Monday, August 30, 2010

Ren (Renfrew Foster), My Third Cat

Ren came to live with me at the end of May, 2010. Like the other foster-cats I've looked after, his was an emergency re-location. He and his brother, Charlie, were living without problems in a nice couple's household, when Ren bit the woman who was caring for him. She was cleaning his rear end which, being that of a medium-haired cat, sometimes needs cleaning. I've no idea why he bit her. I doubt that his handling was rough yet he is hardly a naturally aggressive cat. Anyway, it was a hard bite and the couple decided that Ren had to go.

I can't say I blame Ren's former guardians. They had taken good care of him and to them, his action must have seemed an inexplicable attack. I can't blame Ren, either, for, having come to know him, I can't understand why he would have bitten anyone. The only thing I can imagine is that it was an accidental provocation which the woman didn't recognize as such, and which Ren felt needed retaliation. Under such conditions, the couple taking care of him considered it impossible for Ren to stay.

So Ren came to live with me. As is often (though not universally) the case, he was frightened and confused at the sudden change in his surroundings. He had been well cared for in his previous home and must have wished he was back there. I made him a hiding spot behind a bookcase and he used it immediately. But after a couple of hours of observing me, he came out, tentatively. Over the next week, he came out more and more, though he was quick to resort to his hiding spot when he felt frightened.

Relatively swiftly, though, he adapted to his new environment. I let him out to explore the apartment and meet his roommates. His energetic attempts to make friends did not meet with approval from the more reticent cats in my household. But he persevered. So did they. No one was going to make them become friends with any new interloper so quickly. He found me a more positive subject.

Ren is a big black and white boy with medium-length hair. It seemingly doesn't shed easily, but he leaves much of it behind whenever he lies on cloth or upholstery. He is gentle and passive with me, his sounds small for a fellow so big. His greatest protests come in the form of a drawn-out whine - and when I need to remove him from where he wants to be, he'll appear to add weight to his fifteen or sixteen pounds. He's as heavy as my Josie, but spreads it better.

Over time, Ren has managed to ingratiate himself with my first cat, Tungsten. I suspect it's because he respects the tiny orange one's dominance, retreating at a growl or hiss. One time, Tungsten dealt Ren a blow on the top of the head that, if converted to human terms, would have stunned a man. Ren is respectful but still tries to be friends. With Josie, he figures he can be a bit more exuberant. As a result, though I have seen them play, they also fight. Since Ren initiates the interaction, he gets the blame and is incarcerated in the library for a few minutes. Upon emerging, he immediately rubs up against me, telling me he's sorry and asking if I still like him. Unlike human prisoners just released, he means it.

Ren is a scientist. An empiricist, he likes to watch things to determine how they work, what they do, how they affect their surroundings. His favourite subject is water. He's taken to coming into the bathroom after I have a shower and observing the drops of water roll down the sides of the tub. And the sight of water running from the tap astounds him; perhaps he's never seen vertical water. He had to reach out and  touch it, try to draw it toward him. I've seen him examining a moth and a fly; unlike other cats, his first instinct was to watch them, rather than kill them. They were new and therefore interesting.

This characteristic impels Ren to meet new people. Countered by his natural timidity, it's a struggle for him when new humans appear. He will hide. He may hide for their entire initial visit. He'll listen, collecting evidence, determining if the visitor is friendly. He'll venture out the next time. And once he knows a person is friendly, he hides for a shorter period each time the person shows up.

But as well, he wants to meet people because loves companionship. He loves to have his chest rubbed, lying still, purring roughly and deeply. But when your hand is tired or you need it for something else, you may withdraw it, and Ren will remain, lying against you. I've seen him play with fuzzy toys, zoom through a nylon tunnel for the fun of it; I've seen him watch birds and falling leaves; I've seen him knead the air in joy while being petted. But his love of company strikes me the most about him. He craves it, and it brought him out from his hiding place when he first came to live with me. The way of "The Cat that Walked by Himself" is not Ren's way.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Foster Cats I Have Known

Before I talk about my third cat, Ren, I thought I should describe the others who have lived with me as foster-cats. Providing shelter to cats who need temporary homes can be interesting. The PAW Society here in Lethbridge, Alberta, takes care of many cats until they can find them permanent homes; in the meantime, the cats go into foster-care. There are never enough foster-homes.

I've fostered four cats for the Society so far. I've found that explaining to my resident cats that the new addition will be subtracted soon does nothing. They still resent the interloper.

