25/06/2024

The Critters

For Nice Critters

One Cat Leads to Another, And Another, And Another

One Cat Leads to Another, And Another, And Another

I have always loved dogs. Dogs were part of my childhood and, as an adult, it has seemed natural for me to have them in my life. Golden Retrievers are my breed of choice now,, although the dogs of my youth were mostly odd mixes like “Pixie”, our Poodle-Dalmatian combo. I’ll just let you try to visualize that. By the time I was 40, the idea of owning a cat still had never entered my mind, not once, not ever. So, how is it, you might wonder, that I can now count more than 30 cats and kittens who have lived in our home, together with our Golden Retrievers and, now, a Chocolate Lab as well?

I can pinpoint the epiphany to a frigid winter night in February, 1991. That was the night Mau came home with us. Yes, Mau was a cat, most likely Tonkinese. The blame or credit, depending on your viewpoint, for this addition to our household lies with my husband and my brother. It was definitely NOT my idea. It was happenchance. Our dinner plans that evening happened to coincide with the arrival of a lost cat that had mysteriously appeared from under my brother’s and sister-in-law’s bed the night before. They already had 3 cats. They did not want another. They could not find the owner. It would end up in a shelter. Oh God! Not a shelter! But still, I felt I wouldn’t know what to do with a cat and was just opening my mouth to answer no to the question my brother had facetiously asked (“Want a cat?”) when I heard my husband, Freddy, saying – “wait a minute, let’s see this cat”.

Fast forward 19 years. On the Tonkinese side of the scoreboard, we have had Mau, MauTu, Orville, Red Dot, Sinbad and Tu Tu. Also, Maude, Winston, Gwen, Merlin, Galahad, Percy, Berry, Tiny Tim, Brighe, Tarquin and 7 other Tonkinese kittens whose names I can no longer remember! On the domestic mixed breed (“rescued”) side of the scoreboard, the list includes, Chivers, Tristan, Isolde, Anton, Oscar, Crystal, Pod and Chirp. And we currently have 2 young Burmese cats, Troilus and Cressida. This list does not include those we have fostered for short periods of time.

No, we are not hoarders. We bred and showed Tonkinese for a number of years so there were lovely kittens born, usually on our bed, and raised in our home, at various times. Some stayed with us, others were sold to carefully screened, good homes. We managed to maintain a very clean (mostly) home through strategic planning, zoning – and lots of work. We didn’t have all of these cats at the same time but we did, for short periods, hit from 10 to 15 at a time. Fortunately, we have had large homes. Our current cat population stands at 7.

So how did we go from one lost cat discovered under my brother’s bed to Tonk piles and throngs of rescues? I was hooked-in the night we brought Mau home. It was late, so I plopped Mau, who turned out to be only about 5 months old, on our bed while we set up a litter pan, food and water in our bedroom. By the time we turned around, he had nestled himself under our covers with his head on my pillow. When we joined him in bed, he curled up against me and started nursing my nightgown sleeve. Well! To say my heart melted would be an understatement. This was no ordinary cat (but, then, what did I know about CATS?).

We puzzled over Mau’s lineage. Freddy, who had bred Burmese cats in England before we met, knew he wasn’t “quite Burmese” but suspected he was “something similar”. So, he went to the library (no internet back then) and researched the various breeds. He zeroed in on Tonkinese and set about finding an expert to talk with about the breed. Ergo, our now long time friend, Joan Bernstein, came into our lives, along with several of her kittens and cats. Joan, one of the early Tonkinese breeders, was a driving force in gaining CFA (Cat Fanciers ‘ Association) acceptance of the Tonkinese and started the Tonkinese Breed Association (TBA) in 1979.

As it turns out, it’s no great surprise that a dog lover such as I would be suckered in by a Tonkinese cat. I soon learned that the Tonkinese are famed for being “the cat for dog lovers”. An excerpt from the Tonkinese breed profile aptly describes them:

These cats are firmly convinced that humans were put on earth to love them; these are the cats that know they belong. They will take possession of your lap and shoulder, and they will supervise your activities. They are warm and loving, highly intelligent, with an incredible memory and senses that are akin to radar… They become your “door greeter” and will happily entertain your guests. They have been described by enthusiastic owners as part puppy (following their owner around the house), part monkey (their “acrobatics” are legend!), and can sound like an elephant running through your house when they choose. In short: they quickly take over and run your house and your life! Their affectionate ways are impossible to ignore, and they quickly endear themselves to family and visitors.

When Freddy decided Mau needed a companion of the same ilk, we went to visit Joan and came home with one of her female kittens, who we named MauTu (ok, so not very original). Mau couldn’t be bred because we didn’t have his CFA registration but Freddy, who had enjoyed breeding Burmese cats, wanted to have MauTu bred. We accomplished this with one of Joan’s males.

What followed was a continuous cascade of delightful Tonkinese kittens romping through our house, climbing onto our bed and tumbling off furniture. Augie, our Golden Retriever, was enthralled from the moment he first met Mau. When we introduced him to our first litter of kittens, he claimed them and all who came afterwards as his own. Maude, an amazing “therapy” cat we adopted from Joan, had a special bond with Augie. He would roll her around with his nose and paws, and envelope her whole head in his mouth until she finally emerged soaking wet, looking like a punk rocker with spiked hair.

