The Gentle Giant



When Moby was a kitten his paws were extraordinarily large. Most kittens are all eyes and head, Moby was all paws. He had the biggest kitten-paws I have ever seen. Everyone remarked about it. A friend of mine was completely bowled over by Moby’s paws, her eyes wide, “Will you look at the size of those paws!” She was floored, amazed. Several of the cats have Maine Coon characteristics: long hair, feathered bushy tails, thick ruff, large body, long legs — big cats. One of the sweetest things about Maine Coons are the tufts of fur between their toes that makes them look like they’re wearing poofy slippers. Tufted toes = Maine Coon haha. Large paws go with large bodies, Moby’s are bigger than any of the other Coon types here:  Viktor Kapukin and Zorro, who both have the dark and varied stripe patterns, Leo and Ginger Baker (both of whom are golden-furred) and Taj, the beautiful pewter-colored—who is no longer with us.) Clearly there are Maine Coon genes in the colony, Viktor and Zorro could pass as Maine Coons with breeding papers. Some of the others have a Coon/American Shorthair mix of design and then the rest are who they are. We have quite a few Tortoise-shell cats, three are long-haired “pale torties” (light gray, gold, tan and white patches), Bo-Peep, Candi and Turina, and then some dark torties with long hair (Gebo and Tindi), and some dark with short hair (Kukla, Tucci and DiamondGirl and Cookie—who is no longer with us) and Pearl the short-haired pale torty. She’s called PearlyPearl, it’s just something that evolved. Deolinda also was a short-haired pale torty, another unforgettable creature who was adopted a few years ago). There are several who have both torty and tiger markings mixed, like Danika.

Ali and PearlyPearl as kittens

Ali and PearlyPearl as kittens

Deolinda the day before her adoption

Deolinda the day before her adoption

Moby was born to Elsa, the second feral queen and the slipperiest cat I have ever encountered. Elsa could not be caught. She could outsmart and baffle any professional team. As for myself, since there were no intact males inside then, it didn’t seem necessary to rush things with Elsa. Even though I didn’t stop trying. Persuasion takes longer but to me it is much better. She died before ever having been spayed because no one could catch her, even after she came inside the shelter, even in the enclosed rooms, she always got away. One time a team of three pros spent 3 hours trying to corral her and finally gave up. Another time a group of rescue volunteers were similarly frustrated in their efforts to grab her, they even had a large net, but she got away. She just quietly passed 4 years ago in January during the night, curled up in her tent. It was sudden, there were no warnings or prior indication of illness or discomfort. It seems like she died the way she lived, on her own terms. The day before her passing, at feeding time, she ate well, with gusto. She was always among the first to come out for food. Who gets to eat first is a definitive status indicator with feral cats (and domestic cats as well in some cases). She was the reigning queen, and took the benefits of privilege routinely. That next day, I thought it was strange that Elsa didn’t come out at feeding time. She would always pop out at the first whiff of fresh wet food. I called her, but no answer. I put the food down and went to her usual haunt, a fleece kitty tent on top of a cot. She was curled up, I could see her in there. “Elsa, Elsa!” I whispered — no response. I felt a bolt of electricity switch up my shoulders. I reached in and touched her, and her body was cold. My stomach hit the cement floor. Elsa! Oh! It took my breath away. A gray fog come over me, I couldn’t move, I just stood there at first, then I fragilely wrapped her blankets around her, lifted her out of the tent so the others could see her, but it was as if they already knew. Most of them didn’t eat, just Rocky* and Tara (2 of the 6 in the litter Elsa brought inside the first time—another whole chapter about how I got them to come inside without using traps) went in for a nibble. I went upstairs and called for help, I couldn’t do it alone, too devastated. Everything changed in the shelter after the day Elsa died.

