This is how we do things!

After having opened the front door, I found myself eye to eye with a tiny cat. She almost looked like a kitten, but I knew she wasn’t. In fact, she was already three years old. Cersei stared at me with those huge eyes and made herself scarce as soon as I started talking to her. “Well begun is half done,” I said to myself, meaning it ironically so.
It all turned out okay. Less than a minute later, we were facing each other again in the kitchen. This time, when I dropped to my knees and stretched out my hand to her, she came running towards me. Her initial shock was pretty quickly overcome by curiosity. She sniffed at my outstretched hand for a bit, pushed her little head against it and we had made our connection. In the two weeks that followed, she would be – if she wasn’t asleep– where I was!
It took a little bit longer for me to connect with Lily. I went around the house a few times, but she was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t be outside; the garden was meticulously fenced off, so I couldn’t have missed her there. Asking her owner for her possible whereabouts was also an impossibility, as she was flying towards her holiday destination at that very moment. It seemed there was nothing left to do for me, but let go of the thought where Lily could be. And as soon as I managed doing that, my eye fell on the top of the two-meter-high cat tower in the corner of the living room. The rear one had a little hump on top in the same colour as the pillow. The hump was moving, even though just slightly so.

Lily, pretty Christmas cat

Both cats left me alone for the remainder of the day. That surprised me, as their owner had assured me that the both of them were very cuddly. I didn’t get proof of that until the evening, after I had positioned myself on the couch. Lily was the first to approach me, by walking past and over me a few times, and finally sitting down right next to me. Then it was Cersei’s turn to cautiously walk around me. There was already a laptop on my upper legs, and I noticed she was carefully inspecting the area close to my stomach. And being the good listener I am, I created a spot for her so she could nestle down. 

Cersei getting comfortable

Before going to bed, there was another, similar ritual. As soon as I started heading towards the bedroom, both cats ran up the stairs with me. But it was quite clear they didn’t like my pace! While I was busy with my own evening ritual in the bathroom, Lily as well as Cersei lost their interest and disappeared into another room, or back to the ground floor. When I finally sat down in the bed for my bedtime reading, I would hear footsteps on the stairs and on the landing. The one a bit lighter, the other a bit heavier. Lily was usually the first to enter the bedroom. She quickly disappeared under the bed first, to show up again at the other side. On the far foot end, she would immediately start to give herself a proper wash.
Cersei wouldn’t be long after that. The same steps as earlier on the couch were being repeated: the carefully going around and over me, to see if her favourite spot happened to be available. As soon as I had created it, she took in her position. Sleeping she usually did, with me being a side sleeper, in my knee pit. An excellent spot for a small cat like Cersei. Lily seemed to come closer and closer during the course of the night. If I happened to wake up for some reason, there was very little space left for my legs!
It was Lilly who liked waking me up in the morning. At the crack of dawn, she often started to meow softly while coming closer, checking if I was already awake.  As I think it’s the best policy to ignore unwanted behaviour, that’s exactly what I did. Which she tried to resolve by licking my hands or my face, whatever she could reach, so that I was obliged to hide my head under the duvet! Luckily, she was a pretty smart cat, so after a few fruitless attempts she would leave me alone. She probably knew I would rise not long after that. 

Keep your enemies closer

A cat paradise, that’s what the flat where Paddington and Daisy lived as well as its surroundings looked like to me. Inside, they were allowed in every single room, always plenty of food handy for them and through the cat flap they could come and go as they pleased. In a park-like environment, a group of buildings stood in a respectable distance from each other. A great place for both cats to romp freely; and they did.  

“My cats don’t get along very well,” their owner said upfront. “Since Paddington is with us, Daisy is hardly ever home anymore”. In the course of time I have heard many stories about older cats feeling cast off their thrones with the arrival of a kitten. Though Daisy could hardly be considered a woman of age, being barely one year old! In spite of that, she exhibited some of the symptoms of an elderly lady whose life was being made miserable with the arrival of an ‘enfant terrible’. Paddington who was not even a half year old, was still super playful and it didn’t take long for me to witness it with my own eyes. Daisy, walking through the flat unsuspectingly, was literally jumped upon by her lurking tormentor. Not just once, but quite regularly. Luckily, she could hold her own and with the necessary snarling and growling she made the youngster understand she didn’t appreciate his behaviour! 

