~~~~~~~~~ "We are here for only a moment, wanderers and sojourners in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace." I Chron. 29:15 NLT

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Pets We Keep or That Keep Us

Our calico, Bunny, in a pensive mood.

I love all kinds of animals but will tolerate only three kinds to live in our home: cats, fish, and birds.  I love cats because I grew up on a farm with many cats and kittens.  As a child, I played with them everyday.  However, our mother didn't allow animals inside our home--except in winter when dad had to warm up a newborn calf. 

It was fun to play with kittens in the sweet-smelling hay in the barn loft, or among the hay bales.  The kittens would play hide and seek through tunnels between the stacks of hay bales.  In Spring or Summer we would sit on the swing or in the soft green grass holding one cat or several soft cuddly kittens, watching cloud pictures in the sky, or dropping cracker crumbs near an anthill.  Watching the ants scramble to move pieces of cracker five times their size into their underground home gave me more pleasure than playing a game on the cell phone or computer.  That was the real deal.

We knew it was time to let the cows into the barn for milking, when the cats all gathered in or around the barn door where several old bowls or small discarded cooking pans would soon be filled with warm, frothy milk.  My brothers practiced hitting cat's mouths with a stream of milk straight from the cow's udder.  Then the cats would sit for awhile and, using their front paws, groom the last drops of milk from their face and whiskers.  That was, and still is, the ultimate picture of contentment.
Bunny is about to eat this flower--not if I see it!  I believe it's the nature of a calico to stay ornery all of their lives.  At least that's true of many of the ones I've known.  Bunny is a teen in cat years.  Maybe that explains her erratic behavior, like trying to take a bite of this beautiful red geranium bloom.  Because the screened-in back porch is the closest our cats will ever get to experiencing the outdoors, we have a pet-door which Bunny uses everyday.  KoKo doesn't know, or isn't humble enough, to push her way out, but she'll wait for me to prop it open when all she needs to do is hop out or in.

Another of Bunny's tricks is to attack my feet by trying to wrap her paws around my ankles, or nipping at my heals.  She's sneaky about it and surprises me when I least expect it.  When my feet are particularly painful I'd better wear my shoes or slippers around Bunny!   
KoKo is about 19 years old and retired, although on occasion she will keep newspapers from flying away.  When our daughter adopted her as a half-grown kitten she hid under the bed for several days.  She's never tolerated other cats very well, rejecting any attempts other cats have made to play with her, fixing a haughty stare on them.  Then when they get frustrated and start bullying her she becomes the hurt victim.  Her eyes look gold in this picture, but are actually a beautiful deep blue.  I've not been able to capture their real color on camera.

Because of her martyr complex Koko's health began to fail when another kitten (Bunny) came to join our home where we also had a mature neutered male tabby.  The kitten and tabby got along famously and joined forces to taunt KoKo for being too uppity to play with them.  By the time our daughter moved to an apartment I encouraged her to take KoKo with her.  Once KoKo was by herself and queen of the house she gained weight and thrived, exhibiting a gentle and loving personality.  When I took her back the tabby had died and she and Bunny have worked out an uneasy truce between them.  Ongoing tension is created when they vie for their mistress's  (that would be me) attention.

KoKo (named after one of the cat's in Lillian Brown's books) always had the typical Siamese or Himalayan meow, but last winter she began yowling--loudly--anytime of the day or night.  We took her to the vet because we thought she might be in pain--which was how she sounded.  But the vet couldn't pick up on anything immediate and wanted $150 or more to do some tests.  She seemed to settle down, or maybe I was unaware that she was losing her voice.  Now, she can only whisper except when she purrs.  I'm hoping I'll know when it's time to put her to sleep.  It's unusual, I understand, for a Himalayan to live beyond 15 years. 
My sister's cat, Candi, lives near K.C.  She's sassy and it takes her awhile to warm up to me 'cause she doesn't see me often enough.  When my other sister, our sister-in-law, and I went to visit, I slept in this bed which was her usual spot.  I was hoping she would sleep with me overnight, but no, she slept on the other bed with my sis.  I felt miffed.  She was rather aloof towards me that whole visit.  That's the way of a cat.  I saw a behavior in her that I've never seen before.  Before lapping a drink she dips her paw into the water and licks it off her paw several times.  I wonder what my sister gave her to drink one time to earn that kind of distrust from Candi?   
