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. 


The coolest cat

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.  

ÇıtÇıt in one of his favorite spots

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!

ÇıtÇıt taking a sand bath

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. 


What the cat wants…

The sits at the homes of big cat families are perhaps among my favourites. Quite often, the personalities of these cats are rather outspoken and more than once I was impressed by their cleverness and the way they handled situations. As if being in a group forced them to deal with situations well! This was certainly the case for Tonguç, the materfamilias of the household of eight. Years before, she had moved to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes Islands, with her owner and her mate Kara Biber, a gorgeous black cat. It turned out to be the start of a big cat family.   

Briefly after our very first acquaintance, things were plain and clear: if attending a championship for becoming the world’s biggest cuddle cat, she would definitely be a strong contender. Her appearance had something endearing about it. As if she was still a young feline, instead of a 14 years-old lady! The way she was approaching me, was at least to say persistent. She wouldn’t shun competing with my laptop, as if she thought my lap was primarily her domain. But this optimistic kitty would not let herself be deterred by setbacks and would keep on looking for the best spot. Her most important criterium: close to me. 

Fast-forward the time with one and a half years. I am visiting my beloved island again, and obviously that incorporates a renewed acquaintance with my favourite cat family. While talking to her owner, I feel something soft pushing against my leg persistently. Looking down, I meet a pair of green eyes with an inquisitive expression. She starts to meow, as if saying “hello there, can I have some fuss here as well?!” The visit leads up to the decision to repeat the sit of the previous year. 

While most cats go their own way, as cats do, Tonguç seemed to be thrilled to keep my company. Her persistence was something I remembered well, and it was still present: she wants what she wants! 
So even during my daily meditation, that would usually last a little over half an hour, she prefers not to leave my side. Although I am flattered, it is not entirely practical.  Even in the later hours of the day the temperature can still get close to thirty degrees. And while most of the cats make themselves scarce as soon as I start chanting my mantra, she starts asking for attention instead. By pushing her head against my hands, that are lying in my lap in a mudra (hand position). It generally makes me laugh, as I can clearly feel her teeth due to an overbite. If this doesn’t work she starts licking my hand. It regularly gets me out of my concentration, but I persist, as if she provides me with a good exercise to stay focused!

In the end, she gives in. Her last resort, is to accept defeat and lie herself down next to me. Oftentimes with a paw on my leg. Would that be a mudra for cats?


A cat alone

Only recently, Lily had become an only cat. At the first acquaintance, some years back, I had also met her pal Suus, also a Holy Birman and equally as beautiful as her. There was no way to compare for me, as I hadn’t really known her before, but her owner was a bit worried about her since she was alone. What she referred to, was the excessive meowing and the poor eating. 

Lily sleeps

What mostly caught my eye after arrival, was the incessant sleeping! At the crack of dawn, she was up way before me. When I needed to use the bathroom early in the morning, she appeared to have been waiting for me, looking disappointed if I decided to go back to bed for a bit! The rest of the day seemed to be passed in a deep sleep. She didn’t show a lot of interest in her breakfast, and by the dime I left the house to go to work she was already on the couch with her eyes closed. Usually I would say something like “bye sweet girl, enjoy your day”. Never would I get more of a response than an eye slightly opened! The way I left her behind, I would usually find her again upon return later that day, early in the evening: rolled up like a little ball of fur. A close look was needed to work out where the head was!  Mostly, she would only come alive after I had cooked, eaten and tidied up. She herself wouldn’t eat much in the evening either. Her meal consisted of a small can of wet food, diluted with water. Only the brothy water would be finished, leaving bits of meat behind. 
Perhaps it was my imagination, but in the course of the sit I thought I saw her eating and drinking more often than at first. The mutual rapprochement got better and that’s how she ended up staying by my side at night. The days before, it had seemed as if she had come to check up on me, to see if had already woken up. It reminded me of sleepover parties in earlier days, with endless talking and right at the moment that I was to fall asleep, the other one would break the silence by loudly asking “Are you still awake”?

Lily plays

To make Lily less active at moments I needed my beauty sleep, I brushed up an old trick: playing together! In spite of being advanced in years, she was quite keen on it. She’d run after a discarded cord tirelessly, to jump on top of it with the intention of never letting go! It resulted in her sleeping by my side, instead of staring at me in the dark and I was most grateful the nightly meowing had been minimised. 
Inspired by success I headed for the pet store to buy a toy drenched in cat nip and with real feathers attached to it. I only had to sweep the rod to make her run and jump and I like to think that this strengthened our bond further. 

