Before we journey any further, you should know the cast of characters in my personal feline drama.
Helen: Born on the mean streets of downtown LA, our paths crossed when she was only two weeks old. Trapped with her little head wedged between the bars of a storm drain, her yowling caught my attention as I parked my car. She was filthy and nearly overcome with fleas. I pried her loose from the drain while she hissed and slashed at me, but the instant that I held her to my chest, she purred and blinked at me with beautiful blue eyes. My husband, Aaron, and I had only known each other for six months. My cat, Dorothy and I had moved in with him just two weeks after we met. I knew Aaron was a keeper, because he and Dorothy had bonded instantly. In the mornings, they would feed his fish together and enjoy a good chat (Dorothy was rather vocal.)
But I wasn’t sure how he would respond to the arrival of a vermin invested kitten. I hid the kitten while I stuttered and stumbled over myself to win his favor—I shouldn’t have worried. He was delighted. Immediately, we set about cleaning her up. It took six rounds of sudsing and rinsing before the water ran clear. The flea comb wasn’t catching these crafty critters, so we ended up tweezing about 100 fleas from Helen’s little body. This trauma would haunt her skin for the next eight years. Even with several rounds of surgery to remove the scaling, she had persistent allergic dermatitis until changes in her diet finally resolved the problem.
I was completely smitten with this kitten. She was so beautiful and loving. But she would never overcome her fear of other cats. Shortly after she arrived we rescued another cat, Athena, whom we believe had recovered from distemper. She has severe mental handicaps and I suspect that her bizarre social cues confused Helen as she developed. Helen never developed appropriate cat etiquette. Now, in our household of five cats, she is the persistent pariah. Even when a cat approaches her in a friendly manner for a gentle nose sniff, she responds as though being attacked, hissing and bearing her teeth.
Her skin is terribly sensitive and though she loves to be loved, sometimes being touched is more than she can handle.
She is the only cat I ever had that went into heat. She matured early, at four months. Her writhing and calling took me completely by surprise. But the intensity of it ensured that she went to the vet for surgery the next day.
During my pregnancy with April, I was very sick. For four months, I could barely eat anything. I couldn’t read, watch TV or move around without throwing up. So I was confined to my bed, initially in a dreadful state of boredom. Helen was my constant companion, still very much a kitten, she was more open to affection during those months. We spent hours, upon hours communing. Dorothy was there too, but I particularly remember Helen staying by my side during those horrible months. I am forever grateful.
Ben: Ben is perhaps the most exquisite cat that has ever lived with me. He chose my daughter as his favorite, even while he was living with our neighbor. She had rescued him from the parking lot at the Ontario Airport Marriot in California. But his stay in her household of twenty cats was short lived. He was destined to be united with my daughter. (Their love story will appear in Cat Fancy magazine sometime in 2007.)
He is divinely handsome and endlessly amiable. He is the cat who greets our guests and wins over even the most reticent of non-cat people. He is as soft as a rabbit, charming and playful. He was gaining a bit of a middle aged paunch last year when we brought home Gussie.
Gussie: My daughter, April, needed to interview a cat rescue worker as part of a book report project for school. I contacted my friend, Jan from Happy Strays Rescue. During April’s interview with Jan, April fell head over heals for a 4 month old calico that Jan was offering for adoption. There was something special about Gussie, so we brought her home. Ben couldn’t have been more delighted with his young girlfriend (and personal trainer.) The two romped and frolicked through the house while the ounces fell away from Ben’s midline. Their mutual affection was enchanting, but the relationship was shortlived because a few months later, we brought home Elizabeth (referred to as Little Bit because my three year old daughter mispronounced her name so perfectly.) Gussie, who is a feline social butterfly, formed an instant attachment to her new best girlfriend, leaving Ben somewhat disgruntled as Little Bit took over his role in the energetic games that Gussie so loves. It took him months to learn to share her, and eventually, he learned to love Little Bit too.
