Who isn't proud of their furry adopted kids? This is the homepage for the ones with me now, Jasper and Katey.
It's also in memory of the dearly departed LeRoy (22 beautiful pounds of black cat) and Howitzer (the sweetest orange-striped little Nitz you saw). I want to tell you about them first. I do not have pictures scanned for them, so I hope my words do them justice.
It's funny how lives intertwine, be they animal, human, or both. My college roomate and I went to the shelter to adopt a cat and could agree on none. She liked the glamorous longhairs. I liked all the ones that were going to get gassed next week. Finally I saw this handsome black cat, and my roomate observed the sign on his cage which said he was a full grown cat and said tersely, "Came to door". We wondered aloud if he had gone to someone's home and they had brought him in. A shelter worker explained "No, I came in one morning to open up and he was sitting right at the door, just like he knew what he was doing." So my roomate and I agreed this cat was cool, took him home, and found the shelter's estimate of his age was wrong.
He was not a full-grown cat, but still a kitten, and he grew and grew until he was a magnificent baby panther in appearance. People would meet LeRoy (French for "the king") and just say "Wow!". We always called him "The Dude". He was totally confident of winning your love and never hesitated to greet visitors and settle in laps.
The force of LeRoy's personality was astonishing to almost all who met him. He always made his presence felt. He was not playful, and most toys ended up in his water dish, but there was a beautiful brooding eminence about him, tempered by his sensual nature. I best recall the way he sometimes would come to where I was resting, and he would step smoothly onto my ribs, shift up, and stretch gracefully full-out on my chest, purring furiously like an outboard motor and staring into my eyes. He had me pinned, and he liked it. Breathing is not easy with a 22 pound cat on your chest, but then, LeRoy always took my breath away.
When I moved to a home that included kids, he was patient with being posed and photographed and finally learned how to fight (he had never had to) to defend himself against the other house cat, the evil Mittens. This was a bit out of his character; he'd never had to fight at all, and his carriage and demeanor reminded me of Sebastian Cabot- a big man who moved with surprising elegance and agility.
All in all, LeRoy lived in a South Philly apartment, a Roxborough farmhouse, an Art Museum area rowhome, a busy Brewerytown apartment, a Northeast Philly duplex, and finally a suburban apartment with a patio, adjusting easily to each locale. He lived to be 13 and was put to sleep after a horrible hard-fought battle against a tumor in his chest that produced fluids making it almost impossible for him to breathe.
I swear I felt his spirit leave me two months later when I was out on the patio one day, thinking what a fine day it would be to share with him out there, and now he couldn't be here. A fuzzy dandelion seed blew to me while I was supressing tears, and I kept trying to send it away, blowing at it, and it repeatedly returned. It made me feel a bit crazy because it felt like he was there, refusing to go. Finally, in my head I spoke to the seed and said "It's ok, LeRoy, I will never forget you, and if you're okay, you can go now." And I gently released the seed from my hand and it finally blew away. Now I remember my dude everytime I see a dandelion seed on the wind.
Howitzer crossed my life path because during my 20's I worked three jobs and LeRoy was obviously lonely, throwing himself at me when I came home, delaying me each day when I left, so company was called for. I went to a shelter and was enchanted by an 8 month old male orange-striped tabby who mewed fetchingly and literally did somersaults each time I approached his cage. He was on the small side so I figured he needed a big name to defend himself against LeRoy, hence, he became Howitzer, "the big gun". Such planning proved unneeded because they got along very well together though their natures were different.
Howitzer was just a merry cat, a snuggle bunny, just a pudding who wanted to talk with you, roll on you, and lick your hand. Never have I seen a cat so eager to please, so much like a dog. He was always first to greet me at the door. This cat would purr for no apparent reason, and if you spoke to him, he would answer you as long as you answered back. Probably the most gentle of any animal I have known, Howitzer had a sweet and shy, mannerly almost soundless yelp he used to get your attention or to ask for something politely, and he would always go around you (rather than climb on you) on the bed. When exceptionally happy, his purring would change to this internal silly noise that made him be dubbed "the giggling squirrel" but mostly, he was The Nitz. He never lost his love of life or of people. He was thrilled when folks visited, delighted if you talked with him or brushed him, and had a taste for the unusual- bananas, and Snackwells chocolate yogurt.
