A LIFELONG LOVE AFFAIR
Although it defies what experts say about memory, I have several clear memories before the age of 5 and one of them is about our family’s first cat, Pyewacket.
A family picture album was unearthed during one of the ‘help mom clean up her clutter’ duty days with my siblings. A warm rush of happy recognition flows through me. As I reach out to stroke the cellophane-covered picture, my mom leans forward and says, “Oh, that’s Pyewacket. We were always chasing her out of your playpen. We finally gave up because you cried so much when Pyewacket was gone and she was gentle with you anyway.”
From earliest memory, I have been a cat lover. There is a picture of me in a playpen as a 10-month old baby with arms and legs wrapped around Pyewacket. The picture showed Pye to have gorgeous thick and silky dark grey fur. We were napping peacefully together in my playpen. I remember being cold and feeling alone and then Pyewacket jumped into the playpen to be with me.
At that impossibly young age, I felt Pyewacket was my mother. It may sound weird but its how I remember it. I adored her and have adored every feline since. Pye kept me warm, came when I needed her and was ever present. There are few concrete memories about Pyewacket other than that sense of her presence, the sensation of her silky fur in my fingers, and the warmth of her body. Always when I think her, even now, a sense of contentment and safety wells up in me.
Truly, I am a cat whisperer first trained by Pyewacket.
MY BELOVED SISTER & RANCH LIFE
My little sister is an amazing professional animal communicator who travels internationally to film shows and teach workshops about animal communication. She really IS an animal whisperer – by profession and by passion!
I have the fun privilege of ranch sitting and critter sitting for her sometimes when she travels for work.
Me, the one cat girl who lives in town.
Sister (we call each other ‘sister’) has a small ranch in the far northern high dessert area of California where she resides with 3 horses, a plethora of chickens, a few randy roosters, 2 dogs, and 9 cats. Until her husband passed away a few years ago and she needed someone to care for her animals while traveling, I had no idea how to feed horses, what was a ‘flake’ of hay, and had never shoveled poop of any kind from a corral. I had never chased a chicken let alone climbed into the coop to retrieve eggs or to replenish fresh water and scatter feed. I had never wrestled a large, very naughty goat back into his enclosure so that his similarly naughty ‘wife’ and escape artist ‘kids’ would follow suit. (I went from being afraid of that huge goat to getting royally pissed off at his obstinance and took charge! Oh, and I won. Yes, indeed, I won and drug Mr. Goat with his family in tow back into their enclosure. ) I had never taken dogs for a late night bladder break in the yard with a handgun tucked into my jeans because of the mountain lion who was visiting the property in the night and leaving tracks and other evidence of his presence. (Okay, the mountain lion thing was exciting and I secretly loved it.)
As I said: I am the one-cat girl who lives in town. But oh how I’ve grown to love the little ranch and all its furry residents!
What I didn’t know until my third housesitting visit is the cats are mostly outside when Sister is home. She is more of a dog and horse person. I am a cat person. When Sister is home, the cats come to the house for food and water and to get random cuddles, but mostly they are roaming the ranch and neighboring ranches enjoying the cat life and tending to chores like consuming mice hors d’oeuvres. Not so when I am there. They seem to know I love cats and come hang out with me inside and out. They follow me around the horse corral and side yards demanding head scratches and spontaneous hug rides. (Hug rides = hugging a cat to you with one arm while walking around doing chores.) The cats especially love it when I’m there during snowy weather. They come inside to share the fireplace warmth and cuddle up with me wherever I sit. And I eat it up. I’m in kitty cat heaven. Although, I must admit it is almost always a relief to return home to only one animal needing my attention!
I digress. Back to my cats. In town. 🙂
Pussy Gato was this affectionate charmer who had a huge dose of Turkish Van in his DNA. Turkish Van cats are also nicknamed the ‘swimming cats’ because they are known to love swimming in water. Pussy Gato adopted our family when he was about 12-weeks-old.
My children and I had just moved into a new-to-us home after living in a large apartment for years. No pets were allowed indoors or outdoors at our apartment complex. I promised the kids we’d get a cat once we were unpacked and settled into the new house.
While I was gone to town running errands the day after we moved in, the girls rescued a meowing and trapped Pussy Gato (as he had already been named!) from under our house. He was flea-ridden and had wounds on his right-side paws. Most of the fur had been singed off on the right-side of his body and we guessed someone had thrown him into a fire. My oldest daughter, Heather, a confirmed NON cat lover, begged me to keep him. Very odd. She was holding him close, he was purring and ‘hugging her neck’ – he literally had his arms around her neck. I caved. I wanted to cave anyway. (His charming ways were already being asserted as he’d made an instantaneous cat lover of Heather!)
That was the beginning of a 3-year family love affair with Pussy Gato. (My oldest daughter has a great sense of irony and loved the idea that his name meant ‘cat cat’.) The family stories of interactions with him deserve their own space so I will write about him another time.
