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”

Favorite spots

“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”.

New spot!

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.

Best spot!

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!

Kittens!

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! 

Learning to climb a tree

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. 

Anything can be played with

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 has left home

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! 

Shakira, still at home

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? 

Shakira in her own chair

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 Story of Tom & Jerry

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. 

Tom seizes the day

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?

Jerry

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. 

What’s in a name?

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!

Waiting patiently…

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”. 

Mister Moustachio

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.