[Content warning: the following post constitutes "cat blogging."]
Today is our fourth anniversary of sharing our home with Katie, our calico cat. Yet even today there is still some debate about who named her. I maintain I named her in honor of the great, late Katharine Hepburn who had died earlier that summer. My daughter, who is now Katie's "kindred spirit" (in the Anne of Green Gables sense), claims she named Katie Katie because it is the perfect name for Katie (and that's pretty persuasive, too). At any rate, Katie is Katie now and she has been growing up with us for four years.
They called her "Sarah" at the adoption depot, according to the tag on her cage. She was an adolescent, four and a half months old. But she didn't look or act like a Sarah to us. Although her calico markings were strikingly pretty, there was nothing old-fashioned, reserved, or ultra-feminine about her. In fact, she scratched my son's finger once, the first time we visited her, when she was clearly being playful and trying to catch my son's attention. She was remarkable for her alert directness and the obviously friendly contact she made through the bars of her cage. She really seemed to like us, as soon as she set eyes on us, before we distinguished her from the crowd of homeless waifs.
My son, my daughter, and I went to visit the cats at the adoption depot several times, to scope out a new recruit for the household slot vacated by our previous darling angel cat, who had died of the sad infirmities of old age. She had been an astonishingly affectionate and devoted "mother cat" to both of my children--she obviously considered them her kittens--since they were born. We did not want to rush into any decisions. I especially, after the last years of nursing our old darling, didn't want to "rescue" any overly needy "victims" at that point. I wanted a healthy, loving pet who would be a rewarding addition to our household, not a new liability. I went there telling myself to be firm about wisely choosing a cat I would be glad to live with for the next ten or fifteen years. I had to be smart and choose a future friend, not a creature who might turn out to be a psycho or a millstone around my neck.
We three narrowed it down to two adolescent female cats, one of them "Sarah." Then I returned another day, alone, without my children along to cloud my reasoned final judgment with their mercurial, emotional pleas for one "cute kitty" or another. Again, I was drawn in by the way "Sarah" made confident and friendly eye contact with me. Clearly she wasn't bashful about telling me, "Get me out of here!" from inside her cage. It was clear as day--but she wasn't coming on as a victim, she was coming on like Charlton Heston wanting to be sprung out of the cage in "Planet of the Apes." A cute, furry, friendly Charlton Heston. I suppose that would equate to being Katharine Hepburn, don't you think so too?
After holding her against my shoulder like a baby and receiving a satisfying bear-hug, complete with a rumbling purr, soft chirps, and strong head-butts, the decision was made: here was my new baby.
As I was leaving the cat adoption depot, after having signed all the paperwork and forked over the considerable fees for her having been spayed and vaccinated, the administrator piped up, "You knew she was feral, right?"
"Huh? What's that? What do you mean, feral?"
"It means she was born outdoors and lived in the wilds, in the bushes, until somebody trapped her and domesticated her."
"Oh.... No, nobody told me that. Does that mean she's going to have problems adjusting to living indoors with our family? Will she be dangerous around my kids?"
"Probably not. If you have any problems with her, just bring her back and pick out another cat."
That revelation of my new friend's origins took some shine off my unalloyed joy and replaced it with a little alloyed misgiving. What was I getting into, and what did owning a "feral cat
" really imply? I had no idea. But now I was heading home with a loudly squalling, skinny teenage calico cutie in my cat-carrier. And the memory of that warm, fuzzy, purrful bear-hug she'd given me, once out of her cage and into my arms, that clinched the deal. How could a "feral cat" be that happy nestling against a human stranger's body?
So, I hoped for the best.
Four years ago this morning, I returned to our quiet home (my children were both at school and my husband was at work) and released our new pet from her cage. I immediately realized my mistake when she moments later disappeared behind the "entertainment center" in our family room. I had been living so long with our previous sedate, matronly cat (over 15 years) that I had not had a foresightful clue about the need to "kitten-proof" our home. I had no idea she would find and fit in such a tiny place. Katie was now evidently trapped behind our "entertainment center" (actually, a do-it-yourself phalanx of five tall bookcases loaded with games, toys, videos, photo and record albums, and heavy TV, electronic, and stereo equipment), and was yowling her little head off. Poor kitty! I pulled about 200 pounds of heavy, dusty junk off the first tall bookcase and carefully pulled it forward and down onto the carpet--only to see Katie's tail disappear behind the next filled bookcase in the row. Hiding and yowling--frightened baby!
