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Model Pet 2012: Cat winner lives up to historic moniker worthy of a salute

Posted 7:18am on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012

Three years ago, Matt Dudek got an e-mail from his then-fiance, Lora Sundberg. She was asking if they could get a kitten.

Not a huge pet person, Matt e-mailed back: "Let's talk about this."

But Lora was already scouring Craigslist. She found a posting from a woman who had found three kittens under a nursing home in Chicago, where the couple were still living until moving to Dallas last year. There was a photo: two gray kittens, and, in the corner, a teeny orange fluff ball that reminded Lora of the first cat she ever had. And that was that.

Lora copied the photo and sent it back to Matt with the message: "OK, I'm going to get this kitten tonight."

She called Matt on the way to pick up their new addition, and he said: "If you're really going to go get this kitten, I get to name him."

Fair enough.

When Lora and the kitten got home, Matt met them out at the car. He peered into the cat carrier and said: "Well, hi, General Sam Houston!"

Matt admits the name was a bit of a goof. "Animals having human qualities is funny to me," he said. "Instead of naming your cat Fred or Doug, why not someone of history?"

But the feline has lived up to his name, says Lora, a marketing analyst for Neiman Marcus. "It's funny, Sam took on this persona. He was the little general. We had this big apartment, and as a teeny-tiny little kitten, he just made it his."

Sam is what's known in the cat world as a percher: He sits on top of things a lot, looks down over everything -- surveying the people, the surroundings, like a general.

Matt says the cat has a "crazy connection" with Lora; his favorite place to snuggle is on her head.

Aside from Sam's handsome looks and authoritative moniker, the Model Pet judges also loved the cheeky essay that Matt, an advertising copywriter, submitted with the cat's entry:

"He's cunning and brave, fearless and inventive. He's mastered the art of haiku and received numerous accolades for his achievements in track and field. ... General Sam Houston is more than a cat, he is a symbol for all that is good in the world -- much like Cheetos or people who give you millions of dollars for fun. He's a gentleman and a saint. He makes all of us better people."

But in all seriousness, it took no time for Sam to fully win Matt over and pull him into the world of pet fandom; the Dudeks now also have a rescue dog named Pumpkin.

The General is bona fide family member and has been an integral part of helping Matt and Lora get through some really big events in their lives, from the loss of Matt's father, to their wedding, to getting new jobs, and the life-altering trip from Chicago to Dallas, where Matt is from originally.

Says Matt: "Life can get so serious, and you have this cat standing over there, just giving you this weird look ..."

"Or biting one of our shoes," Lora says.

"And it's so funny," Matt says. "It's very soothing - after a stressful day, he kind of cleans the slate for you. Maybe that's hokey, but there's definitely a calming effect he has on the household."

That's not to say Sam doesn't have his moments of mischief. Last summer, after they moved in to their Dallas apartment in the scorching heat, Matt recalls looking in the kitchen, and seeing Sam sitting in the freezer, just chilling with the door open. "He got a scolding," he says.

But you can't stay mad at Sam for long.

"He looks so much like my first cat ever, that I hate to think of Sam not being here one day," Lora said. "But he's the General -- he'll leave a legacy."

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