Our red-hot Chili Pepper

Meet the newest member of our family, Chili Pepper.

By Bob Socci

A month has passed since I wrote about the loss of our venerable cat, Leo, prompting many to reach out with comforting thoughts and pet stories of their own. 

Hearing from others who’ve experienced the rewards of relationships with the animals we love and the hurt of having to say ‘goodbye’ to them was deeply touching.

Some, I thanked individually. Some, I now thank collectively. 

All, I owe at least that much and more, including best wishes to you and yours and an update on me and mine. 

Before our kids’ tears had dried the night Leo was put down, they began asking if we could adopt again.  

“A kitten,” our 10-year old specified. 

He thought of Leo as his one, true friend. And in his mind, rescuing a kitty, rather than an older cat, would give him a better chance of forging a similar bond.

My wife, Monique, and I agreed. She started a search on-line and soon enough we were all sorting through profiles and pictures at www.petfinder.com.

The process didn’t take long. By the following week, we were filing applications, listing references and even filming a video to prove ourselves capable of providing a loving and caring home. 

We made sure to feature cameos by Obi the dog and Little Kitty. With their help, we made a convincing case. We quickly learned that our two pets were about to become big brother and sister to a third.

Like Obi, an Alabaman rescued at the outset of the pandemic, our new cat would arrive out of the South. Fittingly, hailing from good ole Rocky Top Tennessee, he was – is – an orange tabby.

He’d been saved by the Whiskers Fund animal rescue service in Soddy Daisy, Tenn., a town just north of Chattanooga. It was operated by a couple of close friends who previously worked in veterinary clinics before changing careers.

One now works as a flight attendant. When not flying on the clock, she flies standby, delivering cats and dogs to foster and adopting families. 

Talk about, ‘No days off!’

Obi and Chili, our rescue pup and kitty, have totally bonded.

In the early morning of Monday, May 10, she drove more than 130 miles to Atlanta and checked into Hartsfield-Jackson airport with a kitty carrier and bag of supplies. 

Expecting a late-afternoon touchdown in Boston, I planned to swing by Logan to meet her after my appointment to see an orthopedist in the city. I had a noon consult following a recent knee injury.

My visit was quicker than anticipated, so I went for a walk and some lunch to eat up some time. 

But just as I stepped into a Beacon Hill pizzeria, my phone buzzed. Flights out of Atlanta were oversold more than usual, so our new kitty and his guardian angel couldn’t get on the first plane. 

Or the second. Or, as I’d see in subsequent texts, the third or the fourth.

Obviously, plans changed. I went home and headed to our neighborhood elementary school to get the kids. They left the house that day thinking they’d return to a new kitten. Instead, they were told we wouldn’t see the kitty, at the earliest, until late that night.

Thankfully, they took Dad’s explanation in stride on the walk home, where snacks, a virtual Taekwondo class and Minecraft occupied their attention. Meanwhile, I kept receiving updates from Atlanta.

Options narrowed. Either the cat was coming on the last flight out, landing around 10 p.m., or sometime – fingers crossed – in the a.m. Luckily, an 8 o’clock notification brought good news. 

Kitty and caretaker were aboard a plane bound for Boston. But first, they’d be slightly delayed.

Keeping tabs on the flight’s status, I left for Logan a little after 10 and pulled up to the curb outside Terminal A on the ‘Departures’ level. A few other cars were already parked in front of me. 

With a classic rock station playing from satellite radio, I waited and watched for someone I’d never seen before to show up with our new pet, while also keeping an eye out for authorities who might tell me to take my car out of park and beat it. 

The wait continued, long enough to hear a second song from both Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. Sitting in the darkness, shifting my eyes between the terminal exits and my rear and sideview mirrors, seemed like a stakeout. Well, at least, what I’d seen of so many in the movies. 

Finally, passengers rolling their luggage emerged from the airport. After all but a couple of cars pulled away, a woman toting a padded carrier smilingly approached my vehicle.

Relieved, we shared a laugh over the long adventure of a day, then carefully transferred the kitty to my car.

After reviewing a checklist covering vaccinations, general care and nutrition, I drove away, leaving the indefatigable good samaritan behind waiting on a ride to Allston to deliver two other cats.

Ten minutes or so later, I pulled into our driveway. Kitty and I were greeted at the door. Although our 9-year old couldn’t stay awake, our son was still up, at his mom’s side.

For him, as well as our daughter the following dawn, it was love at first sight.

When Obi is away at doggy daycare, Chili keeps me company in my home office.

Weeks later, as Monique wrote about on her own blog, that love lingers. The kitten is very much at home in our house and now goes by the name, Chili Pepper. 

And, as Monique mentions, a number of other monikers.

While none of my sports-inspired suggestions — such as, given the cat’s coloring, Rusty (Staub) or, based on his Volunteer-State background, Ernie (Grunfeld) — met approval, it’s just as well.

For one thing, as well as the former University of Tennessee star of “The Ernie and Bernie (King) Show” fame could pass and shoot, Chili’s quickness is more akin to Allen Iverson off the crossover; vertical more on the scale of Spud Webb; and appetite about the size of Shaquille O’Neal.

All combined with boundless energy, an insatiable curiosity and a steadfast refusal to accept no! for an answer, especially when determined to join us for dinner — on the dining table.

Monique cites the medical benefits of owning animals. Like lower blood pressure and less anxiety.

Me, I think this little bouncy blend of orange and white stripes puts such scientific theory to test at times.

Good thing my knee checked out okay at the doctor’s. In case I have to find my stress relief in exercise.

Our kids asked for a kitten.

We all got what they wanted.

Author: Bob Socci

Play-by-play broadcaster for the New England Patriots and 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

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