Memories of cats

For whatever the reason – possibly just to take my mind off the madness consuming the planet – I find myself thinking about the cats I’ve known and loved. Or in some cases just known. Cats have been part of my life for most of it, so it’s probably not that surprising that I associate different times of my life with the cats that were part of it.

The first cat I remember was my family’s grumpy elderly tabby. She was, if I remember correctly, named Miserable – and she was aptly named. I have vague memories of a 4-year-old me trying to talk quietly to her and extending a hand, which promptly got clawed. She must have been close to the end of her life at that point, because I don’t believe she moved with us when we moved a few month after that.

The next cat was mine. Or I was hers. I truly don’t know which way it went – possibly both. In any case, Rani the cross-eyed Siamese came into my life as a kitten when I was 5. I have old photos of her curled up in bed with me when I was 6 or 7. She was fine with the rest of the family, but it was me she went to first, and my bed she slept on.

She was a pedigreed Seal Point Siamese, sold as a pet because she was cross-eyed. She also had weak bones and spent some time in that first year getting calcium supplements to help protect her from breaking bones. I don’t remember too much of that apart from that she went to the vet more often than a healthy cat should and that she did break at least one leg that I know of.

At the time, my mother bred Old English Sheepdogs – think 100-ish pounds of hair that barks. The puppies are ridiculously cute, with black and white markings that go gray and white as they get older. To help socialize the puppies, mum would often have them up in the living room running around while Rani sat on one of the chairs. And at least once launched herself onto one of the pups and rode it around the room. Cat and pup appeared to enjoy the game, too.

Rani was part of my life through… four moves, my entire school career, at least one occasion where she complained so vociferously she lost her voice (and a Siamese with a scratchy voice is something else), my first college degree and a few years after that. She was somewhere around 15 when the family was acquired by another cat – and yes, it was that way around.

Tiger Tim was a sweet, gentle orange-and-white cat who as a 4 month-ish kitten decided he liked us. At the time, we were vacationing by house (and cat) sitting for friends of the family and his mother had more or less adopted the family next door. He adopted us, to the extent that we brought him home with us. From Newcastle to Brisbane (about 500 miles, which we did over 2 days).

Once he settled in to his new home we found out that he got on fairly well with his elderly house-mate (at least, I don’t remember him and Rani arguing much, although it is possible she just didn’t have the energy to swear at him). We also learned his mum, having been a stray, had taught him to hunt. Properly.

He knew what he could eat and what was not food – the rat that had eaten bait got left after he finished playing with it, but the many many sparrows were left as sad little collections of feathers, feet, and beaks. And livers. For some reason Tiger Tim did not like livers. Of mice, we’d find tails, feet, and livers. And, on one utterly memorable occasion, the tame peach-faced lovebird who wore a Cone Of Shame to stop him pecking at himself and who would be let out to interact with us once we’d shut the cats into a room elsewhere, was left as feathers scattered across the living room, the Cone, feet, and liver. And a very smug orange and white cat with a little bit of feather sticking out of his mouth.

In his defense, that house could not be vermin-proofed, and we’re pretty sure Tiger Tim chased a mouse up the curtains beside the bird’s cage. Which he knocked free in the scramble, and broke it open. What cat is going to ignore the result of that?

I cleaned up the mess before my sisters could get out of bed – the last thing I wanted my youngest sister to see on her birthday no less was the outcome of the cat vs bird battle in the living room. Unfortunately there was no easy way to break the news to her…

Rani developed cancer when she was somewhere around 17 or 18. It first showed up as sneezing, then we realized there was a kind of membrane across the inside of one of her nostrils. At her age, surgery wasn’t an option, so we simply looked after her and dealt with her increasing grumpiness (side note: an angry Siamese sounds remarkably like a screaming child, or at least she did). Eventually her head began to swell up, and she couldn’t hold her head up properly any more. She’d also got painfully thin and had arthritis to the point where she refused to be anywhere but the warmest place she could find. She was 19 when she went in to her last vet visit. I wasn’t told that it was happening, or when, but I knew. I felt it.