Howitzer was devastated when LeRoy died and actually began sleeping in LeRoy's spots and mimicking his voice, which was quite different than his own. After a few weeks, it was apparent that he needed company other than me, so that is when Jasper came into our lives, providing a healthy distraction and promoting healing for Howitzer and I. The Nitz was an excellent parent. Always very gentle, he took a lot of abuse from the new baby including Jasper's kitten leaps off the bed four-square onto Howitzer's back, and having his tail gnawed while he was sleeping or eating. The Nitz went into some kind of decline, the source of which could not be determined, in December of 1997 and finally died in April of 1998 after failed attempts to rehydrate him. One night he just went from being weak to being almost comatose and he was at the vet's by 6:30 in the morning. He died by 10. A post-mortem revealed he had had pancreatic cancer. He too was about 13 went he left us. When I think of touching the Nitz, I remember his soft white underbelly the best.
These two were my "closed adoption" kids. The living ones that I have now have complete histories, and believe me, I feel good about this.
Jasper, a.k.a. "The Deeze"
After LeRoy died, when I knew I needed to find companionship for the grieving Nitz, I was enough of a sentimental sap to go down to the shelter from which I had gotten LeRoy 13 years before. It was a long trip but it felt like the right thing to do, and on the way I prayed that if there were a cat there as cool as LeRoy had been I didn't want to miss him. I cruised around the cages and felt no bonding with any particular one (though I would have taken them all home if I could have). Disappointed, I turned to leave and there, by the door, was a glass display case I had missed on my way in, and inside was a litter of 5 kittens, all tortoise-shell, and one black one. I didn't want to be a complete fool and get a cat just because he was similar in appearance to the one I just lost, so I went round all the cages again. No magic. Came back to this black kitten. I hated the notion of separating him from his siblings, but I knew regardless they would be separated one way or another. I asked to see him, and he was placed in my arms, which I held against my chest. The kitten rapidly scaled my front, perched on my shoulder, put his tiny black baby face in my ear and in a teeny voice screamed "Eeeee!". Fine, where do I sign? At the desk, I asked where he was from and was advised he had been brought in by someone local... they thought... hold on...and they looked it up. My eye fell on the paper and I memorized the address of the "donor" thinking someday I would say "Thank you, your black kitten is fine".
Jasper is all about movement, height, electricity, leaping, scaling. He is dynamic, not very vocal, almost ferret-like in his length and skinnyness. He is all alley-cat, suspicious, slow to let his guard down, running at the slightest inexplicable sound, and dives under the bed when there are visitors. Once he knows you he is terrific and actually a show-off. I have a comtemporary railing going up my stairs that wraps around the top floor. Jasper regularly jumps onto the railing and marches around, though it is perhaps only an inch wide, and he lets you know about it too. My husband and I might be downstairs watching a movie and we hear Jasper's peculiar announcement holler. My husband turns to me with a knowing smile and says "He's mounted" so we get up and stand under the steps, looking up at our furry Wallenda up there parading around. Jasper is beauty in motion, making no false moves. While other cats might scramble to get up on furniture, Jasper always overshoots his target height-wise and lands neatly from the small descent. Jasper was the first cat of mine that did not come when called, and when he disregards you, you can tell he thought it over and is a bit sorry, but something more pressing calls him away. He is lightning, smooth and fast, nimble and physical, and something about his electric qualities lead him to be called "Deezer" or "The Deeze" as a nickname. Once at ease with you, there is no cat who abandons himself to pleasure more, tummy included. Howitzer's death changed him, mellowed him, made him more interested in human companionship. He adores being brushed gently, and waits each night for me to go upstairs and read before bed so he can curl up with me and purr contentedly.
