I’m back to eight cats as that big purring tabby boy is back on duty, taking care of his mom and stepsisters.
Who would think in a household of this number you’d miss all the habits and antics of only one? But kitties are just as individual as peoples, each with their own ways. And such is the consequence of fostering where the kitty in question may move on to a forever home or back to its original.
My niece decided to leave her husband early last fall, and initially found an apartment where she could keep Dickie. But in October she decided that to really get on her feet financially she needed to move back in with her mother, my sister, and there wouldn’t be room in my sister’s tiny house for him too. Plus, the landlady at her apartment didn’t want to show the apartment with a cat in it, so Dickie had to go somewhere in a hurry.
Just about a year ago she brought him over in tears because she couldn’t imagine life without him, and she’d given up so much already she couldn’t believe she had to give up her cat. But she knew I’d take care of him, and in the end it would be best for both of them.
Dickie’s transition from being king of his little household, as a really big only tabby cat tends to be, to being low in seniority as the ninth cat, were a little rocky at first. It was a good thing for my household that he doesn’t have a violent hair on his body, preferring to cower or run when challenged, and that none of the cats in my household, especially the four young fools, had any serious desire to prove their supremacy to him or anyone else.
In years of fostering I’ve had plenty of destructive fights and messy misbehavior and cats who never transitioned into the group, and I was enjoying for the first time in many years an active household who all got along. Of course, it helps that five of them are related and grew up together, but I’ve seen feline families turn pretty dysfunctional when kittens grew to adults. And this was the Fantastic Four’s first experience with a new kitty entering the milieu. I really didn’t know how they’d take it, though I hoped they’d learn from the old pros, Cookie and Peaches. Kelly was, and continues to be, timid around the Four because they all “arrived” at the same time though I carefully gave them a slow transition into the population.
Because I knew Dickie was up to date on shots and hadn’t been outdoors, he wouldn’t need the mandatory four weeks in solitary. I’d be able to start transitioning him into the family as soon as everyone’s hackles relaxed.
“Solitary” is the spare bedroom, which is my studio. This has always been convenient for fostering cats in one respect, that I spend time in the room with them just being there in addition to interacting with them; this has been positive for any ferals as they have grown comfortable with me much more quickly as I worked, focused in my creative efforts and thereby less intimidating to them. It’s a little more difficult for me in that the room is very small and packed with stuff, and then there was a litter box and food bowls to step over and a cat who sometimes desperately wanted my attention the entire time I was in there, precluding the ability to get any real work done. It was always my goal to transition the cat as quickly as possible.
After all these years that room must smell like a million cats, and Dickie cowered in the bottom of a book case that first night. He came out to talk to me, but was looking over his shoulders as he did so.
After a week he seemed very relaxed and I opened the door, inviting, I knew, a rushing in of black cats. While they can be a bunch of arrogant jerks when they get together, showing off for each other and proving their strength and ability, they are friendly and I doubted they’d actually fight. Chase, however, is a game: “Wow, look, there’s a new cat to play with!” But Dickie didn’t see it that way, it was just too much. I was regularly rescuing him from a corner of the basement. I confined them, but he was constantly looking for them.
The transition was upsetting to Kelly too, so I put her in there with him. This is a tiny house too, with few options for feline confinement, though I’ve had them in my bedroom, my studio and the bathroom and I’m constantly going in and out of doors from my 2’ x 4’ landing. I hoped they’d get along in there, and they did. Kelly relaxed, Dickie was very affectionate with her, and it was okay.
But it is my studio, and I had work to be done in that room and no other.
Jelly Bean saved the day. One morning as I went in to greet Dickie and Kelly, Jelly Bean was right outside the door. When I opened it he strolled in with his tail straight up in the air, eyes squinting and blinking and purring vigorously. Dickie was wary at first then understood Jelly Bean’s demeanor , squinted his own eyes and purred just as vigorously and they rubbed noses then began to bathe each other. Transition was pretty quick for Dickie after that, and Kelly was much relieved at the reduction in household stress. Jelly Bean had also been the one to greet Fromage, my little foster kitty, and I can tell he’s going to be a great nanny if I continue to foster.