My first foster-cat was a black one named Lincoln. He was an easy-going fellow who was cordially fought by Josie and largely ignored by Tungsten, though she would hiss and growl when she did come upon him. But Lincoln didn't seem to mind much. He was talkative. He would yowl and sing from one end of the apartment to the other. I've no idea what he was saying, and the other cats didn't enlighten me. They simply wished he would shut up. He wasn't that bad, though. He hid for a couple of days in the room in which I kept him, but started coming out of his safe spot to explore his room, not long afterward. Soon he was out all day, though back in his room for the night. Josie would threaten him, but it wasn't taken too seriously - she's simply not a fighter; my Chubs just wanted to make sure her place was secure. Lincoln was adopted fairly quickly.

Then came two who will long be remembered by my resident cats. Wixie and Mystery, both female, had to be removed rapidly from their adopted home, at the request of their owners. Their permanence there was not as long-lasting as it had been hoped, though they were evidently loved and there was no complaint ever made against them. Wixie was the more frightened of the two, though Mystery was probably much upset by being thrust into a strange world. She was a little tortoise shell creature with an insistent meow. Wixie was a two-tone girl, solidly built, with a mask of grey fur over her otherwise white face. Mystery was dominant and ate less than Wixie, who loved her soft food. It was over that that their personalities switched. Wixie (the 'Masked Marvel') would push Mystery aside to get at the latter's soft food, and Mystery would let her. I suppose the principle is the same as when a person drives a car, very much in control of it, but gets out of its way if it starts rolling down a hill at her.

Though (or perhaps because) Mystery would boss Wixie about, sometimes cornering her, literally, and slapping or growling at her, Wixie took to asserting herself with Tungsten. I wanted Tungsten to stand up to the newcomer, but there is a morose streak to my orange one, and she would simply seek out a quiet place and sulk, though she'd scrap if she had no where to go. Josie was left alone, perhaps because Wixie sensed that Tungsten was the one in charge, and therefore the one to defeat.

Wixie and Mystery were typical of cats in that they learned a routine quickly. They loved their play time, and started letting me know they were ready for it hours before I was. Mystery enjoyed chasing a stick, around and around, until she grew tired, after which she would lie on the floor and expect it to come to her. Of course it did. Wixie liked trying to grab the stick as it poked out from under a quilt. They knew their dinner and snack-times, too, the Masked Marvel growing so excited at the prospect of her gourmand feast that she would spin about in circles, crying with delight.

But Wixie was actually quite shy. When called to come over for a petting, she would arch her back, rub her face along a wall and shuffle over with a diffident air. But she was purring the while.

Mystery and Wixie were adopted together. Though they were never best pals, going somewhere new as a pair would have helped them tremendously. It's always nice to have someone familiar in an unfamiliar place.

And now, there's Ren...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Josie (Josefina von Chubs), My Second Cat

Josie is my second cat. She came to live with me as a companion to Tungsten. But Tungsten didn't want a companion, other than me, that is. My orange one guarded her domain jealously, and she and Josie fought on and off for weeks. Thus are good intentions used for paving stones.

When I met her, Josie was a very excited cat. She purred and purred, couldn't sit still and butted her head against everyone and everything. I didn't want a cat that would try to dominate Tungsten. Josie was and is an easy-going girl with a friendly attitude. Even when being assaulted by Tungsten, my new cat's expression was one of incomprehension as to why someone would want to hurt her. The fighting was so bad that I despaired at keeping Josie. She had come from a caring but crowded environment, and I think that, despite the hostility from the queen of the apartment, Josie liked her new semi-loneliness. So I persevered, and so did she. A few months later, she and Tungsten were sniffing noses and the white one was sneaking on to the bed early in the mornings to sleep there.

Josie is a fat cat. She isn't tremendously big, but she weighs almost two and a half times as much as Tungsten. Chubs loves her soft food, and I try to restrict that diet a bit, but I hate to take away something that means so much to her.

Her weight doesn't keep her sedentary, however - being a cat does that. No, she can be quite active, and she will chase and be chased in a game as fast as the next cat. She likes being on the top platform of the highest cat-tree I have, usually jumping there from the top of a lower one. That's where she will settle, snoozing, gazing out the window or simply watching what goes on in the apartment.

Early on, I found her a nervous animal. My Chubs would start at every noise, no matter how small. This was a contrast to Tungsten, who wouldn't worry if a grenade exploded next to her. Playing with Josie was frustrating because she was so easily distracted. Gradually, she relaxed and came to jump at only every second sound. That's how she has remained. She can see me approaching from across the room, yet still give her trademark squeak when, as if by magic, I appear beside her.

Like most cats, however, she can be silent when she wants, vanishing and materializing when the need arising. I wouldn't have thought such bulk could be teleported so simply. Yet most of the time, she can be seen ambling into a room, her round sides wobbling. If spoken to kindly or coyly, she will pause and rub up against furniture, as if she's embarrassed.

