Saturday, October 22, 2011

My "Cat House" and Its Tenant

When I brought her home from the SPCA to my 18th floor apartment,
unlatched the carrier door, she strutted out with the “air of freedom” 
to her new digs.
She embodied a regal head with alert gold-green eyes, tail upright and 
twitching as she padded her tufted paws across the pale blue carpet.
Her “body language” spoke of Queen...I named her Sheba!
No ordinary cat...
she was not to be cuddled, nor held in a long embrace 
for more than a moment or two,
not apt to nestle upon my lap,
nor show any special attachment to Me...her House Mother! She was “Aloof”!

Numerous cats and kittens, I have seen...but none like Sheba!


On the farm where I was born and raised, there were yearly litters of various colours...usually tabbies or tortoiseshells, even black and whites...depending on the sire. My sister and I adored them, but we were forbidden to have any (not even one) as a house pet. They were to remain in the barn, the fields and grassy areas surrounding the farm structures. We always had a family dog who'd be allowed in the house...(so why couldn't we have a kitten?) My favourite was Billie, a black and white Border Collie, who was trained to herd sheep by “whistle commands” given by my Dad...circling the flock from side to side, she'd corral them to a gated area. Thus during childhood, my farm animal interest centred on three different dogs.

When my children were young, we bought a Chocolate Point Siamese kitten...Jasper was a delight to all...a blue-eyed male with a personality to love. Andrew would take him outside on a leash..this was a mistake! With a taste for “outdoors”, so full of scents and sounds, he so intently and aggressively wanted “out”, he'd stand on his back legs and scratch at the screen; and if no success, would bang the door handle with a front paw, look back and check if we “got the message”. When this lacked response, he would back up to the floor-length mint green drapes and spray them with his peculiar odour! This resulted in two actions...we “fixed Jasper” then provided him with Tasha, a companion-mate...a Chocolate Point kitten..the two together were most playful and mischievous.

When Andrew was 7 or 8 years old, he had a Hot Wheels set...various designs could be built. This track, with its cars scooting up and down and around, fascinated and intrigued Jasper, who would chase the cars and bat them off the track...such great fun for him which entertained my son and his father with many a laugh! Using Lincoln Logs, he built a house over the track through which the track could run. Jasper crouched with eyes beaded and watching, his tail switching from side to side...ready to chase or pounce on the next car down the track...accidentally, he ran into the log house which tumbled upon him.

Tasha had her own quiet ways. She was very demure and sweet. In my husband's study, she'd be frequently seen sitting on his books or magazines, napping on an article of clothing or a sunny window ledge. On more than one occasion, when entertaining dinner, guests...I'd have a table centre-piece of fresh flowers in a low vase. Gradually, I noticed that the flowers became first wondering how I could not have finished this arrangement. Then I caught her in the act of thievery! With a purple pansy in her mouth, she bolted from the table and fled to the basement. In the “crawl space” I discovered her “cache” of the day's flowers and the now dry ones from her previous forays.
When Jasper requested food, he'd sit in front of his empty dish in the kitchen, and with his raucous plaintive voice, announce his need! He'd continue this routine with tail a-switching, still facing the emptiness of his bowl, looking around for someone... to Pay Attention, until his request was fulfilled.

The Siamese are a wonderful cat breed...intelligent, loving, ready to be cuddled or nestle on an inviting lap. They “converse” and in time, we could understand some of their “cat talk”.

The Green family lived in a neighbouring town home. Their cat, “Kitty” would be let out for his daily fresh air. When the weather was cold, he'd visit us with a climb up the screen door and yowl..hanging by his claws...seeking attention until invited in! He was the usual Tabbie with remarkable striping, whom we called “Tiger”. He'd welcome whatever food we provided, then after a few laps of cool water, he'd search out a comfortable place for his afternoon nap...on a cushion, an upstairs bed or cuddle beside Tasha for whom he had personal affection. For him, I believe this was a respite...away from the rambunctious children in his home next door. Then soft-footing his way downstairs, he'd sit at the though to say “Thank You...I'll come again soon”. Exiting, he'd saunter around the fence to his own family, disillusioning them into believing he'd had an abundance of fresh air and exercise. Sometimes I deem these cats to be as human as us.

