Before there were chickens, Dragonwood had cats. Specifically, six cats before the first chickens came.
We’ve posted photos and stories about some of our cats, by name that would be Tippy and Zane, George, Sassy and Caprica, Gina, and Tippy again. But this is the Meet the Cats page, where you can get a little bit of all their stories.
One cat moved here with Mandy (F-Cat) and lives inside. She loves to roll on the floor and sleep by the woodstove in the wintertime. She catches mice in the basement crawlways… and sometimes eats parts of them (mostly their tiny feets), but doesn’t make meals of them. She’s fussy about food in general, liking her dry food and basically nothing else. Oh, she’ll come running when she smells a can of tuna fish being opened and will lap at a dish of tuna water, but she’ll never finish it. And that’s probably the only food I’ve seen her eat, other than her dry food in a dish, and some other dry catfood that we spill for her on a closet shelf where she can “hunt” it, and “capture” it. F-Cat loves to eat dried catnip, but shows little interest in fresh catnip we bring in from around the house. She will go on the porch and hiss under the screen door at the outdoor cats, and a couple times tried to fight one of them (Mao) through one of the window screens, but other than that she’s content indoors.
A second cat made herself known to us as soon as Mandy moved in, a scraggly-fluffy winter-time stray ghost who evaded contact but left prints all around the house. Eventually she responded to voice contact (she Mao’ed back to me while hiding from me in a basement window well full of snow) and came by every day for a bite of food left out by Mandy. Eventually she (Mao) moved into the garage, to which she gained entry by jumping through a broken pane in one of the garage doors. Come springtime (2007) Mao started showing a bit of bulge around the middle and in May gave birth to four healthy kittens on the concrete floor… it seemed to be her first time at it as they took her quite by surprise (no apparent search for a nest area, etc).
After letting us help her into a box with some towels for padding, Mao let us play with her kittens for about five days before hiding them away. We came out one day and they were just gone, and Mao was as pleased as punch with herself. “What? What kittens are you talking about? Just feed me, please. Then go about your business.” Despite our detective efforts they remained well hidden. After about three weeks we could sometimes hear them mewing for Mao late at night, when road traffic died down, and we’d run outside from the porch looking for them, but never finding a clue.
Finally one night in June, after five weeks or so, I was working late into the night on my laptop out on the porch and I heard them clear as little bells. I kept turning and straining to hear where the voices were coming from, and finally realized that the mewing was coming from overhead, in the roof over the porch! I ran upstairs and found the access into the roof crawlspace above the eaves but the noises disappeared and I found nothing. Mandy was away with a client that night, but within a day or two Mandy managed to find and catch one of them back in the crawlspace. We kept the access hatch open and kept the kitten out in the upstairs bedroom where the others could hear him mewing and by the end of the afternoon we had all four of the “Roof Kittens” out. We moved them back into the garage and boarded up the little hole in the upstairs of the garage where Mao had taken them into the crawlways connecting the garage and house.
The roof kittens were, in order of birth (I was there for that): Red, Tippy, Rufus, and Ruff. Red and Tippy got their names the day of their birth. The second red one (Rufus, a rascal) took longer to name, and Ruff (whose chin makes an Elizabethian ruff, and whose temperament was anything but ‘rough’) took even longer. They were all toms.
The Roof Kittens grew and eventually reclaimed their namesake by their actions. In December we installed a woodstove and chimney. While up on the roof, I turned around and there a few feet away and above me was Ruff and a few feet below, Rufus. They had climbed up the ladder behind me and were reprising their Roof Kittens roles again (although no longer quite so kittenesque in size).
Ruff was the beauty of the bunch, but Tippy became my shoulder-riding companion everywhere I went, but especially during the winter months. They all played in the snow, and played havoc with our bird feeding efforts.
In the spring (2008), Mao had a new litter of four again with two reds and two tabbies: Kara (Thrace) Fusser Princess Starbuck and Cherry (both red girls, though Kara was more a strawberry blonde) and Dradis, plus one boy, Raider (George Raider Hamilton Clooney was his full name). We were, of course, full into Battlestar Galactica at the time, which partly sourced their names.
From left to right, here are Fusser, Raider, Dradis and Cherry. Dradis has a reddish blaze on her forehead.
Fusser (Kara) was the first of this crew named, for her persistent fussing mewings whenever Mother Mao stepped away from the litter or if we picked her up. She was nearly the smallest of the lot, but quickly proved to be the boldest and bravest of the bunch, whether in climbing to the top of their box or exploring the garage to eventually following us across the street to the East Flock. She loved riding on your shoulder as you walked across the way… only Tippy loved that more.
Kara was funniest when lying around with the chicks. Our chicks arrived not long after the kittens did, and they grew up almost together. At first separated by a small fence, they soon ranged together in the yard and tolerated each other well… although that oversimplifies the relationship. First of all, the chickens are very social and communicative. They have different vocalizations for different activities. If I’m feeding them grain in the yard, they do a little low cluck cluck that tells the others “Oh nice. This is good stuff,” that brings the others running if they hadn’t noticed us. But there’s a subtle “Cluck!” change when one of the cats moves into range. It’s not a warning, because chicken behavior barely changes at all, just an alert that these strange furry aliens are again within the security perimeter.
