Barnie is not the "tortie." Barnie is the almost-perfect-looking Himalayan who was dumped out beside a busy highway, near my home, with no documentation. This is a Tortie Tuesday story because Heather and Violet are in it.
It ought to be a photo essay. If I could take pictures as good as the photo essay linked here, I would. Sorry. Click on Barkley's links to see great dog pictures that tell a story, like this memorable one:
But since my cell phone takes rather pathetic blurry photos even in a good light, Barnie's story needs to be told in words.
Early in September, while walking home one evening, I saw a distinctive, fluffy, Himalayan-looking cat wandering about the neighborhood. It approached me but didn't come within reach. I spoke to it: "Do you have a home to go to?" (Quite often animals found on this section of the private road, near the highway, have been dumped out by someone who heard that cat and dog lovers live in the neighborhood.) "If you don't have a home, you may come home with me--if you can get along with my five cats."
The cat with the owly-looking markings on its pale face did not follow me home at once, but a few days later I heard my cats growling, went out, and found the owl-faced fluffy cat in the yard.
All through September I kept seeing that cat in the yard, only at night, and although it would come toward me if I called "Kitty-kitty-kitty" it wouldn't get within reach. Its relations with my cats did not improve. Quite the contrary.
The low growls that merely mean "This is our house" have usually been part of a benign dominance display; if a visiting cat responds in a polite way, my cats proceed to define the terms on which it's welcome--and they have insisted that a visitor be fed with them before they would eat. Sometimes, if a visitor disputes or disobeys their rules, my cats will escalate to a yowl that means "Get out of here"...but not often. They really are social and clever enough to accept a visitor's dominance displays, if the visitor is bossy but not a bully.
Normally, after a yowl, the visitor leaves...but I learned to recognize the sound of a visit from Barnie by the scream of pain as Barnie showed aggressive defiance by tearing a strip off Irene or Violet. Always and only Irene, the slow-moving Manx-mix mother cat, or Violet, the spring kitten--as a threat to stronger, faster Heather, Tickle, and Inky, who would then dodge, continuing to yowl, or run a few yards in an apparent effort to get Barnie to lay off the weaker cats and chase them instead. Barnie was not to be baited. After attacking one of my weaker cats, Barnie would run away from me, but only up into the rosebushes. Obviously Barnie was not really afraid of me or my stronger cats, and intended to continue bullying the weaker ones. Before the end of September I was starting to feel real dislike toward Barnie.
In October Barnie ventured into the yard in the afternoon. I was able to lure Barnie within reach just by speaking soothingly, saying things like "How long has it been since anybody helped you groom that gorgeous fur? Wouldn't you like to be rubbed behind your ears?" I don't know that Barnie knows specific words, but the bully barn cat clearly heard and responded to human speech in some general way. It did want to be rubbed behind the ears. It even let me do that...until Tickle, the almost-full-grown male kitten, charged toward it with a real battle cry that sent Barnie back into the rosebushes. I had felt enough of Barnie's body through the fluff to observe that Barnie was growing fast, but was still smaller than Tickle.
All afternoon, I kept trying to get a good hold on Barnie, and Tickle, Heather, and Inky kept yowling--even after I'd put them in Cat Jail--that letting me rub behind Barnie's ears would be more than Barnie's life was worth.
I did see, however, that apart from having too much fur to groom efficiently Barnie was eating well, and growing, up in the woods. The cat's aggression toward females, relatively small size, and mix of light brown and black spots on its face, suggested that it might be female; its powerful neck muscles and hostile disposition suggested that it might be an immature, possibly gender-confused male; it kept its long dark fluffy tail in the lowest position, at all times, and what I saw when I finally got it to roll over and cuddle was inconclusive.
For two weeks I tried to lure Barnie within reach again, my cats tried to prevent that, Violet disappeared altogether, and Heather, Irene, and Tickle took turns disappearing as well. I promised Barnie that I will not hurt her (or him), promised my cats that I will not let Barnie continue to hurt Irene.
Finally, late one evening before a storm, Barnie came onto the porch and curled up in what used to be Violet's favorite hiding place, and I caught Barnie by the scruff. Irene, Tickle, and Inky all uttered death-threat yowls. Barnie trembled and tried to back away, but allowed me to lift it out, carry it, and stuff it into a cage.
The resident cats all expressed displeasure with me for even that much kindness toward Barnie. Heather gave me the Official Silent Treatment--answering to meal calls only, no purr-and-cuddle, many prolonged absences--ever since I felt the scabs and mats behind Barnie's ears. It was hard to blame my cats for the things they nonverbally said while Barnie was occupying their Cat Jail, considering the complex of bite wounds on Irene's leg. Even Tickle and Inky took a few superficial claw wounds...and Violet may have died. (She ran up a temperature after one fight with Barnie, during which she did stand her ground and give an account of herself that probably made her co-mothers proud. The fever subsided after one internal dose of charcoal and one external dose of Neosporin...but I've not seen Violet since.)
There are cats I neither like nor love. Barnie became one of them. I have had an emotional feeling that anyone capable of abusing sweet, docile, pretty-faced Irene deserves to be shot. However, by me a promise is a promise, even when it's made to an animal. (Some of my cats do recognize words, and heard me promise not to hurt Barnie.)
I didn't want Barnie to get out of the trap within fifty miles of my home.
