Drama at the Cat Sanctuary: Social Cats and a Fire

For once, a long me-me-me post that may interest someone outside my immediate family…November 14 and 15 were quite a weekend.

First, Heather, Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, negotiated a successful labor strike. I am not making this up. You can see, even from this image of a half-grown kitten nonverbally expressing “How could you take Ivy’s picture first,” that Heather is a cat you don’t meet every day.

Last spring Heather gave birth to five kittens. Two of them, Tickle and Elmo, remain at the Cat Sanctuary.

“They’re six months old now,” I said. “It’s time they moved on to permanent homes. I don’t want tomcat odor in the house.”

“Their permanent home is my permanent home,” said Heather, nonverbally, “and you will let them in the house, and you will feed them, or I’ll move out. I may have been born in a house but I can revert to being totally feral any time I want to. I can live on wild squirrels…there are enough of them in the woods this year!”

So for ten days, while I searched for her and thought she might have been killed or petnapped, Heather skulked in the woods, and Ivy was able to catch one of the recent gray squirrel irruption. The only evidence of Heather’s survival I could find was a steady decline in the squirrel overpopulation problem.

On November 14, Heather came home, waking me around 2 a.m. After watching to see that Tickle and Elmo were fed too, she ate another meal and agreed to be friends again. I didn’t get back to sleep that night.

After the cat family drama, November 15 started out to be a bland, even boring, sunny autumn day. I put the trash in the wood stove as I usually do. I usually burn just one piece of wood with one bag of trash. I saved truckloads of scrap wood from construction jobs in 1993 and in 2006, and have almost half the total volume of wood left, today. On November 15 the trash (mostly used tissue) was on the damp side so I put in a larger scrap of wood than usual, a piece of a 2×4 instead of the usual skinny slat. I did not anticipate a need to watch the fire. I expected that about half of the trash bag and half of the wood would be in the stove, cold, in the morning.

If I’d stayed in the older part of the house (it has three distinct sections, old, new, and in between) I would have noticed that something different happened with that little trash fire. What happened was a chimney fire. If you keep your chimney nice and clean, chimney fires burn out harmlessly. If you let soot and creosote build up, the fire in the chimney can be hot enough to ignite wood or paper near the chimney…especially if the wall near the chimney is insulated with the pre-asbestos kind of petrochemical stuff that burns faster than paper.

On November 15 I learned that this can also happen if you inadvertently burn a scrap of wood that was once, long ago, treated with creosote. That wood burned bright and hot, drying and consuming the damp tissue, blazing straight up into the chimney.

All these years I’d never even wondered what the walls in the older part of the house were insulated with. Only when I smelled smoke, ran into the kitchen, and saw flames flickering inside the wall, did I find out…it was the bad stuff all right, and the fumes when that stuff burns are horrible.

When I was growing up in the house where I now live, everybody knew that the fire engines couldn’t pump or haul enough water to spray on a house that was not on a town water system; the county fire department wouldn’t do anything. You fought your own fire, and your neighbors’ if you didn’t want their fires to spread to your property, or you just stood about watching your house burn to the ground. I stayed in a house across the creek, and watched a poor old lady watch her home burn, when I was six years old. I helped save our house, and contain the fire after a neighbor’s house was lost, as a teenager. Even my depressive sister has some fire-fighting experience.

So I knew not to panic. The air was damp, the wood was not very dry, so despite the blaze from the insulation the fire didn’t spread fast. I had time to run in and out sloshing bottles of water on the flames, but the insulation kept blazing up again, and also I found out that I’m not tall enough to climb up on the roof from the ladder that was available. About that time a neighbor passed by. I asked him to try climbing up on the roof. He’s taller than I am, but fatter, and didn’t get onto the roof either. The fire was getting ahead of us. Well, why not call the fire department, I had said. On a lazy Sunday afternoon one of them might be willing to take a bottle of water up on to the roof.

