Saturday, 20 October 2012

Toby I, Jessie, Zaph and Toby II - Four Cats

I have always loved animals and, during much of my life, I have lived with a cat bossing me around. Yesterday I was reminiscing and remembered a cat that lived with my grandparents while I was very young. I have no idea where Toby came from (nor when) but he became the center of a family legend. I do remember that he was a tabby cat. He seemed to have spent most of his time out in the barn where he was the terror of the mice who kept invading the grain sacks.

The feed was kept in a room that was separate from the hayloft and from the stalls where the cows - and a horse - were tied up when they were neither browsing nor working. The grain came in what we used to call "gunny sacks" (made from a rough material which is called Hessian - or so I believe).  From time to time Toby would be brought into that room, the full sacks would be roughly moved and the empty sacks shaken. Mice would scurry for safety - or so they thought - but Toby was quicker than they were. Many cats will kill a mouse and then eat it but not Toby - he would not stop to eat until all of the mice were dead.

 It was not only for his mousing abilities that Toby was remembered but for other traits as well. The abandoned homestead which Granddad acquired at the end of World War I was on a plateau which was backed by a lofty hill called Iron Mountain. My memories of the property are becoming dimmer as the years pass but I do remember it being surrounded by forest with a few acres near the house cleared for gardens and fields.

Access to neighbors was by three methods. To the west of the property was a wooded swamp. A 'pole road' had been laid across it (young trees had been chopped down, the trunks trimmed of branches and then laid side-by-side across the mire). It was strong enough for vehicles to be driven across. To the south a well used trail led through the forest, around a cranberry bog and, at one point, it forked with one part continuing on south to the property of neighbors who lived in that direction while the other  fork went east to the brow of the hill above the Ruskin Dam. A few feet from where the path descended the fairly steep escarpment was a four room cabin. After the arrival of my sister, Alda, Mom and Dad moved us there.

Now - back to the exploits of Toby. One afternoon Dad had walked out over the pole road to visit some neighbors and he left to return home near dusk. He had not gone very far into the bush before he heard a "Prrow" and Toby landed upon his shoulders. Continuing on Dad was crossing the swamp on the poles when, suddenly, a wild dog materialized in front of him. The dog was snarling and Dad had no weapon with him. Not to worry - Toby leaped off of his shoulders and landed on the dog's head with a snarl. The dog took off with Toby perched on top and Dad thought that that would be the end of the cat. As Dad was about to come out of the woods at the farm gate he heard that "Prrow" again and Toby returned to his shoulders unscathed!

 After we had moved to the cabin, Grandma came over one evening for a visit and left to walk home after dark (she had a lantern with her). At one point a huge cedar tree had fallen across the path and Granddad and Dad had sawed a section out of it so the trail could continue (after a right and then a left jog). As Grandma walked past the remnants of the tree trunk there was a "Prrow!" and Toby landed upon her shoulders scaring the daylights out of Grandma. - however, she now had some modicum of security for the rest of her walk home.

The photo now included is of my sister, Alda, and myself standing in front of that huge tree trunk. This was where Toby I startled Grandma.

A short time later a neighbor put out some rat poison and Toby found it. Dad told me that he and Granddad both cried over the loss of that exceptional cat.

My boss - Jessie! 

I moved to Toronto in May of 1989. Shortly after that I met a man who had two cats which were sisters from the same litter. Often of an evening I would go over to visit Kent. As was his practice, I removed my boots and left them on the mat which was placed just inside the hallway door. The first time that I visited him he had an elderly cat but she died shortly after that. In looking for a replacement, Kent fell in love with two sisters from the same litter. Emily - a ginger cat - was very shy while Jessie - a dark tortoiseshell - was much more curious. First of all, Jessie would go to the mat and sniff my boots and then she would come to the chair in which I was sitting, climb up on the back and sniff my neck.

 As the kittens matured instinct took over - rarely is it that two animals from the same litter will tolerate a sibling once they have attained adulthood. Therefore, Jessie made Emily's life miserable. As Kent preferred Emily to Jessie, he asked me if I would consider taking Jessie as my pet. I lived in a two bedroom apartment at that time with a roommate (it was his apartment) so I checked with Tony and he had no objection to us having a cat around the unit.

After a number of months had passed by, Tony left with friends for a motorcycle trip to Vancouver. He fell in love with that city and its setting by the sea (Tony adored sailing and, due to the mild winters, more sailing is available in Vancouver than in Toronto). He returned to Toronto to pack up his things and to move West permanently. 

I continued to live in the apartment with a roommate who worked for American Airlines. Eventually Tom was transferred away from Toronto so I had to find a new tenant and on short notice. Thereby I made a mistake by accepting a fellow without checking his background. I soon discovered that he was a junkie so he never had his share of the rent to pass to me. Soon I received an eviction notice and accepted the offer from a friend that I move into his house with him. What to do with Jessie? Kent - who was living in another complex by that time - offered to take Jessie back until I could become settled again. That took more than a year to accomplish before I was able to move into this unit. I rescued Jessie (should I say 'rescued Emily'?) from the cat fights. She remained with me until Maundy Thursday in 2011 when I had to take her to the vet to be put to sleep. By that time she was nearly 22 years old! 

