Thinking about the most famous cats ever the cartoon character Hello Kitty quickly springs to mind. After all, she has cat ears and whiskers. But no: Hello Kitty apparently is a girl.
Anyone who takes a good look, can easily see she is indeed walking around on two legs, but besides that? Does she actually have a tail? Isn’t it some kind of abstraction of a cat that we’re looking at?
In 2014, Hello Kitty expert Christine R. Yano put together an exhibition on the subject for the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. While writing the script, she referred to a cat and was subsequently corrected by manufacturer Sanrio: the cartoon figure is a girl called Kitty White. She’s English, lives in the vicinity of London and her parent’s names are George and Mary White. Could she be any more British? She also has a twin sister, who can easily be found in illustrations. The funniest detail: Hello Kitty has a pet, a cat named Charmming White.
Not long after Yano got out with the news, manufacturer brought clarity. In spite of Hello Kitty being a girl, it went too far to say she was not a cat! One might as well say she was the personification of a cat. An explanation that will be acceptable for many a Hello Kitty-fan!
Shakira is not the easiest cat; meaning that she doesn’t just allow everyone to connect with her. To be frank, I didn’t really succeed. In passing, she was skilfully avoiding my hand. She came and went as she pleased – as a cat should! In practical terms, this means she came home to eat and left shortly after. On one occasion she appeared to want to sleep indoors. In the dead of night, I was woken up by a huge racket somewhere over my head. I found myself eye to eye with Shakira; she was looking for a way out by climbing up the screen that was supposed to keep the mosquitos out. Surely not suitable as an exit for a cat! She looked quite frustrated and seemed glad I was opening the backdoor for her. I watched her disappear into the night. The evening after, she seemed to want to stay inside again, but I sent her out around bedtime. She was not pleased at all, but it seemed a better option than having her thrash the mosquito screens!
The day after she was nowhere to be seen. Immediately I felt bad. Could she have thought I was giving her her marching orders? Obviously, that was exactly what I had been doing so it was very well possible she didn’t feel welcome anymore… After all, she had been quite punctual all during the sit when it came to showing up for her meals. She had been there every single time, sometimes also in between. Much to my relief, she showed up again all by herself, a day later.
Only a few weeks later, after returning home, I got message from her owner.
“Did you know Shakira has left home?” “Whaaaaaatttt???”
Immediately I remembered my feeling of guilt, about that time I sent her outside. The story about her departure goes like this: The evening after her return from her vacation, Shakira was the last cat out of eight to greet her owner. In the course of the days following, she showed up less and less, skipping meals until finally she didn’t come back at all. Luckily, it didn’t take long to track her down. She was staying at a house only five doors down the road. The lady living there, had lost her own cat only a year before that. Shakira and the lady had taken a liking to each other. There were no other cats around; no food, love nor attention to share. On the terrace is a chair for Shakira alone to sleep on. She lets the lady pet her and it seems to please her. What more could a cat want?
Unfortunately, it isn’t clear yet if this is a story with a happy ending… The island of Büyükada, where all this is taking place, is only a summer residence for most inhabitants. Which means that many of them will leave in the course of the month of September. After that, they generally return to the big city (Istanbul) to spend the winter months there. This makes it very likely that Shakira is going to lose her new home and owner soon….
Luckily, there is another place, where she continues to be welcome. With her initial owner. Hopefully, she will find her way home…
A few years ago a friend gave me this book as a present. As an avid cat lover, I was bound to like this book a lot, that was the general idea. The cover of the Dutch translation is adorned with a sentence from an article published in The Guardian: “anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not”.
Nana is a rough tom cat used to living in the streets. He doesn’t care much for humans, but changes his mind after meeting Satoru. It all starts when he starts napping on the hood of a silver mini van. The owner feeds him tasty snacks. Nana in exchange allows him to pet him every now and again. When Nana gets hit by a car and is injured, it goes without saying that Satoru takes him in. They stick together from that point forward and become owner and cat. Satoru is also the one who names him Nana, meaning ‘seven’ in Japanese, due to the shape of his tail. It happens to be the case his previous cat was called Hachi (eight). Nana doesn’t like it one bit, but accepts it: they belong together now. This is the start of a love story between human and cat.