About that time the county fire engine rolled up, and to my surprise the county fire department did take over fighting the fire. That is why the house is basically intact today. Inside, there’s a big hole in the wall between the two oldest rooms, a small hole in the ceiling, some damage to the chimney, some damage to the stove, and some further damage to the wiring I hadn’t dared to use since the 2011 cyclone anyway. The house still has an intact floor that will support seven large men, an intact roof that will support one of them, and mostly intact but unconnected electrical wiring. The neighbor and I might have put the fire out without professional help, but the damage would certainly have been worse.

I had planned to go into town and post that long reflection on sustainable organic gardening on November 15. I had wanted to stay home and enjoy the relatively warm, sunny afternoon. I had actually prayed about the matter and felt led to stay…at least a little later…when the fire started. So when it was over I was actually saying, “Thank you, God.”

Well, by then, it was time to call the cats to dinner…and where was Heather? I think she seriously considered going back to the woods. The other cats had missed her, too, and we all spent a lot of time roaming around in the woods, calling Heather. Then Heather took some time making up her mind whether she could stand the smell in the house. In the end, though, I think she took pity on us.

The sun was down; the temperature went down. I had considered myself over bronchitis, finally, on November 14. Deep breaths of chemical fumes followed by deep breaths of cold air brought the bronchitis back worse than ever.

On the whole, though, I think the Cat Sanctuary was better off than November 16 than on November 13. It may be a while before anybody can either cook or burn trash in the kitchen…but at least we do have Heather.

Liza the Silly Yellow Wild Cat

(Topic credit: Wendy Welch at https://wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/the-naming-of-cats-is-a-difficult-matter/ .)

For a few years after its dedication as a Cat Sanctuary my home was catless. Horrible. My mother thought she could protect the house from mice with poison. I came home to a house full of mice. Holding my nose, I said, “We need a cat.”

Another Cat Sanctuary sent me two kittens, Bounce and Pounce. “Their mother is wild as a cat can be, but my granddaughter’s made pets of them.” The kittens ignored cat food, crawled up my legs, and tried to nurse on every exposed patch of skin they found. They were autumn kittens, not more than three months old. They shivered a good deal, more from grief and fear, I thought, than from actual chill, and cried. “You don’t want the mother cat. She’s wild, won’t come near the house, won’t catch mice…”

The kittens wanted her, I said. Later that week a man unloaded a steel trap into the front yard. A very hostile orange cat erupted out of the trap, up the man’s arm, over his head, leaving a trail of blood as she leaped down to the ground and streaked away into the woods.

Later that day the kittens persuaded their mother to be reunited with them in the barn, and came in full of milk, purring and content. The feral mother cat would try to sneak bites of leftover food when she thought I wasn’t looking, but would not eat food that was set out for her. “Silly yellow wild cat,” I observed, and, thinking of an old children’s storybook, called her Liza.

In between the arrival of Bounce and Pounce and the arrival of their mother, on a job site I’d met Graybelle, the Third Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, also feral. For the first week or two Liza slapped and scolded Graybelle. Though Graybelle had kitten teeth and was still growing fast, she was already as big as many female cats get. Liza was an impressive “Big Mamma,” usually mistaken by strangers for a tomcat, and not to be impressed by Graybelle’s size. Not yet.

Over the course of the winter, although Liza was mostly dense muscle and solid old bones, and Graybelle was mostly fluff, the size difference gradually reversed. Then Graybelle went on growing, being one of those Manx cats who revert to the full size of their wild ancestors.

Bounce and Pounce were the cuddly pets who did cute things and wanted to be held. Graybelle was gentle but not affectionate. Liza gradually, week by week, let her kittens persuade her to eat with them.

I didn’t try to force Liza to be a pet. I set out food for Bounce, Pounce, and Liza in one bowl, food for Graybelle in another bowl. Bounce and Pounce would eat a bit and then want to play and be petted. It was amusing to watch Liza approach and avoid, approach and avoid, over the winter. She liked kibble and loved fish. After a month or two she’d even let me stroke her back while she was eating.