Although Mau was my first Tonk amour, there were other bright stars as well. MauTu, with her expert balance, adeptly rode on Freddy’s shoulders for their ritual daily dance, the Windsor Stomp (not to be attempted by the faint of heart) until her last day. Maude, who had a long history of providing therapy for the sick and disabled, brightened my mother’s days whenever I took her along with me to visit Mom and the other patients in her rehab center. Orville, after surviving a near fatal inner ear infection, walked around in circles compulsively for years, which would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Winston attached himself to me, or possibly it was the other way around, when I was visiting Joan for a few days. Recognizing true soul mates when she saw us together, Joan packed Winnie off to live with me. He was our platinum version of the magical Mr. Mistoffelees. Possessing a mesmerizing aura, he innocently backed off “AlfThe Rottweiler”, enticed a floppy eared rabbit and a cockatoo to play with him, and parted other prides like the red sea when he entered their territory. I regret to this day that I never recorded Winston’s delightful litter box ministrations. While he oh-so-meticulously dug, scratched and covered, he would loudly but melodically serenade us (think singing in the shower), never failing to cause eruptions of laughter from us.

Our foray into the world of domestic cats (“moggies” for the Brits) began when, in order to take her for treatment, I trapped a little semi-feral calico farm cat whose eye was injured. Because she wouldn’t be easy to handle, the local animal control officer recommended that I take her to a nearby shelter, “Common Sense for Animals”, to be treated by their vet. As a result of her injury to her eye which required surgery, the vet said she had lost her depth of vision and could no longer survive outside. As a result, she suddenly found herself living inside, with us. We were amused later to see that, once she was deposited in our house, she never wanted to go outside again. When she saw a door open to the outside, she would “run away, run away!” further back into the house. “Been there, done that, better in here.”

That first trip to Common Sense for Animals was pivotal. It’s an excellent no-kill shelter in Broadway, NJ but for a softy like me, it’s a killer. The cats are right there in their cages when you walk in. There isn’t a separate office or waiting room. Very strategic. If you have any kind of heart at all, and the wherewithal, you can’t leave without taking at least one of them home with you. And our little injured farm cat (we named her Chivers after the marmalade) required follow-up visits. You can guess what happened. Two rescues came home with me on the first trip in with Chivers. Then Freddy took Chivers back to have her stitches out and he came home with 2 more, including an amputee we named Tripod (Pod). Then the vet, knowing a soft touch when he saw one, called Freddy and asked if he could possibly consider taking Anton, a neurotic cat, who was back for the third time. Even though it was a no-kill shelter, there were rules, and when a cat came back for the third time, the vet was supposed to euthanize it. He obviously was going to do anything he could to keep Anton alive. Freddy went down and brought Anton home with him. We make a fine pair; does anyone have any doubt after reading this tale that we were made for each other?

Our last foundling came to us in the Fall of 2003. I had heard that there was a stray kitten wandering around in the woods. I made a point of NOT looking for it. We had already acquired 6 rescues over just a few days (Chivers the half blind farm cat, a very feral brother and sister pair we named Tristan & Isolde, Tripod the amputee, her cell mate Crystal, and Anton the neurotic). I’m not totally crazy. I knew we had limits. But, as fate would have it, the kitten I had been avoiding showed up on our patio on a cold, late November afternoon. She was dangerously thin. She’d never make it through the winter. I would trap her, take her to the vet, have her spayed and find her a home. I used this logic on Freddy who agreed the last thing we needed was another cat. He’s not totally crazy either. I put out food for her. She leapt into my arms; no trap necessary. I took her to the vet. She started chirping like crazy, definitely a chirp, not a meow. Chirp named herself. She has lived with us for 7 years now. She is a delight.

So here we are, 19 years later, with 7 cats left. We were down to 5 moggies last year. A more sensible number, especially since they were divided between 2 houses – 3 in our NJ house and 2 at our Cape Cod Bed & Breakfast. But, still, I missed our Tonks while Freddy thought he’d like to have Burmese again. Tonks are a natural breed incorporating the characteristics of Burmese andSiamese. So, thought I, Burmese will be “close enough”.

Enter Troilus and Cressida, our Traditional Burmese sibling pair. Troy and Sid do look very much like our Tonks, but there are subtle differences in behavior. Tonks love to soar the skies; the Burmese, not so much. Both breeds enjoy having guests but, while the Tonks are essentially meeters, greeters and entertainers, the Burmese are resolute executives, there to supervise the party. The differences, of course, can be traced to the injection of Siamese genes that makes the Tonkinese… well, Tonkinese. Recently, when I was groping for a word to describe what sets them apart, Joan Bernstein glibly produced the word. “Edge”, she said. And, of course, she had nailed it. Generally, the Burmese don’t have that Tonkinese edge. Nor do the Tonkinese usually have the Burmese management capabilities.

And then there are THE EYES. One of the Tonkinese “minks'” distinguishing characteristics is their unique aqua eye color, a hue not specified in the standard for any other cat breed. (Joan and I both have aqua eyes. What does that mean?) On the other hand, the Burmese are distinguished by their large, goldexpressive eyes. Both are irresistible in effect.