More Boring Cat Stuff, But Interesting To Us

June 27, 2009

It’s like having a Christmas tree with a particular (you hope) longed-for present underneath, and you are lying in bed at 4AM on Christmas morning unable to sleep.

That is: having an enormous grey-brown tabby crouching in misery under the wardrobe while it gets used to your house.

Sorry for another animal post. I like to keep on with with a thing once I’ve started it. As I said, the pregnant kitten has moved on to greener pastures, literally or figuratively. I have been spending every waking moment doing chores connected with the dirt around our house. In the midst of my zombie-like adrenaline push, I found myself looking at the cat profiles on craigslist and the local shelters. Der Mann was just as bad; he got me to the Petsmart for visiting hours with some shelter cats. You know, for fun–we thought. As Pooh says, it was terrible and sad. We are too empathetic with animals in cages.

So we got serious about craigslist kitties. By day I was putting in full days of standing in the sun with our new excavator, hauling around concrete post footings, filling bags with unearthed drainage rock, uncovering the sewer line with a shovel. By night I was all about search terms. “Big cat -lost” “brothers cats” “large cat” “litter mates.”

On craigslist I found a grey mother-daughter pair. The people who own them live an hour away. After a couple of odd reschedulings (one time they called and asked if we could let them keep the cats another two weeks “because the kitten was just at that really fun stage,” then called back and allowed that we could take them immediately if we wanted), we went to see them.

It was an old country neighborhood, the kind with 60’s ranch houses and pet goats and little vineyards on 1 and 2 acre lots. The family gave off an air of ruddy Elizabethan prosperity. The mama cat was only a year and a half old, this kitten was the whole of her third litter. “We meant to get her spayed, but kittens are just so much fun,” the father explained, jolly and unapologetic. He showed us his backyard chicken coop. It slowly became clear that they were disposing of their kitten factory because she had exiled their older male cats from the house. She was a tiny, reserved cat, totally wrapped up in her kitten. But we like reserved cats, and what can be better than a kitten? We couldn’t figure out why we weren’t more excited about them.

I believe the problem was that it was hard to visualize them being our cats because they were so clearly someone else’s. It felt like trespassing to offer a home to cats who so clearly HAD one they liked very well, thank you. More like cat theft than adoption. Certainly from the cats’ perspective.

Before we said yes or no to the grey ones, we thought we ought to look at the shelter cats. When Der Mann got off work last night, we went to the small local one.   The cats were in an even smaller cement block room with cages three high. We were allowed to open the cages and take the cats out as we pleased, but it was impossible to focus (much less compare and choose!) in that atmosphere, and we didn’t like to add to the creatures’ misery by invading their space. I was attracted to a year old male they were calling Kajiji, for his large head and stillness. The shelter volunteer said he was new, opened his cage, and gave him some head rubbing, which the cat warily accepted without leaving his corner. He took a sniff of our hands, stood up, looked us over, allowed us to pet his head purely out of politeness. Then he was done with us and with the stress of having his cage open, and said so by going back to his corner and lying down.

We hurried off to the big, new fancy shelter across the river. It has “play rooms” where attendants will bring you the cats, some of which are displayed in big shop-window cases with perches and stage-set suggestions of furniture. To our surprise, it was hard to find any cats that attracted us there.

But we managed to pick out two. The play rooms are claustrophobic triangular booths with cold floors and a bench. Either they are a very bad idea, or we have an eye for neurotic cats. The first cat ignored us and spent the entire time trying to get out of the room, scrabbling up the walls. The second cat peed all over the attendant as soon as she was brought in, then proceeded to jump five feet straight up in the air, over and over, trying to get a hold of the blind-cord and presumably out the window. I have never seen such terror.

Scratching a mutual itch, we shot back to the smaller shelter for a last look at Kajiji, even though it was too close to closing time to adopt him. Der Mann has an obligation that requires the car this weekend, so we asked if they would hold him until Monday. They said they couldn’t. I tried to think of a way to get back without a car (no bus runs on the weekend), and I think that made them take pity on us. “Just fill out an application and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

So, the nice shelter employee squeezed us in before quitting time on a Friday night. The huffy one gave us dirty looks and pointedly started turning off lights and drawing blinds as we waited for our cat to be brought out.

Here’s the funny thing. The cat seems to be more scared of our house than he is of us. We set him up in the guest room/office and left him alone to come out in his own time like the books say. At the end of the evening he started crying for us. We went in and sat down, he marked us with crazy head rubbings, purred, collapsed, and was petted–all while staying extremely wary. This went on until Der Mann (I warned him!) committed the venal sins of Standing Up and Transporting Wicker Objects. The cat hissed and was back under the wardrobe until we went to bed. Then more crying. He even worked up his nerve to come into our bedroom and jump up on the bed, which because of Der Mann’s allergies is going to have to be off limits. Plus, it was kind of scary to have a huge cat we don’t know twining around our bed in the dark; we don’t have a headboard at the moment, and our bed is pushed into an alcove under the slope of the roof. There are a few feet of dead space between the knee-wall and our heads there, and the cat seemed to want to occupy that area, crying, and standing up on his hind legs to with his nose at a level with our faces. Extremely unnerving. In the end I got him to follow me out of the bedroom. I petted him a little more in the hall, went back in the bedroom, shut the door, and went to bed–too exhausted for any more cat therapy. I could still hear him crying on and off through the night.