There are numerous stories to be told about Tiger's relationship with Jasper and better to tell them than with a camera! With the numerous photos I had, it was so easy to assemble a story line with them. The Colour Photographic Club of Burlington, monthly held a contest for submissions on various topics. When “Photo Essay” night arrived, with the encouragement of a personal friend, Julie (an avid photographer), I presented my essay. Using a projector and screen for the colour slides, I read the script with “The Baby Elephant Walk” music background. This was accepted with great applause...for the ingenuity of the presentation. My Cats became Heroes!

During the winter, I developed severe asthma (due to low immune system resulting from major surgery). Several times that season, I rushed to Hospital Emergency, unknowing from where my next breath was coming. In the spring, tests revealed that I was allergic to cat fur and dander...also alternaria and skin allergy to nickel. With Marcia, who was young, I retreated to my sister's home in Goderich for two weeks while my home was totally cleared and cleaned to remove all substances of cat fur. I was So Sad! Jasper went to the Oberski family and Tasha to a woman's antique shop on the Beach Strip near the Skyway Bridge. She was so delighted, welcoming her new “home and store pet”.

My health was restored! A few years later, a personal friend, Sharon, asked if I would take her black and white Persian-haired kitten. Sparky, their family dog was too aggressive with this “intruder into his domain”. Although wary of implications to my health, we accepted her temporarily. Very distinctively marked with white front and moustache, her name was “Tache”. A loving kitten she was...fastidiously clean, non-demanding, patiently waiting for someone to “read her mind”, then snuggles and cuddles and purring with content. If no human touch around, she'd bask in a warm sunny ray.

One week, John and Sherry left their black “wildcat” with us while on holiday. He was a young male...accustomed to John's rough play with him. Walking by him, he'd love to alarm you with with his sudden playful attack...full of sneaky actions and not so good behaviour. Marcia was frightened of him! This cat needed to be taught a few manners. I carried a tea towel with me, then when he “attacked” me, I strongly flicked my towel at him...he was a “quick learner”. By the end of the week, he had become a “gentleman cat”.

Tommy was a tabby with brownish black stripes...from Animal Aid (name derived from a character in the Sunday evening TV series, “21 Jump Street” starring Johnnie Depp). He was a happy mischievous cat with eyes of green. He longed to be close...sit on my newspaper while reading it , perch on my desk while tending to correspondence, forever wanting to be on the Kitchen counter (which I prohibited)...he was tremendously insulted! He'd sleep at the foot of my bed, then the following morning he'd purr into my ear for breakfast. One day with Marcia in High School and Andrew at University, I returned from my office early one afternoon. Preparing a cup of hot tea, I heard running water. What could this be? Someone left the tap running? (was certain it was off when I left). Walking to the Powder Room, there was Tommy having a wonderful time! His three feet were perilously perched on the toilet seat edge....the fourth paw was playfully swirling the water; when it ceased to run, he carefully repositioned his feet and pushed down the lever with his free paw to again “flush the  waterfall” so he could again resume his play. This antic entertained him for many minutes.


After Tommy, I decided to not have another cat. In the Burlington Post, several months later was a picture of a black cat pleading to have a home. Always being fascinated with a jet black feline, I was “suckered in” to have a look at this one at the SPCA. He was gorgeous...a sleek velvet-like coat! This cat ...I must have him! Within a week I discovered Ebony's bathroom habits were atrocious...and this trait I could not alter! Returning him to the Shelter, I was both disappointed and vowed, “My cat days are over.”

Many weeks later, when in the vicinity of the SPCA, I stopped by to “have a look”...just out of interest. No cat “grabbed my attention”...except for one cage. “Who's in there?”, I asked. “Oh, you don't want her,” I was told. “Why?”, I questioned. “She's quite anti-social.” I commented, “That doesn't concern me...I can ignore her as long as she cares to ignore me...could I please see her on the floor?” The attendant informed me that only the manager could handle this cat.

