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”
“If you cannot find her, she’s most likely asleep on one of the dining room chairs, or behind the curtain on the bedroom window sill,” her owner warned me. “These are her favorite spots nowadays”.
Only seldomly Donna comes and sits with me when I’m looking after her. Occasionally, she jumps on the couch I’m sitting on and walks back and forth a couple of times, only to then decide she prefers another spot in the house. Oddly enough, this is very often to be found in a room in the house where I am not! If I’m in the living room, she generally chooses the bedroom. When I go to bed, she mostly leaves. Not straight away though. On the contrary! As soon as I’m heading for bed she’s looking me up. It’s a created situation, as she is used to her owner giving her a handful of treats before going to sleep. It goes without saying I’m keeping the tradition alive! Most of the time she joins me while I’m settling into bed with a book and some soft cushions in my back. With those gorgeous green eyes of her she stares at me. But after the treats have been finished, she seldomly keeps my company. Only once in a while she stays on the foot end of the bed. As soon as I lie down to go to sleep, and turn around a couple of times, she mostly calls it a night.
Much to my surprise and gratification she finally did choose a spot in my proximity. When I came home one day, I found her on top of my suitcase, that was lying on a bedroom chair. The lid was not entirely zipped up, so she had comfortably sunk into it. She spent the next couple of days at her new spot. “I do have an old suitcase somewhere,” said her owner when she heard the news. Mine would after all disappear with my departure!
In my adult life, I have only been a cat owner once. During a visit to a friend of a friend I instantly clicked with the cat of the house. She immediately took her place on my lap, deeply content. “Would you like to have her?” asked the lady of the house, “my husband thinks we too many pets as it it is”. At the first occasion I stood my ground, but after the second visit I went home with a litter box and a weekend supply of food and kitty litter and a beauty in a travel basket. They say the cat chooses the owner, I’m convinced in this case it was fully mutual.
Less than two weeks later a friend and I had to draw the conclusion there was something odd going on with my new house mate. She was very easy-going and you could do pretty much anything with her, except touching her tummy. Could she perhaps….? Yes, she was pregnant. Within a month after her arrival, I was the proud owner of not one, but five cats. One young mother and her four kittens. It was an attack on the respiratory system but oh wat a joy. As an acquaintance at the time put it: Kittens are better entertainment than tv!
Undoubtedly, some sits have an added bonus. Very often, it’s all about location. Like a place I had always wanted to visit, or not necessarily and where I had a splendid time. Or circumstances, such as Paris in the snow. A beautiful or extraordinary house I also consider as a present. But the cherry on the cake called cat sitting is definitely kittens!
There was already an intention to return to a former destination and their presence made it all the more alluring. So, for a second time I departed for Büyükada. I had given up watching television a long time ago, but with little Lily and Mimi in the back yard I had all the entertainment I could wish for. With the opening of the door I was enthusiastically greeted by the little ones, in unison with their mother, uncles, aunts and cousins. Among the back-yard cats, the kittens had a privileged position. Without a doubt, I kept a close watch to make sure they could eat their bellies full. It was heart-warming to witness how the other cats made sure the little ones got what they needed.
One day at lunch, I missed Mimi, while she and her sister would normally be at the front when it was feeding time. After handing out the biscuits I found Mimi fast asleep in chair. That worried me, as it was very uncharacteristic behaviour! Rattling with a bowl of food didn’t elicit a response from her, so I tried to entice her with wet food. She only drank the liquid and immediately went back to her chair. After consulting with her owner, I decided to keep her close to me for a while. That meant putting her in a basket inside the house. That immediately revived her! The young lady made sure to let me know she didn’t agree by meowing by the back door, as far as her voice allowed it. I opened the back door, after which she took her place on the terrace again. After all, in spite of being less close, I could also keep an eye on sleeping there. So, I created an extra spot in the shadow for her and allowed her some peace and quiet. And indeed; the day after she was the spirit of liveliness again. As a kitten should be.
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…
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.