Friday, April 19, 2024
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Rescue Story: Tess and Her Boys, and Cat Genetics

 Two Tonkinese mix kittens?
Two Tonkinese mix kittens? Cat genetics can make your head spin.

Take a look at these two handsome kittens and what do you think? A little Tonkinese, a little Snowshoe? Well, here’s their mom!

 And their little mom!
And their little mom!

Decidedly not a purebred, but very cute and petite. You just never know what will pop up from generations of genetic material. My veterinarian explained how mom apparently had some Oriental lineage, plus the genetics to give white paws, and if the father had Oriental genes as well they could turn out two kittens like the boys with the magic of cat genetics.

An exciting introduction

This little family was one of my first fostering customers in this house, after Sophie and two orange cats as well as a few others, but even predating Cookie.

Back in the 90s, a few neighbors brought me cats they’d “just found”, a few of them more than once. I was not fooled, as I’m sure they thought I was, I was only eager to get an unspayed female and her kittens who were apparently not wanted out of their hands, sure their next stop wouldn’t even be a shelter but some dirt road out in the woods or in farm country just a few miles from us. Most of these cats were giveaways from someone’s sister’s cat who’d had kittens and they just wanted to get rid of them and so gave them away to anyone who came along.

In this case my neighbor stopped on his way home from work to tell me he’d “found” this mother cat and kittens near where he worked, he couldn’t keep them, could I take them? He might like to keep one of the kittens because they were so beautiful, but maybe not. I just told him to bring them as soon as possible. He did not, but stopped by again a week or so later and admitted they were his. I told him just to bring them to me.

I didn’t like to carry loose cats through the house so when he brought them I had a carrier ready and in his car he put the mother in first and I took her inside, up to the spare cat room, let her out of the carrier and headed back down for the kittens.

As he was putting them in the carrier I heard yowling and scratching sounds and looked up at the window to see the mother cat clinging to the screen, which was slipping out of place—just one of those casement screens held in place with turnbuckles that would let go with too much weight or force. Into the house and up the steps two at a time and into the room just as the screen was falling backward into the room with her still clinging. She let go before she hit the floor, but my worst fear was that she’d bounce right back up and out the open window from the second floor!

Before I could even reach to get the window closed, though, I had to do something with this cat who’d suddenly turned into a dervish, twisting around to get out of my arms, then practically spinning as I scruffed her and held her in mid-air, and yelled down for him to hold off for a minute with the kittens. Poor mama cat, suddenly scooped up and put in a car, then stuffed into a carrier and transported up into a room that smelled of plenty of other cats.

Tess shows off her spay belly.
Tess shows off her spay belly.

I wound the casement windows closed as she slowly stopped writhing on her scruff, set her down on the top of my sewing machine table to see what she’d do. She growled at me. Well, not as easy as I’d thought. I urged her to the other end of the room so I could get out the door. Maybe she’d feel better with her kids in the room.

The neighbor tried to embellish his story and I told him I’d better get back up there to her and get these kittens settled.

She did growl as I entered the room, but was obviously calmer. The boys sat in the carrier until they saw her, then s-l-o-w-l-y crept out. They were larger than I’d expected—I’d been thinking the usual six-week-olds but they looked more like three months, possibly a little larger than their mother already and promising to be much larger yet.

I know I probably sat down on the floor and talked to them, but new kitties are always concerned with examining their space so I let them have at it, thinking, after a little experience so far, that it would be good if I was in that space while they examined, which is something I did through the years with each new feline if it was possible. I know they were cautious but friendly after an hour or so, momcat growled now and then, but there were no more outbursts. I really wondered what kind of socialization these cats had had.

 The bigger guy, looking quite like a Snowshoe.
The bigger guy, looking quite like a Snowshoe.

Explaining cat genetics to potential adopters

In a few days I took the photos you see above, then later I took the others in this post. The boys continued growing, but even with other cat rescuers all working on these three and other rescues, we had no takers for the mom but some interest in the boys. I found myself constantly explaining cat genetics as people kept insisting she might not be their mother, and I still think that most people really didn’t believe me!

I know I would have preferred they be adopted together, but in those days it was nearly impossible to convince someone to adopt two cats instead of one. Even still, considering their looks and how people tend to be attracted to physical appearance, I was surprised that no one would want two beautiful kittens who would no doubt grow into two really majestic adults.

I took them all to my veterinarian for shots and exams prior to spay and neuter and so that I could work on integrating them into my household. One of the technicians, who was new on the job but who I knew from earlier visits, expressed a big interest, and agreed to adopt them both the following week. She could get discounts on the remainder of their early veterinary care and neutering; in those days we didn’t spay or neuter until six months and they were by that time only four or five months. And there were no low-cost clinics, just maybe a veterinarian who would understand what you were doing and give you a break, as mine did.