Gussie is a bit skittish by day. Last summer, my husband took our daughters to Vermont for ten days, and it was clear that the constant commotion of my human children is a real hindrance to her trust of humans. She relaxed visibly and became more intensely affectionate with me. This ebbed upon their return. She is now 1 ½ years old and her personality is blooming. She grows more affectionate and loving by the day. Her petite frame, silk fur and playfulness helps her maintain the beloved role of household kitten.
Little Bit: When I was seven years old, my parents cat-sat a marvelous Siamese cat for the summer. Bussalie. Intelligent and regal, she had mastered the art of pooping in a human toilet. From that summer on, I had longed to live with another Siamese cat. Last January, while visiting a mobile adoption unit of the Pasadena Humane Society, I found ‘Little Bit’ (a mixed breed Siamese).
She was ill when we brought her home. The combination of her fevers and the stress of frequent vet visits caused her to be very docile. She slept in my arms or my daughter’s arms every night during her first month with us. Once she recovered fully, she sprang into action—rarely slowing down since. She is the quintessential cat for whom the phrase was coined “Curiousity killed the cat.” If there is an open drawer in the house, she must investigate what is behind it. Her investigations are tireless—she will climb to any height, crawl into any crevice. It is for her that I have to be sure our home environment is cat safe. She is the cat that loves playtime the most—she will fly through the air, twisting and turning after a toy. Her good natured antics are endlessly amusing to the whole family.
Henry: Henry is the latest addition to the family. I adopted him just two weeks before we left LA for Nashville. As crazy as it seems, I had to. In the same way that April’s cat, Ben, chose her. I feel that Henry choose me. I spent years hiding a private jealousy of April’s relationship with Ben. Through many intense and loving relationships with cats, I was never chosen by a cat, not until Henry chose me.
My friend, Sharon Clark, of the Paw’d Squad rescued Henry. He had been hanging out at a convalescent home in Alhambra, CA. The management was planning to exterminate all the cats on the property, one of the residents that had been feeding the cats called the Paw’d Squad. They came and trapped the cats. Henry is a large, green eyed Tabby. His affectionate nature quickly became apparent and Sharon added him to the population of their shelter. He lived there for a year and ½ with 80 to 100 other cats, keeping peace with all of them. Henry is a true pacifist. Unassuming and avoiding all conflict.
The first time I visited the Paw’d Squad, he planted himself squarely in my lap. The second time, I wondered if I would see him again. I sat in a pile of about 15 cats, when our eyes met. I knew it was him, so I called out his name. His face lit up, but then he looked cautiously behind him, as though to confirm that I wasn’t calling some other cat. I assured him that I was calling him. With weathered optimism he approached and found his way right back into the center of my lap, where he curled up, purring and gazing at my with an invocation for love.
I thought about him for weeks. Then I returned a third time, when I entered the shelter, I called his name and he came bounding in immediately from the other room. That is when I felt it unequivocally. This cat had chosen me. His headbutts and purring, his direct gaze and the sheer expressiveness of his whole body assured me that I was right. Henry and I belonged together.
My husband had already laid down the law. No more than four cats. Period. What would it take to convince him? I offered all sorts of intimate favors. But nothing was worth a fifth cat to him. Finally, I asked him, “What will it take?”
“Well, there is that motorcycle that picked me.”
A $15,000 motorcycle that I had absolutely forbad him to consider. We don’t have the kind of money to afford that sort of toy. But this was the bargain that I had asked for. “You can take it out of the house sale money.”
And so we spent $15,000 to bring home a neutered tomcat tabby, with tattered ears and a scarred nose from his pre-pacifist days on the street. And my husband got his dream motorcycle.
Henry was worth every penny. When I returned to the Paw’d Squad to ask him if he wanted to come home with me, he gave me and incredibly forceful headbutt on the chin. On several other occasions, he has displaced an uncanny ability to understand English as well. He is the most affectionate lap cat that I have ever had the privilege of loving.
When I asked my husband what it would take to bring home a sixth cat, he answered, "A maserati."
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.