The King Flies Away

I remember Tink when he was a kitten, wild and free.

He’s been the gentle King of the roost for 13 years, his constant happy face and comical ways, his capacity to love back at you, at anyone, everyone, was astonishing really. The humble happy King was he. He never lorded status though. He was authentically humble, a good king. His last wish to me was to appoint Rocky as his heir to the throne, and to please continue giving the children wet food after I’m gone, since he understood that as top cat he’d pretty much always taken care of that.

I had to buy tons of lysine for Tink – he had that runny eye herpes syndrome, he had it often and worse than any of the other cats. He was the number one Herpes concern, and he often had to be treated for severe nose-clogging outbreaks. Tink still loved to eat even when his nose was stuffy, which I thought was an unusual adaptation and showed smarts. Most cats will not eat if they can’t smell the food, congestion can be fatal if they stop eating. (force the issue by plopping a spoonful of wet food on their forepaw or foreleg, they have to lick it off in order to clean up the mess you just made, and often that will kickstart the appetite) His herpes was constantly being managed and I was always so glad to see him the times when he would be clear, and would start him on lysine and warm sponging when the symptoms appeared, but after a few years I just kept him on lysine all the time.

Tink was a joy really, a little package of happiness, golden colored, sleek and sweet. He was also the papa of most of the younger cats in the colony, he was finally coaxed in and neutered after he was already a year and a half or so, but he had his heyday, and all of Elsa’s kittens came from him. And all the rest came from Elsa’s kittens. So he was the great-granddaddy. All were at last spayed and neutered in 2009-10. Today we are one less smiling face than we had yesterday.

Because Tink passed away last night. He wasn’t sick, he was just old and tired, he’d been slowing down for weeks and finally just stopped. He tried for a while to fight it, he loved life and didn’t want to let go, but finally died in his sleep on a soft cushion cup next to the heater, under a makeshift tent.
We buried him this morning in the garden and a rose will go there next spring.
It’s calm, a gentle rain is falling, but there’s a kind of echo in the air without the little golden man Tink tiptoeing around.

Tink and Bitsy 2009


2011

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Winter

The current colony outdoors is facing the toughest part of winter right now. Here, inside, we are safe and warm.
     The cold and snows we’ve had recently require regular pilgrimage to the feeding stations – depending on which way the wind blows, adjustments need to be engineered to keep the food from getting buried, to keep the walkways under the decks where they hide, clear, to make it as easy as possible for them to get to the food source. Dry food, in large heavy plastic, or metal bowls, will not freeze into bricks, but even if laced with frost will remain bite-size. Wet food provisions need to be timed with sightings, otherwise it just freezes before they get to it. Wherever possible remove snow from their “rights-of-way” and do not use chemical salts and snow-melts on trailed land.

tigre

Little Bo-Peep

Here is a video I’m glad I took the time to do. It goes back almost five years, to the “infant care” phase of BoPeep, who was abandoned by her feral kitty mama at 4 weeks because of severe flea infestation. This video documents some of her consistent care during the first weeks (hand-feeding and stimulation) but it doesn’t show the first few days of cleaning her and flea-combing (what a tedious but successful method of removing fleas, however it had to be performed for 4 days in a row, several times a day). A kitten less than a month old with a flea infestation will fade away from anemia if not treated asap.

This is Bo-Peep nowadays:)

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Communication

In the beginning, when I first started working with the cats, all the time they were talking to me, I couldn’t hear them.

I could hear my heart pounding during prolonged eye contact. I could wander my gaze over the face, look into the eyes, but never really knew what I was looking at. I would notice the silence, the air was filled with their eyes. I was sure they were intelligent, but their communications remained a mystery, partly because I wasn’t fully aware of the possibilities and points to ponder.

It took a long time to begin opening communication on a level where I could be sure of what I was transmitting/receiving so as not to be utterly improbable and ridiculous. There had to be solid evidence, I was skeptical, but open. I actually thought the potential for ridiculousness was greater than that for reward, until I found out.

When I was three years old, my brother started school and almost every afternoon when he got home he would teach me what he’d learned that day. By the end of his first year, I surprised my mother one day when we were out shopping, by pointing to a sign, and asking her, “Does that say speck-ee-al?” Once over the shock, and the “when did you learn to read!?!” she said “There are rules, in this case the “c” is called a “soft c”, and the “i” is silent, so it’s ‘speshal’.” My mother taught school, she later became a specialist in teaching elementary school children to read, but she hadn’t known before then that my brother was teaching me to read during our afternoon play-times. “Let’s play school! I’m the teacher” he would say.