This cat looked like a long-hair tabby...her dark brown back saddle, tail striping, furry feet, unusual tense green eyes and tuft-like-hair-tipped ears...what a mix! This was now February. In early December, a call came from a North Burlington country area requesting someone to please come and retrieve a stray cat which was insisting on habitation before winter set in. The woman stated they already had a house cat, yet daily Cat would return day after day, seeking Help! [Woman began to place food outside for Cat, now returning to the back door for the daily meal handout. Then Cat would jump to the window ledge, peering into the Kitchen...waiting for someone to come to her assistance! Woman takes pity on Cat, allowing it into her house. Woman's feline is most unreceptive to Cat. In desperation she called the SPCA.]

It is believed that this cat is young...maybe 2 to 3 years old; her demeanour indicates she was quite likely abused, then abandoned...or the cat escaped the cruel treatment by her inhumane owners.. Management advised me that she had been with them since early December...checked by a Veterinarian and given the necessary “shots”and spayed. Providing me a transport carrier...with loud wails and screaming beyond reason, I brought Mystery Cat home with convinced she cannot cope with “confinement” as she struggles to be free. I was confident that with time and patience, I would win her trust...likening this to an abused child whose dignity has been harmed and damaged, whose outlook on life has been negatively affected...and who is distrustful of humans!

Sheba! It's You and Me! I showed her where to  locate food and water, then the location of her litter pan. It was a weekend...Saturday and Sunday...I remained “on duty and service” to attend to her needs...her demeanor was vague and aloof. She found places to hide...only when hungry did she seek for nourishment and water...before retreating to her hide-away areas. Within a week, she'd spend time with me...watching...contemplating...meditating in a trance-like position with her tail wrapped around her feet...very dignified in appearance...her eyes in a forever-focus-on-me. Soon, she'd relax...stretch her full length on the floor from tail tip to front paws...then lay on her back displaying her light tan furry tummy...a moment of trust! I bent down to pet her...which was now acceptable. I noticed her long whiskers, her furry paws, tufted ears and bushy tail.

When Spring weather arrived, I leashed Sheba and introduced her to my balcony...not wanting her to jump to the railing at this 18th floor height. She discovered that she could lie at the balcony's edge with her front legs and head under the lowest horizontal rail...this freedom with front paws hanging over, allowed her views of trees, flying birds, Canada geese feeding along Lake Ontario's shoreline and sense the fresh air and warmth of the sun.

After several weeks of “balcony visits”, I abandoned the leash; she would follow me wherever I went in the apartment...crouch on the chesterfield beside me, nestle at my feet, perch on the armchair beside my desk or enjoy the rose coloured rocking chair. When I was away during the daytime hours, I would leave the balcony door ajar for her to enjoy the freedom of going there to observe the outside world. Over the summer she caught two birds, proudly presenting them to me when I returned home. When she'd hear my key in the door lock, she'd rush to greet me, with a brushing of her side along my leg and with an upward look of appreciation. She'd purr, then with her graceful airs, walk away. Her nightly spot was at the foot of my bed.

We had one hectic experience! Although I had a scratching post, Sheba would not let me hold her to clip her claws. She began to damage the furniture. It was my intention to take her to the veterinarian, having him tend to this nail clipping. It was a battle to push her into the cat carrier...amid howls and loud wails, I drove to the clinic. Realizing that she was still traumatized by confinement in the carrier...and upset now in taking her away from her place of refuge, I reluctantly requested that the Vet remove her front claws. I decided, then and there, I would never again remove her from Her House! In a couple days I returned to the Clinic. The Vet donned leather gloves to reach into the cage to place her in the carrier. She yowled mercifully like a jungle animal...Unbelievable!!! Her glaring eyes told me she was frantic! And most disturbed! Looks could kill! She was unable to understand why I had abandoned her to this terrible ordeal! She was still battling confinement until I reached the apartment. Hearing the key turn in the lock, amazingly she quieted! Sitting the carrier on the rug and speaking to her gently, I opened its front door...she stepped out like the Queen of Sheba...all sophisticated, walking with “royal airs” into the Kitchen for morsels of food and water.