Daisy in relax mode

Paddington was a joy to observe! When playing in the garden, expensive cat toys were absolutely redundant. Birds, bugs, an autumn leave moving in the win or just the way the light was falling through the leaves of the trees.  Basically, anything would do. What Daisy did when she was outside is unclear to me. As soon as she had gone through the cat flap, she was out of sight. 

Paddington, alert as ever

In spite of everything, I was not under the impression the flat was too small for the both of them. Either way, there was definitely enough space for them not to have to get in each other’s way. That Paddington would not always stick to that unwritten cat rule, was secondary!
There were enough moments, where it did work out well. Then one of them would be in the play room and the other one in a basket next to me. Or one was out in the garden, while the other would be in the sun, on top of the arm chair’s backrest. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” thought my ironic self.

Sometimes I wonder if they’ve reached a status quo by now… 

Good morning!

Lily is not always the easiest cat to look after. This is mainly because she often meows at night. I don’t really know why she does it, as I always make sure there’s enough food in her bowl! It used to be worse, but back then it was easy to explain: her buddy Suus had just passed away. The sounds she produced echoed through the stairway, so loud that I feared it would cause the neighbors to complain about it! But this was never the case, and by now it seems Lily is mostly used to being an only cat.
If it wasn’t for the nights, they still seemed to last longer than she cared for. Preferably, she appears next to my pillow before the crack of dawn, to meow in a way sounding in between a bit angry and lamenting. As I have learned the best way to deal with unwanted behavior is by ignoring it – anything else will be encouragement to do it again – I make sure to keep up.  But Lily wasn’t born yesterday either: after she realises her tactics aren’t successful, she gets fed up and impatiently starts patting me against the head. After being outsmarted, I cannot do anything else but deny her access to the bedroom. Unlike her, I am not in a position to lie on the couch all day long napping! Sometimes, shutting her out works, but not always: it does occur that she continues to meow at me angrily from the other side of the door! My final resolution is to make sure she cannot get into the stairway at all. For some reason, her complaints  then stops after a while. She is still close enough for me to hear her, but she seems to give up. As it seems, I have finally managed to get the message across! 

Luckily, all seems to be forgiven and forgotten the morning after. Without exception, she greets me enthusiastically once she sees me. She meows at me perkily, as if saying: “Finally! What took you so long?” Then she first trots toward her favourite scratch pole and sharpens her nails once or twice. After that, it’s time for our morning dance. It’s the way we start every single day: with a kind of tango for two, with her meticulously getting in my way. When my right leg moves forward, she shoots in front of my left leg. When my left leg goes forward, she moves to the right. With every single step, I have to be careful not to kick or trip over her! Quite a challenge at that time of day.
But my first good deed of the day, without exception, is to spoil her with her favourite snack. Not long after that, the house is getting quiet again. But she only relaxes for real, after I sit down for my own breakfast. As if she knows, that soon her day is going to start! 

Life starts at fifteen (when you’re a cat)

At the age of fifteen, Tonguç suddenly started to display a different kind of behaviour. Born in the streets of Istanbul, she was lovingly welcomed in the safety of her owner’s household. Together with housemate Black Pepper they crossed the Marmara Sea to the island of Büyükada, a well-known cat haven, quite some years ago. Life was good for the two cats there: a roof above their heads, always food and fresh water in their bowls and a lush garden for horsing around in. But Tonguç didn’t seem to be interested in ; she was more of a homebody. Generally, as soon as she had left the house, she wanted to come back in again not long after.  One memorable summer, when I was supposed to be online for a yoga training, she kept claiming her spot on my lap. So that’s how I meditated! It must have been too funny seeing her little head pop up at the other end of the screen! 

