Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Tungsten

Tungsten turns eleven the first week of May. At least, that’s her estimated age. She was a foundling, so there’s no way to determine with accuracy the number of years she’s seen. She may be twelve or ten or a limber fifteen, but probably eleven. Even her birth-date is obscure; I’ve arbitrarily chosen 2nd May.

I’ve told before the story of how Tungsten came to live with me. She was one of the cats available for adoption from the Lethbridge PAW Society (which still has many cats of different personalities available, in case a reader is interested). I met several other cats, but as soon as I met her, I decided the she was the best one for me. A week later, I’d decided that she was the only one for me.

She had come to the PAW Society the same way many cats have done, and how many come to animal rescue groups all over the world: she was abandoned. She was found in a carrying-kennel on the doorstep of the PAW Compassion Centre, a shelter for cats the Society operated a few years ago. Tungsten had no name then, and no information was given with her. She was alone in her carrier.

The people who found her considered that she was very sad and despondent. Since nothing was known of her, everything about her past is conjecture, but she must have had a good home. When she came to care about things again, she was very friendly, and takes liberties, such as climbing on my shoulders (her favourite place), which she wouldn’t do unless she had been accutsomed to taking them previously. She was a clean cat when found, with spotless paws, indicating that, at least in her recent past, she had been an indoor-only animal. It’s theorised that Tungsten was the pet of an elderly person who died (that would account for her being loved) and that the owner’s heirs took care of the now orphaned cat but didn’t give her any time or attention (that would account for her good physical condition but discouraged demeanour).

The picture below shows Tungsten as she was when she first entered the PAW Society’s care. To me, she looks sad and old. She looks younger now four years later than she does in the photograph taken just after her arrival at the Compassion Centre. I may be biased.

At least those who dropped her off had the sense to place her where she would be found and found by those who would take care of her. Tungsten’s fate could have been far worse. Many cats and dogs are simply left behind when people move, sometimes the animals are left tied up in yards, or dropped off on a country road. A little cat such as Tungsten, as strong as her spirit is, would not have survived in such a situation. There are no whole species who are ‘natural survivors’. Some animals survive, some don’t, and cats and dogs in the wild (whether a rural wilderness or an urban one) never die of old age or ‘natural causes’. A cat that can’t fend for itself in the wilds of the countryside or a town always dies a cruel death, sometimes brutally, usually terrified.

But Tungsten was fortunate. She was abandoned to the right people.

After a year in a foster-home, the orange one was found by me, and I adopted her. I knew little about cats then - and not much more now, it seems sometimes.

Tungsten is a neat little animal. She and I have developed our little routines. Once I get into bed at night, she always comes up to my face and sniffs it; I find it hard to believe that she isn’t sure it’s me. Once in a while, she jabs her wet nose against my cheek, or licks me; she does it on purpose. When another cat is lying near by, she will push herself as close as possible against my face. I have to adjust her so I can breath. She wakes me up in the middle of the night for a drink of water from the tap; I could ignore her, but I know she will lie by the basin in the bathroom for hours. Lying there. Waiting. Doing nothing but preying on my mind... She doesn’t do this on weekends.

She is jealous of her prerogatives as top-cat in the house. She likes my lap to be free of other cats, in case she wants to lie there at any time. Renn’s newly found desire to sit there while I’m on the computer confounds Tungsten, and she sulks if she comes in to the room and finds him there.

She will sit and wait while I cut up chicken or beef for sandwiches, not necessarily watching me, but creeping closer all the while. She likes her little bit of chicken once in a while.

Eleven years is supposed to be middle-aged in a cat; in human years, she’s older than I am now. I get the feeling that she was ‘born forty years old’, as someone says of James Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. She has a dignity that she won’t often give up. But when she plays - and when she doesn’t it has to do with her mood, not her sprightliness - it’s with the frenetic energy of a sped-up silent film. She jumps and runs like an adolescent, but in bursts; if you aren’t looking at her, you’ll miss the moment. Then the stolid courtliness returns, and she will lick her paw with disdain for other cats who play the fool.

