As some readers of this blog know, I have seven. They are family. I am going to introduce them to you in order of seniority and appearance in my household. I want to praise them.
Popoki (aka Cthulhu)
Popoki entered our household when my kids were still young and they–wanting her to be a badass–named her Cthulhu after H.P. Lovecraft’s mythic monster from the stars. I started calling her “Popoki,” the Hawaiian word for cat. As a kitten, she literally bounced off wall, climbed curtains, perched on rods, and at one point I could swear she teleported from the crate where we’d put her for the night. The gate was locked and she was, strangely, not inside. (She must have squeezed through, but I hardly know how that was possible.) She adores my younger son, Paul, and brightens when he visits. She’s a Queen, a beauty cat, an emanation of Bast (even my vet agrees), and somewhat aloof. Though she is happy to receive affection, she seldom comes looking for it.
She is the only cat of mine who isn’t a rescue. We got her from a family we knew.
Popoki is about 13 years old. She has breast cancer. I just received this news last Friday and it’s heartbreaking. She is having surgery tomorrow. [Update: three tumors are being removed.]
An off-center white streak on his chin has always given Niblet the look of a slightly peevish old man. A friend of a friend found him when he was tiny, living between two boards in someone else’s backyard. He still purrs when I feed him–which I think he must have done when catching bugs in the bushes as a baby cat. This habit of his absolutely tugs at my heart, even now. When my friend who was fostering him showed me his picture, I knew he would be my second cat. Niblet was a darling kitten and has grown into a cuddly floof who drools.
Popoki was not happy when I adopted Niblet, but they grew to be chums. I wouldn’t say they are “bonded” however. They don’t cuddle together. For many years they were my only two cats and I think that was just fine with them.
When Niblet sits between me and the computer keyboard I am never quite at ease because of his drooling. Niblet used to run when my older son was around. That kid thought Niblet was jealous in a sibling rivalry way, but I know it was because of that kid’s heavy, Dr. Martens-type boots. Niblet does not like heavy footwear.
Niblet and Popoki moved with me from California to Hawai’i and were somewhat appalled by the multi-generational feral family that I ended up feeding on my porch. I also made it a point to trap them to spay or neuter them at the monthly free vet clinic, then returned them to the colony. I am afraid that the experience of feeding all those ferals made me somewhat susceptible to the “more cats” syndrome when the three of us returned to California. We moved to a rural county about 150 miles from San Francisco. Feral cats were also a problem there. The small town of Upper Lake, fifteen miles from where I was living, had a large amount of community cats. And that’s where Freya enters the picture.
Freya, the Diva
Freya was one of those Upper Lake cats. She was a tiny little thing dying of thirst in the middle of Main Street. A woman named Crystal rescued her. Crystal worked in a couple of shops on that two block shopping district and also fed the ferals. She often trapped them and got them neutared and spayed too. Freya became one of her large family of cats and dogs, but always stayed close to Crystal, getting in the way of her sewing and soap making. She was and is affectionate, bossy, possessive, and not always nice to other cats.
When I happened into Crystal’s shop, the cat-who-was-not-yet-called-Freya was dozing in the glass case. I’d been thinking of getting one more cat “someday” but when I admired Freya’s beauty, Crystal’s boyfriend suggested I adopt her. I talked to Crystal about it a few days later and though Crystal was sad to see this cat go, she knew I’d give her a good home. This was around February, 2018.
Popoki and Niblet were not pleased, though Niblet did seem a bit intrigued at first. Freya wasn’t interested. Eventually they all adjusted. Freya stuck close to me as well and was so annoying when I worked on the computer that I gave her my kids’ old high chair for her throne, so she could sit beside me as I worked.
She is very possessive of me, often chasing the other cats off my bed, and she will sleep beside me with her paw out to touch my face.
It was a bit sad though, when I’d get out toys to chase, Popoki and Niblet played less and stepped back to let Freya play more, even when I tried to engage them. I’ve noticed this pattern with each subsequent cat.