Meanwhile, Tiger Tim had an “adventure” with pneumonia that we caught just in time when we found him lying flat out on the floor trying to breathe. He needed a few days in veterinary intensive care, after which we were told to keep him quiet so his lungs could recover fully (very optimistic, this vet). That lasted two days, when in his desperation to escape the kitty pokey room he managed to claw one of my sisters quite badly.

Sadly, the result of not being able to confine him meant that we lost Tiger Tim at the relatively young age of ten, to something rather similar to emphysema, where his lungs just couldn’t bring in enough air to sustain him. The local sparrows, mice, rats, and lizards rejoiced…

A few years before Tiger Tim passed, I found myself with Miss Shani Fluffypants – part Persian, part Siamese, and part who the hell knows. The mother of one of mum’s students had an intact black queen (with a little patch of white on her chest) who somehow always managed to get pregnant before they could get her spayed. Allegedly, anyway. Let’s just say these weren’t the most responsible of cat parents.

Anyway, word had gone around that they were looking for parents for kittens, and I fell for this teeny little blue-eyed ball of fluff. Who came home with me at the entirely too young age of 5 weeks (fully weaned, no less, which means the mother wasn’t being fed properly). To this day I don’t know if Shani thought I was her mother or her kitten, but I honestly suspect both.

She had no voice. When she meowed it was more like heavy breathing than anything else, but boy could she communicate by tone of breath. It was amazing. Soon after I brought her home, I found her under the hutch with a little paw poking out to play with Tiger Tim. Who tolerated her, then decided he rather liked her. Eventually they were best of friends, although when she got too rambunctious for him, he’d sit on her and wash her until she calmed down.

Shani moved from Australia to the USA with me, arriving as this miserable fluff-ball with her fur sticking out at all angles. She came to a reasonable accommodation with The Husband’s cat Tia (who never did accept anyone but him, but allowed Shani to share her space and his snuggles). When we lost Tia to kidney failure, Shani started to get rather more demanding, which led to the arrival of the cat with the unusual name, aka Little Bugger (who, yes, earned that name when he caused The Husband to search the house for him for nearly an hour in order to get him to his post-adoption vet visit).

Bugger was gray and white, and he and Shani reconciled to each other rather quickly – especially after Bugger escaped outside then hid under the back porch all day because he was too scared to go anywhere else. After that, the two of there were very close indeed.

As Shani got older, we had a few health scares, although the worst had to be the one with the scent glands. Take note, folks. Cats have scent glands. Normally the effort involved in pooping is enough to keep everything healthy, but if the cat is older and has a few days of not going – or a bout of diarrhea – their scent glands can get blocked. And if blocked for long enough or badly enough, they can burst. Let me tell you it is not a good thing to discover that your sweet kitty has a gaping bloody hole in her butt.

That vet visit was the only time Shani ever clawed or bit me. The disinfectant they used to clean out the wound must have hurt like hell. She recovered, though.

In fact, she went on to have another 5 or so years after that incident, before we took her to the vet because she was losing weight rapidly. Xrays found a growth near her lungs, so for her last 6 months she was going to the vet every 2 weeks for a steroid shot to try to slow the growth. Surgery on a 21 year old cat is not recommended, after all.

Shani

Eventually, it got to be too much for her, and she went for her last visit. She died with me petting her telling her I loved her and she wouldn’t be in pain any more.

Baby was the next addition to the household. Like Bugger, he practically demanded to join us. He was another sweet boy, although he had… issues. He’d been a stray, then adopted but mostly living wild for the first 5 years of his life – so he was a bit insecure when it came to food. Which meant we had to get ourselves a cat-proof trash can (it isn’t. But it’s good enough to stop a cat who isn’t absolutely determined to get at the food). Baby also liked water. To the extent that he’d join us in the shower and jump about catching the water as it sprayed down. Then we had to deal with Wet Cat which wasn’t nearly as much fun.

