Friday, July 11, 2014

How I came to love cats

Happy Birthday to my girls.

my cats
My four kittens have grown up
Seven years ago, was a day I will always remember--such a happy event--the birth of five kittens on the front porch. One of them, the runt of the litter and last one born didn't make it. Rusty, is buried in the cedar grove just west of the house along with my most beloved feline companion ever, Emily. Ironically, she died just three years ago on this very day, one of the worst days I've ever experienced. There was no celebration for the girls that year--just tears.

But today is about them. 

My love of cats started long ago, despite my family always having dogs; not cats.

When I was a youngster living on a dead-end street in a Chicago neighborhood, there was a lady down the street who we kids in the neighborhood mockingly called Crazy Annie.

Everyone knows someone like her, the quintessential old spinster who always had lots of cats and kittens. Annie was certainly a little quirky. I laugh a little, because I think I have become her.

My memories of Annie are pretty vague. The one thing I remember about her, other than the cats that followed her everywhere, was that Annie used to reward us neighborhood kids for retrieving seeds from her Four O’Clock plants. I suppose she saved them to plant the following year.

When we followed her inside to collect our pay--pennies for whole jars of seeds, her house was always dark – blinds were always drawn. There was a kind of glow in her living room as the sunshine tried to blaze its way through her heavy velvet drapes.

As an adult, I've almost always had a cat. My first experience was an old tom cat that wandered into the courtyard of my apartment complex. I used to put milk in a saucer for him, so he kept coming back. I was smitten with him. 

There have been many subsequent trips to the humane society.

About 8 years ago, it was a stray cat that appeared--my husband John and I named her Timi. 

Timi, who was a small, obviously young Calico with muted colors. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere one night. Apparently she chose us. It was almost like she was stalking us. She knew which room we occupied because she peered in the window at us, pacing back and forth on the brick ledge just outside the glass, always meowing. When we were outside, she followed us and was always affectionate. She showed up in the morning at whatever door we opened to let out our dog Sam. It was almost as if she knew. And, Timi was very vocal about her desire to become friends.

We put food out for her. It wasn’t long before she won our hearts. She never went too far from the house. Finally, it started getting colder outside, so we decided to let her come into the house. She even made friends with Emily, who was about 10 at the time.

In the spring, we noticed a change in Timi. She became restless, and wanted to go outside. While we debated about what to do, Timi made the decision for us. We awoke one morning to find the screen broken out of a back porch window. Timi was gone.

But she soon reappeared. Only this time, she wasn’t exactly alone. It was apparent that Timi was pregnant. She was always very affectionate, especially toward John. But he wasn’t as quick to embrace the idea of little kittens as I was. I couldn’t wait. Timi must have sensed that too, so during her pregnancy it was my lap she wanted to claim. I was more than happy to oblige. I can’t resist baby animals, but I am most fond of kittens.

I read all I could on the Internet about the feline birthing process. Timi was a very young cat and I hoped her instincts would guide her. But if not, I was ready to help. I sensed when she was very close to giving birth. I was afraid she might want to have her kittens in private, which is customary for cats. But, she actually came to get me when the time had come. I was at my computer when she jumped up high latching her claws into the window screen. She seemed frantic.

I played midwife to Timi’s five kittens who were born in a newspaper-lined box next to the swing on the front porch.

John wanted no part of this process, but was just inside the house. 

I was in awe as Timi knew exactly what to do. I gingerly moved the first kitten to another box, while Timi gave birth to the next one. This went on until there were finally five in the litter. I put them back into the box with their mother. I didn't know what I would do with seven cats in the house but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to part with any of them.

Since John and I had difficulty agreeing on the names for our own two children, I figured it would be really hard to come up with five more names. So, we decided to name them for NASCAR drivers.

The first born was Ryan, named for Ryan Newman, our favorite driver. The others were Kenni (Kenny Wallace); Junior, (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.); Kasey, (Kasey Kahne); and Rusty (Rusty Wallace).

The birth went well, taking about three hours. Timi did great. She was very attentive and caring – showing signs of being an excellent mother.

We were not without issues, however, as Junior was born with a deformed right front paw. Turns out, that although she is smaller than the others,
she is also the toughest. Rusty, was probably the prettiest one--with markings not unlike her mother--lived only 11 days. The others are all variations of grey and white.

We guessed that Ryan was the only male in the bunch, but were surprised to learn that she too was a female. All of our NASCAR-named kittens are girls! Too late now, they know their names.

It has been an absolute joy to experience the development of these little critters. Kittens seem to develop on an accelerated schedule, with visible changes almost daily.

Each has a personality all her own. Ryan has stayed true to her early beginnings, as the sweet, cuddly one. She is also similar to her namesake, known as the Rocketman. Ryan is happiest when she is 'flying' around the house. She loves to roost in high places, like the top of the entertainment center, on top of the book case, or perched on the top of the bedroom door. Kasey is the scaredy-cat, who jumps at any unfamiliar sound, though jumps first and with all four feet. She seems to be taking on the characteristic of alpha cat, or top dog, which to me, is just another word for trouble-maker. Junior is the tough one, a fierce competitor with her siblings. She isn’t afraid of anything, despite her disability. Early on, she worked hard at keeping up with the others, doing what they did, even if it wasn’t always graceful. Kenni is the biggest cat who loves mealtime. She is the most mellow one, who goes along with whatever the others do, but would never consider doing it first.

It has been such a joy to watch these siblings interact with their mother and each other. Timi, who started this as a youngster herself, has grown into a mature and protective mother, using her instincts to teach. For a time, she played with them. Timi is content to stay outside now, except to eat. She is definitely an outside cat. The others are inside cats. 

She is friends with raccoons, runs with the deer and is a good mouse and snake hunter. 

We are comforted to know she won’t have more kittens, despite the affection we have for these. It just wouldn't be responsible to allow her to be outside without having first been spayed. They all went to the vet together to get spayed.

Because Timi was a stray cat, our local Humane Society helped with the cost of spaying. We will support them in the future, any way we can.

Had we not given Timi a home, she might be having a second litter. And since her four kittens are females, they would likely have had kittens of their own as well, had we not intervened. And on and on it goes. It is hard to imagine that so many unwanted cats are born each year. It is even harder to imagine how many of them have to be killed because there is no one to take them all in.

As I look around the house, a cat in nearly every view, I think back to my younger days, and of Annie, the neighbor with lots of cats.

This was a woman who was kind to young children. She paid us pennies to collect seeds from her perennials that would probably have reseeded themselves anyway. Her action taught us that work paid rewards and that we should be diligent in our endeavors. I remember carefully picking only the ripe, plump, black seeds and leaving the rest for another time.

Annie befriended us. She brought us into her home. Those were days of innocence when neighbors were not to be feared. And, she let us pet her cats. In doing so, she showed us she trusted us. They were obviously very important to her. That first feeling of silky fur on my hands must have made an impression.

I’ve thought of Annie from time to time, wondering what ever became of her. I never even knew her last name. Sadly, there was much I didn’t know about her. I think if I knew her now, I would like her. There is one thing I know for sure; Annie wasn’t crazy.