Jasper's adoption began as a closed one, but I was able to track down his history through that address I'd seen. It lead to the home of a 60 year old woman living alone in South Philly who had a small cinderblock-walled-in back yard with cement floor. She had raised many litters of wild cats there, and had actually marked Jasper's birthdate on her calendar. Finally a cat with a real date of birth! He was born during a huge March snowstorm in a cardboard box lined with towels in her backyard. That day Olivia introduced me to Jasper's mother, Tiger, but his father did not turn up until a subsequent visit on which I had brought Jasper to show Olivia. I had Jasper in my arms and we went to the backyard. A few minutes later (it was dinnertime for her wild charges) a small, thin black male appeared, one with a shiny tar-black coat like Jasper's, and Olivia's voice was heavy with emotion when she spoke to him and said "Midnite! There's your son, Jasper!" So yes, my cat was reunited, and even Olivia felt the vibe.
Olivia has become one of my best friends. We have a major philosphical difference that we cannot talk about. As grateful as I am to have Jasper in my life, I disagree with her continually feeding the wild cats, enabling them to go on procreating. To wipe them out by taking them all to a shelter strikes her as heartless, but I see allowing all these kittens to be born and then taken to the shelter as unkind too. (My adoptee orientation?) In any case, we are united in our love of animals of all kinds, and she is a sweet lady with a hard head and a soft heart. We were delighted to discover we share a birthday too.
Jasper's early life still shows. He hates cold more than any cat I know so maybe being born during the blizzard of 1995 did it to him. I know something happened to him with a dog when he was young but I do not know what. I can only tell you that with the sound of a dog bark - live or on TV, he responds violently and disappears. None of my other cats do or did this. Also, being one of six kittens, he loves sleeping with other cats and people, maybe remembering that wonderful bliss of kittens in a heap together, as he was when I first saw him at the shelter.
Jasper is still a very cool cat, and like Howitzer, was and is a good parent to Katey. Katey is still young and crazy, so it is not unusual to see Jasper eating placidly while Katey whacks his tail.
Katey, a.k.a. "The Pudgelet"
(here looking like "The Bad Seed")
Katey was and is a surprise in every way, unlike every cat I have known. Her entry into my life and her adoption were not planned. I already had my mental-max of cats, two was plenty, Jasper and Howitzer already were enough... But, one day I went to visit Olivia and she had a wild mother cat and her two kittens staying upstairs in her spare bedroom. There was a mean cat frequenting the neighborhood, so when Olivia could tell the mother cat was pregnant, she moved her indoors. Anyhow, when I visited, the kittens were about 7 weeks old, a few weeks shy of the 10 weeks at which Olivia usually takes them to the shelter. Not having a car, this is a big enterprise for her. Anyhow, she took me upstairs to see the mother and 2 kittens, and it was in this small back bedroom in South Philly that I met Miss Katey Lou. She and her family were a beautiful black trio. The two kittens had never seen a human other than Olivia before. I settled on the floor, and the mother and one of the kittens dashed away to a corner. The other kitten looked directly at me, made a little happy noise, came over and immediately stretched out on my thigh, very pleased with herself. I felt my heart go "thud", recognizing, no, three cats were too many, but boy, wasn't this brave little girl a sweetie?
Knowing Olivia would have to get the kittens to the shelter when they were "of age" I offered to return 3 weeks later on the condition the mother cat go with the kittens. (It was my hope to reduce the number of birthing queens in the back yard. The mother was young, attractive and had lived indoors already so I hoped she might be a good candidate for adoption.) In the interim, I could not get this kitten out of my mind. Such a forward little thing! So, we went upstairs with carriers to ready the cats for the journey to the shelter, and, after another enthusiastic greeting from the baby girl, uh, one of them didn't make it to the shelter.
Being just one of two kittens, Katey was not the dominant one despite her outgoing nature. She was repeatedly pushed around and bullied by her brother. Katey is a product of incest. Her mother is Jasper's sister. Her father is Midnite, Jasper's father. So, Midnite did it with his daughter, and thus, Katey is Jasper's niece or sister depending on how you look at it. Outside of the fact they are both black and have downturned noses like Jerusalem artichokes, you would never guess they are related. Katey and Jasper are opposites. She is stumpy, pudgey, loudly emotional, and fearless. She is demanding and has no subtlety. Deezer will brush by you gently with a final comment of his tail. Katey runs up to you, heavy on her feet, and makes noises while crossing the distance. Each morning when we walk downstairs for breakfast, I laugh at their differences. Jasper, long and elegant, strides smoothly down the stairs on long legs, measured right-left, right-left, while Katey bolts down full throttle on her stubby legs that cannot reach the steps as Jasper's do, and so she runs headlong like a bunny, front-back, front-back, front-back, just barely managing to change her course and turn at the end so she doesn't crash into the wall at the bottom. For those months when I had the three cats together, the differences showed best one day when there was a loud crash outside. Howitzer opened his sleeping eyes briefly, then fell back asleep purring, Jasper tore up the stairs to escape, and Katey dashed to the window to see what she was missing.