I wonder what his old family was like. They say he was left behind after a move, and is used to children and other animals. He was only at the shelter for two days. Maybe he is looking for the rest of the people and pets who should be here.

By this morning he had disappeared. He is probably under the basement stairs behind a stack of boxes. I am letting him alone, so no picture.  Do you think that is an okay strategy?  Should I try to draw him out?

We think his name may be Owen (or Ulf, or Knut), though we are not sure, not knowing his character. If things go badly we can name him Owen Mistake.

Any name ideas? How did you name your pets?



7 Responses to “More Boring Cat Stuff, But Interesting To Us”

  1. Dot Says:

    Oh the poor dear is a people cat! How awful for him to have been left by his family. It’s likely he’s grieving. Some cats get attached to people (and other cat friends) and some are more attached to places.

    Our current pair of cats are one of each!

    If he wants a place to hide in, that’ll be very important for him. Our Pheobe is a highly strung cat and had to retreat to a quiet cupboard up in the eaves to sleep for the first 6 months she was with us. It was as if she couldn’t relax enough to rest anywhere that there were people. You’d not believe it now, she’s really confident with us and with visitors.

    Some friends who had a couple of rehomed cats got one that for the first couple of months was always hid inside a stone built video / t.v. extension on the side of the fireplace. She came out at night for food, and they didn’t see her for days on end. However, after a couple of years she was the first cat to sit on someone’s knee when they sat on the sofa – transformed.

    The best way to get the a cat settled in is have routine and set times for meals (they are great at knowing the exact clock time if it means a meal!) and rules about where the cat is allowed (sounds like this one needs to be shut in it’s own space aat night, well away from your bedroom!) and it’s own quiet hiding place if that’s what it needs. Cats like to negotiate, so let the cat tell you if it wants handling or not, and talk to it lots, even if you aren’t sure where it’s hiding – might sound daft, but they all seem to love being talked to. I suppose it’s because they are very sensitive to emotions and they like to hear a calm, steady, voice.

    The stray cat I’ve been feeding after 5 months of me just talking to her, putting food down at a distance and going away, has suddenly started talking to me! It’s wonderful progress, as to start off with she ran away when I got within 30 feet, now I can be about 6 feet away before she gets worried and she sometimes mews in greeting.

    I like the name Owen, it’s short and sounds distinctive. It’s a good idea to have a name that doesn’t sound like any other name or word you use, so the cat knows it’s His name.

  2. Holly Says:

    For a while I was naming pets after characters in Anthony Trollope’s novels (like our cat, Huffle Buffle). Most recently, I’ve been naming them after dead relatives…the dead relatives with strange personalities (like Alice the cat who was named after Alice the aunt who was extremely strange and once the mistress (in the 30’s) of Edgar Lee Masters). It helps to have quirky dead family members.

  3. Leigh Says:

    Poor kitty. It’s always stressful for older cats to go to new homes. I like the name Owen too. For Rascal, the entire family wrote names on the marker board. Anyone could write any name, and anyone could erase any name they didn’t like. In the end, only one name was left.

    For Catzee, we were on a Dr. Seuss kick, and DH started calling her Little Cat Zee. That seemed too much name for such a little cat, so it got shortened to Catzee (rhymes with Patsy.) I kinda wanted to name her Trudy, but DH vetoed that. So Catzee it is.

  4. I vote for Ulf! (What a fun name!) But, it sounds like he’s become an Owen already. He’s just going through the getting-to-know-you-and-new-surroundings adjustment. Who knows the trauma the animals go through before you get them? It must be very disorienting to him to have been in a shelter, even if only for two days. He’ll “owen” (own) you and your house before long!

    And you dear cat people! It really sounded like you couldn’t survive without a cat. And the world thanks you for saving an animal.

  5. Cally Says:

    Oh the poor soul, he must have had a horrible time. Why are people so cavalier in the way they treat animals? Your account of him under the wardrobe reminds me of when we brought Nala and Clio back from the shelter. Clio was straight into our laps and sucking up for all she was worth. Nala was under the bed for 24 hours before we managed to prise her out – with bribery rather than force. We had to corral them in our bedroom for the first week or so because it was the only place we could isolate from the burglar alarm until the technician had been and I think that actually helped a lot because they got confident in a manageable territory. Nala was so funny because even when she would eventually leave the room she absolutely refused to go past a corner just a few feet from the door. It was as if the abominable snowman might be lying in wait for her just out of sight. After a while I got fed up with this and picked her up and carried her – kicking and scratching and all – around the corner, and she was amazed: more house!! After that she couldn’t get enough of exploring the place. But I still wonder – what did she think was around that corner? Anyway, I reckon that giving him a safely sized space to start with and making sure that it has places to hide under and places to hide on (Clio slept on top of the wardrobe for a couple of months) will increase his confidence.
    As to names, I don’t know what his is. Nala came to us as Nala. Clio came as Kiara which turned out to be a useless name – too much vowel to consonant, I think, so that it is not clear enough. It certainly didn’t work. I said we should try names and see what she liked and suggested Clio and Freya. S said well in that case why not Fat Bob? So he called her Fat Bob for weeks to see if she would answer to it. She was way smarter than that though. (Fat Bob is a cartoon character who hails from Dundee, by the way.)

  6. Cally Says:

    Hmmm, I think I should use paragraphs when commenting.

  7. Suzan Says:

    Where are you dear Trapunto? Under the sofa, perhaps?

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