I did learn that Barnie is gentle with humans. Barnie had evidently been a pet; possibly the pampered pillow-substitute of an old lady who became ill, or of a teenager who went away to school, in September. Many people want a big fluffy long-haired cat, the type who can be overfed and persuaded to lie around letting people stroke and groom its fur all day.
For that type of humans and that type of cat, spaying or neutering is all but mandatory...and I'm all in favor of it. (The humans as well as the cat, actually...) Whatever genes allow Barnie to be so mean toward a sweet little mama-cat like Irene obviously don't need to be bred into the pool. The Humane Society of the United States have a policy that I consider cruel and abusive toward normal, solitary or social, cats...but perfectly appropriate for a cat as antisocial as Barnie. Putting Barnie in a Humane Society shelter would be a desperate moral compromise, but I could live with having done it.
However, HSUS staff absolutely refused to help Barnie get into a shelter, and over the past weekend I became desperate. I resolved to load Barnie into a duffel bag, walk to Kingsport, and abandon Barnie near the home of someone who would probably hate Barnie as much as I did...but at least, in theory, the Kingsport shelter wouldn't refuse to take Barnie from a Kingsport resident.
Friends in Kingsport weren't helpful. "It's a 'no-kill' shelter and they told me it was full up," explained a suburb-dweller who said he'd tried to put some normal kittens up for adoption. "My allergies are worse these days, they include animal hair, and if you release a long-haired cat near my home I will report you to the police for cruelty to elders," said Grandma Bonnie Peters. Things reached the point where I threatened to disco-dance on the campus of the school where Lisiwayu's youngest daughter was enrolled, and she retorted that she'd postponed taking classes due to job schedule conflicts anyway...
I zipped Barnie into the duffel bag and set off down the road. I had imagined that this desperate step might make me conspicuous due to bleeding wounds. It didn't. Barnie rubbed affectionately against my arms and tried to stop me zipping the bag over its head with a big soft paw, but left me conspicuous only due to pale, long hairs all over my clothes. (I had strategically chosen to wear a bright red jersey.) By now Barnie seemed about as big as Tickle, with some possibility of being destined to grow even bigger...Tickle is not as big as his great-grand-uncle Mackerel, but is becoming a tomcat of some magnitude, himself. The duffel bag felt heavy as it swayed against my hip.
Along the way, just in case Barnie did understand words, I uttered soothing ones. "You've obviously been a pet before, and you're likely to be one again. Somebody out there just has to fall in love with all that fur. If you behave well, there's likely to be a dish of fish in your future. Please, Jesus, not for my sake but for the cats' sake, help us find somebody who can actually offer Barnie a good home."
After about a mile of walking, the red jersey and/or the sports-motif duffel bag caught the eye of a sports fan who offered me a lift. In Gate City everybody is a relative, but I don't usually like riding with total strangers; nice people can be terrible drivers. Still...elderly man, positively posh coastal-southern accent, respectable-looking vehicle, and I figured Barnie had as much potential value as a weapon as my knife and cell phone together. I was desperate. I climbed in and slammed the door. Barnie meowed, right on schedule, as I explained that I was taking the cat to Kingsport to abandon it in the hope that somebody else could get it into a shelter.
And the gentleman said, "Oh, please, let the cat out for some air! I want to see it! See if it wants the rest of that bottle of water, there--you can pour the water into that empty coffee cup."
"Are you sure? I don't know this cat well...I think it's been a pet, but I've seen it injure a kitten."
"You picked it up, didn't you? Hold on to it, and let it out!"
So I let it out...and Barnie couldn't have performed better if it had been trained. It snuggled, first against me, then against the old gentleman, and rolled and purred and ignored the water and kissed our faces. It was visualizing that dish of fish.
I don't put information online, but with my cats I want to know a prospective adopter personally...but with a cat like Barnie, who's going to look a gift horse in the mouth? The old gentleman was charmed. He promised to feed Barnie, at least outside his home. He looked sincere. I didn't even mention an adoption fee. Of his own free will the man handed me forty dollars. I figured the odds were astronomically against his being able to think of anything to do with Barnie that wouldn't be much, much nicer than I felt Barnie deserved.
Wal-Mart was running more sales on more things I like than usual. I struggled home rather late with a heavy load of groceries, including cat food and treats. Setting out some food for Inky, the only cat on the porch, I observed out loud that Barnie had found a home and sent my cats some treats by way of an apology.
Heather woke me up during the night, and again in the morning, to make up for lost purr-and-cuddle time...and this morning, all four adult cats were on the porch where they belonged.
And Violet? How badly does the weakest form of the Manx gene compromise the immune system in an undersized but healthy, long-tailed kitten? The wound had been cleaned and treated. Barnie was as healthy as a cat could be. Violet is a highly social cat. She backed away from being very friendly with me, in between infancy and the time when I was cleaning her wound, because I'm Heather's human. She was extremely friendly as a baby and when she needed help. She looks small and young for her age, and she can be fearfully cute. If she wanted a human of her very own, she might just have found one. There were people who wanted her and were told they couldn't take her away from Irene and me. She might have died, but...Heather and Irene just seem more cheerful than they usually do when kittens have died. Violet is old enough that she might have wanted a home of her own, and the adult cats' manner suggests that she might just have found one.