Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Cats I have Known

I’ve always been a cat person. I like dogs, well enough, but I like the independence of a cat—its playfulness, its curiosity, the way a cat purrs when contented. I find them vastly entertaining.
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My first kitten was Tinkerbelle. He was a boy, but I didn’t know that at the time. After all, I was only 3 or 4 years old. My dad brought him home—a tiny, wrinkled, sad looking kitten that he found wandering around by a creek we used to visit. My mom gave him away after an unfortunate accident involving a little red wagon and the skittish kitten’s neck.

A few years later, when we moved out to the country, we had a series of indoor-outdoor cats—Max, Ichabod, Sam—all of them strays. Then there was Boris, named for Boris Karloff. He was a black cat, part Siamese, and had a reputation for being ferocious.

When we first got him, Boris went with us on one of our summer camping trips. We thought he was too little to leave at home. It turns out, he was efficient at catching his own food. We were absolutely horrified when he caught his first chipmunk and started chewing away on its neck.

We pleaded with Dad to “do something—he’s killing that defenseless little chipmunk!” Dad just shrugged and said, “What did you expect him to do—he’s a cat!” He still chuckles when he recalls the memory.

Boris had graduated to bringing home rabbits as big as he was before long. He’d bang against the back door and stand there with the rabbit’s neck in his teeth. When we refused to let him in, he’d drop the rabbit long enough to meow indignantly, as if to say, “What? I brought it for you! Don’t you want it?”

I’ve had four cats in my adult life, all indoor cats, necessitated by my living in apartments, and all strays I adopted in Eureka. There’s a strong network of dog and cat lovers in this community who work hard to find homes for stray animals, most of them on a voluntary basis.

I adopted Chip when I lived here in the 90’s. He’d been abandoned by a family that left him to fend for himself outside. A woman had taken him in, along with many other cats who needed homes. He was beautiful and affectionate, with gorgeous blue eyes. His fur was the color of cream with a butterscotch overlay. I named him Butterscotch Chip, but called him Chip for short because he was a he (I had learned from my earlier error of giving a boy cat a girl’s name.)

I took him with me when I moved to St. Louis. He settled in nicely in my apartment, but I had to give him up when I moved to a place that didn’t allow pets.

More than a decade would pass before I adopted another cat. The places I lived in Washington, DC and Bethany Beach, Delaware weren’t conducive to raising cats. Once I settled again in Eureka, and learned I could have a cat where I live, I began putting the word out in the local cat-fostering network that I was looking for a compatible feline roommate.

I met Juju, the Wonder Cat, in the apartment management office. They had found her wandering in our parking lot, and were anxious to find a home for her. I took one look at her—the tiny kitten with black and white fur and big, bright green eyes—and took her to my apartment. We’ve been roommates ever since.

I named her for something a group of St. Louis women friends and I often say to each other—“sending good juju!” which means positive energy. She’s aptly named, always playful and entertaining. She’s affectionate with me but skittish around other people.

A few months ago, I started looking for a little sister for Juju. I put the word out again through the foster cat mom grapevine. I got in touch with a foster mom for three tiny kittens from the same litter. I was immediately drawn to a willowy little thing with long, scraggly hair the color of honey. I named her Willow.

She was the tiniest kitten I had seen since Tinkerbelle, decades ago. Juju took one look at her and started hissing and batting at her. But Willow, unfazed, just stared back.

Willow was with me only a few days before she became listless and died in my arms. It would be a few months before I was ready to try again at adopting a sister for Juju.

Before I could even put the word out, a friend told me of a kitten that needed a new home. She was an older kitten, not quite a year old, whose caretakers were moving south for the winter and would either have to let her live outside and brave the elements, or take her to a no-kill shelter.

From the moment I met Mattie, the scrawny grey and black tabby with puffs of white under her chin and on three of her paws, I was in love. Similar in temperament to Juju, she’s bolder and more curious. I gave her the formal name of Matilda, the Marvelous, and welcomed her to the family.

Juju and Mattie get along like a lot of sisters I know—fighting one minute, showing affection the next. Each has claimed her own chair in my living room, but sometimes I find them curled up together on one chair or the other.

I enjoy my feline roommates—my family. They bring me joy and keep me entertained with their antics. Sometimes, I’m exasperated or annoyed with them, but isn’t that like all families? Besides, most often, my annoyance turns into a chuckle, a sigh and a shake of the head at the things Juju the Wonder Cat and Matilda the Marvelous come up with to entertain themselves...and me.

*Origianally published as a "Frankly Speaking" column in the Woodford County Journal April 12, 2012.

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