Friday, January 15, 2016

Missing Ivy

(Reclaimed from Blogjob, because advertisers can't go on using these posts as if I'd been paid for them when I've not been paid for them. Blogjob tags: Cat Sanctuarycats communicating with humanslistening cats,natural birth control in cats,pair bonding in cats,Priscilla King’s cat Bisquit,Priscilla King’s cat Heather,Priscilla King’s cat Irene,Priscilla King’s cat Iris,Priscilla King’s cat Ivysocial cats rear kittens communally. At the time of posting, Ivy was dead, but I hadn't found her body yet and hoped this post might motivate someone to bring her home instead of trying to "rescue" her.)

So far as I know, my cat Ivy has never seen the computer on which I've created this blog; it's not been at the Cat Sanctuary (which is where these photos of Ivy were taken, in different years). There's no logical way that Ivy could have been envious that more photos of Heather than of Ivy have appeared at this blog. It's not altogether impossible, though. Ivy's powers of communication have to be natural, because she's a natural animal, but they've always been beyond the standard theory of communication we humans hold.
Ivy was Bisquit's last kitten, born three or four days after Bisquit's daughter Candice's last kittens. (Heather and Irene were Candice's kittens.) Bisquit was a big, strong, healthy, very pretty cat--she looked like Ivy, only bigger and with no black patches--in early middle age, about the age Heather, Irene, and Ivy are now; beginning to spend most of the day sleeping, but nowhere close to "old." Before Candice all of Bisquit's kittens had been either male or gender-confused, but all but one had been healthy; several are still living. There was no obvious reason for concern that anything would go wrong with Bisquit, that the four healthy kittens she had in the shed would be the last ones.
Then some company or other was granted permission to spray poison along Route 23. Bisquit could never resist snagging a dying bird...and suddenly Bisquit was presenting her kittens to Candice and me, suddenly they all looked sickly, and then Bisquit crawled into a crevice in the limestone below the road and died.
Bisquit's and Candice's kittens had hardly had time to notice that their colors matched, and start buddying up with their new-found "twins," before Bisquit and two of her kittens died. The one who looked just like Heather lay in a coma, as cats sometimes do, for three or four days before she also died. Ivy survived, but she's always been undersized--barely half Irene's weight.
When Ivy and her doomed sister showed me where Bisquit had buried herself, Ivy's eyes looked clogged and weepy; she had a mild virus infection, but she was a crier, and a clinger. Candice fed her, and Heather, Irene, Iris, and Little Mo accepted her as a litter mate (social cats are usually kind). It wasn't the same.
Sometimes she quietened down and cheered up when she heard Bisquit's name. She seemed to get some comfort from recognizing that I had an idea what she was crying about.
Irene, who's pointedly ignoring Ivy and me in the photo below, and Iris, and Heather are also calico cats. (Though Heather's mostly black and orange coat is a "heather-spun" or "tortoise-shell" pattern rather than distinct spots, above, Heather has distinct spots, including white spots, below.) Three-colored cats tend to know they're special, and want everyone else to know it, too. The three sisters and their foster sister Ivy have always been very close, very sweet, very nice to one another...and just a tiny bit competitive.
Iris was the dominant kitten until they were a year old. At first that was simply because Iris was the biggest, strongest, and fastest. Then Iris developed a strep infection and spent most of the winter indoors, and, although the smallest kitten, could claim to be the one most completely in control of the human. (This seems to be a major status symbol among cats.) Then Iris became unacceptably jealous when the others had kittens of their own, while she remained a kitten, and was sent somewhere else to finish growing up. That left Heather the biggest, strongest, and fastest, and thus the Reigning Queen...but Ivy never abdicated from being a "queen cat" in her own mind.
The sisters coexist, egos and all, by specializing. Heather is the hunter. Irene is the stay-at-home, motherly cat. (Irene knows the word "mother," and apparently understands it to mean "foster mother"; she'll answer if someone asks who's the mother of Heather's last two kittens.) Ivy is the communicator.
I don't claim to understand how she's been able to do some of the things she's done. I know she's done them. I've picked out names for kittens, and before the kittens could learn that they had names, Ivy's been the one to go and nudge them when I called them, as if to say, nonverbally: "The human said 'Elmo.' That means you! Go to the human!"
One year we had an extremely neurotic kitten who went into a panic attack when I took the kittens outdoors to snap their pictures. Heather was out hunting. Irene was inside, watching the kittens, three of whom were hers. (Irene and Heather have consistently integrated their litters from birth; that year they gave birth in one box, curled up together like a ying-yang, on the same day.) Ivy was in the yard, watching over her nieces and nephews. She walked over and nudged the crying kitten. It stopped crying and blinked up at Ivy. Ivy then walked over to me and did the gesture-posture thing shown below, unmistakably saying, "Take my picture first to show the kitten it doesn't hurt." Sure enough, after I'd taken Ivy's picture, I got a nice clear shot of the kitten.
Believing that the world needs more social cats, I've not had any of this cat family "fixed" in the absence of evidence that they've been "broken" (medically unfit to reproduce naturally). They have kittens...and I've seen, firsthand, that cats have several natural birth control options. For social cats, apparently, passionate personal relationships are one of those options. Ivy had kittens--once; their father was Manx and they died of Manx Syndrome. Since then, Ivy has had no more kittens, because the father of her first litter has been neutered, and before and after the "heat" point of her hormone cycle Ivy's chosen to be close to him.
She's also exercised a more typical cat birth control option: extended nursing. If humans don't interfere, a cat may wean one litter of kittens after eight weeks and have more kittens that year. An older and wiser cat is more likely to let her first litter nurse as long as they will, typically six months, and thus inhibit ovulation and have only the one litter. Normal cats nurse only their own kittens. Social cats, however, rear kittens communally, and each year, as Heather's and Irene's milk supply begins to taper off, Ivy has let their kittens induce lactation and nursed them, too; thus Tickle and Elmo continued to get milk from Ivy after they were seven months old.
Ivy is not and has never been a normal cat. I don't understand her myself; her mind seems to work in ways neither a normal cat mind nor a human mind could be expected to work. When she's not around I miss her. She's strayed, to spend time with her mate, a few times each year. At the time of writing she's missing both from the Cat Sanctuary and from the places she and her mate usually go. I'm worried about her. It's hard to part with a cat like Ivy.