So up comes Kara Fusser Thrace Princess Starbuck into their midst to see what the clucking is all about. If it was a cob of corn, why she’d step right in and lay down and lick it and chew and get at all that sweet goodness. The chickens, of course, didn’t give up so easily and they’d be pecking at the free ends of the cob right next to her paws.
Sometimes Kara would just lay down in the middle of the flock, just to be there with her friends. Now the Delawares in particular are drawn to pretty little red objects. Not just drawn toward them, but drawn to peck at them. Pretty little Fusser kitty has a red ringed tail that twitches back and forth and little red pads on each of her paws, and shiny little red eyes — all attractive targets. Once we watched in horror as a Delaware took aim and pecked right at a bright little eyeball, but there was no lasting damage. More often the kittens (Kara Fusser and all the rest) would treat the chickens as playmates and gently reach a paw out toward them in return. Chickens aren’t like kitten playmates who spar and wrestle and stalk, but more like slow kittens who didn’t really understand the rules well. The cats just lay there and watch the chickens peck or gently wave a paw at them and eventually get up and walk away to find real friends.
I think on the chicken side it’s a bit more like “I don’t trust you, but I only don’t trust you like I don’t trust those humans; they’re just not like us so I can’t trust them, but they’re also not predators, so I can live with just one eye on them.” Pragmatic, chickens are. Very communicative, but with a fairly limited vocabulary.
That fall (2008) was a difficult one for the cats. Ruff left for greener pastures in the summer, and Rufus followed soon after. Red and Tippy became very close after Mao was killed by a car, and a month later Red passed the same way. Later that fall we lost Cherry, Kara and Dradis too. It’s not easy living adjacent to a fast two lane highway. George remained with us as the sole survivor of that litter, and he was a chicken cat, craving attention anywhere he could get it, and mostly that seemed to be in with the chickens.
Late in the fall, Zane Gray appeared from nowhere. Zane was a gray male with a white pom-pom belly that hung low and flopped back and forth as he trotted along with us. His smile was broad (although he had only 4 teeth) and he seemed well pleased with us. He got along with Tomcat Tippy well enough (being neutered helped, I suppose), and became the consummate garden cat, sitting near and keeping Mandy company wherever she settled in to work. It wasn’t for five months (the following spring) that Mandy’s mother finally confessed to playing a role in the mystery of where Zane Gray, Cat of Mystery, came from. She had responded to a classified ad for an aging cat needing a good home.
It appears that Zane’s origins were even more mysterious. He was a stray hanging around a factory in Toledo and begging for lunch scraps when he was first adopted. At that point his name was “Bramble” and somehow he showed up with a terrible abscess in his mouth. The factory workers chipped in to take their little buddy to the vet, where his tooth count was apparently reduced to the four we knew. He moved to our area from Toledo with a family, but then was picked on by other persnickety cats and needed new friends. So he came to us… and after this ’stray’ managed to fit the new family well, Mandy’s mother finally spilled the beans about his origins. Zane Bramble Gray, Interstate Cat of Mystery.
That spring (2009), another surprise came, in the form of a scrawny, tiny, nearly feral turtle-tabby kitty. She would eat dry cat food from a dish we left out at the West Coop, but would run and hide if we got within 40 feet. Eventually that became 30 feet, and 10, and it was at this point (a couple weeks later) that Mandy finally said “Look, it’s a polydactyl!” Sure enough, as the weeks rolled on and she became more socialized to our presence, it was clear that this was a Hemingway cat, with six toes in front and five in the back (normally cats have five in the front and four in the back, for a total of 18 toes with paw pads). She had an awful yeowly meow, and it took a full four weeks before I could touch her, and two months before I could reliably get her to allow me to scratch and pet her on the head (and only the head).
Her name became Caprica 6 (we were watching Battlestar Galactica at the time, if that means anything to you), which has been shortened to Caprica most all the time. Not only was Caprica tiny and showing her ribs when she came to us, but it quickly became apparent that she was pregnant as well, and gave birth in the straw around the West Coop to six tiny kittens, three of which were polydactyls as well. It was still in the colder part of spring, and Caprica was neither healthy enough to give them a good start, nor at ease with motherhood enough to keep them warm properly, and a week or so later they all six succumbed to hypothermia, despite our last ditch efforts to keep them alive. Caprica was probably at this point still not much more than a yearling, and had not been at all ready for this task.
Caprica became pregnant again, however, and later that summer disappeared for a couple days and then returned to us, thin and hungry and kittenless. We knew better, and fed her well, and as soon as rain started falling a couple days later, she appeared in the garage with two tiny polydactyl kittens, as cute and healthy as you’d like. Sassy and Georgina became their names, Sassy for the Sasquatch-like paws on her front end, and Georgina for the tomcat she most resembled.