One snowy day I sat on the porch and watched everyone eat, and Liza came close enough for me to pick her up and hold her on my knee. She didn’t scratch or bite; she froze. When rubbed behind the ears she emitted an extraordinary noise. It was a sort of purr, but a high-pitched, more panicky than contented purr. She seemed unable to believe that she was being petted by a human and…liking it? Then a strange voice was heard from the road. Jehovah’s Witnesses were out making themselves tiresome. Liza retreated into the woods again.

She was back in the yard for dinner, though, and now a new social dynamic appeared. Management of the humans is a point of social status for cats. Graybelle had been very dignified and ignored Liza once they were about the same size–but now Graybelle was bigger, with status to maintain, and she didn’t like Liza. If I picked Liza up again, when I set her down Graybelle would slap her.

Liza continued nursing her kittens all winter. People who dislike cats will tell you that if cats aren’t sterilized they’ll have two or three litters every year. Actually I’ve only ever seen oversexed adolescent cats have two litters in a year. Mature female cats practice birth control primarily by nursing kittens for six months, which normally inhibits ovulation. Cold weather also normally inhibits ovulation, so nursing met an emotional need more than a survival need for Liza, Bounce, and Pounce.

By March, Liza had lost her fear of me and acted like a pet when Graybelle wasn’t watching, though she avoided me when Graybelle was watching. Then, since she was still feral, she eloped and I never saw her again. Maybe she moved in with her mate’s family and became Queen. It’s hard to say. A lot of cats look like Liza.

Liza was one of nine feral-born cats who’ve become pets, even indoor pets, with some encouragement from me. (Only six of them were my pets; Graybelle, Boots, and Muffin were definitely other people’s pets who also recognized me as a friend.) People who listen to Humane Pet Genocide Society drivel have heard that feral cats can’t become pets. I say: bosh. Feral cats do not have the neurotic need for human supervision that some pet cats do. They know they can survive on their own, which makes it all the more rewarding that they often will choose to bond with humans who respect them.

Would you love someone who trapped you, kept you in a steel cage, separated you from your home and friends, performed unnecessary painful surgeries on you, either held you prisoner or dumped you out on a street corner while you were still bleeding from a major surgical operation? Feral cats don’t love the people who carry out Humane Genocide Society mandates on them, either. That does not mean that feral cats never bond with humans, but it does reduce the chance that a feral cat will ever learn to trust another human.

Would you, on the other hand, love someone who shared food with you, helped you recover when you were in fact sick or injured, helped keep insects from eating you alive, helped baby-sit your children, and protected you from predators? Feral cats often do learn to love the people who help them, too. Be respectful, don’t make a feral cat a prisoner, and it will be your friend.

This Morguefile cat (Gracey at www.morguefile.com/archive/display/232313 ) is one of thousands of cats, mostly male, who look like Liza.


The Naming of Cats

Here’s a revised, updated, human-to-human version of an article previously published in the “animal interview” form.

Question: How do Cat Sanctuary cats get their names?

Answer: Sometimes from their colors. Sometimes from the way they behave.

A few cats’ names have been inspired by books. Liza, a feral orange female, was so scared of me at first that she reminded me of the story in Lazy Liza Lizard with the song about the “silly yellow wild cat.” The combination of Iris, Irene, and Ivy came from Piers Anthony’s Xanth comedy series.

Some cats were named in combinations. There was a blue-gray kitten called Grayce, and later her pale orange half-brother was Paley. Polly was polychromatic; her granddaughter, who was both polychromatic and polydactylous, was Candice. Princess Anne, the elder sibling, and Mitchellville, the younger smaller sibling who quickly grew bigger, were named after two towns in Maryland that developed in a similar pattern. I never found out the real name of a frequent visitor who became a resident after his human died, but since he first came to visit Graybelle I called him Graybeau.

The Cat Sanctuary was really founded by a cat called Magic who had a penchant for adopting kittens. Magic was a present from a NASCAR promoter, and several of her family had NASCAR-theme names: Black Magic, Black Velvet, Kulwicki, et al. NASCAR names were reserved for kittens with very loud purr “motors”—Magic was one, and raised several.

