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.


The Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut

As per usual when listening to songs about ‘cats’, the question arises if it is really about a feline. After all, the English word also refers to a man who is cool, even macho.
For those how wonder what this particular song is all about, it suffices to just watch the 1981 video. Lead singer Brian Setzer in particular is the epitome of coolness!
Listening to the text could lead to the conclusion that it is about both felines and men. The ‘I’ in the lyrics identifies himself with cats. In spite of realising he can never be as free as his favourite animal. It’s a cat’s prerogative to do as he pleases! But other than that, they got an awful lot in common:

“I wish I could be as carefree and wild
But I got cat class and I got cat style”

Divine Cats

Bastet – The Divine Cat

Anyone who has ever spent time in Egypt must have seen many a statue of a majestically-looking cat. This is Bastet, the goddess and protectress of many things: the house, perfume, fertility, joy, dance & music, to name a few. Most often she is holding a sistrum in her hand, a musical instrument from ancient Egypt. 

There isn’t much known about the goddess herself. What we know, is there to be seen. In the course of time she underwent – which was quite common among the gods – quite a metamorphosis. As the daughter of Ra, the sun god, she initially looked like a lioness. Later on she became protectress of the domestic cat and got a more friendly appearance. Her fiercer feline properties were taken over by her sister Sekhmet. According to another view they embody the different aspects of one and the same goddess. Among them there are many contrasts, such as passive-aggressive, cunning-gentle and fierce-protective.

Bastet was at the height of her popularity when she was protectress of the domestic cat. In the fertile Nile Delta, the farmers were counting on their felines to protect the harvest against vermin such as mice, rats and even snakes. The love went so deep, that if someone – even unintentionally – would kill a cat, ran the risk of getting a death penalty. After all, harming an incarnation of Bastet was like attacking the goddess herself!

Although mummies of a large variety of animals have been found, cats have proven to be exceptionally popular. Not only were they often mummified and buried along with their owners, in Bubastis, close to present-day Zagazig and the then epicentre of the cat cult, a cemetery with over 180.000 cat mummies was found.    

Eventually, their love for cats was niftily used against the Egyptians. During an attack by the Persians around 500 BC, the hostile fighters used them as a way to beat their opponents. Prior to the start of the fight they caught thousands of cats, only to release them right before the first attack in order to create chaos. The plan succeeded, as the poor Egyptians were terrified of causing harm to their darlings. They resisted only sparsely. What followed was centuries of occupation, during which the poor cats were used again to torture the locals. What could happen, was that a cat was thrown at them from out of nowhere. It didn’t lead to the end of the cat cult straight away; that happened only gradually and much later. 

In spite of a very different position for the cat in contemporary Egypt, it is still very well possible to see a bit of Bastet everywhere!