For a brief time, I had an office in an extremely small, one-room cottage in Upper Lake. Two black kittens (ferals) often hid under it. They had orange eyes, very striking. The construction guy who was working on the front cottage called them “Jack and Jill” and fed them. I put out bowls of water and dry food for them too. Later, “Jack” disappeared and “Jill” was on her own. She was not friendly and hid when she saw me coming. I love black cats so I was fascinated by her.
Then there was an extremely cold couple of weeks. “Jill” actually went to Crystal’s place a block away–probably because she’d been eating there too–and let Crystal’s boyfriend pick her up. She was very sick. I knew Crystal didn’t have money for a vet so I told her if she could nurse the cat over the weekend, I’d come on Monday, take her to the vet, and then adopt her. Fourth cat. I named her Varda, another name for Elbereth in The Lord of the Rings.
I had a closed sun porch that was separate from the rest of the house. That had been Freya’s halfway home until Popoki and Niblet had gotten used to her scent, and now that porch was Varda’s.
Now all three cats were miffed, but they got used to Varda, who is small and I think, is a Bombay breed. Varda and Freya may even be related to some extent, as they came from the same cat colony.
Varda wants to cuddle with me when I sit in a certain chair to talk on the phone. Otherwise she is a bit skittish still. Her usual hangout is a twin bed in the living room, where she can watch squirrels.
The Woodshop Cats
Several months later, Crystal and her entourage lost their home in Upper Lake. They’d been living in the back of one of the storefronts and the landlord kicked them out. Crystal asked me if I could let her house four of her cats in a large, clean, workshop I had on my property, if she visited and fed them everyday. I said okay. A couple of months after that, she and her boyfriend and several cats and dogs drove to Tennesee. She took one and left the other three cats with me, without giving me any notice except for a day or two before they left. She promised to send money for food (she didn’t). I was not up for three more cats, even if they were just living in the workshop and roaming outdoors. However, one of them, Chu the Siamese, got adopted by neighbors across the street. The tabby, Meowington, became my garden cat. I locked him in at night and let him out in the morning. The skittish grey female (with no name) was chased away by Meowington, but I continued to feed her as she hovered around the edges of the property. She could down a whole can of catfood in one gulp and she would (eventually) let me brush the stickers from her fur.
In 2018, when I was forced to evacuate for two weeks, due to raging wildfires, I had to take all four cats with me to San Francisco and back. And I had to leave Meowington and the grey cat to fend for themselves (though I left food and wter behind in the workshop, with the door open). The drive both ways was sheer hell. The cats were scared and vocal and it was too hot to leave cats in the car for even a few minutes if I needed a restroom break during the long drive. Fortunately my house and neighborhood did not burn down but I realized how very vulnerable we were and how vulnerable we would remain the whole time I lived there. The huge death toll of people over the age of fifty, in the Paradise fire, was also a potent “momento mori” for me.
I was glad to see that both Meowingon and the grey cat had survived my absence. I had grown very fond of them both, but then Meowington was bitten by a baby rattlesnake. He did not survive. I was devastated. However the grey female was able to take over the territory of my yard and I started calling her Arya because she was so tough and living rough. But she wasn’t yet my cat.
The “Tabby Twins”- Keola and Kia’i.
Just as I start to write this, Kia’i (“protector”), the big tabby male who next came into my life, just walked in front of me for a cuddle. He and his sister, the much smaller Keola (“life”), were feral kittens from a trailer park in K-Ville, on the other side of the lake. A friend of mine was feeding the mother and her brood but the park manager wanted them gone. All the no-kill shelters were full so my friend put out the word that she’d pay for spaying and neutering and the first round of shots for anyone who would adopt them. She posted a picture of the male tabby and I thought, well, he looks like Meowington and another tabby I’d had long ago, so I thought I could take him, at least.
