Now the fun part, at least for cat people...Before this "vacation" from cyberspace was thrust upon me, I'd had some vague notions of spending some part of it with Grandma Bonnie Peters in Kingsport, Tennessee, where she was likely to be participating in the annual town festival, a week of parades and free or cheap events known as Fun Fest. GBP really seems to like all that public fun stuff. I can get into it, too, but if quality time with an old friend and cheap Internet access weren't involved there's no way I'd walk ten miles to watch a parade. But, in any case, that did not happen.
First of all, Fun Fest was rescheduled for the week of July 14-22.
Next, the proprietor of what I've nicknamed the Jackson Street Cat Sanctuary finally died. She'd had cancer; everyone had been preparing for her demise for at least a year. It was reported to me that she and her friends and neighbors had made an all-out effort and placed nineteen cats and kittens during that year.
This web site does not do gossip, but the idea of nineteen cats and kittens fitting into that house, even without the humans, the dogs, and the remaining eight cats, boggles...my...mind. Possibly there was a miscount. Because these were not, and are not, starving cats huddled in stacks of filthy cages in a "hoarding situation"; they were clean, healthy, well fed animals, who were completely free to come and go, and who wanted to be where they were. In fact the cats may have found homes more easily due to at least some of them being at least partly social; they are paternal-line cousins to my resident cat family, after all.
A helpful neighbor had insisted that I offer to adopt one cat while the cancer patient was still alive. Feeling mean for even thinking about that, I'd offered to adopt a friendly female cat, who wouldn't quarrel with my middle-aged Queen Cat Heather, just as a companion for the young tomcat Tickle. The patient had insisted that the really friendly female cat was her house pet, Suzie Q...and somehow she hadn't seemed to want to part with Suzie. I couldn't blame her.
Heather is a three-colored, or arguably even four-colored cat, with cream-colored patches that don't show from above, some distinct patches of black and orange, and mostly a "heatherspun" sort of mix of black, orange, and buff fur. Cats who look black and orange from above are often called "tortoiseshell," or "tortie" for short, and cat bloggers have established an Internet tradition of posting about our lovable "torties" on Tuesdays.
|Heather has never been aggressive with other cats--even when it might have been appropriate--but she was letting her sister Irene and me know that she did not approve of my having petted Irene, and snapped Irene's picture, first.|
I've not snapped a picture of Suzie; you'll have to take my word that she's another long and lean American Short Hair with some distant Siamese connection, similar to Heather in size, shape, and age, but different in color. Suzie is a tabby, but not the usual gray mackerel tabby seen in this part of the world, nor the less usual orange mackerel tabby. Her warm gray coat has both thin black stripes and distinct patches of orange. Those who call orange and black cats "torties" call tabby cats with a mix of orange and gray fur in between the black stripes "torbies."
If I'd been thinking more clearly when I agreed to take Suzie, I might have considered the possibility that she was the most human-friendly cat because she might be similar to Heather in temperament, too. I have never seen Heather so much as threaten to hurt another cat. Nor does she boss or bully other cats who insist on their rights or claims. She's a sweet, gentle Queen Cat who's always maintained just a tiny edge of dominance by being the bold hunter who shares food treats with the others...and that's been enough that only her foster sister (maternal-line aunt, paternal-line sister) "Poor-little-orphan-Ivy" has ever even tried to compete with Heather for human attention. Basically, as far as cats are concerned, I'm Heather's property, allowed to pet other cats only briefly, in between long purr-and-cuddle sessions with Heather. And after I sat down and observed the cats left at the house on Jackson Street, I realized that Suzie had been exactly the same type of Queen Cat there.
"Those are wild kittens," said the heir who handed me the two bouncy-pouncy, purry-cuddly kittens who rode home clinging to my shoulder, "and their mother is a wiiild cat!" The kittens having settled in at the Cat Sanctuary, it didn't take me long to pick up their mother. In fact, on the road, before she actually saw Heather and her own kittens in my front yard, the "wiiild cat" purred and cuddled as if she'd been waiting all her life to find a lap of her own to curl up on. But then Heather gave her the sort of look you see in the photo above...and the new cat went "wild." As a half-grown stranger, she wouldn't dream of competing with a Queen Cat for human attention! Far from it! She wanted nothing to do with me!
For Suzie, the house pet, snuggling had been her full-time job, and when I picked her up she nonverbally sighed, "I've missed this." She seemed prepared to move right into a position on my bed, if I'd been prepared to share my bed with a cat, which I'm not.
Then she met Heather.
"What have you got, where did you get it, and why did you bring it here?" Heather nonverbally said to me.
"This is your cousin Suzie," I told Heather, placing Suzie in the roomy cage I call "Cat Jail" for orientation purposes. "Poor Suzie has lost her human and can't stay where she was, so she has to stay here. Heather, I know I can count on you to be kind to Suzie." I gave each cat her dinner, gave the kittens theirs, and left them to sort things out.