I think at that point I left her and went off to babyproof the rest of the house, by stuffing pillows, books, and whatever else came to hand into every small "crack" I could now notice that Katie might decide to crawl into. When that was hastily accomplished, I returned to "rescuing" her. I think I had to clear out and take down three of the five bookcases in our family room before she consented to letting me grab her. Our family room was a wreck.
I put her into our small laundry room near the back door to the garage, and closed the door. Her food, water, and litter box were in there, and there was nothing else she could get into (that I could see). She stayed, yowling, in the laundry room, while I heaved the bookcases and their contents back into order. When things were aright again, I opened the laundry room door and checked on her. She was stuck as far behind the clothes dryer as she could be (and beyond my reach), still crying piteously. I decided she would have to come out whenever she felt good and ready, so I just left the laundry room door open and went about my housework.
When my daughter came home from school that day, we went looking for Katie and couldn't find her anywhere. I was growing seriously alarmed until we realized that a kitchen desk drawer near the telephone was halfway pushed out--and there was Katie, sleeping in the very back of the flat drawer, in a space only two-and-a-quarter-inches deep. At some point she had ventured out of the laundry room and into the kitchen, climbed up into the back of the drawer from underneath, and fallen asleep, flat, tiny, and exhausted--and covered with dust bunnies dragged along from behind the clothes dryer.
She wasn't the most promising "pet" that day, and capped her afternoon performance by getting similarly "stuck" behind my daughter's heavy bedroom dresser at bedtime, entailing more grunt work for me. This time she was easier to rescue though--she was beginning to realize I was going to be a recurrent face in her new life, I think. We put her in the laundry room that night for her own sense of security, but found her, hiding and crying, behind the dryer again in the morning. Saddening and pathetic.
But as her "feral" nature made her unnerved in a new home, it also provided the key to her rehabilitation. She absolutely could not resist chasing things that moved. So we eventually coaxed her out from underneath or behind furniture by dangling, swinging, and twitching enticing cat toys in her direction. She couldn't help herself--she had
to come out and chase things until she was panting and collapsed in a heap. She was the grandest, most spirited and dedicated mouser of all time. She has the most talented paws of any cat I've ever seen, a born ball-handler. And she soon appreciated that we strange new humans in her life loved to play her game. We ran her ragged, and it wasn't long before she knew it was safe to come out in the open and share our space with us.
We learned she is terrified of thunder. To this day whenever she hears thunder she answers with a rumbling growl deep in her throat and runs to hide under our bed until the storm passes. We can only imagine what terrors she must have undergone as a tiny, homeless kitten forced to survive outdoors.
We have learned and accepted that she will never be a lap cat. Too bad, that, since our previous darling had been a lap-seeking missile, and we all love to cuddle with demonstrably affectionate cats. Katie only rarely cuddles, but she stiff-armedly tolerates being scooped up, petted and dandled and squeezed and made a fool of, especially by my daughter, who Katie has a rare and special relationship with. Whenever my daughter is hurt or sick or sheds a tear, Katie is there, not close, but in the room, visibly distressed and attentive, until all is well again. Doesn't matter what species you're talking about, that's the behavior of a true friend.
Katie also sleeps outside our bedrooms at night, but almost never wakes us up (unlike some cats who love to act as their humans' alarm clocks). Katie monitors us and our schedules, notes any deviations, but lets us get up on our own time, and only then runs to say good morning (her one overtly affectionate moment of the day--when it is her
idea). Then she gets and gives all those bear-hugs and purrful rubbing embraces I hoped for when I chose her to be our pet.
These days my daughter is reading the Warriors
series of novels about the epic stories and adventures of feral cat clans. I had to take the lint brush to her this morning before she went off to school sporting a patina of Katie hair, thanks to their morning hugs.
I often look our eccentric little friend in the face and wonder what she thinks and remembers, now that she is much too big to fit into a two-and-a-quarter-inch drawer anymore, and infinitely more relaxed in our home (she even climbs into our rope hammock on our back porch to rock herself, making me believe she might have made a good ship's cat). In the Cat Warriors
vein, I wonder what her kittenhood was like, and how long she had the protection of a mother, or siblings, or a clan. I wonder what breed of humans caught her and what veterinarian took care of her and notched her ear, branding her forever as feral.
I wonder who decided she was worth the gamble and the trouble of domesticating, and who handled her gently and lovingly when she was wild and small, giving her a chance to trust humans and so win a permanent home and a kind family.
Happy Anniversary, Katie. I couldn't have imagined you, and I'm glad we found each other.