In the interim I met my partner, Ric, and began making frequent trips out to California to visit him. While I was away various neighbors looked after Jessie and, when I returned home, she was always delighted to see me.

Growing up cats were not allowed to sleep in the bed with human occupants but Jessie soon won that argument. While I do not like a living creature sleeping right next to my body,   I was able to train Jessie (actually - she trained me!) to sleep under the blanket with me but not against my skin. When Ric came for visits she took full advantage and slept right against his body (the spoiled brat!).

It was a sad day at the Vet's office when I stroked her fur while the veterinarian injected her with the sedative. It has been 18 months since she left me but I am convinced that her ghost is still around this apartment - I have seen  her passing by (out of the corner of my eye) time and time again.

                                 She was playing with something when this photo was taken.

Ric grew up in a household where the only pets were dogs  and - I believe - that Jessie was the first cat with which he had an association. A few years ago he moved into a main floor apartment in a four unit building located on the side of a steep hill in Oakland, California. It is a four room unit with a proper dining room between the living room and the kitchen. The windows in the unit crank outwards and, in one of the dining area windows, the crank became jammed in the open position. Outside the window is thick vegetation on a steep hillside. Access to the open window by humans is well nigh impossible - but not for cats.

Many of Ric's neighbors (in his building and in neighboring ones) own cats which are let out of their units quite often. Some of these cats have taken advantage of the open window and have come calling. One of these cats was a delightful tom which Ric named Zaphiel (Zaph). 

Zaph would find many unusual spots to use as a snooze place - including the shelf underneath the computer!

When at Ric's I always sleep on the side of the bed closest to the hall doorway. While I have little trouble in waking up early, Ric is the exact opposite. It didn't take Zaph long to realize this so, when he wanted some breakfast at daybreak, he didn't bother trying to rouse Ric but would concentrate on me. Usually we slept with the bedroom door ajar  so Zaph could waltz right in. One morning he came to the door - which was wide open that morning - and leaped from the hall corridor on top of me (with claws extended) and then up onto the night stand from where he watched while I heaved back the covers. "OUCH"!!!

One of Ric;s neighbors owned a jet black cat named Onyx. Naturally, he knew of the broken window latch so would come in that way. As his owner 'put him out' each night, he would come calling at daybreak knowing that Zaph would rouse me to look to filling the food dish. After putting soft cat food into his dish I would remain standing in the kitchen intimidating Onyx from shouldering Zaph out of the way (Onyx was an adult and, thus,  the bigger of the two) so I would remain in the kitchen while Zaph ate. One day he did not clean the dish but walked back to the bedroom so Onyx came on in and, actually let me stroke him while he cleaned up Zaph's unfinished meal . When I related this incident to Ric he expressed some jealousy as he really admired the handsome black sleekness of the other cat. 

This same neighbor owned a white cat too and we often found her snoozing on the living room futon. While I do not have a photo of Onyx, I have one of the white cat and Zaph sleeping together. 

Eventually Zaph's real owner showed up and Ric had to surrender the cat. This was a shame as Ric really liked Zaph whereas the other fellow, while he wanted to 'own' the cat, seemed to be indifferent to the idea of bonding with it. 

In closing, one more photo of Zaph playing with Ric on the bed. 

                                                      Come on, Human, get out of bed!

A few months ago there was an entry on Facebook advertising that a young woman had five kittens to give away so I messaged back saying that I would take one. As it so happened, Lisa brought the first kitten to me. She had named him Paddlers but I changed his name (yes - he is a neutered Tom) to Toby II and my daily routine has become filled with mirth. 

I renamed him in memory of the legendary cat that belonged to Granddad.

What has he been up to? Much of the time, when he is awake, he is racing around the apartment looking for mischief to get into and often I am laughing. For instance, this past Saturday morning I was sitting at the computer when he raced past me and into the bathroom and up onto the toilet. As it so happened, the lid had been left in the up position. Upon landing he tried to gain traction but slid right into the bowl head first. I laughed - but went in there to see if he was OK - just a tad wet around his head! I must remember to leave the lid in the down position.

My routine in the morning is to shower, dress and then remove the clumps from the litter box. I place these in a bag with other non-recyclable trash and take it down the hall to the chute. Toby quickly caught on so he is at the door waiting and, as soon as I release the latch and open it, he is out of here like a streak of greased lightning. I live towards the south end of the corridor and the garbage chute is near the other end. He races down to near the door and waits for me to catch up. One morning neighbors were waiting for an elevator which arrived just as Toby reached that spot.  He ran in - and then back out much to my relief!

Across the hall from me is a family which includes a two-year-old boy who adores cats/kittens. Upon spotting the lad Toby lies on the carpet and allows the tyke to pat his head. Toby still has his claws but he does not unsheathe them  - he just purrs.

Now I have something to look forward to when I return to my home.

My partner - Ric - was here for a few days and is equally enamored with Toby so he went shopping and Toby now has a scratching post that was erected to resemble a hollow log. Ric spread catnip all over it and then placed it on top of a dresser that sits in a bay window. From up there Toby can supervise the constant foot traffic across the plaza down below.

Toby up on top of his scratching post seemingly in contemplation about what mischief he should get into next.

Yes - always I have loved animals and, especially, cats.



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