Let’s lead off with the sad news. After two decades, my parents’ tabby cat was put down on Saturday. You’ll have seen her in this Instagram post with what may seem like an unfortunate caption, now we’re this side of things, but a cat her age, that’s just the reality of things. Here’s a picture of her in her younger days, and we’ll talk about her a little more after it.
The date on that image file is 25th January 2004. The earliest picture I can find says 7th January 2000 in the metadata, and I’m pretty sure that’s not someone failing to set up the camera properly. Throughout that entire time she was simply known as Tabby, because she wasn’t supposed to be our cat. Our cat was Thomas. We adopted Thomas as a kitten, when I was young enough that naming him after the Tank Engine seemed like a natural thing to do. I’m going to post an image of him from around the same time, too, because he was an very handsome cat. (He died when I was in high school, at some point in the mid-2000s.)
Tabby wasn’t even the first cat to wander in. Before her that was Smudge, a white-and-black hobo cat with oily fur, who popped in through the cat flap for a year or two, had some food, gave some attention as gratitude, then went on his way. At some point he just stopped coming, although he did pop back years later for one final visit.
Tabby was a little different. I believe she was a neighbour family’s cat, a young one who had given birth to a litter. She didn’t want anything to do with the kittens, and I think the family didn’t want much to do with her, so she ended up crossing the road to our house. Thomas wasn’t particularly fond of other cats, or later, dog, imposing on his territory, but he was more grumpy than vicious about it, and eventually got used to the idea.
Tabby was a very nervous cat for much of her life. She would run from everyone and at the slightest provocation. She would only sit on Mum usually. She would groom obsessively, and shed layers of fur everywhere she sat. Many a time was I wearing unintentional fur trousers. And she never really took to house training, meaning certain rugs and patches of lino were sacrificed to this. She was very beautiful, and essentially sweet-natured, so I did like her a lot, even if she wasn’t particularly confident with me. I don’t think my sister ever fully took to her, though.
By the time I got to undergrad, Tabby hit the second phase of her life, where she seemed to be in some sort of mental decline. It was like she’d forget who you were from moment-to-moment. Previously, she was nervous of most people, but in a consistent manner. Now, she was either terrified of you, like you were a stranger, or was your best friend, and would sit on you for hours, which seemed even more like she had no idea who you were. Combined with the continued lack of bladder control, this was the period where we all assumed she was on her way out in terms of months rather than years. Yet, as we know, she hung around, and even survived a house move last year.
In the final phase of her life she levelled out. Perhaps her mind had completely gone, perhaps she decided she was too old to have her defences up all the time. She even remained relatively healthy, to my parents’ surprise and slight dismay when the vets told them this over the past few years. Unfortunately, her last visit showed she was in terminal decline, so the kindest thing to do was put her down. Mum said on the phone that Tabby barely knew she was going, and passed peacefully.
From a rough start, she had a very long and happy life in the family. While it’s a little strange she’s gone, I’m glad I got to see her last month before she went, and we’d all be lucky to live proportionally as long as she did. Though I will always be grumpy that she never got a proper name. (Tabitha was a but of a retronym.)
Right, after that, some happier news. Leela (previously Cassie) is currently winding its way around legs and door frames in a vain attempt to get fed. before teatime. She is settling in well, though it is still early days. She has no respect for God nor man, so we should probably read up on how to train her to come when she is called, get down from the counter, and not scratch at every closed door. (She has just scratched at my bedroom door, which is currently open, which may be a new low for her.) My aim is for her to be fat and obedient.
She’s not like any cat I’ve lived with before. She’s nothing like Thomas, the late Dylan, or the still-going-strong Charlie. My experience of those cats (my housemates say Dylan was more independent before I knew him) was they were pretty chilled out. They love(d) being slung on a shoulder, sat on a lap, and possess(ed) a reasonable grasp of boundaries. It’s tempting to compare her with Tabby, since they have a similar background, but she’s nowhere near as high strung. (Luckily, my housemate has just come home to feed her, then take her for some jabs, so I can actually write this.)
Part of why I’m having trouble grasping her character is that it’s fairly contradictory. One moment she’s a business cat, with various appointments at the window or in the garden or whatever dimension cats end up in when they go outside. She doesn’t have any time for you, or what you may want from her. Then she’s a bundle of energy, racing around the house, wanting to be played with and paid attention to and generally causing a ruckus. Then she’ll decide to stop – she’s not tired, necessarily, but she’s decided she’s done. She’ll then happily curl up by herself on a bed or a cushion. She may start sprawling out on her back like a dog, legs going everywhere, either as a response to being stroked, or of her own volition. She does seem to like to be stroked, or sometimes held, until suddenly she doesn’t. Which is where the biting begins. Then she’ll spring away, and sulk somewhere else. She’ll want to be let out. Then five minutes later, in. Then out. Then in. This is normal cat behaviour, but usually the intervals are longer.
Even her basic actions are contradictory. She wags her tail because she’s happy, or because she’s pissed off. She’ll smell your hand, and rub herself all over your shins both affectionately and as a scent-marking power play. She bites out of affection, and also not affection. She’ll want to be with you, and follow you around – she’s even slept on my bed a couple of nights this week, and one astonishing moment even sat on Alex’s lap (probably because he’s the only one not picking her up and carting her places). She’ll want to have nothing to do with you, and pretend you don’t exist. She learned how to meow, but only to generally complain about the state of the world. It gives no indication of what she wants.
Right now, perfect example: been fed, let out, now it’s hailing, now she’s back in demanding to be fed again. Cats don’t usually want to eat this much. She’s on the cusp of moving up a weight category. Sure. a lot of this is all new-owner stuff, but it’s worth pointing out, and trying to see her clearly. At the moment she’s at the level of those awful little yappy dogs owned by little old ladies. These ladies claim their pets are as sweet as pie, harmless, but are they actually over-indulged, ill-disciplined and bad company. Actually, this is hard to prove, but I think her behaviour gets worse the more people that are around. If she’s left on her own, there are no signs of bad behaviour – broken ornaments, wet patches and the like. If it’s just
There is probably a sweet and lovely cat here, but at the moment Leela is a complete pain in the arse, and a full-time job. Except it’s a cat, and you can’t really do much with it. And if you start adapting to all its weird behaviours, then pretty soon the cat’s running your life. I had hoped finally getting her outside would calm her down, but no dice so far. I like her, but she needs to work on herself. Don’t we all?