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



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.