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November 07, 2004

While we were playing trivia on the patio ...

Trying to talk ourselves into being optimistic about the possibility of bringing a dog -- a total unknown quantity -- into a house already occupied by three cats; dominated by a big, somewhat neurotic female cat who tended to grouse if she didn't get her way (and who'd already developed a habit of crapping on the floor in the spare bathroom, inches from the litterbox, just as a general message of discontent we guessed), Tony turned in his chair and glanced at the edge of the parking lot.

"I think I saw something move out there, I'll be right back."

He got up from his chair and stepped out through the usually open gate with the big metal sign on it that said WARNING: DO NOT OPEN GATE, ALARM WILL SOUND! He disappeared up the fake-landscaped incline and returned with four pounds of skinny, knock-kneed kitten.

Of course. Because, you know -- no good deed ever goes unpunished, or however that old saw goes. The skinny kitten -- who looked perhaps five months old -- was another tortoiseshell, hence female. Though she was very thin -- the bones in her hips stuck out, and you could feel her spine under her coat -- the coat itself was shiny, her ears were clean, and she didn't have a flea on her. That was quite a feat for the end of August -- most outdoor cats are flea-infested at this time of year.

Tony went back in and got a plain grilled chicken sandwich, and while we continued to drink beer and play trivia, we let her wander around on the patio, feeding her small pieces of the chicken when she'd return to the table, and argued with ourselves over how much responsibility we really had for stray cats that turn up on the patios of restaurants the night before we go to probably adopt a dog that may throw the entire household into chaos. Of course, we had this argument with ourselves knowing damned good and well the kitten would go home with us that night, be installed in the spare room, and that we would continue to argue with ourselves over the coming days.

One thing was certain -- we were going to take her home, get her to the vet and have her neutered. The only uncertainty, when we carried her into the house wrapped in a sweat shirt so the rest of the cats didn't catch on, was whether we'd keep her or put her up for adoption through the shelter where we volunteered.

This is what she looked like when we brought her home:

We didn't name her, by agreement with each other -- if we named her, after all, it would color our thinking when the time came to decide whether she'd stay with us or be put up for adoption through the shelter. Funny, the name we evetually gave her, Squeek, is so appropriate it's hard to remember a time that cat didn't have a name. As is sometimes the case, with cats, she actually told us what her name was. We referred to her and the dog -- whom we took home with us when we went down to see him the next day, as well -- we called them 'Sam and Max.' Max's name came to us immediately -- he was, clearly, at least largely Pomeranian, and we thought a German name like Max would work quite well for him. He never, in the first four days before we decided on Max, even looked at either of us when we called him 'Leo' so we didn't feel bad about renaming him.

Unlike Gord, Squeek didn't seem to mind being cooped up in the small bedroom. She did seem to look forward to our coming to visit -- she'd curl up on the bed next to us and purr, or sit in the windows watching squirrels come and go in the sugar maple in the corner of the yard:

Her coloring made her look a little cross-eyed, and also made me think there might be a touch of Siamese in her -- her legs and tail are the darkest parts, though she's dark enough all over, her coloring makes her incredibly difficult to photograph well. Those who have black cats and have attempted to photograph them will know what I mean -- with a very dark cat, it's tough to get a good picture that's not a black blob with a pair of bright green or yellow eyes shining in the middle of it.

As is the responsible thing to do, even when you're pretty sure the animal you have has been deliberately dumped -- she was too clean to have been on the streets long, and there wasn't a flea on her -- we ran a lost and found ad in the local newspaper, checked all the convenience stores near the restaurant for 'lost cat' posters, asked the manager at the restaurant if anybody had come looking for a cat, and gave him our phone number in case anybody did. I also posted ads on several online lost animal directories, and entered her in the lost and found listings at the shelter. We told ourselves if we hadn't heard from anybody in two weeks, we'd assume she was ours to make decisions about. We also decided to make her spay/neuter appointment a few weeks out, in case she actually had someone who wanted her back and would be upset if we'd neutered her (with the grumbled caveat that any asshole who'd let a five-month-old kitten wander off deserved to have a good Samaritan neuter her against their will, but we're funny like that).

We finally came to a semi-firm decision about things with Squeek -- we'd bring Max home and work on integrating him into the household, take Squeek to the vet and have her tested for all the usual diseases and then, if she was healthy, work on integrating her, too. If things worked out reasonably well, without the other cats bullying her, she'd probably stay; if it didn't work out as well as it might, we'd put her in the fostering program at the shelter and go from there.