She's always been friendly. She is often the first to greet visitors; she loves to smell the insides of their shoes. But it has only been over the last few months that I have received the impression that my Chubs has become my friend. She now will roll over when I come near her; that's her way of asking for a face-rub. She purrs more than she used to, and more audibly. She's still not a lap-cat and may never be, but she does like stepping onto someone while they are sitting or lying, and kneading with her forepaws. Why she gets so happy at such a situation, I don't know, but I encourage it, despite the damage her weight and periodically unclipped claws will do to a person.

She sleeps at night with her big rear end against my side, and facing one edge of the bed. She annoyingly gets up whenever I do, but her ponderous return, usually after I've fallen asleep again, no longer wakes me up.

Tungsten is now most tolerant of her, and though they may never be friends, they are companions, and play together. While my orange one may look devious at times, may use her influence to selfish purposes, Josie never appears sly or mischievous. Her eyes narrow only in sleepiness, never in anger; even her hisses and growls - at foster-cats, for instance - are the least menacing sounds you will hear. I understand Tungsten more, and she has the more human face. But Josie's usually wears a very satisfied expression.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tungsten, My First Cat

I believe that the more intelligent an animal is, the more personality it has. Dogs, cats, horses, each member of these species has its own characteristics. It can be as basic as what it likes to eat, which is why many people who have more than one cat also have more than one type of cat-food in their homes.

Tungsten, for example, started showing her personality soon after I brought her to live with me. She loves her comfort, for one thing. A few days after she came to live with me, she was curled on my armchair; I wanted to sit there. I thought that we could share. She was fine with that, as long as I didn’t move her. I decided to lift her up and replace her on my lap. She bit me. Well, no, she didn’t bite me, but I thought she was trying to. I was convinced that I’d brought home a malevolent animal that would become vicious whenever she didn’t get her way.

It was ‘her way’ all right, but her way of showing displeasure. If I try to move her from a comfortable spot – which usually coincides with somewhere I want to sit – she will put her teeth around my fingers as if she’s about to tear them apart. But she doesn’t close her mouth. She will do the same with her claws: they will come up, but she won’t use them. It’s a manner of protest. How good natured must a cat be to demonstrate that she could hurt you, but won’t? Whynot? It’s just her way.

Sometimes, the claws come out for fun. One day, I was petting her and her paws gently grabbed my finger; the claws came out and she looked at me, purring. “Go on, take your finger away, I dare you. Hehehe.” Cat humour and human humour don’t always meet.

She’s a bit of a whiner. I didn’t realise this until Josie came to live with us. Until then, most disputes could be indicated in a quieter fashion. When Josie arrived, Tungsten wanted to kill her. I’ll discuss that another time. After she grew used to the new cat, Tungsten still didn’t care for her proximity, so she would whine, as if to say, “There’s that fat white cat again. Get her away!” Tungsten often did this when I would lift her up, as if she suspected that I would deposit her closer to the unwanted roommate.

My orange one is a light eater. She weighs about six and a half pounds, so there is little stomach to fill. She eats half the soft food that I give her, as long as I put the dish in front of her four or five times in a row. She will drink from a bowl if she must, but she would prefer a thin stream falling from a tap, and will wait by the bathroom basin for hours to receive it, if need be. Is that patience or stubbornness?

When she sleeps at night, it is usually on my legs, in the crook of a knee, though sometimes she crawls up toward my face, turns around and lies against my nose, nearly suffocating me with that orange fur. The feeling, when one is half-asleep, of something light and unidentified, creeping up toward one, can be startling. Once in a while, when a few inches from my face, she’ll purr and put her paw on my cheek or mouth. Perhaps I was snoring. But I like to think she’s petting me. Tungsten is a bit of a baby, even though she’s now ten years old. She’ll wake suddenly during the day and cry out, not stopping until I come to see what the matter is. My opinion is that she’s had a nightmare and wants to be comforted. Alternatively, she may just like to see me run when she calls.

As you can read, the motives for much of what she does are open to interpretation. But I’ve learned to know my cat over the past three years of living with her. I’ve learned what the different meows mean, the one for water, the one for lap-time, the one for unspecified attention. She even has one to let me know she wants the closet door opened, a box moved and the top of a dresser cleared so she can jump onto a high shelf without interference. It takes less time for her to say it than it does for me to write it. There are disadvantages to living with someone who is sometimes a surly, middle-aged whiner. (Yes, I’m still referring to the cat.) But these pale when Tungsten greets me, purring, as I return at the end of the day; when she asks to lie on my lap though there are a dozen more comfortable places; when water goes down the wrong way and I have a coughing fit and she hurries in from wherever she was to meow with concern.