When a Queen Cat first decides to be kind to a new cat, I know from experience, there's none of the gush of unrealistic affection humans sometimes have to put up with when they decide to be kind. To humans, a cat's first several displays of good will look like mild hostility. "Mild" is the keyword. When a senior cat takes the trouble to teach a junior cat the rules, she's willing to bond, but cats don't pretend they've bonded before they really have. Somehow the kittens our Founding Queen, Black Magic, adopted (before I knew there was such a thing as a cat who would adopt other cats' kittens) always seemed to understand that a steady stream of nonverbal "Back off! Keep your fleas off that! Stay out of there!" messages really meant, "Yes, I'll adopt you."
When I let Suzie out of the cage for breakfast, Heather was still growling, "Back off! And don't you dare sit on my human's lap, either!" at the three-month-old kittens, Boots and Bruno. Suzie understood exactly what Heather was saying, and didn't even finish her breakfast before retreating to a corner in the cellar...similar to the one where the junior cats at the Jackson Street Cat Sanctuary spent their indoor time.
Day by day, during this so-called vacation, Heather became more willing to share my lap with Boots and Bruno. Those two little fluffballs arrived with a lot of fleas, and with their black coats so "rusty" from flea-induced anemia that the literal meaning of "brown bear" seemed a good name for Bruno. Day by day, with more space, plenty of food, and a few good baths, the kittens' upper coats have been progressing back to their natural black color. Boots is a "tuxedo" cat with white spots visible on all four paws, face, and neck, and almost an all-white underside. Bruno is a true black cat with only a small white patch below and a half-dozen random white hairs above. Both of these black cats have mostly white skin (when you comb a cat's fur, you can see black, white, or pinkish skin, sometimes in patches), like Heather's long-lost daughter Imp and like Black Magic; and, like Imp and Magic, they seem to be abnormally clever kittens who heard and guessed the meaning of the conversation that took place in the car as I brought them home:
"What are you going to call them? That one looks like a Boots."
"Mm, yes...is your name Boots, kitten? So then, is your name Bruno?"
If I'd reread Gordon Korman's comedy series more recently I would probably have had in mind a proper name for the mother of these kittens. "Miss Scrimmage" did not seem appropriate, and names in use by as many human acquaintances as "Cathy" and "Diane" seemed out of the question, and I couldn't even remember whether Mrs. Sturgeon's given name appeared in the books, much less what it was, or the names of any other female characters. But for no obvious reason, since I don't speak German and don't usually use terms of endearment to strangers, when I sat down with the kittens' mother the name "Schatzi" popped into my head, and she responded to it.
And then she saw that look on Heather's face...and she saw her just-weaned kittens...and she saw that she was in a new place, and Schatzi responded to those things in the ancient military tradition known as "getting the [Army-word-of-choice] out of there."
Whew. Until Heather and Suzie were on speaking terms, I thought, I wanted to postpone picking up the other two half-grown female cats as long as possible, social or not. Obviously they weren't in the tiny minority of cats who belong in Humane Society shelters. Given the shock of losing their human, were they better off having the shock of being moved to a new place added to that, all at once, or having a week or so of recovery time in between? It just seemed to me, intuitively, that Heather was more likely to be more tolerant of new cats if they came by ones. The few times I saw Suzie, she was sticking close to her safe spot in the cellar, but maintaining brisk motion, not letting Heather see her acting as if she felt at home. Heather wasn't making the horrible "Don't make me kill you!" noise that she'd made, purely bluffing, when the hateful cat Barnie was here, but she certainly wasn't doing any of the nonverbal communication that expresses "I like you; I'll even let you eat from a separate dish along with the kittens and me," either.
The kittens brought out what Heather has in the way of a mother instinct--she's never spent much time cuddling even her own kittens, even in infancy, but she's always been kind and protective toward even junior cats' kittens. Suzie obviously brought out an awareness of parity. Heather is a big tough squirrel-and-rabbit-hunter type, accustomed to being accorded a slightly dominant position by other female cats based just on her size and build...and Suzie is another. In fact Suzie might be slightly bigger. This is not something with which Heather has had to deal before, and she seems to be taking her time deciding how to handle it.
And Schatzi? I didn't see her. Nor, although the junior males Burr (who doesn't officially live with me any more) and Tickle (who does, but for outdoor tomcats official addresses are academic information) came out to meet Suzie, did I see or hear evidence that Schatzi had stayed around to meet them. She might have found a home for herself, I thought. She might have been eaten by feral dogs or coyotes.
As I walked down Jackson Street this morning one of the heirs of the Jackson Street Cat Sanctuary came out to meet me. "Is that black cat still with you? Because a cat that looks just like her came back in this morning...go and see if that's not the same cat!"
