Watch Your Step

I haven’t made a blog entry concerning our cats since the passing of my furry boy, Hamish. There are days when I still miss him terribly, but we have been well occupied by the new residents we brought into our home.

We had strongly considered getting a kitten, but since one of my closest friends is a dedicated animal lover and provides foster care for pets, he suggested I adopt an adult cat instead. His reasoning was sound as most adult cats are already house-broken, and are far less likely to be adopted from a pet center as long as kittens are around. He provided me with a website where I could search for local foster care pets to see what was available.

I got in touch with a lady in nearby Richmond who was fostering a pair of male cats that were both Maine Coon mix breeds. She told me they had been owned by a neighbor of hers who had come to an unfortunate end, and she was intent on the pair remaining together.

Our first meeting was tepid, as is expected, but the two boys eventually let me get close enough to touch them. She delivered the pair to our home a few days later.

All of this took place almost a year ago, and the boys have settled in and brought their own set of feline attitudes into our lives. Both cats have gray and black tabby markings, with the younger of the two having fully black feet and a large swath of black down his back. The older of the two we named “Gandolf” (yes the ‘o’ is on purpose since we weren’t paying homage to Lord of the Rings) but he is definitely an old soul.

Gandolf does nothing with speed; his every movement is one of plodding methodically, and even the blinking of his lime green eyes appears to be in slow motion. When he first came to us, he was of the rotund variety and our vet soon put him on a diet. He has since slimmed down nicely but it hasn’t added so much as an ounce to his energy level. Even his cry when someone is preparing a can of food is one of pale desperation, almost as though he can barely muster the strength. The only glimpse of exuberance he ever shows is when he is pounced on by his counterpart Rory.

We do like Gaelic cat names in our house, and the second of our two males earned his label early on. Once released from the pet carrier he arrived in, he immediately squeezed himself under the bed in our guest room. I use the term “squeeze” gingerly in this instance since it was more like “massive compression.” You see Rory is big boy, on the order of thirteen pounds or so, and the guest bed is an older trundle arrangement, so when you squeeze such an animal into such a marginal space, it speaks volumes about flexibility and I expected to find internal organs left behind on the carpet.

From under the bed he moved to behind a bookshelf, behind the water heater, behind the dryer, and finally to his favorite hideout, under the reclining sofa in the den. Whenever any attempt was made to remove him from any of the aforementioned locations, he would produce a low toned growl, as though he were preparing to roar fiercely, even though he never so much as hissed. Hence the name, “Rory.”

Hiding under the sofa proved to be problematical since sitting down and feeling a distinct lump under your seat signals there is something out of place. Kicking out the footrest of the recliner provided him an easy means of escape, and he would go skittering across the room.

If Gandolf is slow and plodding, Rory is anything but, and any romping and banging noises throughout the house can easily be blamed on him since his legs are overpowered by his girth on almost any cornering maneuver.

One can tell the look of a powerful horse by the shoulders and rear haunches being wider than the ribcage and waist. Rory is the polar opposite of such a physique, with his belly protruding on either side. The sight of him walking directly toward you in the hallway is the image of a meatloaf with legs, but when he frolics, run and pounces, he does so with the sound of a thundering Bison. His abdominal size also seems to affect his center of gravity, as he will approach wherever you’re standing and then fall over with a gentle “thud.” I don’t know if this a balance issue, but more likely due to the fact that he lives to have his belly rubbed. I witnessed him asleep on the sofa in this position and the only things missing from the picture were an empty can of food and a stained white t-shirt. Man-cat redneck bliss.

Our resident royalty, Her Highness Tatiana, is still the elder stateswoman of the household, and while she still moves about of her own free will, Rory’s desire to romp and play is met with harsh disdain. Her ears lay back, and a row of hair grows along her spine like the fins of a dragon, and if her vile hissing could breathe fire, she would have easily burnt our home to the ground by now. Luckily for her, despite her age she is much quicker and more agile than Rory can ever hope to be, so any chase he may give is forever in vain.

This is where Gandolf comes strangely back into the picture. He seems to position himself within earshot of Tatiana at any given time. You can find him either sprawled out in the hallway right outside Trish’s studio door (where Tatiana resides most of the time) or in some corner of the studio itself, but always between the doorway and wherever Tatiana happens to be. This behavior continues to perplex us, as we have not been able to discern if Gandolf is playing bodyguard or jail keeper.

On one occasion when Trish had to take Tatiana to the vet, and was in the process of loading her into the pet carrier, Gandolf made his displeasure known by clawing Trish and not letting go. She displayed greater patience than I ever could have. This action however cannot be thought of as one of pure defense, since Gandolf often gets one of his claws stuck in the carpet, sofa or blanket and seems to be unable to free himself. This strikes me as quite odd since he shows no sign of struggle, but simply hangs there in silence as if he were handcuffed to the item in question. Wouldn’t a simple “let go” work in this case? I assume he has yet to master that action in his nine years of cat experience.

If there is one thing for certain, our two furry felines are motivated by their stomachs. I recall reading that in the wild, young lions will attempt to stay between their adult’s front legs, since this is a place of safety and security. I am forced to assume that we are viewed as the adults in this case since both of our boys seem to be drawn to that spot between our feet.

As surely as the sun rises in the morning, we can count on the food and water bowls being empty. If we attempt to sleep in, the sounds of frail, weakened clawing will come to our bedroom door. The lack of food for a mere six hours undoubtedly leaves them withering for strength to claw any harder. Once you open the door you had better wipe the sleep from your eyes or you will most certainly either trip or step on a cat.

Gandolf will position himself across as much of the doorway as possible, as if he were a living draft dodger. Once you step over him successfully, Rory will charge at your ankles and then turn around so that he can move forward alongside each of your feet as you stride. This can make normal walking in the morning difficult as your feet keep colliding with thirteen pounds of fur. Stopping in hopes of him moving on of his own accord is no help; this only sets him into his next act of “affection.”

Anyone who has owned or been exposed to a cat knows the rough texture of their tongues. The normal reaction of rubbing and petting makes this an expected response, but when one stands still at the kitchen counter, and a cat wraps their paws around your ankles and proceeds to lick your feet and toes, this can spur a knee-jerk reaction. Such a twitch in the morning can easily spill milk, orange juice, hot coffee or your just filled bowl of honey-nut Cheerios. It isn’t as if this reaction is planned in a conniving, feline sort of way since neither cat eats any of the above items. However, spilled Cheerios and milk all over a black and gray cat is an unusual sight.

Gandolf takes a more pitiful, low-key approach by positioning himself in front of the empty food bowl. He assumes the very same position as if he were eating, but stares in dead silence as he waits for morsels to rain down from the heavens. If this action proves unsuccessful, he will lie down behind your feet, since tripping over a prostrate cat is a sure sign that it must be feeding time. How did I manage to miss that item in the cat owner’s manual?

Suffice to say life is quite different here than when Hamish provided us with his antics of fear and mischievous hiding places, but it has been no less entertaining since the boys arrived. I’m sure our feline triangle hasn’t provided the last of their personalities that make for memorable moments.

© Timmy Green – 9 / 26 / 2010

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