On the yoga mat

Upon my return one year later, her absence was immediately obvious.  In the past, it wouldn’t have taken her long to wrap herself around my legs, meowing “Hello! I am here! Have you noticed me? Pick me up please!” Cuddling was mandatory as far as she was concerned.  
No wonder I was stupefied when her owner explained that Tonguç now was living the life of an outdoor cat! She only came in occasionally to be fed. “I do understand,” her owner added, “it’s just stifling inside”. I was still surprised, as all previous summers the weather had been hot. Her behaviour seemed a radical change to me.  After having laughed it away with an ‘oh well, you know; old age doesn’t always come along with wisdom’, I quickly started changing my mind. From the balcony on the first floor I could see exactly what she was doing on her spot by the roadside. That she had picked because it was excellent for napping in the shade was obvious. But it was only when I saw with my own eyes how she was spending her days that I fully understood what it was all about. 
In spite of being of respectable age, Tonguç is still gorgeous. And as many visitors of the island regard the cats as a major local attraction, she got loads of attention. Not long after the first eye contact was made – usually this happened simultaneously with somebody making comments in a cooing tone of voice about how cute she was. Mostly girls of all ages would stop in their tracks, but I’ve also seen the occasional guy get off his bike to give her some fuss. Every now and again, people would offer her a handful of dry food; she didn’t care much for that though. It was for that reason that her son, a big, cool tom cat, joined her in the flirting with passers-by! 
But even the most hardcore cat fans carry on their ways after a while. Never mind: usually it didn’t last that long until the next cat fan would be stopping in his tracks. 

Queen of the garden

Nothing wrong with getting older, the life of a cat begins at fifteen after all!

A hard life

It’s not that easy being a ‘kept cat’, especially in a world where many of their own ilk have to live in the streets and fend for themselves. Even in the case where they receive three meals a day, by a benevolent home owner! I’ve often wondered if the house cats were regarded as less than their peers living outside. The way my little protégées were making their way from the backdoor towards the garden, while having to deal with the voracious bunch.. It was hilarious to witness how differently they dealt with the situation!

ÇıtÇıt just did it! Perhaps while meowing irritably, and handing out a corrective tap to cheeky youngsters if need be… He deliberately continued his path. Kitty, with her talent to be invisible, did pretty much the same, minus the comments and the smacks. Hitler is a big boy who goes his own way no matter what. I’ve yet to meet the first cat who would dare to stick out a paw to him! Tonguç usually wouldn’t even give it a try. As soon as she would spot something looking like a cat in the backyard, she would lose interest. Jerry was cautious. He picked his moment, preferably when the garden cats were having their meal. He would hop by them cheerfully, meowing something that sounded a lot like “bon appetit you guys!!”

Yeter, overlooking the front garden from a safe vantage point.

Yeter was a whole different story. Upon our first encounter three years previously, she was usually to be found in the backyard as well. She would spend her days there and only came home for food and sleep. Not the easiest one to approach as she was a bit of a scaredy cat! But since Lily, one of the cute little kittens born a year ago, had grown up to be a sturdy young lady, funny to the extent of cheeky. The only one that would manage at least once a day to make her way inside the kitchen and steal the house cats’ food! And if given the opportunity, she would walk around the house curiously, to see what else there was of her interest. 

Lily, always sleeping with one eye open!

Unfortunately, she terrorized poor Yeter. Nervously, Yeter never quite managed to make herself invisible on her way into the garden. She wouldn’t even try if she spotted other cats, but if she somehow encountered them on her way, she always did something to draw attention towards herself. Such as softly meowing, and it sounded an awful lot like “please don’t hurt me, I’m a good kittie!” And before she knew it; there was Lily, and Yeter was gone! She literally got chased way and lucky for her she was quite fast. She made it to the bottom part of the garden, into the tree and over the wall into another territory. At a later point in time, it proved not to be a simple task to get her back home again. The garden next-door was safe and quiet. Our own garden caused her stress as it was generally overcrowded with cats waiting for a meal. To simply lift her up and carry her inside was not an option due to her anxious personality. It would only make matters worse.
In the end, it was a simple question of distracting the other cats in a suitable way: with food. The perfect way to create an opportunity for the shy young lady to return home safely.

