Monday, March 21, 2011

Cats in Spring

Spring is here - at least chronologically - and the weather has been, intermittently, quite vernal. Saturday morning was very nice, so I opened the front door to the screen and let the cats sniff the smells of the season. No one minded being next to someone else with such distractions, not even Josie, though Tungsten, who was most ardent about being able to sniff, walked away all three times I brought the camera out to take her picture. Poor Tucker: the first thing I grabbed to give the cats more height was a cat-carrier. My roly-poly foster-cat hastened to hide beneath the bed as soon as he saw it. I’ll use a chair the next time.

Tucker did do something new on his own this past weekend. I had the duvet on my bed pulled up to the pillows. All the cats love lying on the bed, but the boys more than the girls. I couldn’t find Tucker at one point, but noticed a longish lump on the bed.

I lifted the covers and, sure enough, there he was, quite content underneath - at least until I disturbed him. He disappeared under there again later in the day, just to prove to me that it wasn’t entirely the novelty of it the first time. I suppose this is the natural conclusion of a cat’s love of enclosed spaces.

Renn continues to evolve into a lap-cat. When I am on the computer, the big boy waggles back and forth, his back arched, wanting to get up but not yet ready to make the jump. So I haul him up. A few days ago, after lying, relaxed, for about half an hour, Renn sat up and glanced at the computer screened. He became transfixed by something he saw there. It wasn’t until I noticed his head moving back and forth that I realised he was watching the words I typed. As they moved across the screen from left to right, his head moved and, when the words started a new line, his head snapped back to the left, like a typewriter carriage. Dark images on a light background may have been little living creatures to him. He has also started imitating Josie, and getting up onto the mantelpiece in the sitting room, though he never seems as comfortable there as my Chubs.

Tungsten likes playing with one of the new string toys the cats were given over Christmas, but she prefers to ambush it. She will sometimes hide under the bed when I bring the toy out; unlike Tucker and the cat-carrier, it’s not fear that prompts her, but anticipation. She will wait under the bed until I flick the toy beneath the box-spring. Then, she’ll attack. Her enthusiasm at this point may carry her out from under the bed to grapple with her prey.

Every day, it seems, these cats find new ways of entertaining themselves and me. Sometimes, it is a new game, or a new attitude to each other. Other times, it’s simply a new desire for my company, rolling over to let me rub a fuzzy tummy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More Changes of Habit

The interests that cats have change from time to time; their interests evolve. It’s the same with dogs, and any other of the more advanced animals. It’s usually in the little things, though sometimes diet may be affected, as a cat decides it no longer likes a certain food or, as a human might say, he gets tired of the same old thing.

For instance, when we lived in the apartment, Tungsten used to enjoy lying on the armchair. That was one of her favourite spots. Now, she almost never resorts to it, perhaps because Renn or, less frequently, Tucker, occupies the spot. The orange one’s favourite place to snooze now is one of the dining chairs, the seats of which are softened with thick cushions. I often see her lying there - and just as often not, as her orange colour blends with the shadows especially in the evenings.

Renn has also found a new place to sit: on me. He is not a lap cat. I think his size originally mitigated against it, but it may simply have been that in his previous homes, it was discouraged, perhaps, again, because he is a hefty fellow. One evening, while I was working on the computer, he came to see me, as he usually does when I’m downstairs. He was moving around my legs, his back arched, asking for attention. Since he didn’t want to jump up on my lap - in retrospect, that was probably a good thing for me - I hoisted him up. He wasn’t too sure that was a wise decision; he can’t balance on the same area as Tungsten can - though he has fit into small areas before.

I started stroking the top of his head. After a minute, he stopped trying to get off my lap. After a second minute, he lie down, a little precariously, but eventually with some comfort. There he stayed for the next half hour, purring the whole time. Now, whenever he sees me at the computer, he wants up. I can’t do it every time, because though I can find items on the internet or read a letter like that, typing or anything that requires concentration - or two hands - requires my lap to be Rennless. But I attempt to give him some time each day. He seems to like it as much as an hour-long chest-rub.

Tucker has an interesting game. I’m not sure how long he’s been playing it. He scoops a kernel of hard food out of the bowl and hunts it. He will use his paw to toss a kernel onto the floor, which was mostly carpetted in the apartment, so he probably didn’t play this game there. He will then knock the piece of food about and chase it. He will run after it; he will creep up on it, stalking it; he will stand still, then pounce on it. It’s fascinating to watch, and demonstrates that some animals (the higher orders) have imagination. (I discovered this one day years ago when I watched Tungsten get off the bed by leaping into the air with all four feet poised as if she were jumping on prey. She landed normally enough, however, and simply walked away.) Tucker’s new game is, I think, an improvement over chasing a fuzzy mouse or a ball, since he gets to eat his toy at the end of it. (Though not always completely; I wondered why bits of hard food could be found so far from the food bowl - usually discovered when I crushed them unseen underfoot.)