Some Cat Sanctuary cats were named by other people. I didn’t think of “Graybelle,” although I like it. Harley and Davidson were “Manx One” and “Manx Two” while growing up at the Cat Sanctuary—it wasn’t as if they were the sort of cats who came when called.

Q: Do cats care what they’re called?

A: Some of them really seem to care. For Minnie, a tiny kitten who grew up to be a big fat cat, I think the transition had to do with the trauma of being spayed. As a kitten she answered to “Minnie Mouse” or “Bare Minimum.” Around the time she was spayed, names suggesting small size started to seem ridiculous, so I started calling her plain Minnie. She never answered to “Minnie.” She became wary of being called.

Mogwai was a funny-looking kitten. For about the first year of her life her hind legs were too long for the rest of her, making her clumsy, and for about a week after running a fever her hind legs stopped working for her at all. The orange and black patches on her face could look ridiculous, or sinister, depending on people’s point of view I suppose. She was a long, skinny kitten with huge ears. She really did remind me of the small, furry stage of the monsters in Gremlins. Hence her name. She was a very sensitive Listening Cat, and I think she sensed that I’d considered alternatives like Gremlin, Goblin, Funny Face. As a young kitten she seemed to know that “Mogwai” meant her, but she made a point of waiting for me to say something like “pretty kitty.”

Of course most cats don’t listen to humans enough to know that they have names. Even when they do consistently answer to their names it’s not always clear whether they’ve absorbed the concept of a specific sound meaning them. Often at the Cat Sanctuary I’ll call the senior cat first, and all the others form the habit of coming when I call the Queen—or in Mac’s case the King. It can take them a while to figure out that they have separate names of their own. They don’t necessarily realize that other humans know their names, either. Magic always responded when other people said her name, but Minnie would hide in the cellar when almost anyone else spoke at all; she liked one volunteer who came here to feed her, but not others.

Cats can also have a hierarchy among themselves. Sometimes one cat will start to answer to a name, and another cat will chastise it, as if to say “My human wouldn’t want to call you.” In order for those two cats to live with each other, the subordinate cat won’t answer to its name or be much of a pet as long as the dominant cat’s about. Some cats even divide up the humans: this one’s yours, that one’s mine.

Q: What guidelines have you learned about naming cats?

A: (1) Give them names that you believe are good names. Some cats do sense what a name means to you. I’m sure Mogwai always understood me to mean “something that’s ugly in a cute, amusing way” by her name. Once a visitor asked whether “Mogwai” was “some sort of devil name,” and Mogwai sank all her claws in through his shirt!

(2) If you want them to learn their names, choose names that don’t sound too much alike. Grayzel and Graymina were the same gray-hazel, pale-tortoiseshell color. I called both of them “Gray” interchangeably. Until Graymina left the Cat Sanctuary I had no idea that Grayzel heard words.

(3) If they’re registered with long, extravagant “official names,” shorten those names to something suitable for calling around the house.

(4) Avoid giving a cat the same name you actually use to call a human. Some humans find this offensive, but even if the human likes it, it confuses the cat.

(5) Call the cat by name when you want to pet or feed it, and just grab it, without calling it, when you want to take it to the vet.

Here’s the non-book-review Morguefile cat:


Little Orphan Ivy

This picture of my cat Ivy was taken when Ivy was about a year old. (Irene is sitting behind her, pointedly waiting for Ivy to finish smearing happy-cat pheromones on my hand.) Ivy looks a little more mature now, but she’s still a small, slim, very young-looking cat.


Ivy’s mother was Heather’s and Irene’s grandmother, so properly Ivy is their aunt not their sister. Ivy is, however, a few days younger.

The year the calico divas were born, poison was sprayed along the sides of Route 23, half a mile away from the Cat Sanctuary. I’m not sensitive to all herbicides; this particular one choked me up with respiratory allergy reactions. The cats didn’t have that reaction right away, but one of Ivy’s siblings died. Ivy’s mother then brought her three surviving kittens to her daughter and integrated the litters. Then Ivy’s brother, then her mother, and finally her sister died. Ivy’s mother must have eaten something poisoned. Ivy worried and grieved over her family but, luckily, her nieces accepted her as a foster sister.