TAWNY aka The POOFERTY Cat
Then came The Pooferty Cat. Having experienced the magnificence of Pussy Gato’s character and personality, when it seemed time to adopt another cat, I went online and found another Turkish Van.
Tawny was his original name. Tawny was 2.5-3 years old and had been abandoned in a neighborhood. He had survived two very cold winters but the effect on his health caused a permanent sinus condition with regular ‘colds’ or sinus infections and sneezing. A local cat rescue person saw how ill he had become and brought him home one day to nurse him back to health. This lovely woman was an animal foster parent and housed several different species of animals in her home including several cats. (It was an incredibly clean house, which was amazing considering she had several dogs, cats, a few monitor lizards and some birds.) She felt Tawny would do best in a single cat / pet house. She said he would hide away all day and come out at night to cuddle with her when the house was quiet. He was very affectionate and slept with her. I made the two-hour drive to her house to meet Tawny and see if we clicked. We bonded almost right away in her home and I drove away with him while she stood curb-side offering a tear-streaked face and tremulous smile as she waved goodbye. Tawny aka Pooferty shared my space for almost 8 years and what a love he was. It was heartbreaking when his health finally declined to the point of no return. His body systems were shutting down and he was suffering. We said goodbye about 4 years ago in the vet’s office.
Here is the thing. For anyone who has embraced an animal and brought it into the home as a family member, their death is devastating. I like to think I have sane affection for animals but grief is grief. I missed Pooferty so dearly that I decided to wait until the grief had fully passed before getting another cat. I didn’t want a ‘replacement’ cat. In this way, animals are very much like people and sense when they are not your first choice. I wanted any new cat who came to be part of my family to know he or she were my first choice.
Three years passed and I found myself visiting the humane society cat adoption website almost daily. I’d scan the pictures, look for the cats I felt drawn to, and then read their descriptions. Over and over. Age? Cat box trained? Temperament? Breed? History interacting with people? How long in the shelter? Inside only cat or inside/outside cat or outside only?
Because of my wonderful experience adopting an older cat (Pooferty), I was looking for one in the 2-4 year range. Animals over a year old often have a hard time getting adopted, but they have many years of life and love yet to give and receive.
I found a 2-year-old female cat who by appearance and personality description was predominantly a Turkish Van cat so she was the one I picked from the website. The determining factor would be how we clicked when I made my visit to the shelter.
Armed with cat treats hidden in my jeans pocket, I visited the shelter prepared to spend a few hours in the cattery until I knew who was coming home with me. In my experience, cats do most of the picking and I wondered which cat (or cats?) would pick me.
The cat I had come to meet and hoped to adopt purred and was receptive to me. She seemed to like my voice and presence near her chosen perch area, but something was off in my gut and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.
There was a beautiful, fluffy black cat perched right next to the Turkish Van kitty. The fluffy black cat looked like a domestic long hair breed mixed with enough Maine Coone to have some of those dominant features. The two cats seemed very friendly with each other, although the black kitty was super skittish around every other cat.
What transpired over the next hour was me moving around the room, experiencing cats coming to me, checking me out, and me simply watching their interactions with each other and me. I loved snuggling the ones who would be snuggled. A few were rather grumpy. Some were charming. Some were needy and fearful from confusion and /or the atmosphere of being enclosed with a bunch of fellow felines.
The fluffy black cat left her perch twice – once for water and food, once for the litter box. She’d skitter quickly back to the perch each time to hang out beside her Turkish Van roomie. One time, a large tabby growled and blocked her pathway back to the perch. The fluffy black cat reared up on her hind legs like a bear (!) and simply stared down the tabby who was easily twice her size. Bully large tabby cat slunk away and the fluffy black cat streaked to her perch.
I spent the last bit of my visit there hanging out with the sweet Turkish Van cat and the fluffy black cat. They were kind of odd roomies but clearly friends, which told me a lot about both of them. The internal debate had begun on whether or not to adopt them both. I really only wanted one cat but I had already started connecting with the fluffy black cat and did not want to take home with me her one friend. I wanted the sweet Turkish Van cat because life with the previous two had been fun, lovely, full of affection and full of lots of hilarious cat adventures. I was sure this cat would be no different.
Then I had an experience which would change my day. I experienced the thing my animal communicator sister has often described to me but which I’d never personally had before. I ‘heard’ the fluffy black cat. Seriously. This was not imagination. This was not emotion or conflict or anything else. The fluffy black cat somehow communicated to me. I heard a small sigh in my awareness, in my mind, and then, “No one ever picks me. No one wants me.” Then a wave of sadness washed through me *from* the cat. Truly, a bizarre experience for me yet my telling of it is wholly authentic and real and true.
The fluffy black cat was very sad. She felt rejected well before I arrived. She believed she was going to be left behind yet again.
In that moment, I picked her. My only decision was whether or not to also bring home the Turkish Van kitty. My gut told me the fluffy black kitty would rather be a solo cat so that’s what I decided.