The reason I bring this up is that the willingness to learn needs to be opened up by a need once we get beyond childhood more often than not. So I didn’t even know I needed to learn how to communicate with the cats at first. They had to tell me, over and over again, with great patience I might add. Another point: unique communication can be happening right under your nose but you might not see it if you aren’t looking for it.

My poet friend, what was it you were saying about communication?

About how words are only the sprinkles on top, the little delights, the pins and needles, satin ribbons, elastics, egg-shells, twisty things….

In the cat’s ears, it’s not the words, just the drone and tone and pitches and switches of voice. It doesn’t matter what the words are saying, they are only communicating something about the heart’s true place. The cats, like children, pick up on that. However, sounds including the sound of their names and certain keywords will catch on, and remember, never accidentally impose limitation because you’re inadvertently accustomed to assuming animals can’t learn one thing or another.

So to communicate the first two steps are
1. Be quiet and observant
2. Get used to having your heart in a strong place 24/7, that is, focus all faculties, connect with the animal in whatever way you can. Best if you actually feel the love for that animal like it was your very own dearest baby, that is the big love without any smudges, doubts or interruptions. It isn’t easy, I don’t automatically love everyone all the time, even though there’s no reason not to. So if you’re stubborn like me, it takes practice.

The third step is listening, not with your ears but with your eyes, hands and heart.

You’ll be amazed at what you hear more often than not.

And the 4th step, well, it’s an invention. Every cat must have a song. A short ditty with a catchy melody and their name as part of the lyric. You sing it to the cat repeatedly until he/she knows it’s “my” song. You sing it whenever they approach. You sing it when you give them food. Whenever they are nervous or upset you sing it. You sing it just for fun. You sing it up close, you sing it from 20 feet away, you dance while you sing it if you’re 20 feet away. (I’ve found that always gets their attention.) You sing it every chance you get.

Every cat, especially in a shelter, needs a song. It communicates something to them: I see you, I know you, I care about you, you are “speshal”.

Example: Take the song “Row Row Row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream” and change it to “Slow slow slow your pace, like a little prince, Mortdecai Mortdecai Mortdecai Mortdecai, you should nap on chintz”. To “At the Copa”: “His name is Tylo, he makes me a smile-oh, he’s the best looking cat in Ohio”.

I know it’s silly, but it’s fun and it works. The thing is, don’t use the same tune for different cats in the same shelter. You don’t want anyone shortchanged. You’ll need a repertoire of nursery rhymes and 6 bar phrases.

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a learning curve

The ex-feral cats are both scared and fascinated by regular household noises and routines.
One of the singular advantages of living above the shelter is to offer selective exposure to things like a human’s kitchen, bedroom, bath, closets, locations of windows, window ledges, an intro to the machines, like the vacuum, the dish-washer, the coffee-grinder. Sounds, like toilet flushing, shower running, bath-tub filling/draining, and the ambient sounds of tv, radio, the telephone or other transmission devices, human voices — the beeps, bleeps and buzzing of a relatively peaceful abode. Just in case they ever live somewhere with teenagers who have a rock band in the basement, I now and again put film noir movies (because of the drama and undertones) and MTV (rhythmic beats, usually high volume) on the television. There’ll be an audience trickling in and out usually, and a few who just take up residence near the tv for the afternoon. In the shelter itself, the cats listen to a classical music station 24/7 from a compact boombox radio next to the water main that sounds surprisingly clear and good. I often see them relaxing, grooving on the music. I stop and listen and wonder if it’s a language we can share, if they can feel the flowing of sound emotionally or in any way “understand” the reflection of various emotions evoked, I watch them. Today, during an Aria by Handel, they were transfixed and seemed to be breathing with the sound.