As a result of this early loss Ivy is the only one of the calico divas who’s ever seemed to relate to me as a mother figure.

Her role in the cat family seems to be the communicator. Ivy is one of a small minority of cats who learn to recognize human words as well as dogs, birds, or horses do. I’ve seen her watch and listen when I offered a kitten a name that it seemed to accept, then nudge the kitten to respond to its name if the kitten didn’t remember its name later on. All kittens born after Ivy have answered to names.

When last year’s kittens were very young I took them outdoors and snapped their pictures. Gwai, the timid neurotic kitten, seemed too panicky even to sniff at the ground or stare at the camera. Ivy came out and nudged Gwai to watch her, then got in front of the camera and posed. Gwai calmed down and acted like a normal kitten, and everything ran smoothly.

Those buff eyebrow markings stand out and allow Ivy to use “facial expressions” to communicate with me. She has “looks” that mean things like “Let me show you something” or “Somebody is watching you.” If Ivy makes any mental distinction between strange humans, strange dogs, or strange deer, I don’t know how she expresses that distinction, but on general ideas like “Somebody is watching” she’s reliable.

Ivy has never been spayed. One year she had kittens. Then she bonded with a neutered male, and since then she’s spent lots of time with him and produced no kittens. Being a social cat, she enjoys baby-sitting other cats’ kittens; one year she adopted a litter, and this year she’s nursed Heather’s and Irene’s kittens.

Irene and the Manx Gene

Here’s Irene, the “big Mama” at the Cat Sanctuary, photographed when she was about a year old. She’s grown bigger, of course, but this is still what she looks like.

On some cats that soulful gaze might mean “Is it dinnertime yet?” On Irene it usually seems to mean “Why must you be so clueless?” and often appears when Heather and Ivy succeed in getting my attention first.

In some ways Irene is one of those pets who suffer by comparison. She’s smart, in some ways the smartest of the three calico divas–the one who usually stays indoors and minds the kittens. She recognizes some words, though probably not as many as Heather or Ivy. She demands less attention than Heather and Ivy demand from me, and soaks up more attention from kittens. The others rely on Irene to be the homebody. I’m fond of Irene, but, as the good, sweet, dutiful homebody in the family, she can be overlooked while Heather and Ivy have their dramas and adventures.

Because I’m fond of Irene I didn’t want to see, and wasn’t pleased to see, that she’s a carrier of the Manx gene. She has a complete tail, but not a very long one. She’s not much of a hunter or climber. I don’t let animals become obese, but Irene does put on fat much more easily than her American Shorthair and Siamese mixed relatives ever could. In winter I’ve had to limit her food rations. In summer, she’s not a fat cat at all, but her bones are wider and heavier than her sisters’, and her coat is fluffier. These are Manx traits. Irene, who shows no Siamese traits, has been with a Siamese tomcat and produced Siamese-colored kittens with stubby tails.

The Manx gene is lethal. No living cat has two copies of it. A cat who has one Manx gene and one of various other less functional genes is doomed to die young from what some call “Manx Syndrome.” Irene has had kittens, and they’ve died, although this year two of them seemed healthy until the resident raccoon turned against them. (Need I mention that we no longer have a resident raccoon?)

I believe lethal genes should be bred out, not in. I believe Manx cats should be sterilized. From time to time local busybodies have tried arguing with me about having my resident cats sterilized. I think the world needs more social cats, and welcome the Patchnose Family’s kittens. I’ve also watched Irene grieve when her own kittens died, then find consolation in mothering Heather’s kittens. So for the past year or so I’ve been telling the busybodies that if they’ll contribute the money, I’ll let Irene be spayed. This has at least silenced the busybodies.