After five years, Satory announces, without giving any explanation, that he cannot keep Nana with him anymore. They take off on a road trip together, crossing Japan while staying with old friends of Satoru. It doesn’t take long before it becomes clear something strange is going on. At the first stop, it seems Satoru is looking for a new home for his cat. Nana is not willing at all, and at every stop he creates a reason why he cannot stay there. After all, he has an owner already and he doesn’t see a clear reason to part! Where Satoru goes, he want to go as well. This love between owner and cat, is contradiction with what is generally said about the former: that they will only love those that feeds them. “Cats are not so heartless,” declares Nana. “How could I ever leave him?”
During the course of the journey, it cannot be denied what the true reason for the quest is. Satoru is ill, terminally ill. He visits all people that were ever dear to him. But only at the last address he finds a place for Nana: with Noriko, the aunt that took Satoru in after his parents passed away when he was only a young boy. He can die after finding a new home for his beloved cat. And in spite of Nana not being very willing, he accepts his fate.
He gets a good life with Noriko, but he cannot forget Satoru. In spite of that, the end to the story is not very sad. Nana like getting the responsibility in the education of a new kitten. But ahead of him awaits the reunion with Satoru. Nana’s dreams reminded me of Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”.
The Tom & Jerry in this story are both cats, and brothers. They may be related by blood, but it isn’t that well visible, aside from the fact that they are both lean and agile cats, with the cutest black paw pads. I do not recall ever having seen them in one another’s company. The personalities seem quite different as well. Tom mostly keeps himself to himself, he’s a bit of a loner. It’s alright to stroke him, but don’t expect him to be around for long; he only comes home to be fed. Before he was inside more often. I have a vivid memory of him spending his days on a book shelf. This is what he was like when I first met him: While I was working on my laptop, his long black tail was dangling right outside of my field of view. I was aware of it all that time.
Jerry on the other hand is a very affectionate animal. Not from the start, he is a bit shy at first. In fact, initially I didn’t really notice him that much. Neither could I really understand why he was his owner’s favourite. She was quite adamant about it as well. “This is the one I love the most,” she said. Without a doubt he looked quite cute, with his gorgeous almond-shaped eyes and the little black mark on his nose, that reminded me of liquorice. Later, only much later, I finally understood what he was all about. He amazed me with his affection! He climbed on my lap, placed both front paws on my shoulders while putting his little head in my neck. Who wouldn’t succumb to so much love?
Their owner had found the boys – many years before that – in her garden. As is often the case with kittens that don’t have a home, they were in an abominable state: dirty, wet and hungry. She cared about their fate and took them in for a while. Just to help them recover, then she let them go again. Unfortunately, they quickly relapsed after that. Their immune system wasn’t up to par and to make matters worse, they developed diarrhoea. This could have meant the end of them, but their owner decided to give it everything she got. That also meant the status of permanent indoor cat. First she tried by herself, when she didn’t succeed with the help of a vet.
While Tom recovered rapidly, Jerry remained sickly. His owner preferred to keep a close watch on him, which must me why their connection became so strong. It made a bit of a mama’s boy out of him. Quite recently, he took initiative to spend more time outside, as if he had decided he was a big boy now. It lasted no more than a few weeks. Than he developed a bad rash on his velvety white tummy that wouldn’t disappear. He rapidly lost his sense of adventure. It was the end of Jerry’s Big Adventure.
A large gib with a somewhat gruff exterior, that was the first impression he made on me. Initially, he would never come to me on his own account unless it was feeding time, that definitely added up to the impression he made. But is what you see always what you get?
In a cat household of eight feeding time can be a pretty busy time of the day. Add the garden cats up to that, front as well as back yard, and the hectic of the process is easily conceivable. Taking into consideration that we find ourselves at the beautiful island of Büyükada, Turkey might lead to the conclusion that the amount of strays in the garden can amount from day to day! Before opening the front door I already brace myself for cats pushing themselves against my legs, so that I will have to be super careful not to step on them or trip over them! There is also the growling and hissing, arising from a slight panic to be left without food. No need; there is definitely plenty for all of them!
