How can folks live without a companion pet around the house? In my case it’s been cats 10, dogs 1.
Diane has asked, subtly as always, why I have not written about the cats. One of our two delightful feline companions, Mrs. Tiggywinkle, born Petit Paws Ophelia, but better known as Tiggy, sits on my lap, watching the cursor move across the screen with interest as I work. Tiggy is my best friend, sprawling across my keyboard as I try to do my taxes, curled in my lap as I read beside the fire, meowing for a treat or supervising from the counter when I’m hard at work in the kitchen.
In the summer she joins me in the garden, gimlet eyes on the birds on the bird feeder, though she’s such an indoor cat she has no hunting instinct left. At dinner parties she will try to climb into my lap and so onto the table, but I draw a line at that. In bed it is a different matter. She will cuddle up alongside Diane at night, taking up more room than one could imagine possible. While we read the paper and drink our morning tea, she will install herself in the warm cave under the bedclothes. Tiggy is a pure-bred Balinese, a sub-set of the Siamese breed, but with the softest, silkiest coat imaginable, the brightest blue eyes and affectionate disposition. Who could ask for a better little creature as a feline friend?
Lulu* on the other hand is a street-smart tough girl, first encountered living on scraps in the lane that runs behind our townhouse and so past the restaurant on the corner. She was skittish and wary, in a feral way, but Diane lured her into the comfort of a box in the garden, lined with insulation where she lived for one winter. Always playful, she would jump up to catch snowflakes. She would also identify the purr of the Jaguar coming up the lane and quickly run to the top of the fence in greeting.
Next Diane decided to slowly coax Lulu to her, and sit very quietly by the offered food dish. This technique worked very well and Diane was soon able to put the food in the cat carrier, sit nearby and then quickly close the door. By this time Lulu was about to have kittens, so it was off to the Bay Cat Hospital for their birth, where she had a large room for herself and family. The kittens grew healthy and inquisitive and once again found good homes.
Lulu is mostly white, with a patchwork of black and brown and a pattern on her face that makes her cute but somewhat cross looking. Her whiskers are enormously long. No one was interested in taking a feral cat that hissed if anyone came near and couldn’t be picked up without scratching and biting. So home she came to the townhouse and after several years inside in a safe environment, she too will jump up on the bed and sleep alongside us. Watching television, she will sometimes surprise by crawling up behind us on the couch or sneaking onto my legs when I have them stretched out in front of me on a footstool. She, too, has become a loving companion, although not in the same league as Tiggy.
Diane and I have both always had cats, in and out of our former relationships. My cat years started in London in my flat near the BBC Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, where I worked. Cleopatra was a large calico cat, affectionate and playful, who loved to run from one end of my flat to another chasing catnip mice. When I left for Canada, I found her a very nice home with one of those semi-aristocratic ladies who inhabited the “Beeb” at the time.
During the 70s I had a VW mini bus, purchased from a hippie couple for only a few hundred dollars. They had decorated it strangely, but it had a comfortable bed and a rudimentary kitchen. One summer I set out to drive across Canada and my adventurous kitten Baldur insisted on coming along. Just outside Sault Ste. Marie, we stopped at beautiful Pancake Bay Provincial Park. Baldur bounded out of the van and ran around like a mad thing on the lovely sandy beach until he was frightened by a large bird of prey swooping overhead. He retreated up a nearby pine tree and refused to come down, even for dinner. By dark his pitiful mewing was too much to bear, so with a flashlight between my teeth I climbed up into the tree. Baldur had become stuck to a branch with pine resin all over his feet, but he seemed pleased to see me. I picked him up, with my by now completely sticky hands and thus glued together we made it safely back to the ground. Getting us unstuck was a challenge and the kitten’s fur lost out. The resin eventually got licked out of his fur, but he smelled like a pine car freshener for the rest of the trip.
Later, I acquired Tiger from one of the performers on a TV show I was producing at the time. He was a tiny ginger tom who grew immensely fat. After I had fed him in the morning, he would push his nose out through the cat door I’d made him and, unbeknownst to me, head next door for his second breakfast, then across the road for a round of visits to all the neighbours. It was years later a neighbour told me how he would come and yowl at their backdoor until they fed him. He had the pathetic starving cat routine well rehearsed.
Then there was Sammy, another ginger tom, and Rufus, a handsome little tabby we got at the Humane Society who lived to be nearly 20. Alice was a feral cat who wandered in one day and stayed for years. Elizabeth was a pure white cat, found as a kitten in a laneway behind a pizza parlour and brought to our house, by then home to several felines. Pumpkin was a tiny black and orange cat, who had survived being hit by a car and was given to us by a vet. All are now in that great kitty litter box in the sky.
Having a pet is a great responsibility which we fully embrace. We feed them well, but not too much to make them fat. For a treat Tiggy likes dried bonito flakes we get at a curious Japanese store on Queen Street West or thinly sliced cooked turkey. Lulu loves Whiskas Temptations. We feed them the very best quality cat food from a speciality pet store along Dupont Street. They use the World’s Best Cat Litter, expensive but worth every penny. When we go away, we either have a friend come to cat and house sit, or we ask a couple of ladies who run a cat sitting service to visit every day. They have regular visits to the vet for health checks and grooming. Both our girls are now in their teens and we hope they’ll be with us for a good while to come.
Three years ago, Lulu developed a lump on one of her teats, which the vet removed and declared cancerous. She was only given six months to live, but here she is still and we’re going year by year.
It is hard to keyboard these last few words, as Tiggy is sitting in my lap with her head on my left hand. She seems to approve of what I am writing. She is purring like a tractor engine.
* Sadly, Lulu was diagnosed with cancer three and a half years ago. After surgery, she was given a low chance of survival beyond six months, so she did well to make it this long. But this week she was clearly suffering and we took her on a last journey to Bay Cat Hospital, where very calmly and with no distress, she quietly went to sleep. RIP sweet little girl. March 7, 2016.
This article was originally published on March 4, 2013.