The thing is that, although no cat enjoys having major surgery, Irene seems less likely to miss having kittens than any other mother cat I’ve known. So far as I can tell, her very favorite thing to do is to play foster mother to someone else’s viable kittens. Social cats rear kittens communally and Irene absolutely adores baby-sitting.

Heather, the Queen of the Cat Sanctuary

Since I’ve been using Morguefile cat pictures to sign off when I needed to feed some sort of graphic to the Google + monster, some people have asked whether those are my cats. They’re publicly shared photos of cats I’ve never met in real life.  I’ve posted photos of my cats on Blogspot and Persona Paper. Why not post them here, too.

This is an early picture of Heather, taken when she was about a year old. It accurately shows her evenly distributed, “heathered” mix of black, orange, and creamy white fur, and very dark amber eyes–one could almost say brown eyes. It does not show her extra toes. Heather has a big inner “thumb” toe on each forepaw, for a total of six toes per paw. The thumbs look as if they’d be opposable; they’re not. When she was young her extra, non-opposable thumbs looked as if they got in her way. By now she’s a big strong tough hunter cat.

Heather is a descendant of some cats who were rescued from an alley in Kingsport, Tennessee. Other remarkably clever and social alley cats have been found in Kingsport, some even in Humane Society shelters where their bloodlines were destroyed. Kingsport’s social cats seem to be a mixed lot. Some have semi-long hair, some show Siamese traits, and some have non-Siamese partial albinism.

Mine are the Patchnose Family, named after their short-lived ancestor from the alley, who was feral but learned to answer to the name “Patchnose.” Heather is a direct female-line descendant from Patchnose.

As a kitten Heather was the smallest and quietest in the litter. With her dark coat, she tended to fade into corners. She wasn’t even cuddly. She showed no signs of future Queenliness. Her sister Iris was by far the biggest, boldest, apparently the cleverest, the most charismatic, and the most dominant kitten, until their first winter, when Iris picked up an infection and stopped growing. When Heather, Irene, and even Ivy were adolescent cats and Iris was still a kitten for all practical purposes, Iris formed some antisocial behavior patterns and had to leave the Cat Sanctuary, and Heather stepped forward to become the Queen.

Any female cat can be called a queen in English. Most cats aren’t social enough to have social roles; people seldom characterize cats as alpha or beta personalities. My perception is that calico cats tend to have alpha personalities. Heather, Irene, and Ivy generally get along well–all three of them are divas but they respect each other, and if one of them really wants something the others usually concede it. Their social roles seem more like “hunter, homemaker, and communicator.” Still, Heather is the hunter because she’s the biggest, strongest, toughest, and in some ways the smartest sister. (She now weighs about twice what she did when that picture was taken. She’s not fat.)

For cats, control of their humans is a status symbol. (Sometimes bad behavior is a way of showing other cats what the alpha cat can get away with. Sometimes unfriendly or un-cuddly behavior toward you is a way of showing other cats that a beta cat isn’t disputing their claim to own you.) Although she wasn’t a cuddly kitten, Heather is an affectionate cat who runs to meet me when I come home. Often she keeps everyone waiting for dinner while she soaks up attention and tags me with that special happy-cat scent humans can’t consciously smell.

“You don’t think your cat likes you?” Oh, I’m sure Heather does like me, though I’m also sure she’s never confused me with either her mother or her babies. I’m also sure that a purr-and-cuddle session with the three calico divas has at least as much to do with status as it does with affection. I enjoy it, and they enjoy it, but Heather’s insistence on being stroked first and/or most often is the way we know she’s our Queen.

Adoptable Kittens, Calculating Cat

It’s been more than a week since Imp disappeared. I’ve lost hope. Even if she was lured away from a loving home by a visiting tomcat, Imp is or was the sort of kitten nobody ever wants to report having found. All kittens have cute faces and plenty of kittens have fluffier fur, but Imp was born a pet and spent her whole life working out ways to call attention to herself as being cuter than her four (social, adorable, thoroughly spoiled) co-mothers. Which took some doing. The world is full of kittens who just sit, or sometimes bounce, around looking cute. Imp seemed to put real energy and intelligence into acting cute, as well. She was The. Cutest. Kitten. Ever. Anybody who found her would have kept her.

