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?”

Freya’s cats: Bygul and Trjegul

To start with the correction of a common misconception: Norse mythology is not strictly limited to Norway. The stories told originate in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and their overseas territories, among them the Faroe islands and Greenland: a rather large area referred to as the Nordic countries.
While reading the old tales in a new guise from the hand of master storyteller Neil Gaiman in his book ‘Norse Mythology’, I did not only get carried away by his narrative skills. The book also reminded me, that in the world of the gods anything is possible. Thus, goddess of fertility and love Freya is transported on a chariot pulled by cats. The goddess was not only gorgeous, but also combative: she would not pass by an opportunity to take part in battles. 
But would it be even possible for two pussies to transport a full-grown – although divine – woman? Perhaps aided by the touch of the hand of a god! Taken into consideration Frey was pulled along by a bore and Thor by goats, it doesn’t seem necessary to ponder about the issue for too long. 

Freya and her cats

According to a Russian tale, Freya’s cats were a gift of the god of thunder, Thor. After having fallen asleep while fishing, he had been roughly woken up by a horrible sound. It turned out to be the magical cat Bayun, who had been lulling his two kittens to sleep. After the mother had left to his own device with the little ones, he had been a single parent.  He asked Thor for his help, who came up with the idea of giving them to Freya. Bayun metamorphosed into a bird and flew away, the kittens came under the care of the goddess. They grew up to be the cats pulling her chariot: Bygul and Trjegul. 

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. 

The cat metamorphosed into a woman

If there ever lived a painter who had a preference for using animals in his works, it might as well be Marc Chagall. As a child he was extremely shy, what is used as an explanation of this frequent depiction of soft, or even vulnerable animals: donkeys, calves, goats, lams and the likes.
Perhaps this is what lead to an invitation in 1926 to illustrate a classic from French literature: La Fontaine’s Fables. Commissioner Ambroise Vollard was heavily criticized in France for not choosing a fellow-countryman for this assignment. He had definitely noticed a similarity between Chagall and De La Fontaine; they both possessed a sense of esthetic. Either of them had a talent for being ‘being at the same time naive and subtle, realistic and fantastic’.
The work ‘The cat metamorphosed into a woman’ appeals to me a great deal. The storyline describes a man who loves his cat so much, that he sees an ideal woman in her. People that identify with their domestic animal is not a rarity. But it is also a very human trait to wish to change one’s beloveds within a relationship. In De La Fontaine’s fable it looks like it’s all working out for the best, until… a mouse passes by. Than the lady of the manor forgets what she is, and chases the mouse across the floor.
Once a cat, always a cat!

Deze afbeelding heeft een leeg alt-atribuut; de bestandsnaam is N05759_10.jpg
The cat metamorphosed into a woman

Bed time

Izzy is an elegant beauty, who’s often coming across as a bit skittish. At the very first acquaintance, she had hidden underneath her owners’ duvet. After having had to deal with the hoover, and then the doorbell that announced my arrival, she had decided that enough is enough! 
It took her a while to open up to me on the first sit: I was allowed to stroke her once or twice but no more than that. Izzy is not a lap cat. Sitting on the couch together was as far as it went. 
Fast-forward one year, and I’m looking after Izzy and housemate Loca again. Much has changed for the better! Both cats are much more accessible, each in their own way. Izzy is still a bit of a scaredy cat. When I open the front door upon arrival, I often look straight into her startled eyes. Then she speeds off like a bat out of hell, usually in the direction of the bedroom, which is an excellent place to hide! As soon as I enter the apartment, I always greet both cats by calling their names and checking up on them. I mostly find Izzy staring at me from behind the bed, table or couch. The first thing I see, are her cute white, pointy ears. She’s a quiet little feline, you could actually forget about her presence at all…

