Here’s Bil! He found his way to us in Napa, California, when (the vet said) he was about three years old. By that reckoning, he was twenty as of February 2011.
Lost Cat: Polite, fastidious young just-neutered male cat needs a good home. This handsome boy cleans his plate, uses the litter box, and never even thinks about spraying in the house. Very laid back, he rides in the car without complaint and tries to do whatever is expected of him. Please call Carol at 224-5547.
He was fastidiously clean and smelled so sweet that we called the groomer down the street to see if he’d escaped mid-shampoo–but it turned out he’d been sleeping behind our garage at the dryer outlet, perfumed by anti-static sheets. We named him after the Russian artist Ivan Bilibin. Sometimes we called him “Ivan the Terrible,”because he liked flowers and didn’t mind being chased by deranged toddlers with sticks. (Joke.) When he was still young he spent his days in a field with his paw poised over a gopher hole, ready to strike at the first whisker.
When we moved to Oregon to retire, Bil retired, too. Now mouseless, his boundaries are tightly drawn, and he doesn’t range far. His favorite activity often is looking out the storeroom window.
Bil’s Big Adventure: After the flood (not the Noah’s Ark one, but the one here in 2011 that took out the kitchen ceiling and buckled floors upstairs and down) Bil had quite an adventure for a stay-at-home cat. He got to sleep in a hotel every night while the LR/DR/K floors were refinished. Every morning we loaded him into his carrier in the hotel room and dumped him out in his own yard, and every evening we picked him up and bussed him back to the hotel room. Eventually he preferred to make the trip outside the carrier, sitting in my lap and watching out the window. Cars, people, dogs. Few cats. It was his first elevator ride too. Quite amazing to be in a big box that went up and down. He survived.
An Old Cat: I’m writing in early November, 2011. Our sweet boy is slowing down alarmingly. Once seemingly voiceless, his cries sound from any part of the house he finds himself in without people. Kitty alzheimer? Days pass without him wanting to go outside. He sleeps. Soundly. And we occasionally need to lay a hand on him to sense any rise and fall of breath.
Bil has had many live-in friends over the years, and there were others who came before him:
Our beginning together was one big mistake. E caught Tah haunting the bird feeder and carried her into the kitchen: “Look what I’ve got you–the little orange cat!” (We already had a houseful of cats.) Tah had a dirty face, so I gave her a bath before I took her to the Napa County Humane Society for adoption. That’s when I discovered that the dirt was part of her. She forgave the scrubbing–I had to pick each of her little nails off my shirt in order to hand her over, and then I ended up adopting her myself. When we took her to the vet to be spayed we found that Tasha was preggers with an all-but-born litter. She would have been a wonderful mother. (Still sorry, after all these years. …)
Tasha was named after children’s artist Tasha Tudor, but we also called her “Tah” and “Taddles.” Also “Teflon Cat” because, like Ronald Reagan, nothing stuck to her. She’d roll in the dirt and be clean again before she stood up. She was “Moley,” too, for her burrowing in bedclothes–up underneath the bedspread–a moving, purring lump. Very shy of visitors, she’d streak under a bed. A great hider, she’d creep into any cupboard or file drawer that was momentarily open, never cried out to give herself away when we searched the house for her. She spent her nights curled against me or stretched out with her head on the next pillow. My cat. So fluffy that she weighed nothing at all.
Tah did not want to leave California. On her third day in Oregon she died of an embolism right outside my bedroom door. Without a sound. She’d been called her for dinner, I went looking for her, and when I picked her up she was still warm. …
Mouse had the best sense of humor I’ve ever seen in a cat. She appointed herself door monitor at dinner time and swatted each entering cat on the backside. (There were six others at the time.) She set herself aside from the others– did not include herself in the same category–and I identified with her. (My role model–an independent, self-confident cat!) When I looked into Mouse’s eyes, something very intelligent and very familiar looked back. Sometimes I look for her in other cats’ faces, thinking that if she were reincarnated and came back to me, I’d recognize her.