The evening before departure she briefly came to sit on my lap, to purr to her heart’s content while I was gently stroking her neck. “I will miss you, will you miss me too?” I asked her without expecting an answer. 
The next morning, before closing the door behind me for the last time, I didn’t even bother to say goodbye properly. I just looked at the rolled-up ball of fur and quietly say goodbye!


In good company

Cats are well-known for being solitary creatures by nature. That is a given, but it doesn’t take into account that the way how the kitten grows up is also affecting its personality. When sitting so-called rescue cats, I was quite surprised they were often quite to very sociable. What made sense to me, is that strays often live in groups for practical reasons: it is a way of protecting themselves. It may be a long shot, but it could also account for the fact that cats that have been among humans from early on (though not too early!), can be very good company.

Tommie was the personification of a social cat. As a kitten, he ended up living with a family with two young boys, where also a half a dozen of other young children were around the house on a daily basis. ‘Young’ in this case means under four, as Tommie’s owner facilitated a day-care at her home. With near certainty; only a kitten that feels completely at ease is able to maintain himself in such a situation. Cats do like predictability, and kids in general don’t fit that description. 
This particular cat seemed to quite enjoyed human company. Upon arrival, I opened the front door with a key, finding myself face-to-face with a glum-looking cat. As I carried my luggage inside, he meowed plaintively, as if to say: “What kept you so long? I was all alone, all of that time!”
But as soon as I opened the door that was keeping us apart, all seemed to be forgotten. He was purring loudly and soon a conversation started: Tommie meowed, I chatted back to him. He was very easy to have around, wanting fuss as soon as we met and taking his place on my lap as soon as I sat down on the couch. That always happened following the same pattern; Tommie started searching for his position, which was usually facing me. He would then put his paws at the level of my bosom and started making a pumping motion. On most occasions, the nails would not be retracted. Thank goodness for padded bras! 

There were no more than two times I had to tell Tommie off a bit. It was very well possible he perceived my laptop as an enemy with whom he had to share attention, as he would not stop walking back and forth over the keyboard while I was at work. It shouldn’t surprise that a plate full of food would appeal even more to him. Possibly a sign of intelligence, as a curious cat must be smart as well. Nevertheless, in both situations I reacted in the same manner: by putting him down on the floor, gently but decidedly.  

Upon departure, Tommie was nowhere to be found. Knocking stuff around and carrying bags and suitcases was possibly not to his likings as he had hidden himself under the couch. In my imagination, I saw the same glum little face I had encountered upon arrival: “Hey, are you leaving already?”


Love perseveres

There was a time I was absolutely convinced Loca disliked me. He demonstrated it through almost everything; not just through what he did, but also through what he didn’t. Initially, he displayed some curiosity for this new sitter. He sniffed at my hand, but then continued his way with a disdainful look on his face. It made me feel weighed and found wanting… Cats with no interest in lap sitting was not a novelty to me, but no fuss at all? That never happened to me before Loca!

The second time around, for a month-long sit, I was adamant to steal his heart. With the exception of daily playing and brushing, I had no pre-defined plan. A lot of love for cats and perseverance, that was all I had.  

The daily brushing went fine from day one. As soon as I started to work at Loca’s thick fur, he immediately began to writhe with delight. Sometimes his rear went up and he would always be purring to his heart’s content. Within days, I assumed I had succeeded and won him over. Wrong!
On the third day of the sit I came home around midnight. As I had an early start that next morning, I was looking forward to a nice warm bed. As soon as the light in the bedroom went on, I spotted what was wrong. There it was, a big turd on the duvet… Luckily there was an extra sheet against the cat hairs placed on top. It was only a matter of getting rid of the turd and throwing the cover in the washing machine. 

It did provide me with some extra concern: what does this cat miss? The answer evidently being: his owner. And to be fair: I wasn’t sure what else I could do to steal his heart. I ended up doing the only thing I could think of: to persist. I kept on brushing him every day. Now this was an easy success, as the treatment was greeted every single day with the same amount of enthusiasm! The playing didn’t really get off the ground, but as the sit progressed, the cats started to move more of their own accord. Perhaps they just needed to get used to me as well?

Loca and his new favourite toy

Finally, I did it! There is no real proof to back this, but I am convinced I owe it all to a present I got for Loca and his friend Izzy. It was a bull’s eye, even though it was no more than a patch of hare fur with a couple of pheasant feathers attached to it and some valerian inside. At the end of the sit, about a month later, both cats were still rolling around enthusiastically with it. And over time, I noticed Loca started to come around. He looked at me with an open expression, I was now allowed to stroke him and he saw no objections in settling down at my feet in the evening. The biggest proof of all was, that at night I started waking up from a heavy weight on top of my feet: Loca’s. 

It is true after all: love persists. Love for cats isn’t any different in that.