Oh Donna; you’re getting older

Her owner had already prewarned me: the groomer had come by.  Lately, she had not been able to brush her fur herself as it caused Donna pain due to the progressing arthrosis. It was simply too painful and it caused her owner anxiety. Nevertheless, I shortly but certainly held my breath when I saw the result: it was not a pretty sight. In fact, it scared me a bit. It was now pretty obvious her hind legs were crooked. The otherwise thick fur was now cropped quite short at the back. And not quite symmetrically so! 
It was already clear as she merely walked by, but now she undoubtedly looked like an ageing cat. Dutch singer Peter Koelewijn sang his well-known song in my head: “You’re getting older Donna, just admit it”. Where she used to patter by light-footedly on the tile floor, she made a much heavier sound now.  She still had enough spunk to jump off the furniture, but it all appeared quite a bit less smooth and graceful than before. 

Oh Donna…

Her reserved shyness was still present. Waiting for me at the top of the stairs, quietly meowing, in the exact same manner as she did when I tried to strike up a conversation with her. Those rituals were there to stay. But at the same time, she appeared to be more able to enjoy a bit of fuss; tickling her around her neck, or at the point where the tail is attached to the body. It would cause her to stretch her hind legs in sheer delight, even though she was not able to hold that pose for very long. After a short while, her bones would no longer be able to carry her weight and she would lie down. 
And finally, there was a clear difference in her manner from before: she would lay down beside me, and take a long time to go away again! While she had always been careful to maintain a certain distance! 
“Cause you’re still quite fast but tire more easily,” Peter Koelewijn hummed in my head again, with Donna purring joyfully right next to me.  

Beautiful girl

In my mother tongue of Dutch, Mooja was definitely living up to her name. In it, I can hear the word ‘mooi’, which means beautiful. And she is gorgeous without a shadow of a doubt. A Russian Blue with a perky red scarf attached to her collar. She didn’t seem to mind wearing  it. Unlike many other cats, she didn’t attempt to get rid of it. As if she knew how good it looked on her!  She was one of the (many) cats I had a weakness for at first sight. Perhaps because during that first visit, she came sit down next to me on the couch, after which she stretched herself out on the carpet, showing off her velvety tummy! 

Mooja’s velvety tummy

As soon as her owner had left, and it was just the two of us, she showed a different side of herself. She still displayed a certain amount of curiosity, especially when I got home early in the evening. I would find her on top of the stairs, from where she would stare, eyes wide open.  But after that first hello, she would vanish into another room, to nestle at one of her favourite spots: on the chair under the desk, on top of the loft bed or the aquarium. The tropical fish showed no signs of anxiety at all, and I understood quite well why she had picked it: it was nice and warm! 

As we didn’t bond straight away, I decided to dust off some old tricks. A daily brushing brought us closer together. Initially, she seemed to have to get used to touch, but it didn’t take her long to enjoy it to the max. She’d lie down on the carpet, all stretched out, so that I would be able to brush all of her gorgeous fur, turning every now and again.  Another recipe for success was a catnip toy. She would play with it endlessly. But also, the tiny mouse that was packed with the delivery turned out to be to her liking. She slapped it around the room, as if it were a living animal.

New favorite toy

It didn’t take long for us to become as thick as thieves. She didn’t only greet me upon arrival, she also started to keep me company. When I sat down on the sofa, she’d be next to me.  Whenever I sat at the table, she’d be lying on the carpet, at my feet and even at night, she’d be close: preferably on top of my feet on the end of the bed! 
She turned out to be a delightfully communicative cat, that meowed at me as soon as I caught her eye. Loud purring would start as soon as she came sit next to me, anticipating on the stroking and tickling that she knew she would soon receive.
But every sit comes to an end. As her owner would arrive late in the evening, I made sure she would have everything she needed until that time. Then I petted her one last time, went down the stairs and left.