That’s the sort of cat I can live with. That’s the sort of cat I do live with.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How I Came To Have Three Cats

As the title - which may be temporary - states, I have three cats. Two are mine and one is in my custody as a foster-cat. I never meant to have three cats. One seems to collect them, like knick knacks on the top of a bookcase, though they tend to need more than just dusting.

I didn't know much about cats when I brought home my first one. As it is about life in general, I seemed to know much more before I became involved with them than I do now. Previously, I barely liked cats. Well, that's not true. I liked them, and would stop to pet one if I saw it. But I didn't think they were for me. I thought them inscrutable. But, like books, one just has to learn to read in order to understand them.

My first cat is Tungsten. The name was about the only thing I was sure of in regard to a cat. I figured it would be a good name for either a male or a female, and it's my favourite element.

Then came Josie. I would have re-named her but she'd been living with me for half a year before I decided to adopt her, so the name had already stuck.

Temporarily living with me is Ren. He's a big boy with hair longer than the others. That doesn't mean it sheds more, however. It doesn't mean it sheds less, either.

I suppose it would be useful to give you some background on how I came to acquire these animals. Tungsten I adopted three years ago from the PAW Society in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had no idea of animal rescue groups at the time, and figured I'd see cats in rows of cages. Instead, I was greeted immediately upon entering the Cat Compassion Centre (as it then existed) by a long, low, friendly cat named Mister Irving, who came out at the sound of the door opening. He greeted everyone in a similarly chummy manner, I was told.

I met quite a few cats there, and though I had a notion of what sort I was looking for, I was naturally apprehensive about taking home the wrong one, the kind that makes you wish you'd never heard of the feline species and hates you as much as you come to hate it. There was Pearl, who was older and sedate; Thumbelina, of the extra toes; Jessie, who was round and grey; Terri, black, frightened and difficult to meet. Some have since been adopted, some continue to wait for the right person to take them home.

Some cats lived in PAW's Compassion Centre, a haven for cats on the north side of Lethbridge. It has since had to close. At the time, some others, and since then, all of PAW's cats lived in private homes, foster-homes. In one of these homes, I met Tungsten.

Tungsten is a tiny orange and white cat, six and a half pounds at most. She's symmetrical, with pale outlines of circles on each flank, brown, elongated patches on the backs of her feet, a ringed tail and a bunch of white lace at her throat. Her left eye has a damaged pupil. When I met her, she was in a cat-bed on the top shelf of a closet, from which she could look out a window. She was a little put upon in her situation, nothing too bad, but not near the top of her house's hierarchy.

I held her and she started purring. It may have been anxiety, like nervous laughter, but I took it as a good sign. From what I was told, she seemed to be the sort I was looking for: quiet, healthy but not too active, playful at times but preferring the sedentary life. I should have realized then that she was a little too much like me. After my visit with Tungsten, I told a friend that that cat 'went to the top of the list'. After thinking about it for a week, there was no list, just Tungsten.

I started buying all the things one needs for a cat - or rather all the things it seems obvious a cat needs: litter-box (with hood, to prevent the tossing of litter (a vain hope in some cases)), litter (made from pine - that was new to me), a perch/scratching post, two kinds of food (hard and soft), toys of various kinds. My neat and tidy apartment began to take on the slightly frayed look that would eventually leave it almost completely unravelled.

Then Tungsten came to her new home. She wasn't called Tungsten then. She was Presley. That name was adequate, but it wasn't my cat's name. She was initially excited, and explored. But the first night, she was melancholy; she realized that this new situation may be lasting longer than she'd thought. She sat alone in the bedroom. She was home-sick, and living with a stranger. But that night, she slept on the bed.

After that, it was simply a matter of getting used to each other, which we did, and of getting to know each other, which we are.

Josie is my beautiful Chubs. Fifteen pounds of white cat with tabby spots and a ringed tail (though there is a black line down its top) and a light brown bum. I brought her home about a year and a half after I got Tungsten. I thought Tungsten might be lonely with me away all day. She was lonely - for me. The presence of another cat in the apartment was resented, and Josie was hated. There was hissing, and growling, and fights. But now, Josie is accepted, if not loved, by Tungsten. She is a little more vocal than Tungsten yet more reticent. It's only lately that I feel I've become her friend, though she's always been friendly. She sleeps on the bed, too, but it took a long time before Tungsten would allow it. She squeaks more than meows and is a pacifist at heart.

Ren is my latest addition. Temporary, I keep telling myself. He deserves to go into a separate article on foster-cats I have known. He's a gentle fellow, a softy, and is quick to make friends - after hiding from you for the first few hours.

These are the three cats I have.