And when Tungsten wants attention, when it’s time for me to sit down so she can lie on my lap, this tiny cat, six and a half pounds and no more, will give out a meow that can hurt the ears. And she will keep doing it until I comply. Yet there is a moment beyond which she grows tired of waiting. If I am ready to relax with her after that, it’ll be too late. She’ll be done with me, and will go off and curl up by herself. But later, she may decide I deserve a second chance to coddle her. She’s so kind to me.

Tungsten has taught me about cats. I can tell what she is thinking most of the time, what she is feeling, by her expressions, her sounds, her posture. We’ve grown to know each other well since that August day in 2007 when she was brought to my home, and we learn more every day. It’s frequently from our friends that we learn the most.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tungsten Versus Tucker

Tungsten doesn’t like Tucker.

The roly-poly one has been with us for six months now. There is something about Tucker that rubs Tungsten the wrong way. I’ve been trying to recall how long it took for my top-cat to learn to tolerate Renn. I’m sure it was less than six months. Renn, by the way, will have lived with me a year next month. He and Tungsten are probably the closest of any combination of cats at my house. They have even groomed each other to a small extent.

But Tucker remains a thorn in the orange one’s side.

One of the problems, at least in this regard, is that Tucker is more playful than Renn, despite being older. Tucker will follow the other cats about, sometimes chasing them. This has led to exchanges of words with Josie, and even a few swats with Renn. Tungsten, who is not a ‘playing’ cat is the least receptive to such overtures, and treats them with hostility.

For the most part, their interaction is neutral: neither bothers the other. But sometimes, inevitably, Tucker will find himself too close to Tungsten’s for the latter’s comfort. This usually results in hisses or growls. Once in a while, the orange one will refrain from protest and allow Tucker to retreat quietly. Tucker will do so, as he knows a fight may ensue otherwise.

Tucker can be mischievous, though, and will pursue Tungsten, following her, despite warnings. I think the smaller cat is reluctant to submit their dispute to the arbitriment of the claw, as it were, as her size would tell against her in any battle lasting more than a few seconds. I think she is aware of this. That was the disadvantage under which she laboured with respect to Wixie, a former foster-cat at my apartment who, despite her otherwise wonderful character, was, I’m sure, determined to usurp Tungsten’s position as top-cat. In that case, Tungsten’s growls and hisses were not minded; Wixie continued to press her challenge, and Tungsten refrained from fighting. It was a relief for us when Wixie was adopted, especially as she is happy at her new home.

This is not to say that there haven’t been scraps between Tungsten and Tucker. They got into a screaming melee last week, though all that resulted was a great lot of tufts of hair flying about. And a few nights ago, Tucker jumped onto the bed, not knowing Tungsten was at his landing spot. Cats flew in every direction a second later, let me tell you.

But Tucker is, as I wrote, mischievous, not ambitious. When he deliberately causes a problem, it’s not meant maliciously. He wants to have fun, and wants to have that fun with others. He reminds me in a small way of a former foster-cat of mine, Devon. He was very rambunctious. (He continued that behaviour in his new home, though it gradually has lessened, and with the addition of a big brother for him to play with and idolise, he is much more manageable and less trouble to the other cats there.) Tucker is not nearly as rowdy as Devon, but the desire for fun and companionship is there. Renn is more of a fit for Tucker’s games, but the roly-poly one doesn’t see why everyone can’t join in.

The fault is certainly not all on Tucker’s side. Tungsten can be a grumpy old woman sometimes, and she is stubborn.

An example occurred last Saturday. I was having a bath and, as usual, Tungsten wandered in when she heard the bath-water running. She likes to lie on the bath-math while I’m in the tub. Tucker likes to sit in the room with us. This time, after a while, Tucker left and lie down outside the door, so that if Tungsten wished to leave, she had to pass the roly-poly pudding spread out on the threshold. Renn would have walked past; Josie would have hurried by. Not Tungsten. She growled. She whined. She looked out through the half-open doorway and hissed. She got up on the counter, next the basin, and peered through the doorway some more, perhaps hoping the different angle would change things. It hadn’t. She cast about the bathroom, looking at the ceiling, the wall, the window. I told her, yes, the window was a way out but she wasn’t going to use it. She sat and pouted. It wasn’t until I left the bathroom and Tucker moved that Tungsten felt she could leave, too. She would have stayed there all night if necessary. The irony is that it wouldn't have been necessary; Tungsten would have made it so.

