The Silver Kittens

Tristan 3         Henry 3        Jamie 3

Tristan                             Henry                           Jamie

Margaret did warn you that there would be kittens. They’re not actually kittens anymore, but they’re physically small cats, an inheritance from their likewise small mother, so I still have to stop myself calling them “the kittens” even though they’re coming up on two years old. I’m trying to adapt this to “the little ones”, but just now I have more important bad habits to break. They’re not actually silver, either, but their fur does look that colour when the sunlight strikes it in a certain way.

In a house full of cats, these are the babies, and almost universally beloved, an unusual event in my experience of introducing new cats to the house. My ten-year-old tortoiseshell Portia hates them, but she hates almost all other cats–she would prefer to have all the human attention to herself. Not to mention the treats and the cushiest places to sleep.

We did not plan on keeping them all. When I went away to university, however, my mother’s love of animals got out of hand–having left behind five cats and a dog, when I returned (due to her being diagnosed with cancer) there were so many animals that the words “there are too many cats” made it past my lips for the first time. The most recent addition, my father’s ginger tom named Tigger, actively resented my intrusion into what he had obviously come to think of as his territory, and it was at least a year before he accepted me as part of the household. We had lost a few to old age and feline cancers in the last few years, however, so I was pleased when Violet started hanging about the house, obviously pregnant and looking for handouts. They were born some time in June, coming up on two years ago, and Violet brought them out in the open for the first time on July 15, the day after my birthday. The plan was to catch them all and have them neutered, vaccinated, and treated for worms or any other parasites, then release Violet back into her usual haunts, keep one kitten, and have the others adopted. Events, however, intervened.

To begin with, I had a hard time catching them. They would barely tolerate being touched; they fought so hard when I picked one up I was afraid I would accidentally hurt them, so they wriggled out of my grasp quite easily. Finally, when they were about four months old, I managed to throw a thin blanket over Tristan and bring him inside. It took him a couple of hours to calm down, and days before he’d let me touch him again. So began my first experience with taming feral kittens.

Tristan baby 1
Tristan looking deceptively tame at five months old. He preferred not being touched, but he’s never much minded the camera being held up in front of him.

The other two took longer. We had already named them, and Jamie was starting to respond to that name by October, but it was nearly December before we managed to get them in the house. Violet had already pushed them away before I had caught Tristan, and Jamie was starting to trust us, so one night when it got very cold we left the door to the utility room at the side of the house open and Henry and Jamie came in on their own.

Because they were much older than is ideal when socializing kittens, and because my mother’s condition was worsening rapidly at that point, everything took so much longer than it really should have. After a couple of weeks we moved them into my bedroom with their brother; fortunately it took them only a couple of hours to resume their former bond.

Jamie 4
Jamie helping out when I was putting away clean laundry.

Taming them took a long time, because we started too late and because until about a month ago there have been very few days in the last sixteen months when I have not felt completely overwhelmed. In the first few weeks after my mother’s death, though, knowing that I was responsible for my cats’ welfare was the only thing that kept me from being suicidal. They persisted in needing food, grooming, and affection when everyone else had either withdrawn or was too far away to visit, and if I wasn’t there to look after them they’d likely go to a shelter where they’d stand a poor chance of finding new homes, due to age (all but two of the older ones are over 14) or remaining wildness (the little ones). I promised my mother I’d take care of them, so I was bound to that if nothing else.

Henry 1Henry 5

Rare shots of Henry not regarding the camera with deep suspicion, mostly because he’s not actually looking at the camera.

Henry 6

He really, really doesn’t trust cameras.