Bear came home with me that day. She had been so named by her former owner. I suspect she was thusly named as she resembles a brown-black bear in coloring and frequently rises up like a bear on hind quarters. Bear was 3 years and 3 months old at the time. Her former owner loved her but had surrendered her to the shelter twice which added up to almost 2 years of shelter life. She had lived in the animal shelter longer than she had lived with her owner.
The first surrender happened because the woman had to move and the new residence didn’t allow pets. When she moved again and pets were allowed in the new place, she went back to the shelter for Bear. But … the new boyfriend didn’t like Bear so after several months the owner once again surrendered Bear to the shelter. (The shelter staff always get as thorough of a background story as possible on each animal, that’s why I know these details. I wasn’t told the story until we were filling out adoption paperwork after I chose her.)
The first two weeks at home with Bear were hard. In all my life, I’ve never had a cat not take a shine to me within a few hours, if not immediately. Bear hid in the bedroom for 4 days. She only came out of hiding for food, water and the litter box, all of which were in the bathroom.
I work from home, usually in the living room, and never saw the cat. I only heard her when she’d sneak out of hiding into the bathroom to use the litter box or eat or drink.
On day 5, I decided to move her food and water into the kitchen to force her to venture out further in the house. It worked. For eating and drinking. Still no interaction with me. I knew better than to force it but this was no fun. I wanted some kitty cat love and wondered if I’d made a mistake bringing her home. I temporarily wrestled with the idea of taking her back to the shelter. Yet, knowing her history and what I sensed from her at the shelter, I couldn’t give up on her.
On day 7, she ate and drank and then came into the living room where I was working. She sat about 8 feet away from me staring with her startling golden eyes. For hours. She’d only move to go eat, drink or use the litter box. This went on for a few days. I’d work. She’d stare. At times it was so unnerving that I would position the laptop so that I couldn’t see her.
On morning of day 10, she jumped up on the ottoman next to me where she sat staring at me. After 20 minutes, I set aside the laptop and slowly reached out to touch her. Bear let me pet her for several seconds, then backed away out of reach. After a few minutes, she disappeared back into the bedroom.
On the evening of day 10, a terrible storm had begun outside. I LOVE storms and had opened windows for a cross breeze. The front door was open with lovely fresh wind blowing through the screen door.
I had no idea Bear was afraid of storms. She came slinking out of the bedroom almost crawling, trying to be as low to the floor as possible. Everything about her body language screamed ‘fear’! Bear jumped up on the ottoman and climbed onto my chest, digging in her claws for security. OUCH! I gently pried her claws out of me and spoke in soothing tones for a few minutes while petting her.
Finally, I set her down on the ottoman so that I could get up and close the front door to stem a lot of the wind and noise from the storm. But I left open the windows. I knew I could not cater to her fear completely or I’d never get to enjoy stormy breezes during her lifetime with me!
The moment I sat back down in the chair she once again climbed on my chest. I had become her safe place in the storm.
That night was the beginning of our bonding.
It has been a slow process of helping her overcome the trauma of being surrendered twice to the animal shelter. Plus, I strongly suspect the former owner’s boyfriend was somewhat physically abusive to her. She was terrified of the broom when she got here. A few times, I got intuitive flashes of her being hit with a broom. She was exceedingly hostile if her paws were touched. I also had intuitive flashes of a man holding her by her rear paws and spinning her in circles on a slippery floor.
It took months for her to learn I would not hurt her in any way including hitting her with a broom. Now I can pick up the broom and even sweep right by her and she doesn’t move or run away. In fact, I think it bores her! LOL.
I have a thing for petting cats’ silky paws so I set about gently touching her paws and petting them. At first, she’d draw back or bat at me almost immediately when I touched her paws. Over time, she has grown tolerant of me petting her paws but won’t put up with it for long. (Most cats don’t like to have their paws touched even if no one ever abused them.) I still pet her paws because I love doing it and because I’m a bit of a cat myself and just wanna bug her. But I bug her in love and she knows it.
After EIGHT months of living with me, Bear finally decided to start napping on my bed. That was a very happy day for me. It was a sign of another fear done away with.
AFTER ELEVEN months of living with me, she finally curled up and slept with me.
More fun things have taken place over our time of sharing this home but I think that’s enough for now about our adventures in knowing each and helping Bear overcome that feeling of rejection and hopelessness I first sensed at the animal shelter.
If you choose to adopt a pet from the shelter, please be patient. We never know a shelter pet’s full history. Animals, like people, take time to heal when they’ve experienced abandonment, rejection, and/or abuse. But patience and time, help animals to overcome these things and to become the free, fun-loving, adventurous creatures they were meant to be all along. Your patience will be rewarded.
So, if you are a cat lover, know that your special kind of cat whispering may need more time and patience when adopting a shelter pet, but the payoff is very satisfying.