However when I showed up at my friend’s trailer, the male tabby was sitting on the porch rail next to his much smaller sister, who was very sick. I understood immediately that they were bonded and I had to take them both. So I did. And we got the shots and neutering and spaying done. And instead of letting them live in the workshop and outside, I turned them into outdoor cats because I was more haunted by Meowington’s death by rattlesnake than I realized.
Both cats were sick, as it turned out, and Kia’i’s teeth were horribly inflamed. I was told to have them ALL removed and that his sister might have to have that done in the future. Turns out the community cats of K-Ville have a genetic predisposition to this. This was extremely expensive but I got it done. And he’s fine as a toothless cat. However it does mean that he rolls on his belly a lot when Freya bullies him. Last year Keola also had to have all her teeth removed. She too is doing fine.
The tabby twins are brash but sweet and have no manners as far as the other cats are concerned. Keola is incredibly curious and washing the dishes can be tough when she decides she’d like to “help.”
Arya The Grey
Not all who wander are lost, but some who wander into construction sites might get stuck in a basement. I think this is what happened to Arya. She had become very dependable on when she’d show up for food and would let me pet and brush her. Since Meowington was no longer around to chase her off, she was quite comfortable around my place and becoming more demonstrative with me. I began to consider bringing her into my household.
During the time when she lived in the woodshop, she was obviously a frightened and timid cat. She would stay high on the rafters where she could not be seen. When I opened the door for the cats on that first day after they’d been left behind by Crystal & Co., she shot from the place like a bolt.
And then one day she vanished. Now, she’d been spayed thanks to Crystal and has the clipped ear to show it, so she wasn’t in heat. She came back two days later, ate as usual, and then was gone again. She never came back. I was devastated and the thought that a coyote or cougar had gotten her was too much to bear. I would walk up and down the street calling to her, but she was nowhere to be seen. One neighbor had seen her, shortly before she disappeared, roaming around the yard of a house where an old man had recently died. A lot of construction work was going on over there, as the place was a wreck (kind of a hoarder’s situation from the look of it). I wondered if Arya had gotten stuck there, but the construction workers weren’t there consistently so I couldn’t ask them.
Then, two months later, I happened to be taking the trash cans out front and I saw her, skinny as can be, coming up the driveway alongside my house. We both spotted each other, stared as if to say, “it’s you!” and so I called to her and coaxed her into my patio. I opened a can of catfood for her and while she was eating, I popped her into a crate and brought her inside to the enclosed sun porch. She was skin and bones. I got her to the vet, fed her a lot, and she soon regained her health. Then, when she was ready and the cats had smelled her for a few weeks, she was introduced to the rest of the household.
Arya has too many toes and that too is a feature of a lot of Upper Lake cats. She might also be related to Freya and Varda, but they chase her away. Everyone either chases or ignores Arya, though since we moved to Oregon she’s gotten comfortable enough to sleep on my bed at least part of the night. She’s the “upstairs” cat most of the time, and I feed her on the stair landing because she’s not secure enough to eat in the kitchen with the others.
Cats Are Indeed My Family
I would say we have a special and unusual bond. But then, I seem to have that with all my cats and it’s only growing stronger. They are all so different and have their peculiar ways.
Popoki wants to pee on paper towels in her own litter box in the bathroom. Arya only licks the wet food–she likes the gravy (the cats get both wet and dry food). Kia’i barges in and makes sure he is the first to eat, which annoys Niblet very much. Freya cries for the wet food but doesn’t eat much of it. She just wants to make sure she has what everyone else is having. Keola has the habit of dabbing her paws, with her sharp little claws, on my hand or shoulder to get my attention. Popoki goes after the remnants of everyone’s food. If Niblet gets a second helping, he wants it on a counter or low table. He’s the only one who will eat treats from my hand. Varda comes to sit on my lap if I sit in a particular chair. And how and why the cats circulate among sleeping places is a mystery. They’ll spend a week or two sleeping in the same couple of spots, then move.
These seven cats are my immediate family. I’ve said I’ve wanted “frith” and “o’hana” all my life but it seems that the cats are truly my people.