Just the four of us

The more cats, the merrier! It may bring along some extra cleaning work, but it’s all worth it. Few things give me more joy than to witness how the different personalities come into its own when contrasted with others. In spite of cats being solitary creatures, for me a ‘cat family’ is like the cast of a play I can watch forever! Come to think of it, one of the things I definitely want to do in this lifetime, is volunteer in a cat colony… 

So, each time I have the opportunity to look after more than two cats at once, my heart beats a little bit faster.  Toga, Cheetara and Vitorio are Brazilian cats, who moved to the Netherlands with their owners. Entering their home is like entering the home of a cat family: baskets and pillows everywhere for the cats to linger on. On the window sill and on chairs as well as on top of cupboard from where they can overlook the whole space. But also places where they can withdraw if need be. 
Upon arrival, Vitorio watches me with curiosity from his viewpoint. In an instant I have made a new friend. He enthusiastically smells me hand en demands fuss by pushing his head against it. 
Unexpectedly, making a connection with Toga takes place rather effortlessly. He is an elderly gentleman, walking quite stiffly and looking at me with a grumpy expression on his face. Nevertheless, when I am quietly sitting on the sofa in the evening with my new pal Vitorio on my lap, he approaches as well to check out what’s going on. It seems like he would have liked to sit on my lap, but that spot is already taken! Instead, he takes place right next to me: on the armrest of the sofa. My cat lady heart is beating happily!

In good company: with Vitorio and Toga

Cheetara is a whole different story. Owner Louise has told me straight away she’s extremely shy and that it normally takes days before she even shows herself when confronted with the presence of new people. This is only a four day sit, so I’m not counting on anything. Cheetara’s domain is her owners atelier on the top floor of the house. This I know, because I asked her owner anxiously where she could be: after a full day I hadn’t seen her at all! The attic has plenty of nooks and crannies to hide indeed. When I decide to spend the evening there reading, I I take her bowl filled with wet food with me. I place it so that I can’t see it from the sofa but I can definitely here her munching away! Not much later I get up, to notice it hasn’t been cleared out thoroughly! 
At the last evening it happens. While I am sitting in the living room, a flash goes by: it’s Cheetara, apparently searching for a yummy snack. As soon as I move however, she’s gone: out of the room and up the stairs. I check the bowls, but there are plenty of biscuits in there so I decide it’s best to keep quiet. She does come back and starts to communicate with me while pacing up and down. She keeps a close watch on me and doesn’t stop meowing. Unsure what it is she wants, I just talk back to her, in a calm and pleasant tone of voice. 
It doesn’t take much longer for her to jump next to me, on the sofa. Cautiously she sniffs my outstretched hand, but doesn’t come close enough for me to be able to stroke her. At least, not right away! After a short game of a approach and withdraw she allows me to touch her… and enjoys it. In the end, I go to bed much later than intended, as Cheetara stays next to me for a considerable amount of time, enjoying some fuss. 

Cheetara’s surrender

Her owner is impressed when I send her the picture: “That is really fast! You must be a cat whisperer!” 
In all honesty: that’s something I’ve always wanted to be! 

New Year’s Eve

“Please make sure Penny is inside by ten; if she is still out at midnight she might run away in panic when the fireworks erupt!” What her owner had not taken into account, was that the local youngster had decided that seven was a much more suitable timing to start with their annual hobby. Perhaps I could have predicted this, considering the ban on fireworks at the end of 2020: you set it off while you can. 

Only where is Penny at this point in time? Straight away I started looking for her at her usual spots. The small basket in the bathroom next to the radiator was empty. She is not on the master bed either, half hidden behind a pillow, nor on the desk chair in the study. So, I put my shoes on, wrapped a warm shawl around my neck against the cold to look for her outside. Thanks to the garden lightning I could straight away see she was not there. The alley behind the block was a different matter; it was pitch dark. With the aid of the flashlight on my mobile phone I was able to look around me. I called her name a few times. There was absolutely nothing and no one to see, not even a cat. About two streets away, the blasting of fireworks started again. Where could Penny be?

