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One Cat Leads to Another, And Another, And Another
I have always liked dogs. Dogs were a part of my childhood and, as an adult, it seemed natural for me to have them in my life. Golden Retrievers are my favorite breed now,, although the dogs of my youth were mostly odd mixes like “Pixie”, our Poodle-Dalmatian combo. I’ll just let you try to imagine that. By the time I was 40, the idea of owning a cat had never crossed my mind, not once, not ever. So, how is it, you may wonder, that I can count more than 30 cats and kittens living in our home, together with our Golden Retrievers and, now, the Chocolate Lab as well ?
I can point to a winter night in February 1991. That night Mau came home with us. Yes, Mau is a cat, most likely Tonkinese. The blame or credit, depending on your point of view, for this addition to our home lies with my husband and brother. It was definitely NOT my opinion. It is an event. Our dinner plans that evening coincided with the arrival of a stray cat that had mysteriously appeared from under my brother and sister-in-law’s bed the night before. They already have 3 cats. They don’t want another. They can’t find the owner. It will end up in a shelter. Oh my God! Clear shelter! But still, I thought I wouldn’t know what to do with a cat and I was just opening my mouth to answer no to the question that my brother had greedily asked (“Want a cat?”) when I heard my husband, Freddy, said – “wait a minute, let’s look at this cat”.
Fast forward 19 years. On the Tonkinese side of the board, we have Mau, MauTu, Orville, Red Dot, Sinbad and Tu Tu. Also, Maude, Winston, Gwen, Merlin, Galahad, Percy, Berry, Tiny Tim, Brighe, Tarquin and 7 other Tonkinese kittens whose names I can’t remember anymore! On the domestic mixed breed (“rescue”) of the board, the list includes, Chivers, Tristan, Isolde, Anton, Oscar, Crystal, Pod and Chirp. And we currently have 2 young Burmese cats, Troilus and Cressida. This list does not include those who have been cared for for short periods of time.
No, we are not spoilers. We bred and showed Tonkinese for several years so beautiful kittens were born, always on our bed, raised in our house, at different times. Some stayed with us, others were sold to good homes that were properly inspected. We manage to maintain a very (mostly) clean house through strategic planning, zoning – and lots of work. We don’t have all these cats at the same time but we do, for short periods, hit from 10 to 15 at a time. Fortunately, we have big houses. Our cat population currently stands at 7.
So how did we go from a lost cat discovered under my brother’s bed to Tonk piles and many rescues? I’m sorry – that night we took Mau home. It was late, so I put Mau, who was only about five months old, on our bed while we set up a litter box, food and water in our room. When we turned around, he was tucked under our covers with his head on my pillow. When we joined him on the bed, he hugged me and began to caress my sore sleeve. It’s good! To say my heart melted would be an understatement. This is no ordinary cat (but, then, what do I know about CATS?).
We are confused about the Mau family. Freddy, who had bred Burmese cats in England before we met, knew it wasn’t “quite Burmese” but suspected it was “something similar”. So, he went to the library (no internet back then) and researched different genres. He zeroed in on the Tonkinese and set about finding a book to talk to about the breed. Ergo, our longtime friend, Joan Bernstein, came into our lives, along with her many kittens and cats. Joan, one of the first Tonkinese breeders, was the driving force in getting the CFA (Cat Fanciers’ Association) accepted of the Tonkinese and started the Tonkinese Breed Association (TBA) in 1979.
As it turns out, it’s no big surprise that a dog lover like me would be attracted by a Tonkinese cat. I recently learned that Tonkinese are famous for being “cats for dog lovers”. An extract from the Tonkinese breed profile describes them accurately:
These cats are convinced that humans were put on earth to love them; these are the cats you know they are. They will take care of your thighs and shoulders, and they will control your activities. They are warm and loving, very intelligent, with an amazing memory and senses similar to radar… They become your “door caller” and will entertain your guests with pleasure. They have been described by enthusiastic owners as part puppy (following their owner around the house), part monkey (their “acrobatics” are legendary!), and can sound like an elephant running through your house when they select. In short: they are fast and make your home and your life! Their loving ways are impossible to ignore, and they quickly endear themselves to family and guests.
When Freddy decided Mau needed a companion of the same ilk, we went to visit Joan and came home with one of her female kittens, whom we named MauTu (ok, so not original). Mau can’t be bred because we don’t have his CFA registration but Freddy, who has enjoyed breeding Burmese cats, wants to have a MauTu breed. We did this with one of Joan’s men.
What followed was a group of adorable Tonkinese kittens romping through our house, climbing on our bed and eating things. Augie, our Golden Retriever, was excited from the moment he first met Mau. When we introduced her to her first litter of kittens, she claimed them and all that followed as her own. Maude, a wonderful “therapy” cat adopted from Joan, has a special bond with Augie. He’ll wrap it around with his nose and paws, and put his whole head in his mouth until it finally comes out cold, looking like a punk rocker with spiked hair.