But she lies next to Renn, and has washed him, briefly, and been washed by him, equally briefly. If that can happen, anything can. One day, I’ll come home and see Tungsten and Tucker snuggled against each. I’ll turn around, go out again and buy a ticket for the biggest lottery prize I can find.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Josie Alone

I worry about Josie sometimes.

Tungsten is a lap-cat. The orange one is my original cat and the top-cat of the household. She knows she can get my attention whenever she likes. Renn is shy about many things, but not when he wants up on my lap, or a chest-rub. He comes up to me, arching his back, and holding out a paw. Tucker, too, is timid, but he knows I like him and will rub up against me twenty or thirty times a day and, if he feels very neglected, which means I haven’t petted him in the preceding nineteen and a half seconds, will lie on the floor and twist about, trilling.

Josie is different. She does ask for attention, waddling along until she abruptly tips onto her side, as if struck with a sudden heart attack. That means she wants some petting. She will also jump up on the table and lie across my papers. There is no mistaking the intent in that action.

But my Chubs usually doesn’t consent to sit still for long, even for a good feeling. She will sprawl for a minute or two, enjoy the stroking of her face, then sit up and walk away. Sometimes, she will repeat the procedure. I am never sure if I’m doing it right in her eyes, or if she feels uncomfortable in one place for too long. When she does lie still, it is usually on top of a cat-tree which is an inconvenient spot at which to pet her.

Perhaps she feels safer on top of the cat-trees. She doesn’t care for other cats getting physically close to her, though it’s less of a problem at night; it’s been suggested to me that a bed is a kind of ‘neutral zone’ for cats. Rarely, she will tolerate another snoozing cat near by. However that may be, while I am petting her, she is often watching out for movement and noise, maybe too preoccupied to enjoy herself.

She also likes the tunnel. She used to lie in it when we lived in the apartment, but it was on carpet then. Now that it is on a hardwood floor, she still lies in it, even sleeping. Cats love enclosed spaces, and a tunnel is as enclosed as it gets; it even conforms to her curves. And, once in a while, if a drawer is open and Tungsten isn’t already there, Josie will jump in.

In any case, I think Josie gets ignored compared to the other cats. She will let me know that she is present, and that she likes me, but otherwise, she is unobtrusive. When the other three are on the couch with me, Tungsten on my lap, Renn on my right side and Tucker on the arm of the couch to my left, Josie is snoozing at the top of a cat-tree. When she meanders past from having a drink or nibbling a snack, I will call to her, try to get her to come over, but she passes by, thinking her own thoughts, and climbs up the inevitable cat-tree to peer out the window. She’s a loner, as I’ve mentioned before.

I can’t help thinking that she’s not getting her share of attention. Yet I suppose she asks for it when she wants it. Tucker needs constant reminding that he’s safe and liked, Tungsten will enjoy a head-rub at any time, but Josie is her own cat. She’ll consent to a petting when you want to give her one, but only so much and no more. When she is watching me stroke Renn’s head, she probably isn’t envious, probably isn’t wondering why him and not her. She has her beloved top platform on her cat-tree, her view out the window, her food for snacking, and a human to rub her fuzzy face when she wants him to.

And, once in a while, she lets me know I’m doing the right thing. Saturday mornings, I wake up late - never as late as I’d like these days - and all four cats are in their places on the bed. Last Saturday, I petted Josie for what must have been a quarter-hour; she rarely sits still for that long. She purred her two-tone purr and then she licked my face. I can count on two fingers the times she’s done that; she’s not a face-cat. But that morning she was, for a couple of seconds.

I worry about Josie, but maybe she’s happy anyway.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Big Boy

Right now, of all my cats, the one who has changed the most is Renn. Aside from the fact that his name used to be spelled with only one ‘n’ (I’ve no idea why I changed that), he has become friendlier, more confident and has shown his personality more than ever before.