Once he trusts you and his surroundings, Jasper flows with things. He loves when I pick him up and ask if he wants to go for a walk; he will perch perfectly on my shoulder and stay there with ease while I tour the whole house. Katey has no such trust. She is readily combative, sure you could attack her at any second, so she is feisty and hates the helplessness of being picked up. She won't hurt you, but she will scream like a banshee and the tone of her wail makes her indignance and victimization clear. If you want to approach her it's best to speak first so she gets your intentions and doesn't think bad things might happen. I suspect this was from being pushed around by her brother- and it also explains her fast appearance when food is prepared. Olivia explained that if Katey did not hurry, her brother and her mother would eat it all. Anyway, if you pet her without this preparation, she will whine disgustedly at how annoying you are. If you prattle sweetly to her and then reach out, she will happily accept your intentions. She is a proud wench, and she has total understanding of the dignity she is due, so her pride is not excessive. She is a slave to motion, her hunting instincts touched off easily, and she will chase Jasper's tail, anything you drag, and shadows. She sits by the sliding doors to the deck, eyeballing the birdfeeder excitedly, and making squeaky, clearly frustrated noises in her throat when a bird comes close to her.
Katey feels everything strongly. She is always very happy or extremely peeved, or really hungry or totally beat. She runs on high speeds only right now, though maturity may change this. When she was younger, she would go from the mad rush of a kitten playing to quickly settling herself on the couch and squinching her eyes shut. My husband observed "Your kitten is even in a hurry to sleep." While Jasper and Howitzer slept together and groomed each other (at least the parts they themselves coud not reach) Katie likes to sleep alone most of the time, and makes irritated and impatient noises and ultimately flounces away when Jasper tries to clean her face. Maybe being just one of two kittens explains why she does not need companionship much, and maybe being attacked by her brother justifies to this day her preference to sleep alone and groom herself. But she is extremely loving too, and I usually wake up with her making happy noises after having slept the last part of the night in my armpit. When she is really affectionate, she "crabs" - walks on her toes, makes hummy noises, hunches her back, and her head pumps in and out with each step, chugging along. Everything to her is an adventure - a new person, watching you iron your clothes, sitting on your lap and watching the computer screen change and chasing the cursor with her eyes. We should all have such enthusiasm for life.
The Deeze and The Pudgelet
in a moment of repose
So now you know that I have done some adopting myself, of a different sort. Luckily when I was up for adoption the agency wasn't going to gas me if I didn't get taken fast.
Still, even though my guys are "just cats" I have to tell you since I am concerned for their welfare, that I do feel good about knowing Jasper and Katey's origins. Some of their behavior makes sense based on what I know of their families. I see both nature and nurture in them.
As for LeRoy and Howitzer- I loved them but was forever ignorant of from whence they sprang. LeRoy was obviously young when we got him. How had he lived? Did he fend for himself so young? Was he always alone in the world, so much so that he would be attracted to the sight of other cats in a shelter window? And what of Howitzer, who I knew had had a home before mine, one that kept him in the bathroom because one of the kids was allergic to him. (Obviously no home study was done on this family.) Is this why he was so eager to please and charming - so he would not be locked in alone again? How did this affect the way they related to people and cats for the rest of their lives? If you love animals, you understand why it would have helped to know more of these things, how I might have understood them better.
And if you love adopted humans, you should "get it" too. Origins matter. They set the stage for the behavior for the rest of your life in many ways. Knowing these origins helps make the bigger picture, leads to understanding. And it makes us better parents, regardless of who it is we parent. And while I can't stomp down to the shelter and demand a cat with all his or her history, adoptive parents can refuse to settle for closed adoption, knowing the gift of whole truth is one each child deserves and one that may make their own parenting more clear.
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