Izzy settling in for the night

Until late in the evening! Usually she sleeps for the largest part of the day in one of her favourite spots: in a corner of the couch or at the foot end of the bed. But as soon as I get up late at night with the purpose of going to bed, it starts: Izzy is getting wild! She jumps up and starts to shoot across the flat like a rocket, meowing all the while. It seems as if she knows it’s sleeping time. When I enter the bedroom having prepared for the night I find her there, as if waiting for me. To reassure her, I speak to her in an encouraging tone of voice: “Hey girl, time for some shut-eye, right? Why don’t you get comfortable, I’ll be right with you!”
She only responds to my suggestion by doing the exact opposite. She runs back and forth across the duvet, routinely avoiding my hand when I try to stroke her. Reading a bit before turning off the light is not easy to accomplish: as soon as I’ve settled down, she starts to literally walk all over me. It feels a bit confusing, because it comes across as if she actually wants to sit on my lap. Which never happens…
Upon her owners’ advice, I try to play with her for a bit to see if that calms her down. They use a long piece of lace to entertain her with, but it looks as if she doesn’t even see it! Luckily, I found out quickly how to get Izzy to settle down: by setting the example. Whenever I just turn out the light and lie down, it won’t take her long to do the same. In the dark I can see her stare at me for a little bit, or even walk past my face once or twice, as if she’s checking if I’m going to sleep for real. Then she disappears to her own corner of the bed. 


From the movie Bohemian Rhapsody I mostly learned that Freddie Mercury and I have something in common: a big love for all cats. The song Delilah, named after his favourite, may not be the most brilliant created by Queen, as a cat enthusiast I cannot but like the lyrics to this song. It doesn’t matter what the feline does, we will love her no matter what. The fact that the member of what I consider to be the best band ever meow in unison toward the end of the song is definitely an added bonus!

Whomever watched Bohemian Rhapsody, knows the discussion the band members had about contribution of songs for their albums. It should therefore not be surprise to find the following dialogue between the guys among the reactions under the video:
Freddie: Hey guys I wrote a song about my cat. Can we put it on the album?
Roger: No
Brian: Says the man who wrote a song called I’m In Love With My Car.
John: Let the man have his song about his damn cat, Roger.

And so he did.

Is enough ever enough?

Anyone who’s got a soft spot for cats, is quite vulnerable in an environment with a lot of street cats present. On the one hand, it can bring about beautiful pictures, but whomever is looking further than the end of his own nose, there is also a flip side to the coin: hunger and disease among the animals. 
During a cat sit on Buyukada, a five square kilometer island in the Marmara Sea, (close to Istanbul) I witnessed this every single day. Traditionally, the island is a refuge for wealthy Istanbulites during hot summers. These days, it’s filled to the brim with day-trippers, mostly Turks and Gulf Arabs. During my stay they were riding around the island on bikes decorated with flowers, or horse carriages called ‘fayton’. The latter have meanwhile been abolished and replaced with an electronica variety. The phenomenon had been criticized for the longest while due to the allover bad condition of the horses, but was no longer tenable after an outbreak of the horse plague.

The Front Garden Posse at feeding time

However, with the exception of the odd little bully in the making, I mostly witnessed empathy. One of the images that stuck with me, is that of a girl sitting on a wall drinking from a bottle of water. As soon as she incidentally made eye-contact with a cat sitting next to her, she started pouring water into the cap. There were signs of compassion everywhere: in most streets there were bowls of food and water to be found. Host Tugba did her rounds on the island on a daily basis. She knew exactly where all the cats lived, and gave every single one of them a portion. Occasionally we were kindly asked not to feed the cats: they were already taken care of. Obviously, she also fed the cats living in her garden: I renamed them the Front and Back Garden Posse. Around feeding time, things could get quite heated, as twice a day the inhabitants made a ravenous impression! 
Driven by compassion, Tugba ended up with nine house cats. She had moved to the island with only two. Taking care of her household was quite easy during summer, as the cats lived mostly outside. I can only imagine the amount of work all cats using the litter and sleeping on the furniture all day long brings about! There’s no surprise that the last cat was named ‘Yeter’, the Turkish word for ‘enough’. If she’s succeeding in sticking to her intention, only the future can tell. 

Who can ever have enough of this?