So Dickie accepted his lack of seniority with grace, though he was bigger than anyone and probably a little older than the Big Four. He never tried to assert his ownership of me, but his big friendly personality and need for human contact kept him in my vicinity all day and it was great fun to watch him play. I’ve never had a cat as big as him and it was interesting to see how agile he was, especially when he launched himself onto my desk and vaulted my flat screen monitor as if he was in a steeplechase competition. He would often sleep on a shelf behind the monitor, occasionally getting up and leaning far over it until I leaned forward to rub noses with him.
And after a while he started giving everyone baths, serious all over baths if they’d let him. This often led to wrestle and chase with the boys and Mewsette, but the Tri-Color Trio would grudgingly accept it for a few minutes, then growl and scowl and either take a swat at him or glide out from underneath him. None of this ever stopped him. Human visitors adored him as he looked so approachable and purred so readily and LOVED any sort of affection.
His most comical habit was his sleeping configurations. I would look up from what I was working on to see him in the middle of the floor on his back with all four legs completely spread. Or with his belly on the floor and twisted to have his shoulders on the floor with his front paws spread wide and his mouth open. After having understood his timidity, it was a joy to see his level of comfort.
My niece wasn’t sure how long he’d be with me, but she was determined to get back out on her own and get her cat back. She told me in August that her moving date would be October 1 and we got his vaccinations updated—he purred through his exam—and just let the time pass.
The day he was due to leave I didn’t do any big dramatics during the day because he’s very sensitive and I didn’t want to upset him. My niece was sure he’d have forgotten her since he didn’t really react when she came to visit, but I knew better. He’s a very loyal, loving cat, and he’d never forget his original mom or his little girls. When the time came to go, I put the carrier in the living room, and even though it’s been Peaches taking a ride in the carrier most of the past year he knew immediately it was for him. I had to catch him and shove him in and he meowed the entire mile and a half to her apartment, down the hall, up the elevator and into the apartment.
We opened the carrier and out he came with his tail straight up and trying to inspect the whole thing at once. All the furniture was the same stuff she’d had before and of course there was her, and in just a few minutes he had slowed his investigation, hooked the end of his tail and began curling in and out around table legs, rubbing along book cases and—“Oh, listen, he’s purring, oh I missed his purr!” my niece said. He found his food—she had put it out earlier in the day kind of pretending he was already there—and crunched and scattered it on the floor. He rubbed her nose and walked on all the furniture, then looked out the windows though it was fairly dark by then.
She has sent me several photos of him already, sleeping on the couch, curled with her sleeping daughter. I’m so glad for her sake he was right back in the groove when he heard her voice and smelled her smell. He’s a very special cat, and if she’s only going to be able to have one cat for some time to come I’m glad it’s Dickie.
My house seems a little empty without his big personality and big tabby body. Still, even though I’ve had nine cats for most of the past fifteen years, it’s not easy, and even one extra can make the situation seem overwhelming the extra expense and time stretching me to my limits especially when Peaches requires constant monitoring, though she’s generally well. I miss him, but it’s good to be back to eight, which seems eminently manageable now.
Many women find themselves in a situation like my niece as their family transitions to a new home. I’ve fostered cats for several other families in transition from six weeks to eighteen months, and while many people laughed and said I’d end up with the cat or cats I never did. Usually it is women who need to leave with children, and in rebuilding their lives pets, though cherished, are often an unnecessary complication while they find a new place and settle in. Each of the families for whom I fostered visited, gave me money for the cats’ care when they could, and took them back as soon as possible; I didn’t “get stuck” with a single one. Keep this in mind when you hear of a family in transition and know there are pets. You can change the life of the pets and the people with one simple offer.
I’ll be featuring a few extra photos of Dickie in the coming weeks—although he’s already been featured quite often in daily photos!