Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tortie Tuesday: Heather Figures Out What the Camera Is

My cat Heather, whose orange, black, and creamy-white fur "heathers" together on her back into what can be called a "tortoise-shell" or "tortie" coat, has yet to pose for a cuter picture than this one. (She was looking miffed because I'd photographed another cat first. Yes, her eyes really are dark amber or light brown.)

But she did think of something terribly cute to do on this Tuesday morning.

For the third year in a row, Heather and her half-sister Irene are rearing their kittens together, although Irene's kittens are almost two weeks older. Irene's kittens' eyes were open, so they would have watched their cousins being born in their "nest." Heather and Irene are social cats, so their kittens are valuable.

(Irene is a classic calico, not a "tortie"; in this picture she, too, was nonverbally saying "Why are you so clueless?"--because two other cats had been photographed and petted before she was. Irene is also a carrier of the lethal Manx gene, so her kittens tend to die young and I wouldn't mind having her spayed.)

This is the first year Heather and Irene have chosen an outdoor "nest" space--well, on the porch, anyway. In past years they've liked the dry heat in the chimney corner. Last November's fire damaged the chimney corner beyond use, and the mothballs I scattered around the older part of the house to prevent mold aren't exactly inviting to animals. So, when Irene had kittens, she carefully pulled some rags around and below a storage bin to construct a snug, dimly lighted nest.

After giving birth and observing how much space the kittens needed, Heather, who is stronger and in some ways "smarter" than Irene, wedged a cardboard box in between three other bins to construct a much snugger and dimmer nest. For extra insulation, she shoved a bundled-up tarpaulin over the entryway. There was no question of the kittens getting out of this nest during their "toddler" stage. Nor of predators getting at them. Heather set up her safer nest for the combined brood of eight kittens, during the night, all by herself, with no human help, and had the kittens moved into it by morning.

By last week Irene's kittens were beginning to squeak, "We want to go out with you," whenever Heather or Irene left the nest, but the two mother cats left the kittens to figure out how to climb in and out of the nest on their own.

Burr came out first. This is the best snapshot of him I was able to take. (With some kittens this age it's hard to tell, but I'm pretty sure Burr is a "him.") He's the biggest and most energetic kitten in the litter, already galloping all over the yard and trying to get his older cousins to play tag. Although he's not a purebred Manx, his one-bone stub of a tail and far-too-long hind legs look as if he were. I'll be very pleasantly surprised if he lives through the summer. All of Irene's Manx-looking kittens so far have had the lethal form of the gene and died just around the time they began to act like pets. For now, Burr is certainly perky and cute.

This is Violet...another "tortie" calico kitten. She popped out of the nest about ten minutes behind Burr. She doesn't look like Viola the Cybercat (who contributed to some early posts at this site), but has a similar cool, confident manner. Observe her nonverbally saying, "Is this cute enough?" as her mother and aunt, or co-mothers, look at the snapshots in my phone and offer silent suggestions for her next pose!

Violet already seemed to have some understanding of the meaning of "Oh, Irene, a calico kitten! How precious!" when she was a few hours old, and whenever I've peeked at her litter mates she's always stood up and squeaked "Me! Pet me!" Now that she's out on her own feet, however, she takes it for granted that all humans adore her, and seems more interested in exploring the world.

After what I said about Burr, I should definitely mention the best thing about Violet: she has a long tail. She looks more like Heather than like Irene, although she's Irene's kitten. I like her and don't want to raise any false hopes, but she's the one I believe might live to grow up.

About an hour after Burr and Violet had been playing on the porch, little "blue" Winkle came out. I snapped a few shots of it with my cheap cell phone, too, but deleted them since a person who didn't know where to look couldn't have said which of the grey shadows on the little phone screen was Winkle. Winkle is smaller than Burr and Violet, and has inherited its great-grandmother's "talky" gene. If you can't see Winkle, you can find it by following the shrill annoying noise. It's that even, smoky grey color cat fanciers call blue, produced by inheriting one gene for a black coat and one gene for a pale-colored coat, with bright baby-blue eyes. It's a very cute, lovable kitten who stops crying when picked up or allowed to snuggle up beside a larger body. This is often a bad sign. Though Winkle has a complete tail, I'm not willing to promise it to a good home until it's a few months older.

Meanwhile, Heather and Irene, who hadn't realized they could look at their own snapshots before Sunday morning's photo shoot, decided to pose together. (I am not making this up. Nobody told them to pose. They looked at the pictures of the kittens, they let me try to snap a picture of Winkle, and they posed.)

"Bad," I thought, but they seemed pleased because they recognized their coat colors. They have no idea how much cuter than that they usually look. I don't know that I want to tell them. (By the way, although the cell phone photographs everything at about the same size, Heather and Irene are Mature Cats of Substance, although they have different shapes. Heather is a long, lean polydactyl; Irene is a thickset Manx-mix. Their weight fluctuates between eight and ten pounds.)