Not just that, but if they are upstairs exploring the human abode, it is interesting to note how they react to any sound of footsteps (not mine, they know my footsteps) coming through the front door, passing the shelter, across the mud room, up the stairs. Over time some have learned to relax and stay put when new people/sounds come into the picture, securely they remain steadfast, maybe not entirely calmly, but the “fight or flight” response has dissipated, they’ve “learned” to temper the stresses with curiosity/acceptance. They once would stampede, knocking over anything in the way, like bowls of dry food or a broom standing in the corner, whenever they heard a sudden loud sound, or a voice calling out at the door they didn’t recognize (in fact, in the early days they would stampede even when I walked into the room), but now they keep still for the most part. Even when the exceptionally loud gravel-crushing garbage truck backs down the driveway bleeping and blaring, and halts, the engine grinding and sputtering as it idles, the crank squealing as it lifts a bin — they stay put, staring intensely. However, the town fireworks display on 4th of July, with the nearby repetitive blasts and bangs filling the air, drives them to scatter for cover every season, without fail. The “night-club” gets filled to the foyer, standing room only.

Hanging out at the Club

Hanging out at the Club


What is important to understand is that short repetitive (once a week for instance, the garbage truck comes) experience (lessons) with unaccustomed/alarming things (pretty much everything to a feral cat newly indoors) works to ease transition efficiently, daily practice more so, but if a particular trigger comes yearly (like 4th of July), or intermittently (like thunderstorms) they’ll be at least in mid-life or later when they graduate. But what is most important to know is that feral cats of all ages, any age, can learn to be good house-mates and companions. It simply is not true that you have to get them as kittens, that after three months a feral cat is a lost cause for any potential adoption, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Hello, animal rescue orgs out there? Stop branding feral cats as intractable and admit out loud to the world that you just aren’t equipped to house and rehab SNR feral cats just yet. Use some of your savvy to get funding for it. Build shelters tailored to their needs, employ people to live/work with them. Find homes for the graduates or let them stay. Be bigger.

Back upstairs, I have to consider sometimes what I must look like to the cats in the home environment.

An example: I was showering, having left the door ajar, and a curiously daring new convert to the domestic scene slinked into the room, sniffing around, up to the edge of the tub, hoisting tenderly up on front paws staring at the rushing water through a 4-inch opening in the shower stall door. Moments later I open the slider slowly, step out, she retreats to the threshold and while I’m toweling off, she’s staring from the doorway, watching every move, her eyes darting all over, and she steals herself before looking towards my eyes, but once there, locks onto my gaze. In order to keep her eye-contact going longer, I quickly look down, turn to the side, and return a look from the corner of my eyes, look down, return a look, squint, look down, return a look, squint, etc. It is an engagement process so to speak and works best in small intelligible steps. If you know that a squint = a smile in human-to-cat body language translation, and prolonged direct eye contact can be felt as a threat, it makes sense.

While I’m busy doing the squint exercise, she’s saying
“omg is that how you clean up? that’s too weird. you don’t have very much fur — why would you want to dunk yourself in buckets of water? how peculiar. that piece of rag, you use that to lick the water up off you? ugh, the water smells like medicine. the whole thing is so awkward — you look like a giant four-legged pink insect stretching, I don’t see you flying though, no wings, thank god, and you move about 4 times slower than my pace, so I can dodge you pretty easily, even if you try to catch me unawares, but…(moving back 1 foot)”

“Yes, this is how I take a bath, you see, it is always a bit uncomfortable at first, coming out of the warm water into the cooler air, that is, especially since people don’t generally have any water-repellent fur covering, that’s why I scoop up my towel as fast as I can and wrap it around my shoulders and pat down at shiver-repellent speed. Then, you see, I change into my clean clothes, one piece at a time, to get warm again, I have to wear clothes, at least after September haha. These are my socks, they go on my feet….”

She cocks her head, watching the putting-socks-on action, but then she dashes away when I stand up to finish dressing.

“There’s only so much a cat can take, after all, you are so peculiar and I thought socks were for catnip toys, maybe your 2 stub-pads called feet double as toys sometimes or something?” she says from outside the door.

“a couple more times, you’ll get it, don’t worry”
I grab my clothes and peek around the door at her. She freezes mid-action, then bolts down the hall, down the stairs, looking for the comfort of the safe-zone, the familiar base. I think if I’d just tip-toed up to peek, she would probably have stayed long enough to regain eye contact. Apparently it was the sudden grabbing of the clothes, my usual inclination to multi-task, that foiled the attempt. As far as opportunities to give attention are concerned, it’s gotta be more presence and more presents.

Speaking of which, toys, especially catnip toys, are needed so send toys or make a donation for more presents. Thank you:)