Present: The new boy …
“You know, I’m wondering whether you might not be just the sort of chance we’re looking for, for one of our long-term residents,” the manager of our local animal shelter told me. I had inquired about a pair of orphaned kittens initially but had learned they were to have someone else for their new parents, so that seemed to be that. “Then again …” the manager’s email said, picking up on the fact that all three of my previous cats had been rescues, and all three with a rather troublesome recent history before making their home with me. And a few days later she introduced me to a beautiful tuxedo tom of indeterminate age (estimates run anywhere from 3 to 6 years) with white whiskers, a white “bib” beginning right at his chin, the customary white tuxedo belly, as well as white hind socks and white front toes, who had been picked up several months earlier, found to be a prowler entirely unused to human company, and, alas, diagnosed as FIV positive. The fact most preventing people from showing any interest in spending time in his company was, however, not his infection (which is dormant and expected to remain so for a long time yet), but his apparent utter rejection of human presence. “He’s got enormous potential, and he’s managed to survive on the lam in a city environment for several years after all, but the one thing his life so far hasn’t taught him was to trust – particularly, to trust humans. So he’ll need someone with a lot of patience and a lot of experience to take care of him,” the animal shelter’s manager told me.
Well, here we go with another cat-related challenge, I thought. I’d been warned that he’d be greeting my approach with a hiss and a display of claws, so I was actually pleasantly surprised to be able to get within a few feet of him before being made to understand that, thank you, but this was quite near enough and if I’d move back a few paces that would be much appreciated as well. He did accept my treats, however, and I stayed with him, just talking to him, for over half an hour – a procedure that I then came to repeat regularly over the next three months. Except for the very first time he never permitted me to touch him, though I was able to get (and stay) within a forearm’s length of him fairly quickly. Initially, he’d hidden behind the covers of his scratchpost / sleeping place practically all of the time, but – not least thanks also to the efforts and dedication of one of the carers at the shelter – eventually he relaxed and started to interact; albeit very cautiously, with hisses and claws always remaining the easily-triggered default mode. Then, one day, he on his own decided to make physical contact … over the tuna I’d brought, and only for the briefest and most stalky-legged, awkwardly-hobbling moment (retiring instantly with a major hiss, as if to say, “now, don’t you think you can get all familiar with me all of a sudden!”) – but it was clear that we’d now (finally) start making greater progress if I took him home.
So, in early June he moved in with me. For the time being, he has chosen to reside under my bed, only venturing out to explore my apartment at night – though of late an ample supply of treats, tossed strategically so he eventually has to come out from his “cave” to retrieve them, has occasionally induced him to actually venture forth briefly in my presence, too (albeit never any further than my bedroom door so far, and not without a great deal of nervous glances in the direction of my hall, from where – if at all –, as he has correctly diagnosed, the rare unwanted intrusion of other humans is to be expected). Still, it’s progress – even major progress for him – and I am happy to give him all the time he needs!
Given his currently-preferred place of residence, I don’t have any photos of my own of him as yet, but here are a few impressions taken at the animal shelter, in the weeks before he moved in with me. At the shelter, they named him Horst … decidedly not the name I’d have come up with myself (for him or any cat, period), but I’m taking my time coming up with a new name, and for the time being he is simply my “Miezekater” (literally: “pussy tomcat” – it sounds decidedly less ridiculous in German than it does in English) … a pet name that he seems to like and that he has started to respond to.
The last survivor of what once used to be a trio of adoptees, she finally left me, alas, on December 27, 2016 – I had her from age 6 weeks onwards. Like all of my cats, a rescue: She was born in Grand Canyon National Park, where some unfeeling people had left her pregnant mama behind to give birth alone, in the wild. Mom and most of the litter unfortunately didn’t make it, but two adorable identical twins (later named Holly and Molly) were taken to the shelter where visitors to the park have to drop off their pets during their stay. One of those visitors was me. The rest, as they say, is history …
Holly was a complete and total snuggle bunny, incredibly affectionate, and frequently incredibly funny, a downright little clown (and I am firmly convinced, totally on purpose) – never mind that from early on, she also appropriated the alpha role in my four-pawed family and she was clearly of the opinion that humankind’s true role in life is to serve their feline princes(ses). But she did it all with so much charm and love, you just couldn’t help but love her back and fulfil her every wish! 🙂
Holly’s kidneys started ailing in early 2016, and they finally failed her over Christmas of that year. She bravely fought a losing battle, and I will never forget her love of her humans which she conveyed to us until her very last breath. She is now resting in our building’s ample garden, very near the spot where we already buried Gypsy and Tiger. I want to believe that they are reunited in a happy place.
