A Tribute to Salbei

Salbei Katz, a very handsome orange tabby cat, lying on the balcony relaxed and staring at the camera with huge green eyes.
Look at this handsome boy!

The lady in the cat shelter brought out a big cardboard box full of kittens. Some of them had been found on the street and rescued, some of them were spillover from the public animal shelter, some were given away by people who could not care for them. As she put the box down and started to open the lid, there was an orange bolt shooting out of the box and straight up the nearest cabinet. Without hesitation, this little orange kitten, no bigger than the palm of my hand, maybe, climbed to the top of the cupboard and looked down at us with curious eyes, mewing in a tone as if filing a complaint.

And that's how I got Salbei. It was immediately obvious to me that this was the kitten to pick. The eyes, the chuzpah, the voice – just like the kitten, I had no hesitation. A few weeks later, I would pick up Salbei and take him home to join my other cat, Pfefferminz, and my partner at the time.

On Naming Cats

Just as with everyone and everything, finding a cat's name is of greatest importance. My first cat was called Pfefferminz, German for "peppermint", after a friend I had from Finland whose nickname was Minttu ("mint"). Since Pfefferminz had a white coat with only a few black spots, something airy and light like mint felt like a good name. In practice, it would vary between Pfefferminz, Minttu, the occasional Pfeffi, or even Mimi, but either way, the first name sets the theme. The second name would have to follow.

Keeping in with the herbal theme, after getting to know the new kitten for a bit, the name Salbei (sage) felt appropriate. His eyes were the color of sage leaves, and his constantly annoyed tone and slightly taken aback facial expression fit with the ethereal qualities of sage. At the same time, Salbei was very cuddly – on his own terms – and warm, and purry, which fit with the healing and medicinal properties of sage. And so it was decided.

Cat of Adventure

Salbei Katz, a name he would acquire relatively soon, was a well-traveled cat. Originally from the Saarland area of Germany, the smallest federal state with both Shire (comfortable people who are into food, drink, and storytelling) and Mordor (coal, steel, industry) vibes, Salbei moved twice within the capital city there, once more to my parents' house, then accompanied me when I moved to first the outskirts of Hamburg, then Berlin, then again Berlin, the city center of Hamburg, yet another place in Berlin, and then a place a bit further from the city center of Hamburg. In some of these places, Salbei would roam the streets day and night, where traffic and neighborhood allowed. Ever curious, Salbei came back more than once caked in dirt, or oil, or cobwebs, or combinations of everything. But he came back, and that was the most important part.

Several cat sitters were outfoxed by this foxy orange kitty, despite my empathic warnings that Salbei was intensely curious, comparatively small, extremely quick and nimble, and anti-authoritarian. One thought to have a smoke at an open window in the ground floor, and did not even realize that Salbei had immediately taken the opportunity to escape and explore the neighborhood until fifteen minutes later, when things had been suspiciously quiet for too long. We ended up finding the cat happily lying on top of a pile of old furniture in a basement four streets over, then had to call the son of the tenant to try and get access as the tenant was on vacation. Salbei was visibly and audibly annoyed at being taken out of this dark and damp space full of cobwebs. Another cat sitter had her boyfriend over, who was not very cat-aware and forgot her warnings to not open windows. He left one very tall window leaned open, and Salbei climbed up, slipped out of the window, and fell down the windowpane, windowsill, and almost two floors, injuring his paw. Still, he ran for almost two blocks, where we found him under a heap of construction materials in a backyard. An expensive lesson, but dirty and distraught, Salbei made it back home and recovered quickly.

When I moved back to Berlin, Salbei came along. It took several more moves within the city until finally there was a place with an appropriate amount of sunlight coming in, shining unto the cat tree where Salbei would spend a good chunk of his time, illuminating the orange cat who was clearly a sun king in a previous life as well as this. Warm and fuzzy, napping in the sun, occasionally cawing a distinct meow down from the cat tree, or getting into every single cardboard box to be found, Salbei had a cat's life.

A Cat's Life

I was very happy to share so much of it with him: I got Salbei when he was just a few months old, and he accompanied me for years and years, but remained a kitten at heart for the entire time. When Salbei was maybe 15 years old, he started getting a bit more into napping and a bit less into getting in or out of every possible place. He'd lay on my legs, purring, for hours, punctuated by cat naps. He'd curl up on the cat tree, or the bed, or the sofa, or a random cardboard box, or on a pile of clothes in my closet. We used to joke that he was becoming a grumpy Fensterrentner (senior citizens who spend their days at the window, watching and commenting the goings-on below). Then he'd surprise us by catching a bird on the balcony, proudly and loudly carrying it inside, and then eating the whole thing in two big bites. I don't think we ever even saw the beak or any other identifiable parts come back out. A mouse that somehow climbed up to the first floor fared a bit better and could escape when we found the cat toying with it; another bird was just stunned but unharmed, and flew away as soon as it came to its senses again, with Salbei annoyedly chittering after it.

Salbei was in many ways inspirational. I had always known that my personality was much more cat-like than human or any other animal: I would prefer to eat, nap, and be curious. I'd take social interactions, expectations, and chores at my own terms, and I'd be annoyed at people projecting their demands and ideas upon me. This tiny cat demonstrating such fierce independence while still keeping close to his favorite humans taught me important life lessons, not the least of which was that you can be warm and loving while still sticking to your boundaries. I believe that many people who dislike cats and call them prissy or distant should take a long, hard look at whether they perceive, understand, and accept boundaries in other living things. I would wager many don't do it half as well as they think they might. Much unlike the common perception of cats being demanding assholes, I find them to be the sweetest, loveliest, cuddliest creatures around. But, and this is where many conflicts happen, they do things at their own pace, and following their own mind. And if you try to force something upon them, you're gonna be in for a bad time, and so is the cat.


For the longest time, I was certain Salbei would live to be 25, purely out of justified annoyance with the general state of the world. When he turned 16, we gave him a little sweet sixteen celebration, and speculated how much a driver's license for a cat would cost.

Unfortunately, Salbei Katz left us, way before his time, in March 2023. Salbei loved sunshine, plants, legs, the mesh part of backpacks, cardboard boxes, small enclosed spaces, food, ice cream, naps, climbing on things, and more. He will be missed, but he will also never truly be gone.