point Chilli jumped off the sofa, walked past me up the stairs to the bedroom where he jumped on the bed and let out a grumbly “mow” to my wife. Several days later, while I was getting ready for work (Elizabeth was still in bed), Chilli was hanging out around me waiting for breakfast. I said to him again “Chilli, go see your Midi.” He turned and looked at the bed and meowed. I repeated “Chilli, that’s right, go see your Midi.” at which point he walked over to the bed, jumped on it and nuzzled his head against Elizabeth’s forehead.

We continued to take him with us on romps until October 2002 when he became unable to defecate. A number of treatments were tried which did not improve his condition. Chilli’s behavior towards us and the vets always made him easy to treat. He rarely complained or fought with us, sometimes swallowing pills with only minimal effort on our part. Chilli also always seemed to enjoy the rides to the vet, possibly because it was just down the street from the taco stand and he was eternally hopeful. We finally noticed a hard donut shaped mass around his rectum and performed emergency surgery. The operation revealed a fast growing cancer called a squimous-cell carcinoma on his anal scent gland which could not be fully removed. The prognosis: 1-2 months to live.

Part of the treatment required strong laxatives (to prevent straining) which caused him to make quite a mess. We started placing blankets on the bed, sofas, etc. which could be cleaned (most especially plastic sheets under fleese on the bed). We also placed Chilli on a regiment of medications to prevent secondary infections, reduce swelling, etc. For several days after the surgery, when we were not home, we kept Chilli locked up in our upstairs bathroom with a litterbox and blankets placed down for him to rest on. At one point during this time Chilli vomited his food on the floor. When we came home, I was horrified by the mess, he had vomited, then splashed water from his waterbowl on the floor. I did not realize until after I started to clean the bathroom that the water had been splashed only towards the vomit. Chilli had attempted to clean-up the mess during the day.

Chilli’s most amazing show of intelligence came at this time. Just after the surgery, he jumped on a leather sofa we kept in the bedroom. Elizabeth said to Chilli “Chilli, why don’t you sleep on the bed.” Chilli responded with a “wow-wow.” “Chilli, go sleep on the bed.” “Wow-Wow-wow-grumble-grumble”, this time longer and louder. “Chilli, we don’t want you to make a mess on the sofa, go sleep on the bed.” at which point Chilli made a small noise again, slowly got up and walked over to the bed where he settled back down.

Chilli was able to live normally for about 1 week over the next month. On October 30, 2002 he started to develop difficulty urinating. The vets (and me) believed it was a urinary tract infection and treated it with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. The condition got worse. By the night of October 31, 2002 he began to develop difficulty walking, holding his left back leg pointed inwards towards his body. The vets suggested that we continue for at least one or two more days under the assumption that the continued difficulty urinating would subside after the medication had more time to take effect. By Saturday, November 2 it was apparent that he was also unable to defecate and was not interested in food. On late Sunday morning, Elizabeth and I went out to run a few required errands; during the trip Elizabeth bought Chilli a small white stuffed teddy bear, Chilli was always fond of white stuffed animals. By the late afternoon of November 2, he began to loose control of his urine and would heave in pain once every couple of minutes, usually growling each time and panting afterwards. Early that evening, we noticed that another donut shaped mass was visible around his rectum. A long conversation with my sister caused us to conclude that the lump was most likely cancer and that the only remaining medication, prednezone, would probably not be effective enough to justify attempting treatment. Chilli died on the night of Sunday November 3, 2002 at 7:15 PM in my wife’s arms after a short (1 hour) drive in the car around Salt Lake City and Sugarhouse Park and as much soft taco as he wanted to eat.

Chilli on the morning of day he died. We offered to take him out (given his condition we knew he did not have many more opportunities). He decided he wanted to sleep on his coat instead.

I’ve created this website in honor of Chilli. I am generally not overly soppy about animals and, although I love my pets dearly, never usually lose track of the fact that they are pets. Chilli has become the one exception to this statement.

Chilli was the first animal I’ve seen that I could actually converse with and reason with through my voice and his sounds and body movements. He would greet me when I came home from work and respond with his face and eyes when I said “Hello Chilli” at the door. He would often jump on the bed in the morning or at night and give Elizabeth or me a single gruff “mow” as a greeting. He would lie on the sofa or bed next to me or Elizabeth and reach out to place his front paw in or on our hands. If we reached our hand out to him he would almost always reach his paw out to us in return.

Chilli was a friend, companion and almost a child to me; I will miss him terribly.