My big friend is the only one who seems to understand. He simply sits by and watches all the hassle, waiting patiently for his own turn. As soon as he notices I’m done with the front yard posse, he turns around to walk towards his favourite pillar. He knows that on occasions, he gets fed there. He prefers it to eating indoors, where he only comes for food or – sporadically – to sleep by my side. So quite regularly, I let him have his way and offer him his portion where he likes it best: on top of his favourite pillar. I am absolutely confident of his gratitude. When I briefly stroke his fur as he starts to eat, he is purring. Not very loudly, as that wouldn’t suit him at all. Yet clearly audible indeed.
But then… his name! Due to a small yet clearly visible black spot right underneath his nose, his owner has called him Hitler, pronounced ‘Hitlèr’ in Turkish. During my first sit with this cat family I posted a ludic competition of social media: “Take a good look at this big boy and tell me what his name is”.
Guess what? In spite of suspecting his name, people would find it too shocking to mention it at all. When I mentioned this to his owner, she simply shrugged. “It’s just because of the little moustache, nothing more to it”, she explained. Context is everything: different country, different history, different sentiment. As for me: I never really managed to get used to call him by his name when it was feeding time. What I ended up doing, is modify it to ‘Hitlertje’, which is Dutch for Little Hitler. Or even better: Sweet Boy. Much more suitable for his goodhearted nature.
Today is Black Cat Appreciation Day. But what is that supposed to mean? It’s not just to celebrate their uniqueness and beauty. It is also a given, that they stay in shelters up to 15% longer before they find a forever home.
Straight away, that first summer, I thought ÇıtÇıt (pronounced as ‘chut-chut’) was the coolest cat of the whole bunch. His name was chosen haphazardly, by a student of his owner. It translates as ‘snap button’, which is not immediately obvious for a cat with such a soft and fluffy fur. At that moment of our first acquaintance, he was on a strict diet of a specific dry food, after having suffered from kidney stones. The regimen had some serious implications for him: in order to monitor him, he was not allowed outside for a full week. A full week! That is an incredibly long time for the coolest cat of the island of Büyükada, situated in the Marmara Sea, at a stone’s throw from Istanbul. He valued his freedom to come and go as he wished above everything. But as he was a big softie by heart, he didn’t even protest that much and only tried to escape every now and again. In case he succeeded, it wasn’t even that hard to catch him again.
The end of the treatment was received with a big relief. Finally, he was able to go wherever he wanted again: outside! Luckily, the imposed confinement didn’t lead to mistrust. He was still around a lot, as one of his favourite hang-outs was on top of the screen that hung over the court yard adjacent to the kitchen.
The reason that he was the coolest cat in the island in my eyes, was that he always seemed to be his own cat. Very purposeful, never a sign of stress. There was also something about the way he communicated. Full of self-confidence. If I was busy in the kitchen, a simple ‘meow’ would suffice to let me know he was around and open the door for him; his sound was different from all the others. No need to check if it was really him! Sometimes, he didn’t say anything at all. He would just sit on the wall opposite of the kitchen door, patiently waiting for me to notice him.
In spite of being a gib, he wasn’t afraid of any of the other cats. Not even the big intact males that lived in the back garden! He would look straight at them whenever he walked by them; they never even stood in his way. The other cats of the household of eight, he would meow briefly at in passing as if he was saying hello. The kittens that lived behind the kitchen however, would occasionally receive a corrective tap if they annoyed him too much. He would growl or hiss at them while he was at it, so his intention was quite clear!
Due to his soft and fluffy fur, ÇıtÇıt had a very cuddly appearance. He never seemed to care that much, but as it seemed, he awarded me for all my care by allowing me to give him some fuss every now and again. Whatever rocks your boat lady!
This is how I remember him, after his meal: out of the kitchen door, down the stairs and into the garden. Without a second glance.