It looked like the same cat. "Schatzi?" I said. Three other cats, basking in the early sunshine on an unseasonably cool morning, glanced in my direction for a moment and ignored me. Schatzi held eye contact, then backed away! I sat down on the ramp and held out my hand in the universal "Come here if you want to be rubbed behind the ears" gesture. Two cats approached; Schatzi moved further away. The resident humans gave me chunks of meat to offer the cats. The others were willing to take treats from my hand, but Schatzi absolutely refused to come within reach of me. She was nonverbally saying, "I know where I want to be, and I'm here, so don't get any more foolish notions about taking me to any other place!"
Actually, if fewer humans were currently using those names, that cat seems spunky and clever enough to carry the names of either one of Gordon Korman's characters, Cathy and Diane...
Meanwhile I was working into a casual conversation with the human neighbors the ideas that most cats become more attached to places than to people, that cats swat a lot of nuisance insects as well as killing all kinds of rodents that they do and don't even eat, that the cats would really be missed if all of them were removed rather than being adopted by a neighbor family on that block...and I liked Schatzi, and adored her pale Siamese Tabby relative, and could probably become attached to the ordinary gray tabby relative as well, but if nobody was going to hurt them or throw them into a horrible HSUS shelter, they all seemed sooo happy where they were.
I think Heather and Suzie may bond, given time. They are cousins; and Heather grew up very close, never quarrelling, sharing alpha-female status in a subtle way, with her sister Iris and foster sister (etc.) Ivy, both of whom were also alpha females. Currently the most hopeful signs are that Heather is growling rather than snarling, and Suzie is skulking and scuttling rather than having followed Schatzi back to the house on Jackson Street. Heather and the kittens are pigging out, food placed in the cellar is disappearing at a comparable rate; I don't know to what extent Suzie herself would agree with the human observer who might think she's being bullied and terrorized by silent microaggressions, or to what extent she's conscious that she's putting on a submissive display to assure Heather that she doesn't want to bully or terrorize Heather.
A week ago, Heather was growling at Boots and Bruno. Two days ago, she let them curl up beside her on my lap, and even let them try to nurse.
And if anybody thinks I had nothing to do around the house, these ten days, besides observe cats' social behavior...although the weather has been more typical of late May than of early July (overnight lows about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, afternoon highs about 80, delightful when the humidity wasn't making land creatures feel the lack of gills), my brow's been wet with honest sweat from weeding, pruning, picking raspberries, cooking over trash fires in a barrel, moving furniture, and, in between those things, slaving over a hot computer at home.
That said, here are some of the photo links for which this site is overdue:
Adoptable Torties and Torbies from Petfinder:
|Polly from New York...yes, she's as "polychromatic" as our Polly...I'd call this one a calico, though she does have some "tortie" mottled patches as well as distinct black, orange, and white ones. Anyway she's lost a leg and needs to find a good safe indoor home. Did this web site ever mention that Minnie, the Second Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, ran and hunted and dominated other cats for three years on three legs? She kept the right foreleg but couldn't walk on it, and moved the way Polly from NYC does in the video you can watch at https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/37927141|
|Natasha from New York is what's called a Torbie: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/38227196|
|Halo from Prince Georges County is still a kitten, and comes with a sister: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/36711794|
|Buttercup from Herndon is a Torbie with some known "Bengal" ancestry...adopt this little "tiger" with respect! On three pages of Torbie pictures, this was the one that most resembled Suzie: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/38295962|
|How is it possible that the shelter's not placed this beautiful Tortie yet? Georgia readers? The world wants to know! https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/35193756|
|Beth Smith from Atlanta...that's the cat's name? Anyway, the shelter wants people to know that their adoption fee has been reduced to $17.76 for the month of July, for this classic Torbie and any other cats they're placing. https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/38547466|
Now, for an Amazon book link...I've never physically owned a copy of this vintage book, but it was reprinted in a collection that I did own as a child. The fictional Molly Benson has the right attitude toward "tortoiseshell" cats. Being a creation of Eliza Orne White and Katharine Pyle, she probably lived and died before this silly new idea about their being "mean" was circulated, and when she finally got the chance to meet a new kitten, she was delighted to report, "She is a torter-shell!"
|When Molly was six, this lucky child was allowed to adopt a Tortie kitten. Real children should be so blessed. Yes, many "tortoiseshell" cats are gentle enough to make good pets for a well trained six-year-old child.|
And here, for the first three "classes" of baby-boomers who missed the whole Gordon Korman thing...The big selling point for Korman's Boots and Bruno series, in the 1980s and 1990s, was that Korman started writing these books while he was a student at a prep school in Canada. No real prep school is as goofy as the two run by Headmaster Sturgeon and Miss Scrimmage, but at least Korman knew the reality of which his novels were the caricature...