Gypsy was my very first cat — he showed up one day towards the end of the spring term in my neighborhood at university: a scrawny, dusty gray furball who had obviously spent a considerable amount of time outside; long enough to start being scared of humans, however desperately he needed to be fed. My landlady, a cat owner herself, eventually managed to coax him close enough to the house in order to be able to pick him up and give him a new temporary home on her (fenced-in) back porch, where she, her boyfriend and I proceeded to take turns spending time with him and slowly earning his trust. Once properly taken care of by the vet and brushed, he revealed himself to be a darling creature with shiny, soft black fur, and the gentlest and most unassuming tomcat that ever breathed.
When it came time for me to move away, there was no question but that Gypsy (who by that time had long moved into my own room) was going to accompany me. When, a little over year later, Holly came to join us, he at first registered marked (and for him, extremely rare) dissent, but tiny little creature that she was, she didn’t give up trying to win him over, literally getting closer to him inch by inch and day by day, until finally — within approximately a month — one day I came home to find them curled together ying-yang style. From that day on, she was the (other) great love of his life, and he became a total pushover for her every whim, though most of the time all she really wanted was his love and attention … and she generally got it, too!
I never knew Gypsy’s exact age, but he was with me for almost 10 years, and his last vet thought that he had probably lived to a downright biblical age for cats — almost certainly 19, if not even 20 or 21 years. He died in April 2008, and there’s not a day that I don’t miss him.
I didn’t want a third cat. For two years I kept telling my petsitter, who was active in all sorts of animal rescue charities, that I thought it would be unfair to Gypsy and Holly, and probably also to the new cat, to add one more to their company. I very much doubted that the changed dynamics were going to work. For two years, my petsitter kept telling me about every new rescued litter she had temporarily taken in and urged me to come and take a look at them. For two years I refused, knowing full well that it would take me about a nanosecond to cave and change my mind.
One day, I stopped by her place to drop off something — and it turned out she had just taken in another mama cat and her newborn litter; this one literally rescued from a dustbin.
I took one look at them. I caved instantly. (It even took less than a nanosecond, I believe in hindsight.)
So, Tiger came to stay with us. Like Holly, she was about 6 weeks old when I adopted her. Gypsy, as in Holly’s case, initially played Mr. Grumpy, but accepted her much quicker than it had taken him to accept Holly (having concluded, obviously, that the addition of a new cat to the household wasn’t going to deprive him of my love and might even have its advantages, in providing him with a new little playmate). Holly, on the other hand, was furious — at me, first and foremost, for daring to inflict competition for my love on her. Wasn’t she the cutest cat on the planet? Was her love suddenly not enough for me any longer? — It took some serious talking to her and a lot of love, pets and treats to make her understand that she was not being sidelined. Eventually she grudgingly accepted Tiger’s presence, even though she and Tiger never grew nearly as close as she and Gypsy had become at this point.
Tiger was, like Holly, extremely affectionate as a kitten, but became a downright tomboy as she grew up; without ever losing her fondness for pets and attention, though.
She suddenly started to lose weight in early spring of 2012, but was at first declared in no serious state by her vet. The vet prescribed pills for her liver, which was showing slightly less than normal test results (“but nothing truly worrying,” I was told). Within a week, she was so ill that she could hardly move. I took her to the emergency vet service. Ultimately, she was diagnosed (by the same vet who only a week earlier had told me that there was nothing seriously wrong with her!) to have advanced cancer of the liver; so advanced, in fact, that nothing could be done for her.
She, too, has been missed every single day, ever since.