Imp has been missed and mourned, especially by her surviving brothers, Tickle and Elmo. (Elmo is “red”; Tickle is white with buff spots; when they were little they used to grab and tickle my feet, and since the whole litter was an April Fool joke they seemed to need silly names, and those were the names to which they answered.)

The little guys are tame, all right, but they’re not pets. They’ve always known that they weren’t residents, and they’ve not put any special effort into telling me they wanted to be residents, either. Since they’ve not bonded with me I can’t really assess their communication skills, but they do (a) know their names (they don’t come when called, but they listen when their names are called and sneer if they’re called by other names), and (b) know the survival benefits of belonging to a family.

Some cats aren’t cuddly, especially when they’re four months old. That category did not include Imp but it does include her brothers. Occasionally Elmo watches wistfully when the resident cats are being combed and petted, but one stroke is enough for him or Tickle. They’d rather bounce about and chase things. For now, anyway. Their mother was not a cuddly kitten but she’s grown up to be an affectionate cat.

Neither of them looks Siamese but that’s what their father was, and both of them have their mother’s “Hemingway” gene. Each has only the standard set of five separate toes, but the “thumb” toes are big and have double claws.

Meanwhile, Sisawat has found her niche in the resident social cat family. Social cats work as a team; each of the three older cats has a specialty. Heather is the hunter, Irene is the homebody, and Ivy is the communicator. Sisawat does the same things her mother and aunts do, not quite so well.

Sisawat, as regular readers remember, was the kitten who was born with Siamese color points. Cats who grow up with the Siamese look are born a dingy white color, so the question was whether Sisawat would keep any trace of color points when she grew up, and the answer was no. She still has the classic Siamese build, voice, and temperament, but she’s just an ordinary smoky-grey or “blue” cat. She didn’t bond with me; I kept her around, first as a playmate for Gwai, and then because nobody seemed eager to adopt a cat with a Siamese temper and an ordinary look.

Like her great-grandmother Bisquit, Sisawat suffers by comparison. She’s a perfectly nice cat, usually friendly, usually well behaved, and her performance as a loving older sister went far beyond the call of duty; she just lives with other cats who are even more adorable. I like her. I feed her. I pet her. I just haven’t found much to say about her…except that she’s Imp’s, Tickle’s, and Elmo’s full sister, about a year older, and she’s avoided pregnancy this year and given herself time to grow up by inducing lactation and feeding her siblings.

Now, however, I can report that Sisawat has found something she can do that the others don’t do. She counts! She’s one of your slow-growing Siamese-type cats and has only recently found that, when she props her paws up on the rim of the bin where I store kibble, and I bend over the bin, she can reach up and kiss me, nose tip to nose tip. So she’s started doing this. She allows me to pet her strictly as a reward for behavior she wants to encourage, and she kisses and rubs against me for each cat meal I scoop out of the bin up to number six. She doesn’t seem to mind letting the others eat first. She seems to think she’s making sure I scoop out enough for everybody.

I scoop out the same amount of food whether Sisawat goes through this performance or not. Whether she or the other cats think she’s making a real contribution to their family life, I don’t know. I know she seems pleased to have found her own special job to do, and has been doing it daily.


Black Cat Appreciation Day Post

At my Blogspot, this vintage post seems to be attracting a lot of visitors. I’d add one minor update. Since 2011, the kittens born to Cat Sanctuary cats (Heather, Ivy, and unfortunately Irene) have grown up indoors. Just about all kittens spend the first six weeks of their lives indoors, usually in a small dark cave or a small dark corner behind a large stored object. Heather and Irene have chosen to allow me to see their babies from birth on; Ivy, more traditionalist, has chosen to hide them behind the dead refrigerator for the first six weeks, and then there was a non-resident litter Heather and Ivy helped to rear and socialize, in the woodshed, in autumn. (Ivy induced lactation for them, too.) And Irene prefers to hang out indoors. But it’s still the cats’ choice that they’re porch and mud room cats more than real barn cats. They’re not confined.