Josie’s new thing isn’t something habitual - at least not yet, though I hope it will be. My Chubs used to be quite a reticent cat. She didn’t show her happiness a great deal; there were days when I worried whether she was indeed happy. But now she seeks me out more, purrs more. These instances I've mentioned previously. On Sunday, I woke up with, as usual, four cats on the bed with me, each in its special place. Josie’s is between me and the edge, with her big bum against me and her head pointing away. I started talking to her and she began purring, without me petting or stroking her. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard her contented enough to do that.

I’ve already mentioned Tungsten, but I will mention the fact that she fell the other day, trying to jump from the dining table to the top of the micro-wave oven. It’s a distance she’s covered easily many times before - and since - but in this case, she didn’t make it. She fell onto her side. She wasn’t permanently or even badly hurt, but I think it must have smarted. I don’t know whether it was just a case of misjudgement or if it’s because she’s getting old (she’ll be eleven in a couple of months). Whatever the cause, it startled me - and probably her, as well. Cats change their behaviour and interests; I can live with that. But I don’t like them getting old.

Monday, March 7, 2011


First, I need to report that Tucker is fully recovered from the problem he was having with his skin just under his tail. He had licked that area hairless and part of it developed an infection. He is now cured and the cone that he was forced to wear has been discarded. The troublesome area is now growing back its hair and he has not bothered it for some time.

And that leads me into this article’s subject: cats’ fur. Every cat seems to have its own kind of fur: colour, of course, length, texture, pattern. My three (plus one) are a good study of the contrasts that can occur.

Let me start with my first and oldest cat, Tungsten. She’s orange and white. The orange seems to be darker now than when I first got her. It may be my imagination, but I recall thinking that she could not have been termed a ‘ginger’ cat because I figured ginger was a brownish-orange, and she was a brighter hue. That was when I initially got her. Now I look at her and she does seem a browner orange. Is it just the light? Am I simply more familiar with my cat and cats in general? In any case, I suppose she is a ginger cat, a fuzzy Creamsicle, orange and white. She has a large white patch on her throat and chest that I’ve always thought of as a bunch of lace.

An interesting feature are the large outlines of circles, one on each flank. I don’t know where these target-like designs have come from, but I keep her away from windows during hunting season... She has the ‘M’ pattern on the top of her head that gives many orange cats a worried or contemplative expression, though in her case, it may actually reflect her thoughts sometimes.

Her fur is very soft, and though it would be classed officially as ‘short’, it seems medium when she sheds it. The individual hairs themselves change hue along their lengths, and along the back of her neck and spine, the hair grows in rows that are easily seen when she bends. This continues on her tail, which is ringed, the rings representing not just different shades but segments in growth.

Josie’s fur was coarse when I met her the first time, and it remains the coarsest of my cats’. It’s a short coat that keeps close to her skin - though that doesn’t mean it isn’t ready to jump off in every direction when it sheds. It’s longer underneath her, but that may be due to her belly being bigger than it should. The fur seems to have smoothed a bit over the time she’s been with me. She came from a temporary home that had a large population of cats and, though she was well-cared for, she may have been nervous and anxious with so many living there, and that may have led to a reaction in her fur. Unlike Tungsten, my Chubs’ hair comes off easily when she’s petted.

Her colouring is mostly white, though it varies from a pure white to a beige or ivory, similar to a polar bear’s almost pale-yellow coat. She has oval-shaped patches not of black but of tabby colouring, flecks of brown among the black, and a tail that’s more obviously ringed than Tungsten’s, though only on its top. And under her tail, light brown. But she doesn’t like people looking at that part...

Renn’s fur is, as I’ve mentioned in another article, long. It’s soft and spreads out on his body. It’s long everywhere, even growing out in tufts between his toes. It straggles quite a bit in places, like the hair of an old man who never combs or brushes. But Renn takes care of his coat, grooming himself conscientiously. Surprisingly, he has never had a problem with hairballs and, in fact, I think he’s the only one of the cats who hasn’t thrown up during his time with me. (I'm surprised at that because I would have thought with that hair, he’d be leaving little gifts all over the house. And who knows, today my luck may run out.)

He is a black and white fellow, with broad patches of each colour, the black hair straighter and less clumpy than the white. Yet among his black hair are individual white strands that grow longer (faster?) than the surrounding black. Unlike Tungsten and Josie, my big boy’s hair doesn’t always come out in my hand, but I can always tell where he takes to sitting or lying. Fine black hair, enough to weave a curtain for a high school auditorium, is left behind. And look at the length of those whiskers!

Finally, my foster-cat, Tucker, may look black and white, but he’s really black and white and dark tabby. His fur is short but softer than Josie’s, with a slightly different texture for the dark-hued than the white. The tabby nature of the colouring expresses itself principally on his sides, where stripes of flecked hair march vertically along his ribs.

He, like Josie, has a medium-brown patch under his tail. Is this a common trait for tabbies, or for cats with an element of tabbiness in their genes? He is white underneath, and his whiteness is purer than Josie’s, with none of her beige. He, like Renn, has single strands of white hair that grow longer than the surrounding black.

You may wonder at how much time it took to notice all these characteristics of my cats, and how much time I spend watching them. But sometimes, when I am sitting on the couch, with one cat on my lap, another on his back against my right side, a third on the arm of the couch to my left and the fourth staring at me from the top of a cat-tree, it’s difficult to do anything else but watch them.