by Diane Thornton
(photo above of Athena)
When my wife and I were first married, we went to get a kitten from a friend and came home with two kittens instead. Kheldar and his brother Minion joined our family as our first kittens in 1990. We have never regretted it. Two kittens entertain each other in your absence, they also bite and tumble with each other instead of your slipper-clad feet shuffling across the floor. We slept with them, we cuddled them, we gave them twists of notebook paper and newspaper to bat across the floor, we picked them up and carried them around the house. We were rewarded by free entertainment and noticed we quit watching TV out of habit, but thoughtfully chose whether to watch a specific show or just watch the kittens explore our home. The time we invested in connecting with those kittens is paying dividends today. They would be almost 30 today and though they are gone, their legacy remains.
Our current eldest cat is eighteen, a tuxedo, JD was one of a litter our family fostered. She came into our family when one of our first cats was still alive and Kheldar taught her the ways of the family. JD was quickly joined by Venus d’Mittens from another foster litter and they became our next pair. This pair thing was working for us. We still handled each of them extensively, carried them around, wrapped them over our shoulders and let them learn they could trust us to not only feed, but to keep them safe. The children brought their friends over to sit on the floor and play with the kittens once a day. Looking back the kids could have charged admission. It was quite the popular activity. Unfortunately the remaining founding cat, Kheldar, died from tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma, but not before he had handed his wisdom to the next generation. Venus d’Mittens and JD were happy and healthy. We had two cats, life was good. We were not looking for more.
And then a friend found kittens outside her office and there was this orange kitten. I have a thing for orange tabbies. My wife was fond of his litter mate. With Zeus and Hera joining the colony, we had crossed a line. We had four cats. So we handled them, clipped their nails, cleaned their eyes and noses with warm cloths and let the other cats get to know them. While they were not one giant cat pile of love and harmony, the new kittens had each other so they didn’t overly pester the older cats who would watch from a distance and eventually accept them. Then cancer took another one and my sweet Venus left the family. I was suddenly grateful we had gotten the kittens. Three was a good number.
We still had three cats, but this was definitely it. We were not adding any more. We had two covered litter boxes in two separate rooms and they were going through a small bag of cat food a month. I started giving them their vaccines and only going to the vet for rabies. This pair thing was working. Life was good. At a little over a year old, Zeus began escaping the yard. His neuter had removed his testicles, but the vet suspected some tissue was retained and it was enough for him to develop secondary sex characteristics like the big tomcat head and the desire to roam and fight. He would escape, fight, get hurt, come home, get nursed back to health until wanderlust returned and he jetted out a door. One day he didn’t come back. We had two cats and one of them was grieving the loss of her brother. She didn’t want any other kittens and neither did we.
Until friends were rehabbing a home and found a feral very pregnant cat hiding out in there. They stopped the rehabbing until the cat gave birth, tried to lure her to a trap and remove the kittens to continue work in the house. Flash forward a few months when we went to get one kitten, a tortoiseshell like Venus d’Mittens. But the kitten I had liked in the photo, with the beautiful markings, was a snarly kitten and not like anything I had ever had. I was prepared to leave without her when one of her litter mates “picked me” and we subsequently left with not only her, but also one of her litter mates because as my wife reminded me “they do best in pairs.” Artemis and Athena were the last two we brought home. We had four cats. It was crazy and we loved their antics, and we agreed; no more animals.
The dogs and cats all got along and life was good. We were looking forward to the natural attrition of the menagerie at our home and planning for travel in the future when our “adopted” son begged me to take this kitten he had found in their backyard. I said I would vaccinate, spay and give it back. He said he couldn’t keep it, so we agreed to adopt her out. Piper did not come with a mate, she had no one to play with. She annoyed the other cats, I was not crazy about her and wanted her gone so I didn’t pick her up and play with her like I would have the other cats or at least not as much. She had been allowed to be mean to the dog when she was living with bonus son, and she hissed at our dogs. That is not allowed. She was rogue. She didn’t know the rules and she didn’t want to learn. I tried to give her away twice and was thwarted both times. Unfortunately my wife had developed a soft spot for her. I got her to follow my (then) large puppy. She learned to come when called because she noticed when I called him, he got a treat. That looked like a good gig to Piper, she’d do it if she got a treat. While I was training the puppy to “sit” on command, Piper started watching intently and then copying what he did. She takes treats out of my hand like a dog. Piper makes a pretty good dog, but she’s a lousy kitten. Everyone gets along except Piper, who gets along fabulously with the dog. Maybe we “only” have four cats after all.