The three other Still Adoptable Junior Cats, Sisawat, Tickle, and Elmo, avoided the photo shoot, but here is Inky, a waif who...actually I suspect she's related to Irene on the father's side, which may explain how she got to be cute and clever enough to fit into this cat family without having grown up in it. Inky was dumped outside the Cat Sanctuary on a dark and bitterly cold night. We were afraid she was pregnant. She wasn't pregnant then--just a thickset Manx who will probably always look fat, like Irene only more so--but she is now...and when this photo was taken, it was just sinking into her mind that the trade-off for Growing Up is that she will never again be the smallest, cutest, youngest kitten. Identity crisis time!

Well, I mean to say...the reason to spay and neuter Manx cats, if you can possibly spare the money, is to be humane. They do not, in my experience, overpopulate. They produce defective kittens that die slowly and painfully during their second or third month of life. Being thickset, slow-moving, with relatively less intense personalities than the American and Siamese-American type of cat I prefer, they can seem stolid and stupid enough that the adults don't mind that the kittens die. I suspect this is a misperception. Irene has got through her bereavements by "mothering" Heather's kittens and adopting non-resident kittens, but she has mourned for each of her own kittens when they died. And at the Kingsport animal shelter they recently documented a classic, almost show quality, Manx cat acting as social as my cat family do.

Note that, by the time Inky was nonverbally saying, "I'm still a kitten too! Pet me!", the light was looking more diffuse as clouds rolled in. Although the little yellow kitten, Daff, had finally come out on the porch, I already knew the cell phone wouldn't take a decent photo of it either. Daff doesn't scream for attention; its thing is to sit still on the porch and shiver like a Chihuahua. Hello, Daff, the temperature was only about eighty degrees Fahrenheit? Nobody should count on being able to adopt this one either.

So, yesterday I uploaded the cat pictures and planned to do a "Tortie Tuesday" post. What's cuter than a "tortie" like Heather? Two "torties" like Heather and her niece, of course. But Heather can top even that if she sets her mind to it, and she did.

Last week I mentioned that, because Heather insists on meeting her extra nutritional needs by eating more small frequent meals rather than one or two big ones, and when I spend days in town I can only give the cats two big meals each day, Heather has lost some weight. But she walked away and left Irene and Sisawat to finish the big breakfast she was offered, one morning. If she were to find a rabbit, I typed, she'd probably drag it in and give the bigger half of it to Irene and Sisawat too.

I didn't think there was a rabbit left within a mile of the Cat Sanctuary...but squirrels and rabbits multiply in other places and keep moving in, and sure enough, this morning, Heather was late for breakfast. "I have all eight kittens to feed, I'm starving," Irene nonverbally said. I gave Irene a big breakfast and, since the computer center doesn't open till midday on Tuesdays, proceeded to tidy the office and burn the trash. Then Heather breezed in and, although she didn't seem to be starving, she and the junior cats and the kittens had their breakfast. She seemed unusually nonchalant about breakfast though. By that time Irene thought she might be able to squeeze in a few more kibbles--and Heather let her have them.

Then Heather went back up orchard and pulled out her rabbit. It was young, a wild bunny; she was able to carry it rather than dragging it into the yard. She nonverbally announced that she had eaten her share, earlier, and saved the rabbit in the shade for the others. (I touched it to confirm this; the rabbit had cooled off but not stiffened up.)

I'm sure Heather wanted a snapshot of Irene helping the kittens divide their very first rabbit...on a piece of paper Heather had spread out in front of the front door, where she usually puts things she wants to be sure I don't overlook. (Sometimes some cats prefer to wrap rather than bury things humans would prefer that they bury; Heather's custodial great-aunt Grayzel, whose coat was a pale tortoise-shell-type mix, trained me to keep some waste paper, cardboard, and plastic bags in an open bin.)

I'm also sure youall didn't want to look at the division and consumption of the rabbit, close up, any more than I did. The light wasn't right for more photos anyway.

But as far as Irene, the kittens, and Sisawat are concerned, Heather is a hero who brought them a Terrific Treat. Of such feats, opined Marvin Harris, was the concept of royalty made...and that's why, although they share everything and seldom quarrel, and although Irene seems to get her way if she insists on it, Irene seems to agree with me that Heather is our Queen Cat.

(Local lurkers who want kittens: Sisawat, Tickle, Elmo, and Inky are kittens. Sisawat is probably about as big as she's going to get, but one of the stealth Siamese traits she's kept, after her premature-blue-point-Siamese coat darkened to solid "blue," is that she'll always have the size and shape of a year-old kitten, and so far she has the bouncy-pouncy personality to match it. Tickle and Elmo, who are about a year old, and Inky, who's eight or nine months old, are bigger than Sisawat but they're still growing. Tickle, who is white with buff spots, and Elmo, a red-orange tabby, are (so far) unaltered male polydactyls. They're cute! They're lovable! They're frisky! They purr and cuddle and roll over! They'll chase insects and kill mice! And although they've all been loved and petted, by social cats as well as humans, they're big enough to appreciate laps of their own to sit on...they are fully adoptable.)