Elsa in the wild circa 2003

Elsa in the wild circa 2003

Elsa was a beautiful cat and an amazing kitty-mama, she was gentle yet street-smart and wise. She was graceful (not all of them are—some are burly, maybe even clumsy) and perfectly lovely. I will never forget her soulfulness, intelligence and sweetness. Tink, especially, changed a lot after Elsa’s passing, he was so in love with her. He’s never been the same. Tink will probably have difficulty being adopted, he’s an older cat now with a “skittish on the one hand, bold on the other” personality, but he’s been allowing me to pet him lately, just at the back of his neck. I had to back off a few months ago when in an attempt to pet him, he whipped his claws out and got me in my right thumb. When a few weeks passed after that and he realized I’d stopped trying to pet him, he came forward and asked for it — I complied, gingerly. He’s actually a funny guy, a comic and prankster, but he’s reclusive and passive as well. I have other stories about those subjects, for later. Cat personalities are not that simple:)

There were two kittens in Elsa’s last litter, Moby and his sibling Zippy. They’re almost 5 years old now, and different in physical features (Zippy is not a large cat, he’s a short-haired light gray male—who has astonishingly big round eyes) but they’re very similar in character, except that Zippy is less comfortable with human touch. Moby has grown into the largest cat in the shelter. He weighs 22 pounds and looks like a small bear. He’s also the gentlest—a quiet and meditative cat.

Everything about Moby is sensitive, yet laid back, unassuming. I think of him as a boddhisatva cat materialized on the planet to make us weep with joy. His eyes are globes of deep calm. He’s perpetually unruffled, easy-going and all-accepting. Even though he’s bigger than Julio, whom I wrote about earlier as the most likely candidate for King, his personality would likely have kept him below that lofty post in the wild. He’s relaxed by nature —  and, he seems to understand it’s a waste of energy once indoors to behave as if we all were still outside in the colony, vying for the top spot. There’s plenty aplenty for one and all—Moby “gets” that, he’s chill. Or maybe it’s just because he IS so big. He just wants to relax, it’s work to move that body around. Don’t get the wrong idea, he’s not obese, he’s just BIG. Moby says “no, thank you, no Kingliness for me” and the “thank you” is genuine. Moby is one cat who is always saying “thank you” in one way or another, he’s unspoiled and innocent that way. He has enough heft to beat out any other cat for the prime food spot, but he won’t. In fact, he often retreats at feeding time, politely waiting for the others to eat first. He’ll hesitate to come forward even if a special plate is prepared just for him (we usually feed cafeteria-style, several laden trays)—but Moby is one who needed to be “brought out” and part of that is learning to eat from one’s own dish.  He’ll look around to see if any of the others might want it. Then I have to coax him, and predictably he acts like the heavens just dropped manna on him, he’ll dance around the dish for several turns, interspersed with eye-contact and shin-rubbing, and finally he’ll settle in to eat. And if I stay there and watch over him, he’ll take short breaks and look up at me for a few seconds between bitefuls. There is something very soulful about Moby, a soul model inherited from Elsa, I like to imagine.

I’ve been told by an expert that personality characteristics in cats usually come from the paternal side. I haven’t researched the concept, but it was stated by someone with a PHD. Still, in Moby’s case, he really seems to have inherited Elsa’s gentleness, his gentleness is mellow, an amiable Stradivarius. I don’t know who the father was. It’s difficult to say with feral cats, though I witnessed a number of howling-time matings outside in the colony. For instance, Tindi, when she was still out, in broad daylight openly mating with 2-3 different males. My cohort that day joked “What a hussy!” But it’s not uncommon, and in fact a queen can carry kittens conceived with different males all at the same time, don’t ask me how or why. But it is also true that sometimes when a queen is already pregnant, another dominant male may force mating on her, and usually when that happens the kittens she carries are spontaneously aborted. It is one of nature’s ways of consolidating the aggression genes, aggression is life-saving in the wild. Sad but true.