He’s my big boy, Renfrew Foster, as he once was; I adopted him some time ago. He provides me with a smile every time I see him. He tried something different last week. Tungsten was sitting on the floor at the end of the bed. Renn was on the floor beside the bed, around the corner as it were from the orange one, and obscured by the long skirt of the bedspread. Peeking under it, the big boy saw Tungsten, and decided to sneak up on her. As far as I know, he’s never attempted this; it was a new game for him. He crawled beneath the box-spring, just hidden by the bedspread which brushed the floor at the bed’s foot. Unfortunately, perhaps because stalking another cat was a novelty to Renn, his large form was easily traced as it bulged the bedspread out. This big, long lump crept slowly up on Tungsten, who was watching Renn’s progress with the most bored expression. At one point, Renn’s long fur even stuck out into view. Eventually, he stopped, inches from the orange one but on the other side of the bedspread. He didn’t move. He didn’t know what to do next. This torpor continued for a couple of minutes until Tungsten grew tired of it and left. Renn crawled out, a little abashed, half a minute later, perhaps regretting his missed chance. There will be others.

As I think I’ve mentioned, Renn is developing into a lap-cat. He doesn’t have the nerve to jump onto my lap, but I can tell when he wants up. His back arches for attention and his body seems to wag, almost as much as a dog wags his tail. I will hoist him up, after which he will purr in his rough way as I stroke and pet him. Then he will grow quiet and just lie on me for twenty or thirty minutes. This leads to some chagrin on Tungsten’s part, as the orange one sees my lap as her prerogative. One evening, after Renn jumped down, he landed near Tungsten, who had been waiting, a little impatiently, for a vacancy. Usually, Tungsten and Renn get along well. This time, the tiny terror, annoyed at her big roommate, started slapping him, driving him into a corner. Renn blinked and cowered under the onslaught, but didn’t fight back; he knows who the top-cat is. He had no recourse but to back away, literally.

Renn is not a fighter, though he will reach a breaking point. I can tell he becomes annoyed when I must cut his claws. He dislikes the operation, and I must talk to him and calm him when he groans and whines. Tucker is his superior in the hierarchy of cats at my house, and will boss him around sometimes. Once, evidently, was too much, as the pair got into a real whirling, smacking, wrestling match. It lasted only a few seconds, as they broke apart when I yelled at them, but there were tufts of hair all over the floor. They were Renn’s; I think the roly-poly one had the better of him. Renn’s not a fighter.

He is timid, and hides when visitors come, or when he hears someone just outside the house. But he’s getting better, hiding less and coming out sooner, even when there are strangers about. After meeting these strangers, he probably wonders what he was so apprehensive about.

My big boy enjoys playing. He likes a string toy or a stick, something he can grab. Often, when the string toy is flying about, he will, too. He will leap into the air, a foot, even two, off the floor, in order to catch the object. He comes down rather heavily - cats need a certain distance in which to twist in order to land on their feet, I’ve learned - so I usually entice him to jump only when we play the game on the bed (with a more claw-resistent duvet covering the fragile bedspread). He will also chase and be chased by Tucker and, to a lesser extent, Josie. Sometimes, he will play by himself, knocking about a ball or a fuzzy mouse; he will run about, just for fun. A few days ago, he raced about the house and stopped only when he collided with the water-bowl and sent its contents splashing.

Ah, water. The abiding mystery in Renn’s life. He will watch its flow, its ebb, its stillness; the way it ripples, the way it drops. There is something endlessly fascinating about water for my big boy. He will stare at the bowl from which the cats drink. He will climb up onto the counter next the basin in the bathroom and stare at a tap that hasn’t even dripped, because he knows it may. He will tap water’s surface, to test its texture. Falling water has the allure of a living animal for Renn: his ears turn straight ahead, his eyes grow large, his movements become jerky and attentive. What is this attraction? He drinks water, so he knows what it is, yet its qualities are to him what the stars were to a Renaissance astronomer. Renn, my scientist.

And now, with the coming of spring, a new excitement is arriving. Birds were rarely seen near the apartment where we previously lived. All that could be viewed from it was concrete and brick, stone and asphalt. There were trees by the building, but birds didn’t seem to frequent them, nor were they attracted by a feeder with seed that I had hung up in an attempt to provide a show for the cats. But the back lawn of the house has trees and bushes, grass and power-lines, and still more trees and cables are beyond it; birds congregate and fly within eyesight. Renn has observed them. He’s watched people and dogs out the front windows of the house, and still more birds. Further mysteries to ponder.