Farm dog, Earl, wraps his leg around those he loves or nails them down with his paw.  He's very protective of his family, threatening strangers (to him) with a bared-teeth growl and a stance that says, "Don't cross that line."  He wandered onto the road when he was a youngster and got sideswiped by a car which has left him with a back-leg disability.  Earl used to follow the farmer's implements with his unique limping run for many miles.  He wouldn't ride in the truckbed when it was offered to him.  He's given going to the fields to hunt game, and looks longingly and sadly after the tractor as it disappears from sight.  The family may have to think about getting a puppy soon. 
Above is one of the 15, or plus, cats our daughter has on the farm.  They are all named, just as mine were, but I have to ask our 5-year old granddaughter to remind me who they are.  Farm cats live a naturally short life except for a few hardy ones that survive the hot summers, cold winters and stalking habits of larger wild animals such as coyotes and hawks.  Most of the kittens that survive are the ones the mothers keep hidden until they're too old to be tamed.  Farm life certainly isn't kind to pets, a lesson I learned as a child, and which our grandchildren are learning; the lessons of life and death are real in the school of farm-life. 

My daughter's favorite cat??  No, this is not a favored cat.  Shadow was a kitten who was found as a stray in another small town.  She may also have been a pampered housecat.  How was this spoiled kitten supposed to associate with a gang of hardened farm cats?  First, she ignored them and kept herself busy trying to squirm her way into the house through the back door everytime it opened.  But her suppressed anger at the trials life has handed her, doesn't surface until she gets pregnant.  Then she initiates an attack by swatting and hissing at whatever unaware cat ventures too close to her and her space.  She has also attacked some of us, biting me on the ankle and going after our daughter a couple of times.  Thankfully, she's left the children alone.

I believe Shadow may have been abandoned at too young of an age by her mother, because she was a lousy mother with her first couple of litters, leaving them to fend for themselves before they were ready.  Her mothering has improved but her kittens seem to have short lives.  Perhaps her neglect keeps them from developing a survival instinct. 

I took pity several years ago on one of Shadow's abandoned kittens, which was a tiny black, orange, and white calico that ran around the farmyard with the bravado of a little lioness.  Something in her spirit cried out to be rescued and given a chance to grow up.  I told my sis (who had just lost her husband) that if she didn't take this kitten home with her it would never survive.  The rest is history.  Tiera, that scrawny little kitten, is a beautiful calico with a playful and charming personality.  She has satisfied my expectations about her potential to fufill a purpose with her indominitable spirit.  She is a perfect fit as a companion to my widowed sister.

I grew up with pet birds.  Our mother usually had a canary in a cage that hung in the south living room window above her indoor garden of house plants.  The canary's lilting songs chased away any gloom that might try to reside in the house.  But canaries are delicate and short-lived. 

When our mother discovered from a sister that parakeets are hardier and playful, she had to have one.  We had several parakeets that we tamed. They would ride around the house on our shoulders, or heads (less tolerated), as well as sit on the table by the warm toaster to tuck their little head under their wing and take a nap.  Sometimes we would let them nibble on some food between our lips, including gum, of all things.  We lost a couple of parakeets when someone forgot they had it on their shoulder and walked out the door.  One of them was rescued by our brother who spotted it high up in an old elm tree.  He, along with our sister who followed with the cage, climbed up and coaxed it onto his finger and into the cage.  What we don't do for our beloved pets.

Those two little characters in the above picture are B.C., on the left, and Buddy.  They are kept by our son's girlfriend.  I kept B.C., Precious, and Sweetie for three years because Tammy couldn't have them where she lived.  I had to keep their cage safe from predators in the house, our cats.  That safe place was on top of the refrigerator.  Precious died of a broken heart when B.C. rejected his love for that of Sweetie.   Sweetie eventually died and was replaced by Buddy.   When we go visit our son and Tammy, B.C. remembers me and reaches for my finger between the cage bars to give me a love bite.  Nobody knows for sure how old B.C. is, but we're guessing around eight or nine years.  That's a pretty ripe old age for a domesticated parakeet!

Somedays we get tired of cleaning up after the cats, removing their fur from furniture and clothes, and taking care of the litter boxes.  Yet, we're grateful for the companionship and the comic relief that our cats provide when life gets tense.  God knows we need them.  Thank God for pets whatever and however, they are.  I pray that all of us will respect the pets and animals God has entrusted into our care. 

Genesis 1:31  "Then God saw everything that He had made and indeed it was very good."

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