The adoption didn’t work out, though, and in just a week or two after taking them home she said she couldn’t adopt them after all. I took them back, of course; shortly after that she left there and a part of me was glad she’d given them back to me. I remember feeling a little leery of her demeanor though I couldn’t explain why if you asked me. It’s the same sense I used all through the years of adopting out cats. She was a nice person, just not ready yet to settle down, and even then I knew that’s how cats often lost their homes, given off to a friend when an adopter had to move and couldn’t find a place that allowed pets, or had to move back home and couldn’t take the cats. It happens now too.

In the meantime I’d had their mom spayed, and though some time and changes had happened they were still familiar, and without mom’s hormones—she’d gone into heat—they could be buddies instead of possibly starting a new family. I had the boys neutered shortly after that, figuring they were old enough.

The smaller boy, who looked like a Tonkinese to me.
The smaller boy, who looked like a Tonkinese to me.

Naming momcats for famous unwed mothers in literature

Some time before their first vet visit I had come to call her Tess, after the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the first of a long line of momcats named for famous unwed mothers in literature, such as Hester for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and Danaë, mother of Perseus by Zeus, who…it’s complicated, but you can read about it here. Unwed mothers they were, but all strong and independent women, fitting, I thought, for cats who had no home but risked life and limb to raise their children.

I think I had names for the boys, but in all the time I’ve been trying to remember those names I have not. I would have gone for famous brothers like Romulus and Remus, perhaps, or Wilbur and Orrville. Clever names always helped with adoptions. But my notes on the envelope of photos and everywhere else say “Tess and her boys”, so unless I find their records, it comes back to me in a flash of memory, or someone reminds me, that is who they are.

Social networking in 1992: prints of photos and snail mail

These are their “adoption photos” from a few days after I took them in. I still have several sets of them as I’d taken a roll of photos, chosen the ones I needed and had about a dozen reprints made to hand out and mail out like business cards. Snail mail, that is, or in person. That was social networking in 1992.

We continued with our 1992 social networking and eventually a young woman in the area who had recently graduated from college and was moving out on her own with her first job agreed to adopt the two boys, excited to have her own cats as part of starting her new life. She came to visit them and they took to her right away. She would use my veterinarian and came back to get them within the week, and I let my veterinarian know so they could transfer the records.

A few months later she sent me a letter thanking me for the two. A year or so later she moved for another job in some state south of me and the boys moved with her. I presume they all lived happily ever after.

 Tess playing with all her toys at once.
Tess playing with all her toys at once.

Getting their mom adopted

Finally, a friend of a friend agreed to adopt Tess. She and her husband had one cat and wanted another so they could each cuddle with one. By that time Tess had become quite the lap kitty and very playful, though I never managed to integrate her with my household. She also had some differences with the other kitty in her new home, but the house was huge and modern with rooms at different levels and picture windows and it was off in the woods, so she had plenty to keep herself occupied. I believe the couple renamed her Penelope, who is the faithful wife of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, who kept her suitors at bay all the years he was gone, actually a nice name for a happily spayed housecat.

 Something very interesting in the spruce; for some reason I've always loved this photo.
Something very interesting in the spruce; for some reason I’ve always loved this photo.

My studio as foster space

Above you see the original floor in this room, and it was originally my library, not even a studio yet, with bookshelves made from stacked bricks and 1 x 12 lumber around three walls, a rocker and a hassock, and my sewing machine, my favorite quiet place where I would spend hours going from book to book looking up poems and short stories and writing my own—on a tablet or my electric typewriter. As the years passed it did evolve into my studio as visual commercial and fine art became part of my income. I added a tall wooden drafting table and a few other small work or storage tables.

This is the room where I fostered most of my rescued cats until 2007 when I decided Mimi and her kids had to move to the bathroom because the room was so crowded and piled with stuff it was actually dangerous for kittens and no more room for a crate. By that time the room was full of excess paperwork from my business and from my mother and brother for whom I was legal guardian and power of attorney, art materials, my Macintosh computer because I couldn’t fit two computers on the desk downstairs, and other things I had no other space to store. Even adult cats would be lost in there, and frightened, traumatized, unsocialized cats I would never find.

Occasionally, when there was more than one rescue or rescue family, I did have rescues in the bathroom and even in a cage in my bedroom because those rooms had doors and I could keep a quarantine. Those were the days.

Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.

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