Renn is a cat of many parts. He is gentle and shy, but can be roused to anger by prolonged annoyance. He learns and adapts to challenges, but can continue to be perplexed by the simplest of riddles. He is large but eats sparingly. He is active but enjoys most a quiet evening of chest-rubbing or even silence and stillness. He’s my big boy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Everyone Loves a Fireplace

Tucker causes me more problems than all the other cats put together.

That statement should be placed into the proper perspective, however, as none of the cats living with me are a great deal of trouble. I am most fortunate in that respect. But of them all, Tucker is the trouble-maker.

He doesn’t do it consciously. He’s not mischievous. For instance, he has a sensitive stomach, something he shares with Josie. (The sensitivity, not the stomach; they each have one.) Those two account for 95 per cent of the throwing up that goes on in the house. Tungsten has produced two hairballs over the last year or two, while Renn, who, with his long, abundant fur, should logically cough up plenty, has never thrown up during his time with me.

But of course, though troublesome, vomiting is hardly something a cat can control. I’m sure they would if they could. It can’t be any more pleasant to do it than it is to clean it up. Most of the headaches Tucker causes can’t seem like mischief to the roly-poly one. He likes to play with the other cats, to chase them, and, to be fair to Tucker, they like it, too - except for Tungsten - and, after seeing Tucker pursue Josie through the library downstairs, I will see the roles reversed half a minute later. Renn and Tucker chase each other all over the house. But Tucker usually wants to play more than the others, and for longer. When they’ve stopped, he keeps pressing them, and that results in growls and hisses. He will also try to involve Tungsten in play. The orange one used to chase Josie, which she doesn’t anymore - too much competition, I imagine, which is one of the very few things I regret about having the number of cats I do - and doesn’t care for the foster-cat following her. This too will result in growls and hisses.

Tucker will boss Renn about - though my big boy is larger - and they have had at least one fur-flying scrap that I know about. Most of the time they are friendly acquintances, though not quite friends.

And then there is Tucker’s explorations. This curiosity has landed him in the worst trouble since coming to stay with me - or, rather, the most trouble - for me. A few days ago, late at night, I had finished what needed to be done for the day, showered, and was tired. I came upstairs to get ready for bed and saw Renn lying in front of the fireplace, looking up into the chimney. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a fire in there, and I had cleaned it out. I thought perhaps a mouse had found its way up the flue, or perhaps a family of birds had built its nest there. Then I saw Tucker - in the fireplace. He had forced his way between the metal screens that are always closed in front of the fireplace and was actually sitting on the grate.

As you may guess, a wood-burning fireplace is clean only once in its existence, and that’s before it is intially used. As soon as I saw Tucker, I knew that he was going to be filthy. I walked toward him, trying not to scare him into bolting. Renn moved quickly out of the way. I think he had been lying in front of the hearth telling the roly-poly one how much trouble he was going to be in for sitting where he was. And he was in trouble, and knew it. He tried to run for it, but I caught him on the tiled hearth and took him directly to the bath-tub.

What to do then... How does one clean wood-soot off a cat’s fur? Any rubbing would just grind it into the strands. I called one of the ladies of the PAW Society - who was forgiving that I telephoned her at that time of the evening - and she suggested dish-soap. I tried that and it worked. It was certainly not like a cleaning product’s commercial, in which a simple drop applied and then wiped with a cloth will make everything sparkle. It was nearly an hour and a half before Tucker acceptably clean. During that time, he kept trying to jump out of the tub, naturally, frightened of the running water and vastly uncomfortable at being soaked and soaped. He kept squeaking and squealing like a piglet. I did learn that he isn’t as wide as he appears: much of his girth is fur. His eyes, however, can become enormous.

Eventually, I finished and rubbed him down with a towel - which he didn’t mind - and put him in the spare room for the night, with food, water, a litter-box and cushions to sleep on. He was damp and I’m sure I missed a great deal of soot; he is, after all, as black as he is white, and it’s hard to make certain black fur has been cleaned.

