As this week’s picture clearly show, our pets dominate our lives and we are happy to let them do so. Much as we love both dogs and cats, our family is not skilled at training dogs, not having had enough experience. This is a long yarn, so pull up a chair, a coffee and cuddle a cat – or a dog. Hopefully there are a few chuckles here to amuse you.
In our 50+ year history together, cats have been a focus of our lives. I think we may have had one year where we were cat-less but I truly can’t imagine my life without one. Since we’ve moved to the coast we see far more dogs as their subordinates take them for a daily walk along the esplanade. We do love seeing them and realise our exercise regime would get a boost with a dog but wisdom has prevailed.
When we were first married we lived in my in-law’s house in Milne Bay, while they were on another posting to Port Moresby. They had a dachshund and a very old black and white cat. Tinka the dog could tiptoe up the hall to our bedroom on the pads of her paws then, when discovered, would clomp back down the hall, claws out. Her other favourite trick was finding the tissue box and shredding tissues all over the floor. Once the old cat died, we got a young tabby of our own. Tabitha loved nothing better than doing a flying leap into the air to catch a magnificent tropical butterfly. Fun mornings were waking up to a floor scattered with shredded tissues and butterfly wings.
Tabitha also provided me with a memorable moment when she thought I was an appropriate place on which to deliver her kittens! I awoke to a kitten emerging towards my face. My own new-minted motherhood was not enough to spare Tabitha a sudden relocation to the floor! Not long after we were suddenly posted to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Tabitha and all but one of her kittens went to the local boarding school where we knew the principal well. Pedro the kitten came with us to Goroka and he and our eldest daughter, an infant, were great mates.
Some time later, at house #2, Pedro would be frightened off by the cat next door, Brandi. We never found him again, and we’ve always suspected that he may have wound up as a warm hat for someone, or in the cooking pot because there was a village nearby. PNG could be tough for both owners and pets – little/limited access to vets, employer-dictated relocations, and permanent departure to Australia (going finish). In the latter case, it was traditional to hand your pets on to anyone else who’d take them. This is how we wound up with Brandi as our own pet and came to love her deeply despite her dismissal of Pedro. It’s also how we wound up with a cattle dog, called Whisky by her first owners. (We were tempted to get a bird and call it Bacardi).
Whisky had a story all her own. Her first family were neighbours in North Goroka (our house #1 there). We had a village behind us and a squatters’ camp down the end of the street. Whisky disappeared when she was just a pup then just as suddenly emerged one day as a fully grown dog. When that family left, we acquired her and she lived with us until we went finish some six years, three houses and another town, later. For the rest of her life she would have an addiction to mackerel pike tins – a typical food for the villagers. It may be why she deserted her adopted parents after we left, and went to the village with one of the staff whom we’d employed briefly.
Brandi had her own adventure when she was attacked by a pack of Labradors just outside our house. Any other breed of dog and she’s never have survived, and we’d probably have had a savaging when we rescued her. She lay in shock in the lounge room for some time but recovered. It was an extremely sad day when we had to take her to the vet’s to be euthanised when we were going finish – there was no one we knew who could take her and at the time the quarantine period was very long (a year?). Voluminous tears were shed. To top it off we went to a child’s birthday party just days later, and they showed a sad movie about a cat…our family needed lots of tissues.
When we got back to Australia, we had a small cat waiting for us. We’d picked her out when visiting my family earlier the same year. She was a very pretty cat, grey with white paws so we called her Socks – so innovative! She was such an affectionate cat which was surprising as her mother had been completely wild. The vet thought Socks’ dad was a travelling Burmese hence her fur and colouring. We had her for about 10 years before she contracted cancer and had to be put to sleep – again amidst many tears.
Socks was a tough little cat, dismissing a Doberman from our yard and giving our second cat no illusions about his place in the world. Ginger Megs arrived when he was chased up a large gum tree on our property by dogs. When they left, he couldn’t quite figure out how to get down, so he reversed a bit then jumped a very long way – you could see his shock absorbers bounce! Socks made his position clear by giving him a swipe across the chops and never letting him come up the steps to the bedrooms. Ginger Megs (aka Gemma as in PM= Pip Emma, GM=Gemma) was a lovable boofy cat, very large and quite clumsy. Had we know his personality earlier we’d probably have called him Garfield. He thought he was trim, taut and terrific and would balance precariously through ornaments on a shelf or along the edge of a full bath. He too became a victim of cancer and yet more tears were shed.
Kizzle was a co-habitant with Gemma and inevitably won her place in our hearts. She fought off feline flu when she was only a tiny tot and lived to 18 and moved with us to Darwin….did she have some words to say about the flight when we picked her up!
She was in a sad state when we went on an overseas trip in early 2006 and in hindsight we probably should have had her put to sleep as a kindness though it felt more like it would be a convenience. Sadly our daughters bore the brunt of taking her to the vet for the needle and then burying her in our back yard. We got the phone call when we were in England. Again, more tears and a two-person wake remembering her little habits and happy times.
We had planned to have some cat-free months to regroup, but in those days I’d go to the local shopping centre to look at the pets at lunch time – always a pick-me-up. This little furball stole my heart and became part of our family in mid-2006. Although he promised he’d give me cuddles, it’s taken 14 years to get him to sit on my lap -admittedly he is now a big boy. We gave him the name of Springer because as a youngster he had the habit of kung-fu-ing you as you walked past. He has the fluffiest tail and would trot along with it in the air like a banner, so he also got called Trotsky or Banner Boy.
He grew up with our grandchildren in Darwin and still knows them when they visit. Just a few months older than our eldest grandson, he would get very jealous when Lachie would have toys on the floors and Springer would often be found squeezing into a Fisher Price farmhouse after Lachie had gone home! Springer was no more enamoured of his flight between Darwin and Brisbane than Kizzle was in the other direction. Springer’s Great Big Adventure nearly broke our hearts as we feared many outcomes, none good. As I write, he’s sleeping on one of his many “beds” around the house. As empty nesters now, he’s extremely spoiled, even for a cat.
It’s very true that our beloved pets steal a part of our hearts but they give us untold love and entertainment.You can read about my early life with cats here, and how a cat helped my family history here.
Do go over to Sepia Saturday and read the stories by other Sepians.
We loved Turkey, in part because of how they look after, and indulge cats – not just their own but others. If you love cats, you might enjoy Kedi, a short movie about Istanbul’s cats.
Daughter #1 with her great-grandmother’s and great-aunt’s cat (left) and her grandmother’s cat (right).