Of course, the dog was such a nuke to the cats, they barely noticed Squeek when we finally let her out into the house. It was, to be honest, rather anticlimactic -- Gord beat her up a few times, she stalked him regularly and tried to remove his head by main force, as if he were a pinata, to get at the candy inside. Tink ignored her. Doodle was mildly jealous, but really only manifested this by ignoring me more and paying more attention to Tony.

We waited for things to go to hell. And waited ... and waited. And other than Tink having a few episodes of the goo over the dog, they never really did as far as the 'social dynamics' of the animals here go.

Back to Squeek. We made an appointment a few weeks out to have her neutered, since she was going to be in the house and the only male cat here, Gord, was fixed (so unless she made a break for it, which she seemed disinclined to do, she was safe enough). She weighed just shy of five pounds when we took her to the vet for shots and to have her tested for feline leukemia and the rest; she weighed just over five pounds when we took her to have her neutered. She never did have a major growth spurt -- the following picture is about two months after we brought her home from the restaurant, and you can see she filled out a bit, but wasn't getting bigger very fast:

The more confident she became, and the more she matured, the less affectionate she was. When we'd first brought her home, as a scared, skinny half-grown kitten, she'd frequently crawled up onto me while I was sitting in front of the computer -- sometimes trying to get up on my shoulder, which resulted in my propping myself half on my back in the computer chair so she could hitch herself up there. For the longest time, after that, she didn't want much to do with us -- though we did set things up so she and Doodle could eat as they pleased, by putting a table near our computer desks and keeping a small bowl of kibble on my desk, and she had to come closer for that. Otherwise, like Tink, she grew to be pretty independent and has stayed that way.

Squeek with her ears pinned back. No, we didn't do this to her -- before she grew into her ears, she'd frequently turn them inside out while grooming herself, and sit or wander around the house with one or both of them turned back, looking like some freakish extra from 'ET.' This was the best picture of the phenomenon we were able to take, and as with many others, the quality of the picture is iffy because her coloring makes it difficult to get a good picture -- the flash glares off her shiny coat, but with no flash she just looks like a dark blob with a few light spots on her face.

This shot actually makes her look tubbier than she is -- the windowsill is only about four inches deep, she's kind of scrunched up in the corner, glaring at what's most likely a squirrel or chipmunk outside. She actually is an average-sized cat, for a domestic female, and is built much like a 3/4 scale version of Tink -- long legs, long tail, looks very graceful walking.

I don't know what it is about tortoiseshell cats, but man -- they're some of the most entertaining little clowns I've ever run into. The thing with Squeek is, though I know it's misguided anthropomorphizing on my part, she seems to get the joke when she does something we find funny. Even at full growth and ten pounds, she can still manage to cram herself under the entertainment center in our family room. Sometimes, she'll come flying in from the enclosure outside, through the cat door in the screen, and dive under the entertainment center as if the Huns were after her. They never are -- we don't know what alternate universe she lives in, but it seems to contain Huns.

The printer also, apparently, contains Huns. I've since replaced the desk that I had when this picture was taken, so the cats no longer can install themselves in the small gap between the printer and the edge of the top of the hutch, and the printer now sits on the desk, surrounded by detritus, and the cats can no longer attack it. Squeek used to attack the printer any time I sent a print job to it. Once, she managed to bring it and herself down in a massive crash on my lap. She disappeared under the entertainment center for the better part of two hours, that time.

Now, she has to content herself with launching herself off my keyboard tray and sending my wireless keyboard flying into the gap under my desk. I suspect after the first time it happened, she decided she liked the power so much she now does it on purpose.

Lately, when Tony and I go to bed at night, Squeek has been showing up to tread and prance about while the light is still on. For a few minutes she'll deign to let us pet her -- including, unlike the other cats in the house, having her belly rubbed -- while she drools on the down comforter in contentment. As soon as the light goes off, she usually bails out to leave the bed to Her Highness, Princess Tink, since Squeek knows we won't give Tink any stick about chasing the other cats off the bed. It maintains tranquility in the house when we stay out of the social posturing between the cats, unless one of them appears to be getting hurt -- and then, one of us usually will pick up a can of compressed air and hiss at them. Gord really hates that, and he's usually the one who's causing the problems. The girls really don't fight among themselves all that much, though Doodle will occasionally growl at Squeek if she thinks Squeek is trying to bug her. The two of them are a lot like my pre-adolescent brother and I must have been riding in the car on a long drive during vacation -- "Mom! He's on my side of the seat! Mom! She's touching me! Mom!"

Except, of course, there's always the possibility that a cat, unlike a kid, will shit on your pillow if you backhand it across the mouth.

Posted by Melinda at November 7, 2004 03:48 PM


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