Before Jamie and Henry were moved into the house, Tristan had become quite acclimated, sleeping tucked up against my legs at night and occasionally enjoying a head scratch, but I had to start from scratch with the other two. I made a nest of sorts on top of a box underneath my bed for them–they were still small enough at that point that they could all fit into a single cat bed, and they’ve never grown out of their affection for one another. Many of the techniques advised for younger cats still worked with them, even at eight months old; if I made eye contact with Henry and Jamie, they’d run off, but if I slipped a hand under the bed they would (sometimes) tolerate being stroked. They grew to trust me as a source of food, and eventually learned how to ask for what they wanted with particular meows or behaviors (often involving staring at me fixedly, which is really quite unnerving to wake up to).

Like most cats, they’re very interested in whatever we eat, and the smell of roasted fish or beef brings them running. All three of them have a taste for bread, especially Jamie, for whom it is a favourite treat, one that he doesn’t get very often because it can’t possibly be good for them.  I find this exceptionally strange in a cat, as I’ve never known other cats to show the slightest interest in the stuff unless it’s got butter or cheese on it. They picked the habit up from their mother: When she first showed up at our house she developed a habit of stealing the stale bread my father leaves out for the birds, before he realized she was a regular visitor and started giving her proper cat food. My father has had to break his habit of leaving the crusts of sandwiches or pizza where Jamie can reach them after we found a couple tucked away in his hideouts, obviously saved for later gnawing. Cats are weird.

Henry and Jamie 1
         Henry (left) and Jamie (right)
Tristan 2

One by one, they each decided that they were happy here. Tristan was over a year old when I heard him purr for the first time, which made me so ridiculously happy I nearly cried. Henry was next, and then finally Jamie, who surprised me one day by not simply tolerating his head being scratched but rubbing around my ankles for a full five minutes and inviting me to scratch his back and under his ears as well. He’s remained mercurial ever since–sometimes he refuses to be touched at all, at other times wholeheartedly affectionate, following me around and rubbing his chin all over my hand to mark me as his. Oddly, he’s the most tolerant of being held, even allowing me to carry him short distances before struggling to get down. Tristan and Henry will still dart away half the time if they think I’m going to try to pick them up; if they do consent to be held, it’s only for about thirty seconds at most.

Tristan and Jamie 1

Tristan and Jamie are still devoted to each other, and can be found like this at least once a day.

Tristan and Jamie 2

Henry now greets me every morning as soon as he notices I’m awake by throwing himself down on my lap or my chest, settling into a soft, boneless heap of purrs for five minutes or so until he notices something he wants to chase. In the last week Tristan has resumed his old habit of sleeping pressed up against my legs at night. Tristan’s favourite being, however, cat or human, is Tigger, the (now ridiculously oversized) ginger tom, who got over his resentment of me after a couple of years and is now super-affectionate. Tigger is easily three times Tristan’s size (and probably four times his weight), but Tristan spends a good deal of time trying to persuade Tigger to engage in a bout of feline kickboxing. The first few times we heard Tristan wailing and carrying on we’d rush through to the living room, fearing disaster, only to find Tigger sitting quite placidly on the floor, watching Tristan stalking around him and trying to bully Tigger into a response with all the squalling. Occasionally Tigger will extend a paw and bat at him, but he’s been remarkably patient with the younger wannabe lion, permitting Tristan to paw at him, jump on him, treat him like a surrogate mother, and occasionally use him as a pillow while they sleep. (Tristan has a penchant for sitting down on his brothers like they’re cat beds rather than fellow cats; Jamie and Henry are rarely inclined to put up with this, being slightly smaller than Tristan himself, but Tigger does not seem to notice.) Once in a while Tigger does consent to run when Tristan wants to chase him; the glee on Tristan’s face in these moments is hilarious.

Tristan and Tigger

I still sometimes feel overrun, forever having to clean up after them and feed them. Never again will I have so many pets at once–it isn’t sensible, and can cause stress for the animals as well, although we’ve somehow avoided that complication. Neither, however, could I ever be without them. The best times of day are still the moments when they come to me for affection, wanting me to play or to act as a cushion while they sleep. They are a large part of what has gotten me through the last year and taught me to look forward to new days again.

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