One of my hobby pastimes is craft work...very relaxing to knit, crochet or embroider while watching TV. Sheba would never lay on my lap, but always nearby...usually curled at my feet. It was a sweater I was knitting for a friend in yarns of black and red. I had completed about 18 inches of the back and left it on the coffee overnight. Next morning, I discovered what she had discovered! Yarn was fun to play with...the balls were strewn and dragged endlessly, the sweater unravelled to within a few inches of its lower ribbing. And there was Sheba...very innocent, quite vague and unconcerned about her night activity...perhaps deceiving me into believing that none of this was “any of her doing”!

Sheba looks like a tabby...but is she? Julie, my Kitchener friend has long been a “cat fancier”, now turned dog-lover. She researched the description I gave her...notifying me a few days later, that Sheba is a Maine Coon (noteworthy that purebred kittens often sell for $500). With its distinctive physical appearance, it is one of the oldest breeds in North America. Many of the original Maine Coons inhabited the New England states. Characteristics: large bone structure...rectangular body shape...long flowing coat...bushy tail...tufts of hair at tips of ears and around their feet...long whiskers. The most usual colour is the brown Tabby...some vary in colour. They are recognized for their intelligence and gentle personality.

Cats have great agility and ability to jump to surprising heights. Sheba is such a contrast. Jumping from the floor level to a book shelf about 5 feet...a perfectly calculated leap; here she crouched on her four paws with fluffy tail tucked around her...a high position she relished! When you think she's half asleep, she's always wide awake. The carrier in which she was transported, terrorized her, yet give her a brown paper bag, and she'll playfully crawl in and out of it with great pleasure.

I lived in Sheba’s apartment for several years...she began to lose her appetite, then lost weight...her legs were tottery. In consultation with her Vet, he advised me to bring her was a struggle!

She let me hold her ... as I said,
“Good-Bye, Sheba, you'll not suffer any more.
You've had a good life.”
She purred and nuzzled my cheek.


One adopts a kitten
and within a few months
the Cat in the House
permits you to live in Her Home.”
(Solomon Fein)

A colour photograph recently in The Spectator shows Robin with her cat, Stewie, who has been accepted by Guinness World Records as the world's longest cat at 48.5 inches. She says Maine Coons are the “gentle giants”
of the cat world.
This picture showing Robin extending Stewie's full length
from front paw to tip of his tail,
is identical in appearance to my Sheba.
This inspired me to write the foregoing article.

Merle Baird-Kerr
written October 25, 2010


Of Interest ...

Cats are exceptionally Mysterious Creatures!
Throughout history, cats have been worshipped as gods in certain cultures.
According to Buddhist religion, the body of a cat, when it dies,
is the temporary “resting place” of the soul of very spiritual people.
Sailors used cats to predict the voyages they were about to embark upon;
loudly mewing cats meant that it would be a difficult voyage.
A playful cat meant that it would be a voyage with good and gusty winds.
If a cat continually looks out a window, rain is on the way.
A cat has 9 lives: 3 years to Play...3 Years to Stray...3 Years to Stay.

There are 2 means of refuge from the Misery of and cats. (Albert Schweitzer)

The cat could very well be man's best friend,
but would never stoop to admitting it. (Doug Larson)

Cats work out mathematically the exact place to sit
that will cost most convenience. (Charlotte Gray)

A cat can be trusted to purr when she is pleased
which is more than can be said for human beings. (William Ralph Inge)

Your cat will never threaten your popularity by barking 3 AM in the morning.
He will not attack the mailman or eat his drapes, although he may climb them
to see how the room looks like from the ceiling. (Helen)

I had believed that the training procedure with cats was difficult.
It's not. Mine had me trained in two days. (Bill Dana)

My cat speaks sign language with her tail. (Robt. A. Stern)

Dogs come when they are called.
Cats take a message...and get back to you later. (Mary Bly)

Before a cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream.
(T. S. Elliot)

One of the most memorable musicals, I've seen is CATS.
(Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber...based on Old Possum's
“Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot)

My son was so captivated, he has attended several performances of Cats,
being able to quote and sing most of the songs.
A favourite is ... "Ad-dressing of Cats":
You've read of several kinds of cats,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That cats are much like you and me.
And the people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are bad
And some are better and some are worse.
But all may be described in verse.
You've seen them both at work and games
And learned about their proper names
Their names and their habitat.

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