I still had a tub and bath-room to deal with, but that would wait for the next day. I checked the internet for information about washing a sooty cat and found that it recommended exactly what was suggested to me. It stated that bathing a cat is a two-person job. Not at eleven o’clock at night, it isn’t, in a one-man household. True, I had to hold Tucker in the tub while aiming the shower hose or soaping him down with the other, but he was remarkably easy to handle, relatively speaking. He could have made the ordeal hellish with claws and teeth everywhere, but Tucker is not like that. He’s a gentle fellow who will nibble if you rub his chest (quite different than Renn) but won’t purposely hurt anyone. Even his exile in the spare room for the night was taken quietly; he did cry from time to time, but he evidently settled down for a night of grooming.

The next day, he looked fine, though he was covered with loose, fine hair - the result of a night of self-cleaning, no doubt. His face still looked like Dick Van Dyck’s from “Mary Poppins”, but I had been afraid to get soap too close to his eyes. He’d have to take care of that part.

The bath-tub was difficult to wipe even with bleach, but Mr Clean’s Magic Eraser, which I’ve used to rid my walls of marks, is an excellent household tool, and did the job - though even with that, tough scrubbing was necessary. And the whole house was filled with Tucker’s loose ends: tufts of fur floating about from his grooming.

Tucker’s true character showed itself after he was released from his incarceration. Despite all the bother to which he had been subjected - manhandled, soaked with water, lathered with soap, washed off, locked in a nearly bare room for a night - the first thing he did after his release was bump his fuzzy head against me, repeatedly showing that he liked me and wondering if I still liked him. His purring is as ready as ever; it’s almost instantaneous.

I wish the episode hadn’t happened, but if it had to, then Tucker was the right cat to be involved. A little roly-poly gentleman, he is always sorry for what he’s done - and doubtless ready to cause more. But not on purpose, of course.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The New Rug

Whenever anything changes in the house, it’s interesting to note the cats’ reactions. For the most part, they have been favourable. I try, after all, to limit changes to good things - and not just for the sake of my pets.

I received a rug as a gift. It’s not new but it is in good condition, and the cats are enjoying it. When I rolled it out in the sitting room, the cats came over to see what this new object was and, of course, to smell what may have been smelled.

Renn thought it was acceptable abut otherwise ignored it except for a few stretches on it. Tucker was initially afraid of it and scurried away for shelter, but quickly came out to sniff at it. He decided he liked it and has been lying on it often. He still hastens away when I pull up a corner to sweep around it; he may think that it’s a big, flat creature which, as long as it’s asleep, is harmless.

Josie was downstairs when the rug was laid out and came over when she saw it as if wondering how I could have introduced something new into the house without her first inspecting it. She seemed to like it, though, as she has used it frequently for stretching. Someone has already thrown up on it - either my Chubs or Tucker (both have sensitive stomachs) - dry food, thank goodness - so I guess that the rug is now officially part of the decor.

Tungsten’s reaction was unusual. The orange one does not play much. She normally watches with detached disdain while the other three frolic and roll and chase. But she does like one of the toys that the cats received at Christmas, a string toy that she enjoys grabbing and biting as it wriggles past her. But even in this, she is unique: she will play frantically for several seconds, perhaps even as long as half a minute. She throws herself about like a victim of strychnine poisoning, then abruptly stops and will not be tempted again by the toy for some time, sitting demurely, ignoring all blandishments, as if taken aback at her unseemly earlier behaviour.

The new rug, however, has made her play more often. She will reach out and grab a passing furry creature on a string - it’s funny when she mistakes her own similarly coloured tail for the toy; she will roll about with it in her paws, or trap it under her skinny arms. She’ll leap into the air after it and bite it ferociously. Perhaps it’s the texture of the rug's material; certainly, she plays a bit more frequently when sitting on the mat just inside the front door than she does on uncovered hardwood. In any case, it’s good to see. I sometimes think that she feels left out as she sits and watches the others, like a man who ponders the absurdity of his fellows’ actions - until invited to join.

The simplest thing can change a cat’s life, though I don't suppose that aspect is much different than a human's life.