The Girl with the Golden Eyes goes by the name of Kitty. She is not a human, but a cat and the most laid-back and at first glance the least ostentatious member of the extensive feline family I have been looking after each summer for some years. Nevertheless, I have an absolute weak spot for her, as I admire all beings that can carry their own weight without too much fuss.
Kitty in fact knows exactly what she wants. If she wants to go outside, in the garden, that is what she will be doing. At the exact right moment, she manages to establish eye contact from her position right next to the backdoor. A questioning ‘meow?’ always follows shortly after .And at the instant she is ready for it, she will come back inside. Just like she sublimely knows how to time her departure, she also manages to appear in the backyard at the right time. Sometimes she can be found waiting patiently on the terrace wall; she doesn’t seem to mind. After all, she loves spending time outside. She just as easily spends a night out in the garden on a regular base. While the days are rather hot, the night ensures a fair degree of cooling down. Upon finding the wrong type of biscuits in her bowl – the ones she doesn’t care for much – she will also make it known. One can see her sniffing cautiously at the contents without even taking a single bite, after which she will turn around, give you one of those long intensive stares with these golden eyes of hers, and as per usual, she will vocalise her request. “No, not those, the other ones!!”. She will continue doing so, until she has reached her goal.
The owners of The Rascals, two beautifully black-and-white patched brothers that could barely be considered ‘kittens’, lived at an incredibly beautiful spot. Just a few steps away from the city, but yet at a rustic location. Standing in front of the living room window, you could see the Rotterdam skyline as a backdrop of the narrow river that was situated right behind the house: a beautiful picture! The house was surrounded by a considerable patch of land, where Fynn and Morris, as that what the two brothers were called, could roam around at their heart’s desire. During their days, they would spent a lot of time sleeping. Sometimes, when returning home from work, I’d run into them in the garden. They were always happy to see me, running towards me and then rolling around right in front of me on the garden path. Very likely they achieved their gorgeous black-and-white fur through these self-massages. Otherwise, they would be snoozing in their beds in the hallway, only to enthusiastically jump out of it to greet me as soon as I inserted the key into the lock. To this day, I’m not really sure if this affection was food-related or not… Albeit not really being lap cats, they nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed fuss and cuddles. They could purr like the best of them; it definitely sounded as if someone had turned on a machine!
But the night belonged to them! That was the time when they really got into action. The morning after the first night of the sit, I initially had no clue what I was looking at. For starters, the floor of the hallway and kitchen had altered from plain grey to a pattern with black cat paws on it. But that was definitely not what drew most of my attention. In the back of the kitchen, I saw something lying on the floor that almost looked like filleted fish with a very long tail. But I couldn’t think what kind of fish would have such a long tail. And as I saw a great deal of long smears on the floor next to the perceived fish, I expected the worst. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the truth. As their owner defined it after I sent her the pictures; the kitchen looked like a crime scene. More than likely, The Rascals had toyed around with the poor mouse for so long, that the blood must have gushed out of its little body. Although never again as bad as that first morning, few nights went by without them leaving me a minimum of one, but up until four ‘presents’. In fact, generally I would find an even amount. As if they were kind of competing about me: ‘if you are giving her a present, I can do it too!’ And as I understood they meant well, I would never forget to show them gratitude for whatever they had caught for me. In spite of being more or less terrified of mice. Even the thought of one being in the same room makes my heart jump! Luckily, their owner had assured me they would always dead as the cats dragged them inside. Which suited me fine, as dead mice scare me less than living ones. It was Morris who would not stick to that unwritten rule twice! At the first occasion, I heard the strangest noise coming from the kitchen; a bit like one of those squeaky toys for babies to squeeze into. It turned out to be a tiny baby mouse in agony. As the little body already looked quite tattered, I took it away from the cat. I switched a button in my head and finished the job for him. And just like that, the brothers did me another favour: they taught me to shift my boundaries, if need be!
At the first acquaintance at Mila’s, she seemed nowhere to be found. Nothing strange about it, according to her owners. As a cat of age, she spent most of her days snoozing. Indeed, I first laid eyes on her while she was taking a nap! During the sit, she can’t have missed me while I was at work. When I came home early every evening, she was there without fail, winding around my legs. In fact, there were two or three moments per day she gladdened me with her attention; feeding time to start with. Being an elderly cat on a diet, she was quite fixed on these moments. When waking up well before dawn, I already heard her meowing out loud. I praised myself lucky my bedroom was on the top floor, where she rarely set foot. She only did that, when I went as far as to sleep in until very late; let’s say, seven thirty.
To prevent her from scoffing up her biscuits, I brought a food puzzle with me. Once upon a time I bought it for another cat I sat, who even managed do complain out loud at the balcony next to the bedroom in the dead of night when his stomach was growling. Using such a puzzle keeps the feeling of hunger away for a bit longer, and it is also good for the grey cells. It does take the average cat a while to learn the ropes. Or is it instinct in action, what we actually see here?
‘The way to a cat’s heart is through his stomach,’ a flatmate once said to me. My own cat, the lovely Sheeba, would only sit on my lap. Due to our special bond, I was sure of that. The flatmate disagreed: because it’s your hand that is feeding her. I clearly remember feeling insulted, and thought about the comment while sitting Mila. The first few days, she kept her distance. In the course of time, she gradually moved towards me. Until she was there, right by my side.
Over the past years, I’ve been visiting Tigrou’s house in the French countryside regularly. It’s a cats paradise with plenty of mice, a cat loving lady and a fireplace. This is the first time I’ve come in winter and I can admire all possible sleeping poses Tigrou takes during approximately 22 hrs of the day. What strikes me is Tigrou’s strong preference for the blue armchair. At first it seemed logical to me: the blue chair is the closest to the fireplace.
But quickly I found out that Tigrou’s preference surpasses logic: even when the chair is moved further from the fireplace or if the chair is taken by somebody he knows won’t tolerate him on his lap (his lady’s husband), Tigrou won’t take another chair. He stays at his blue armchairs side, guarding it. Is it the color? They say blue is the color cats see most easily. Is it its scent? (His lady’s husbands scent: a forbidden fruit?) Is it some sense of ownership or some cat principle? Tigrou waits for his chair to become available again with his ears half lowered and a hurt look in his eyes. I must say: Tigrou is a patient cat, and -as they say in French- ‘têtu’ (stubborn).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
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!
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.
Nothing wrong with getting older, the life of a cat begins at fifteen after all!
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 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.
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.