Belated note in observation of Black Cat Appreciation Day, which was Monday but can be celebrated belatedly if you’re going to adopt a cat: Jean Craighead George, the naturalist and friend to feral cats, observed (wow, I have the collectors’ edition!) that some cats have what may function as illusive “eyes in the back of their head”–patches of thinner and/or lighter-colored fur on the backs of their ears, which may work like insects’ “eye spots” to confuse predators.

I hadn’t really noticed that effect, in all these years, until our little Imp (the black kitten in the April Fools’ Joke combined litter) came along. She never was really solid black–had a few random individual white hairs, a pale grey undercoat, and pink-white skin from birth. As a half-grown kitten, she has more scattered white hairs in her fluffy outer coat, and the pale undercoat is growing thicker and more noticeable. Having the black fur gene from Heather and the Siamese-type partial albinism gene from her father, Imp might be described as the darkest blue-grey cat you ever saw rather than a true black cat…but she still basically looks black from a distance. Except for her ears, which have a few long, silky black hairs sticking out from the furry part of the insides, and patches where the white hairs are thick enough to form grey “eye spots” on the backs of the ears. She has my vote as the World’s Cutest Kitten. And does she ever know it.

No, she’s not available for adoption. I’m strictly bragging…and urging those who are able to support a real cat sanctuary (hurrah!) or an ethically tolerable shelter (meh…if that’s what you have) to consider looking for a black cat, or dark-toned tortoise-shell or calico cat. They tend to fade into the shadows of a row of cages, but once they become pets they may have the very nicest purrsonalities–likely to be less wild than gray tabbies, calmer than orange tabbies, hardier than the albino types, quieter than Siamese, and more modest than calicos. Oh, well…regardless of color, any cat who loves you will be a great pet. But I started learning to appreciate cats with a black one.

If you can find a black female mixed-breed cat with amber eyes and teach her to answer to the name of “Priscilla,” in honor of any of my online avatars, I’ll appreciate the honor:


Now the graphic, from Miphoto at www.morguefile.com/archive/display/903779 :



Post About My Blogjob Picture

I want an avatar for this web site. The system doesn’t make them mandatory, but I want one. Back when I was “born” into cyberspace in 2005, nobody else was using the screen name “Priscilla King.” Now there are a couple of hundred of us on Google + alone; several of them insist that that’s their real legal name, in which case I think they shouldn’t be posting it on the Internet anyway. Anyway, if they don’t see a black cat with amber eyes, how will readers know I’m the first one to use this name in cyberspace?

(For those who don’t already know: “Priscilla King” is not my real legal name as an individual, but I’ve been using it long enough to have registered it as the real legal name of my business.)

Fun part: go to Morguefile.com, search for “black cat,” check out the familiar and new cat pictures. Morguefile pictures are available for anyone to use. The site encourages users to “pay” for pictures we gank by donating pictures we’ve taken. I don’t think any of mine are good enough actually.

Somebody’s added a new black cat image. Cat playing with “mouse” on keyboard. Sort of like Viola the Cybercat (a friend’s kitten who contributed some comic relief to the Blogspot, years ago). Cute. Let’s upload it.

Blogjob says the picture is too big. Let’s open Paint and make it smaller. Let’s cut it down to 12.5% of the original size. Yes, the folder description shows that it’s been stored as a much smaller picture now. Save it. Paste in the smaller picture…

Blogjob opens it as if it were exactly the same size it was before–not even Morguefile “magazine” size, but maybe the size of an extra-large centerfold. Much bigger than the computer screen. The part that shows up on the screen is a blur of pixels that doesn’t look like anything; on inspection it’s the far left corner of the original picture, not showing the cat or the laptop.

Try something I know how to do. Paste it into Blogspot. It looks good in Blogspot. Copy the image from there. Paste it into Blogjob. It refuses to paste into Blogjob that way…

Long story short. Here are enough words to make this post count as a Blogjob blog post. Now: