Thursday, 14 June 2007

Diana in White Fur

We acquired our cat in the serendipitious way we seem to acquire everything worth having. I had told a friend of ours that we wanted a kitten. That we didn't care about the color or gender or personality as long as it was a kitten. She said that she would look out for one, but that in the meantime we ought to try the Cat Protection League.

Now, I don't know if this is the same everywhere or only in this part of the world, but nowadays, kittens seem to be pretty thin on the ground. When I was a kid, my mother loved cats, and in no time her reputation as a soft touch became all too well known in our neighborhood. Our home soon became a cat magnet and we always had plenty of cats. People brought problem cats to us, and cats that were pregnant, ill or dying were dumped on us as well. Too often we were so swamped with kittens that we were all but begging people to take them off our hands. When we had surplus kittens, we told all the neighbors -- who didn't really need to be told -- and placed advertisements in several supermarkets and the student union of the local university. I promise you that if a kindly, cat-loving family had shown up asking for a kitten we would have tripped all over ourselves to give them one.

What a different reaction we had when we visited our local Cat Protection League! We were told that just because we wanted a kitten that did not necessarily mean that we would get one; that a Cat Protection League volunteer would have to visit our home and vet us as possible cat carers first. "And how old are your children?" one woman asked suspiciously, eyeing them as though they were Alsatians. The proximity of our house to a road, we were warned, would not count in our favor, and did we have a cat flap? Our clothing and appearance must not have inspired confidence: before we left, we were reminded that cat immunizations had to be taken into account, and we would also be asked to make a donation. We decided to wait for our friend to find us a kitten instead.

Weeks passed, then months, but no kittens were forthcoming. Our friend's sister called and offered us two elderly cats. Indeed, she pressed them on us so eagerly that I began to feel very guilty, but I had to stand my ground. We wanted a kitten, and we were prepared to wait for one.

Finally, one day my friend called with good news. Friends of theirs who ran a hardware store had acquired a stray cat who was obviously pregnant. She was a wonderful cat, they claimed, as friendly, docile, and accommodating as anyone could ask for. Would we like one of her kittens when they were old enough to be given away? We could hardly wait!

From time to time during the next four weeks, we eagerly asked about the kittens. Had they been born yet? No? Was the mother getting bigger? Yes, we were told, and eating for eight.

Two months later, though, they still had not been born and the concensus was that the cat's pregnancy had been false. Our hopes were dashed.

"I don't suppose you'd like the cat, though?" asked our friend.

"No," I told her firmly. "We've got our hearts set on a kitten."

"Pity," she told me. "She's not particularly good with other cats and they have to find a home for her."

To make a long story short -- or shorter, anyway -- we took in this cat. And they really were right about her: you have never seen a cat who is more friendly, docile or accommodating. She is an absolute dream of a cat, "white with pink accessories," as my friend described her to us, and as polite as any I've ever encountered. If you don't feed her, she doesn't yowl, she puts on a show: rubbing up against your legs, flipping over in a beguiling way and showing you her belly. We've had cat-haters come over and fall in love with our cat -- that's how wonderful she is.

There is just one problem. This cat is a hunter. Honestly, you've never seen anything like it, and if I weren't so horrified and dismayed, I swear I'd be proud. If we were living out on the prairie where mice and rats were a problem, this cat would be worth her weight in gold. She catches two to three mice a day now. She has had rabbits, frogs, rats, voles, and (sadly) birds. And one awful day, she found our little neighbor's missing hamster...

We'd still like a kitten. For a while, we had hopes that our cat might favor us with one or two, and cat-loving friends have promised to find homes for any leftover kittens we might end up with. Sadly, our cat has sent every promising looking male packing within seconds. Either she has been spayed or she has no wish to become a mother.

We figure it is probably just as well for the rodent population.


Brian said...

There is , in the end , no cat that can compare to a Siamese. But that is a personal opinion , based on Segiel Fa Ying , who, long after her death, would still dash up the stairs between my feet , presumably to get to the balcony to wait faithfully for the daughter to come home , when the process would reverse.

I hope her little ghost is not lonely in the house she inhabited all those suburbs away from our present unit .

We've had lots of cats , from old Ginger , a marmalade who loved bringing home snakes from the bush near our house and who followed them up with baked beans for dinner , to Panther -- very black -- to Bilbo , very white and very deaf -- to Ting as the Siamese was affectionately known .

We are no longer owners - and alas feral cats are very destructive in the Oz environment

But if souls transmigrate post mortem , Please can I come back as a tiger -- the finest of cats ?

Jewell Ertman said...

I burst out loud with the quote "And one awful day, she found our little neighbor's missing hamster...". How hilarious. I would love a cat such as yours, but I'd bet she'd find a way into Hazel, my snake's cage.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- If you admire tigers, go out right this minute and find yourself any 'Calvin and Hobbes' comic book. Calvin and Hobbes will impress you, I promise! Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, ought to be named as one of America's Living Treasures.

You are right about Siamese cats: I am prejudiced too. They are so smart and have such incredible personalities. We cannot afford one now, but as a child, we were given a lilac-point Siamese with one eye, a charcoal-point runt of an unexpectedly huge litter, and several other Siamese rejects, including an 'accident' who owed her existence to a bathroom door that wouldn't shut and a passing tom that her mother could not resist.

Your cats sound fabulous, and I love the imagine of the little ghost cat racing up the stairs.

Jewell -- I am glad you liked my hamster comment, but I can promise you that it was a very delicate situation. We had just been over to our neighbor's a week earlier, to admire this little pet, and she was a beauty. When the cat brought her to me I thought that she had found a very attractive rodent. And so she had.

Personally, I find snakes beautiful. Our cats in Japan used to be fascinated by them and I did worry. Depending on the size of the snake, I always worried that at some point the cat or the snake was going to end up as a meal. Fortunately, if it ever happened (cat eating snake), I didn't see it.

Kanani said...

I love cats.
Ours have always found us. They've shown up at gates, and once we found one living on a pile of mail. We put him into an orange crate and took him home.
We had him for 20 years.

So... pictures? When will we get photos?

Katie Alender said...

I was always a cat-lover. I did that thing at 14 years old, where you show up at home with a cat and wail until you're allowed to keep it. That's Tigger... he still rules the backyard, sixteen years later (he's older than I was when I got him, gulp!).

Alas, after moving away from home, my immunity failed me and I'm horribly, horribly allergic to kitties. But I still love everything about them.

Mary Witzl said...

Kanani -- 20 years is a good long time to have a cat, so I am impressed! Our cats, sadly, did not generally have such long lives, though we did manage a few that lived past a decade.

My father found one of our longest-lived cats in a drum that seeds were being soaked in. This kitten was so tiny its eyes were not yet open, but we nurtured it and it grew to be a huge, black beast that we called Bearcat, due to its startling resemblance to, um, a bear...

Katie -- I am always glad to find dog lovers who are also cat lovers! I will write a blog about our dogs at some point. We were essentially cat people who gradually fell in love with a couple of very weird dogs.

I can sympathize about the allergies; mine are bearable, but we have friends who have developed allergies to cats over the years, and it is very hard on them.

Eryl Shields said...

We had a cat called Tabitha William Willywaddle when I was a child. A friend of my father brought her to us from the dockyard where she had been running wild. For the first two weeks we had her she lived under the sideboard and wouldn't come out. I still have a scar on my wrist from where I tried to drag her out to play.

My mother had her for over 20 years then she went missing after mum moved house.

Then when Stevie and I were first living together we had a found cat who used to wait at the top of the hill for me as I cycled home from work. She would then run alongside my bicycle to the house. She was always bringing us gifts of 'deads'.

Carolie said...

My cat Bandit used to leap straight up from where she'd been lying in the yard, and catch bats right out of the air. Then she'd leave their mangled little bodies as gifts for my father...usually in beside his bed, where his foot would hit it upon awakening, or sometimes she'd deposit it as a loving gift beside his sleeping body in the bed. It's a wonder she survived.

Wish you could fly over here, Mary...we've got tons of cats and kittens. Our Base Animal Rescue has several litters that they're bottle feeding, waiting for them to be old enough for adoption. I think it's a combination of the many slightly feral cats running around un-neutered, and the fact that military families will, unfortunately, often abandon cats and kittens when they find out how much it will cost to move their pets to their new locations.

When my husband is at sea, I will foster kittens or declawed adult cats, but as much as I want a pet, I am not yet willing to subject a pet to the rigors of military travel. Besides, we never know if we will be able to have pets in our next place. I had to leave my beloved kitties with my brother...they were 15 and 16 at the time, and I thought it would be purely cruel to subject them to a trans-continental flight, then a trans-pacific flight, then quarantine, then time in the kennel, etc.

Thank you for visiting my blog, and for your kind words! Please do come back again. I'm woefully behind, but hope to have a new post up in the next couple of days.

I'd also welcome correspondence about publishing, as several books I've designed for others have been published.

Carolie said...

p.s.--I believe that longer-lived cats (after Bandit, all of my cats have lived to 19 or 20) have longer lives because they're pampered "indoors-only" cats. No dogs, cars, mean kids, bad weather, exposure to other cats who might have diseases like Feline Lukemia, etc. I'm not saying pet cats should all be indoor creatures, but I think it's something to consider, especially for those who don't live in "country" areas.

And how lovely that you find snakes beautiful! I love snakes, myself, and am pleased as can be that a beautiful black snake has taken residence in my tiny yard...he'll keep away rodents and poisionous snakes. Hurray!

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I still have a scar on the back of my hand from an ill-advised attempt to give one of our cats a bath (which she sorely needed). And I have a few more scars from similar incidents. The odd thing about our current killer cat is that she does not bite or scratch. Once when she was playing with me she did this by accident and she got so embarrassed that she ran away and would not come out.

I love the image of your little cat friend running along as you cycled. People claim that cats, unlike dogs, do not follow people, but that is rubbish.

Carolie -- I was doubly pleased to have found your blog yesterday, as it helped to answer a question I have for a novel I am writing about expatriates in Japan who meet while doing recycling duty. In the Kanto area of Japan, labeling or writing your name on your trash is obligatory and regulations are very precise, but I've been out of Japan for six years now, and many details have grown fuzzy, so I wanted confirmation. Your gomi posting on sodai gomi, etc. was so detailed and well-written that it provided everything I needed. (I have my own gomi posting, by the way; I believe I called it 'Recycling.')

But quite apart from that, it is so refreshing to find another foreign resident of Japan with a sensible attitude towards what I feel to be a superior waste disposal system. I admire Japan's zero-trash attitude and the way most people cooperate to make it work. My first big culture shock back in the states was seeing my sister's two huge trash cans, chock full of bottles, cans, burnable, unburnable -- all in one place! I still have to stop myself from washing out my juice cartons and tearing down that side-seam so that I can flatten them out...

Your bat-eating cat story now joins my list of wonderful cat tales. Our cat has, heretofore, not managed bats, so I suppose I should be grateful for small favors.

Wish I could be there in Sasebo; Nagasaki was one of my favorite places in Japan, and I would love to see your kittens. We never did get one.

bonbayel said...

I've had only 2 cats in my life, and I loved them dearly.

The first came into our lives on New Years Day about 1950, if not earlier, and lived to be almost 20, even though he had the run of the neighborhood (which included a state forest.) It was extremely cold in New Jersey and Mom and Dad were having a party. The cat rushed in when we opened the door for guests, and immediately figured out where Happy (a found black cocker-spaniel mix) had his food bowl in the kitchen. He hissed like crazy to keep Happy away so he could get a good meal. Ever after they were the best of friends, defending each other against hostile animals of their own species. I called the cat "Fearless Fosdick II" (remember Dick Tracy?) which soon got shortened to "Feary" and then "Cat," I'm afraid. We had Cat fixed, so he grew large, but not entirely lazy, as he often left a gift on the back porch. He managed to move with us to two other homes.

"Lille Mis" (Little kitty) was an enormous cat who didn't want to move from a house I bought on the Danish island of Bornholm. His mistress would come get him, hold him in and feed him lucious food, but as soon as he could, he'd find his way back to us in the center of the small town. We kept him out and didn't feed him, hoping he'd go back to her. Unfortunately that taught him all the bad urban survival tricks. As winter approached he was allowed inside. He became very picky about food - loved one variety until we bought 10 on a special... He loved his rough trashy life, unfortunately, and picked up nasty diseases that I, who wasn't really prepared to have a cat, didn't realize until it was too late. Since then, I don't want the responsibility of another life - but I do enjoy cuddling someone else's cat!

Mary Witzl said...

Bonnie -- I am really enjoying all of these cat stories! So far I've heard about a snake and baked bean-eating cat and a little cat ghost from Australia, a California cat living on a pile of mail, a British cat who chased after a cyclist, an American bat-catcher, and now your wonderful story about a stubborn Danish cat who grew to enjoy living rough.

I love the idea of a cat rushing into a house on a bitterly cold day, commandering the dog's dinner and hissing to keep him away, and then later on, making friends with that same dog.

We call our cat Catty. When our youngest was four, she desperately wanted a cat. She claimed that if she had one she would name it 'Petty,' not understanding what this meant. We laughed so much, she said 'Okay, then, I'll call her 'Catty!' once again blissfully unaware of the meaning. If we do get another cat, it will definitely be Petty.