Favourite spot

It reminded me of a friend’s cat, who turned out to be extremely popular when his owner joined the neighbourhood app-group.  He was known, among others, as “the best tomcat ever”. Only Penny was not the amical type. Nevertheless friendly, but also reserved. Not for a second I could imagine she would be celebrating New Year at the neighbours! 

Feeling quite concerned, I went back inside the house. I intended to let go. Penny would surely return if things remained quiet, or if she got hungry. Or so I hoped. Oftentimes, when I was busy in the kitchen she would come and keep me company, in the hope she would get a treat. She would swirl around my feet, rubbing her little head against my ankles. 
So I busied myself tidying up and cleaning the countertop. But she didn’t come home and I couldn’t let go of a sense of restlessness. I had to do something, so I put my shoes back on and wrapped my shawl around my neck again and stepped outside. 
Still no motion in the garden and no one or nothing to be seen in the alley behind it. Unsure where else I could look, I walked up and down a few times, shining my flashlight in all directions. My heart skipped a beat when I suddenly spotted her, sitting on the wall, hidden between branches. When I talked to her in a smoothing tone, she remained motionless. “Frozen by fear,” I thought. Time for action; in the not-so-far distance the blasting continued. Gently, I picked her up and held her against me, surprised she did not resist. Instead of scratching and running away, she allowed me to carry her inside the house. Once inside, she fled into the windowless hall next to the lavatory. My heart sank as I watched her crawl across the floor, her body as close to the ground as possible. Just to be on the safe side, I locked her cat flap. Inside was best, for the night. 

One hour later, she still sat crouched on the very same spot, but later that evening I couldn’t find her again! Reassured by the knowledge she was at least inside the house this time, I went on a quest. After a while, I found her hidden in the narrow space behind the printer table in the study; an almost enclosed room. After that I left her alone, giving her time and space to recuperate.  

Getting up at night for a drink of water, I run into her. By then, tranquillity has returned in town. 

Let me be

During the very first sit, Lily seemed not to be herself. Not that I would have been able to spot the difference, but I was told so. Her buddy since many years, Suus, had passed away not long before. As it turned out, cats can truly mourn. During this period, I was looking after Lily, this showed through a diminished appetite and excessive nightly meowing. In fact, it was so loud I feared that she would wake up the neighbours! Perhaps this was an indication she was looking for her friend. She would usually place herself on the landing, right underneath the hatch to the attic. Perhaps for the great acoustics, or maybe she suspected Suus had been hiding in there? It was quite clear something was the matter. 

After some deliberation, her owner decided to find new companionship for Lily, so she would not have to feel lonely anymore. Through word of mouth she found another Holy Birman, with an equally fluffy fur and radiant eyes. A beautiful couple!
There was no love at first sight. That would perhaps be too much to be expected, as relations between cats is generally a precarious balance between two (or more) solitairy animals. Lily had been used to the company of another cat for years, would she adapt to the new one as well?
The first signs indicated a certain degree of tolerance, as long as the little one would not come to close to her. During my first sit for the both of them, Lily made a grumpy impression to me. Poppy, being still young and playful, was longing for that attention. Lily not so much, but while she would come and sit on my lap in the evening before, she now seemed to be more withdrawn. While I was giving the little one the fuss she enjoyed, I thought I noticed how her house mate was glaring at us through her eyelashes. When she was offered that same fuss, she was not responding.

A few months later the situation had not improved. On the contrary: it looked like Lily could not stand Poppy anymore. During the daytime, there was no problem whatsoever as she spent it mostly sleeping. But at night she woke up and it would even happen she was targeting Poppy. Their owner hired a cat therapist in a last attempt to get out of the situation. She concluded Lily needed more space to be able to avoid her house mate. The little one on her part appeared to be genuinely scared, so that was definitely something to keep an eye on. 

Unfortunately, this is not a story with a wholehearted happy end. Although everyone turned out fine in the end, the kitties had to be separated. Good for Lily, as it gave her the peace and quiet she longed for. Sour for Poppy, as she had to be relocated for the second time in a relatively short time span. Luckily, she did end up at a place where she felt at home. 
So it’s safe to say we can call this a happy ending.