The result of Tindi’s spree were her last litter born outside. They didn’t survive. She came in a few months later, pregnant again, that litter was born in the closet of my bedroom, all were well, healthy and adopted at 12 weeks, except Tylo. He stayed with us for three years. Tylo is another subject entirely. Much beloved, really someone special. He liked to hang out in the studio with me, one time he got green paint on his paws and did some artwork on the floor.

Portrait of Tylo at 5 months

Portrait of Tylo at 5 months

Even though ASPCA statistics show an astounding increase in feral population, in this colony, survival is not a given. These feral queens have to keep trying over and over just to have one or two survive out of several litters. Of course if even a few survive, there eventually will be more, but the truth is, they most often don’t, especially in winter, and yes, there are kittens born in winter, especially where there is a trustworthy food source, I’ve helped with winter litters a number of times. And then, adult ferals rarely live beyond 5 years. I’ve watched them come and go. Whenever there are feral cats I’ve seen repeatedly for a year or more at the outdoor feeding station, I’m saddened but not surprised when they disappear. There is one female named Bootsie, who’s been a queen in the colony since 2010. A very smart cat, she avoided the traps and kept having kittens. She would come to the feeding station every day like clockwork. I haven’t seen her in two weeks. She has gone missing before and then come back, those disappearances were due to kitten-births, but it would only be for 2-3 days, and then she’d show up, ravenous and ultra-hurried. Sure sign of tiny kittens somewhere nearby in a nesting place. Bootsie may have used up the last of her nine lives. I’ll keep you posted if she shows up again, you never know…..*

Moby is a highly adoptable cat, but his size seems to put people off. I explain that he’s most amiable and easy-going, but prospective families and individuals tend to overlook him, at least so far. But he is a very special cat, and whomever should ever want to adopt him will be scrutinized mercilessly. To make sure he/she/they can give him what he needs:  an even temperament, a good heart, peace and merriment, good food, space for playtime, a window perch and a lot of love. Looking forward to finding someone who is equally as gentle as Moby is, to live happily ever after in a perfect pairing/combining (if there are other cats also in the home) of characters.


*Rocky is what might be called a “slow” cat. One of the borrowed volunteers from a shelter nearby called him “a pig”, meaning a big slob, not an intelligent creature. I did not appreciate that, a label like that reveals the labeler as having a basically cruel attitude, even if said in jest, which this wasn’t. This was spoken with disgust. Shameful for someone who works with animals to say that under any circumstance. But yes, Rocky is the only cat who will sit in front of a television and stare at it. There is some folklore out there that states cats who watch TV aren’t that smart. It’s all attitude. Some people who watch TV aren’t that smart either, and some are quite smart haha. Any comments or input on the cats-watching-tv-are-not-that-smart concept would be most appreciated.



Rocky in a reverie

* I saw Bootsie today, two days after I posted this entry. She is VERY pregnant. Wonders never cease.

2 thoughts on “The Gentle Giant

  1. I’ve been enjoying watching this post develop over the last few days, Kathi. They are all so adorable, and your writing truly brings their individuality and character to life. Pleased to read today that Bootsie has returned.

    Not sure about the idea that cats who watch television aren’t very smart. I’ve seen video of a cat playing with a video of a pug on a computer screen that’s been made to look like it’s licking the other side of the screen clean, and the cat looked pretty switched on to me.

    • Years ago I bought a video called Video Catnip. The label said “Every Cat Loves Video Catnip” and “Watch Your Cat Go Crazy Watching Video Catnip”. It’s about an hour of nothing but birds close-up, flitting around, eating seed, perching, etc. It worked just like the label said. The cats would crowd in front of the TV, mesmerized.
      Sometimes they would jump on top, or search behind the box, it was incredibly stimulating for them, and often they would lurch forward and paw-swipe the screen. It was a real treat. But if I was just sitting there watching a show or a movie, they weren’t at all interested, except Rocky. Rocky will watch anything, even the commercials, he just grooves on the flickering vibe I guess:)


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