Although Mau is my main Tonk amour, there are other shining stars. MauTu, with his expert balance, rides perfectly on Freddy’s shoulders for their daily dance, the Windsor Stomp (not an attempt by the faint of heart) until his last day. Maude, who has long provided care for the sick and disabled, made my mother’s day happy every time I took her with me to visit Mom and the other patients in her hospital. Orville, after surviving a near-term inner ear infection, walks around in circles energetically for years, which would have been funny if he hadn’t been so funny.
Winston attached himself to me, or possibly the other way around, when I visited Joan for a few days. Knowing true soul mates when she saw us together, Joan brought Winnie to live with me. It’s our platinum version of Mr. Mistoffelees magic. Having a mesmerizing aura, he innocently chased off “AlfThe Rottweiler”, lured a floppy eared rabbit and a cockatoo to take with him, and surprised other prides like the red sea when he entered their territory. I regret to this day that I never downloaded Winston’s litter box cabinets. When he oh-so-meticulously fingered, scratched and covered, he will loudly but melodically serenade us (think music in books), never fails to cause eruptions of laughter to come.
Our foray into the world of domestic cats (“moggies” for the Brits) began when, in order to take it for care, I trapped a small semi-feral calico cat with an injured eye. Because it would not be easy to handle, the local animal control officer advised me to take it to the nearby shelter, “Common Sense for Animals”, to be treated by their veterinarian. As a result of an injury to his eye that required surgery, the vet said he had lost his depth of vision and could no longer survive outside. As a result, you suddenly find yourself living inside, with us. We were happy later to see that, as soon as they put him in our house, he didn’t want to go outside anymore. When he sees a door open to the outside, he will “run away, run away!” further back into the house. “Been there, done that, better here.”
That first trip to Common Sense for Animals was important. It’s an excellent no-kill shelter in Broadway, NJ but for a softie like me, it’s deadly. The cats are there in their cages when you enter. There is no separate office or waiting room. Multiple procedures. If you have any kind of heart at all, and wherewithal, you can not leave without taking at least one of them home with you. And the injured little farm cat (named Chivers after the marmalade) needs follow-up visits. You can guess what happened. Two rescues came home with me on the first trip with Chivers. Freddy then takes Chivers back to get his stitches and comes home with 2 more, including an amputee named Tripod (Pod). Then the vet, who knows a soft touch when he sees one, called Freddy and asked if he might consider adopting Anton, a neurotic cat, who came back for the third time. Even though it is a no-kill shelter, there are rules, and when a cat comes back for a third time, the vet should euthanize it. It is clear that he will do whatever he can to keep Anton alive. Freddy went downstairs and brought Anton home with him. We make good shoes; Does anyone have any doubt after reading this story that we are there for each other?
Our last seal came to us in the fall of 2003. I heard that a stray kitten was wandering in the woods. I made a point of NOT looking for it. We have already received 6 rescues in a few days (Chivers the half blind cat, a very brother and sister named Tristan & Isolde, Tripod the amputee, Crystal his cell mate, and Anton the neurotic). I’m not completely crazy. I know we have limits. But, as fate would have it, the kitten I had been avoiding appeared on our patio one cold, November afternoon. It is dangerously thin. You’d never make it through the winter. I would trap him, take him to the vet, get him euthanized and find him a home. I used this logic on Freddy who accepted that the last thing we needed was another cat. And he said he didn’t know crazy either. I put food out for him. He flew into my arms; no trap necessary. I took him to the vet. He started screaming like crazy, definitely a chirp, not a meow. Chirp your name. He has lived with us for 7 years now. It’s fun.
So here we are, 19 years later, with 7 cats left. We were down to 5 moggies last year. A number that makes more sense, especially since they are split between 2 – 3 houses at our NJ house and 2 at the Cape Cod Bed & Breakfast. But, still, I missed Tonks when Freddy thought he would like to have Burmese again. Tonks are a natural breed that combines the characteristics of Burmese and Siamese. So, I thought Burmese would be “close enough”.
Enter Troilus and Cressida, our Traditional Burmese pair of siblings. Troy and Sid are very much like our Tonks, but there are subtle differences in personality. Tonks loves to soar the skies; the Burmese, not so much. Both types enjoy having guests but, while Tonks are the main meeting, greeting and entertainers, the Burmese are the decision makers, there to take care of the party. The differences, of course, can be traced to the injection of Siamese genes that make Tonkinese … well, Tonkinese. Recently, when I was struggling for a word to describe what sets them apart, Joan Bernstein produced the word easily. “Edge”, he said. And, of course, it has affected him. Generally, the Burmese don’t have that Tonkinese ear. Or Tonkinese often have Burmese administrative powers.
And then there are the EYES. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Tonkinese “minks” is their unique aqua facial color, a hue that is not specified in the standard for other cat breeds. (Joan and I both have aqua eyes. What does that mean?) On the other hand, the Burmese are distinguished by their large golden eyes. Both cannot be effectively resisted.
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