He was a waif. When E, Anne and I were eating at McDonald’s we saw a dark gray kitten run out from a stack of tires to chase a blowing paper. The attendant at the gas station told us that a litter of kitten had been living there, but he thought they’d gotten them all out. Piteous and dirty when we caught him, Rocky resembled nothing so much as a small sewer rat. We put him in a cat carrier for the night–till the pound opened in the a.m.–so he wouldn’t contaminate the house. A furious struggle ensued, with him clawing and ripping at the wire door with his teeth. It lasted about a half-hour until we let him out. We named him “Rocky” and he joined our circus.
Bitsy came with Hoover–who was named for the way she scarfed up food. My son scooped up the two kittens from under the parked cars at the neighborhood 7-11. Bitsy was soft as Hoover muscled–made of India Rubber. As adolescents this pair snuggled baby Rocky in the sunporch window. Hoover bounced away one day–just disappeared from our yard forever. Bitsy lived with us for many years like a retarded child. She was the cat that danced to a different drummer–with a teasing lilt to her step, even after she grew fat and almost dragged her tummy. Who knew what tune she was hearing? She loved birds, fledglings included, and guarded fallen babies from predation by other members of her family. Also too gentle to harm a rodent, she was not a birder or a mouser but a bugger. She had conversations with the Daddy Longlegs that persisted in making its web over the cats’ water dish, and every evening she visited the spot on the bedroom wall where she had once found a giant mayfly. Bitsy grew arthritic with age. E made steps so she could get up onto the bed, but we didn’t succeed in solving one big problem. She’d always shown great interest in finding unusual places to go (flower pot?), and in her later years she grew unable to climb into the litter box.
Punky (Pumpkin) began the Napa cat wave. She was our smallest baby, had to be bottle fed until she graduated to rice cereal and then ate baby food lamb. She’d been dumped on the grounds of Napa State Hospital, and E brought her home the day I was starting a new home-based freelance editing job. Every time I sat down that kitten clawed her way up my legs and into my lap.
“I think you’ve got a little redhead!” said a friend when she saw the baby’s reddish ears. This was the cat that climbed the Christmas tree and the one that added herself to the manger scene. She was very independent, did not take orders well, and so grew to be a most cantankerous adult. Watch out for Punky–she was as inclined to scratch and bite as she was to purr. We thought her to have been part Abyssinian.
Gray was Peter’s kitten. (Never was very good at sexing cats.) He came to California via Seattle, where he and his mother were born. Their mother, Puddie-Pie, had come running into the house at moving in time as if she lived there. And then had kittens. I chose to keep a male out of the litter and selected Peter, who then had her own litter. (We got wise and fixed that.)
When Gray arrived in Napa he was terrified of the new place. Every time he escaped from the house he ran straight across the road and underneath our neighbor’s house. Bill (son, not cat) would then be dispatched to lure him out with a piece of turkey, all that worked. Gray was one big, beautiful cat.
Peter was a special cat. (Do I have a soft spot for fluffy ?) She adapted well to her move from WA state and seemed to enjoy roaming the fields by our house in Napa. She climbed into my jacket sleeve whenever she had to ride in the car or visit the vet. I was her person. The end she came to is still a mystery. Our cats were never out at night, but Peter disappeared one day, overnight, and then for several weeks. When we had given up looking for her, she came to the door looking worn and tattered. She was ill. Numerous trips to the vet did nothing to forestall her growing weaker. (What was wrong?) At last I had her euthanized. Still sad.
All the Others
Not to give short shrift to the short-termers, they were also part of our life. Here’s to Gremlin (my first cat) and her litter, Skippy, Peter’s mother (Puddie-Pie); Choo-Choo, Tiny, Alphonse, the white cat that sunned in our driveway, the raggedy brown annoying talker that found a new delighted owner. Here’s to the clowder of cats that we advertised in the paper, took to the vet to be euthanized or spayed or repaired, or delivered to the Humane Society. Here’s to those that lived outside and became food for the vixen’s young. And most recently, to the small gray kitten abandoned at our house in Oregon last year, which we kept over Christmas (and grew to love) before giving him up to be adopted out by that great organization, C.A.T.S.
Did I mention that every one of our cats was an “unwanted” stray? Every cat is different. Each one has its own personality and behavior traits. Every one deserves a good life.