It took a few years after losing Shani before I was ready for another blue-eyed Siamese-y cat, which led to Her Royal Highness Princess Buttercup’s arrival. She hadn’t been here 2 weeks before she’d taken Boss Cat duties. This 12-week-old kitten just waltzed over to the food bowls and pushed the bewildered boys out so she could have her share. And there things stayed.

Bizarrely, Shani – and her lack of voice – had an impact that’s still going. Both Bugger and Baby stopped “talking” soon after joining our household, since Shani could make her intentions known quite effectively without any sound. When Buttercup arrived, she quickly picked up that excessive chatter didn’t happen, so we don’t get anything like as much raucous Siamese voice as one might expect.

Buttercup Takes Charge of Bugger and Baby

Which is not to say that Buttercup doesn’t talk to us. She does. She just waits until we’ve ignored her more subtle approaches before telling us off.

Baby left us first, to a fast-acting problem. He went from normal to barely functioning in the space of a couple of weeks, then Bugger started having his cancer issues with his intestines basically breaking down. Kitty chemo gave him an extra 6 months of being reasonably healthy and happy – and loved – before we lost him as well.

It took Buttercup less than 6 months to go all demanding diva on us, which is about when we decided we really needed to have another cat in the house, just so she had someone other than us to boss around. Apparently it’s hard work being Boss Cat when you don’t have anyone to boss.

Which led to the arrival of Midnight and Westley, who are littermates and a year old now. They still rampage around a lot although they’re not, technically, kittens any more. As all our cats have done, they take Minding the Humans seriously – no matter what happens, there is always one cat within sight of each human in the house. And of course, Buttercup is still in charge, no matter that Midnight is growing an impressive mane and Westley is very much the Dread Kitty we named him.

It hurts like hell every time we lose one, but given the choice I’d rather have known them and loved them than not.

(The featured image is Buttercup as a kitten claiming my chair as her property dammit)

15 comments

  1. Dogs have scent glands that generally express themselves also; but vets and groomers often do it for dogs, as do owners of dogs with known digestive problems. Scooting butt along floor a lot, unhappily, is a sign, as is a lot of fishy smell. And yes, the glands can get impacted and rupture.

    I don’t know about cats, but a lot of vets will show dog owners how to check and express anal glands on dogs.

    1. As we have found with MR. Nemo, dogs typically have two sets, inner and outer. The outer can be expressed by groomers or you; the inner ones are tougher to reach and a lot of times groomers won’t in my experience.

  2. It tends to be less common for cats to have issues, I think. I’d certainly never heard of it until Shani’s butt blowout – which I suspect may have been almost as traumatic for me as it was for her!

    When I checked the internets after she’d been treated and given a 2 week antibiotic shot, what I saw suggested (fairly strongly even) that cat owners not attempt to deal with it themselves. Something to do with the fuzzy blender effect of an unhappy cat.

      1. That was what my vet told me when I took Nemo in right after the groomer did “anal gland expression” and Nemo was still doing the “butt scoot boogie”.

    1. They stay with you for years after they pass. They may only be around for 20 years, but they become part of your family. That’s why I decided to share a little about the cats that have owned me over the years. They’re all still part of me.

      Miss them, but remember the good times with them. The snuggles, the times when one of them decided that your lap was the place to be and played fuzzy hot water bottle for you…

  3. We’re currently cat sitting two and have two of our own. One visiting cat doesn’t get along with one of our cats – as in growling and hissing fights “not get along”. It’s fine when humans are around to break it up, but at night it is very annoying. The visiting cats get banished to the basement at night – then yowl at the door all night long.
    I will have a very angry friend, but if Hawaii doesn’t open up soon, that cat will be shipped to the governor. I could be convinced to put air holes in the package; “but I encased him in bubble-wrap so he wouldn’t get hurt” doesn’t really work as an excuse at my age.

    1. Oh my. So would a parceled up angry cat count as an improvised explosive device? (For some reason I’m reminded of one of the Greebo scenes in Lords and Ladies… the one where he’s in a box and erupts out of it all over some… unfortunate elves)

        1. None whatsoever! I was just thinking there are a number of State Governors who could benefit from a similar… correction.

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