This picture is Gina, as a youngster in the winter of 2009. The picture below is Sassy, posing on the steps in the garage, at a quite young age. Gina is showing off her front paws, which have five claws (the right number) but straight across the front, instead of the more typical cat’s four in front and one (like a thumb) down the foot a ways. Gina is polydactyl in the back, with six toes instead of four. Sassy has seven (count ‘em!) toes on her front paws, and five in the back. She’s so damn cute.
So we ended 2009 with six cats: F-Cat indoors, Caprica and her two kittens in the garage, Zane managing relationships and Tippy roaming the world. George had left us in the fall, after tiring of fighting with Tippy and feeling mostly banished to the chicken yard. Tippy stayed with us for a couple days at a time, and would ride my shoulder during chores (he was very adept at climbing my front without clawing me), and then off he would go for several days at a time. Zane got along with everyone pretty well, and just hung out happily. He was often the “garden cat” who would keep Mandy company for hours while she weeded or planted.
In the late spring of 2010 we had a cat population explosion. Caprica, Sassy and Gina all became pregnant within weeks of each other, and then all gave birth in our garage. Caprica was first, with six kittens and only one of them a polydactyl. These were Rugen (the six-fingered tabby), Cowboy, Red Stripe, Auntie, Boy George and Half-Nose. Half-Nose really needs a prettier name, for she’s quite a darling and was only named for her distinguishing characteristic, a nose colored half-tabby and half-white. Cowboy and Red Stripe went to live with relatives, where they receive regular baths and are subjected to other cat indignities by their 3-year old human mistress. Boy George is just as pretty as a boy cat can possibly be, with white feet and white face on his tabby remainder, and a playfully dainty deportment.
Sassy gave birth two weeks later, to five kittens (again, only one poly) in the drawer of an wooden dresser upstairs in the garage. They seemed in fair health but a bit chilled when we found them, and Sassy perhaps not so well prepped on the duties of motherhood. The poly kitten died a few days later unnamed, but the other four (Unnamed, Possum, Chocolate Face, and Gray Puff) grew nicely. Gina followed with her litter the very next day, with a litter of five kittens, and four of them polydactyls! Polly, Tippy Jr, Minnie, and Coal were all polys, and Durante has only the requisite digits for a feline. Sassy’s unnamed girl kitten found a new home with a family who visited our stand at the Westside Farmer’s Market in late July (she goes by Frances now, we hear).
Coal (one of Gina’s polys) was a black runt, and proved to have a great deal of trouble nursing, and over the course of the next weeks rollercoastered between ferocious health and abject misery. We tried every variety of diet regime, each of which seemed to work for a few days, and then down she’d spiral again. When mother cats brought fresh meat into the garage, she always fought for his share, often comically fending off the others. After a while we started counting her roller coaster recoveries from her spectacular near death experiences as #x of her nine lives. In the end, after several weeks without growing more than a couple ounces, Coal made one last recovery after her ninth death then fell asleep and ne’er woke again. Throughout this time, Possum was Coal’s special friend, wrapping up around her at night. Possum tends to be a nurse cat, recognizing when someone needs special care (usually but not always directed toward kittens).
Within a few days after the arrival of Sassy and Gina’s kittens, Caprica found the garage too crowded and quietly removed her kittens, two hundred yards away, across a dirt road, and under an overhang near our East Flock coop. Unfortunately, a cold rain came and nearly did them all in. We helped her get them moved into better digs, and eventually helped her move them back to the garage. And there they live today (late summer 2010), although Caprica left them at weaning time and moved back to the barn at the East Flock where we first found her.
That leaves us currently with eleven half-grown kittens, three mother cats, and F-Cat. Zane died in a highway incident in the early spring and Tippy disappeared a few weeks after the kittens arrived and hasn’t been seen since. We’re pretty certain Tippy’s genes live on in several of the cats around here, which means Mao’s genes do too, and we’re happy about that. Four of the kittens (two boys, two girls) and all three mothers are polydactyl, to varying degrees.
Actually, one more Tippy story before I stop. You see, we didn’t expect to have Tippy around this long because we thought his nine lives expired back in the late winter months. It’s hard to count a cat’s lives unless they live closely with you, and Tippy tended to roam. In late February or so, I called Mandy on my way home from work and she cut the conversation short and said only “Just come home quickly.” I didn’t know it, but she had Tippy’s dead and frozen body in a shopping bag in the back of the car at that moment.
It seems that while running an errand into town at dusk, she drove past Tippy’s outstretched body along the side of the road. He’s always been fairly unmistakable, a uniformly gray body except for white feet and a white chest, and a white tip of his tail, and a very clearly demarcated nose with a vertical divide, half-gray and half-white. On her way back home she stopped to make sure it was Tippy, then bagged him and took him home, which was when I called her, during transport. When I got home, she told me the story thus far and took me out to examine his poor body before burial (which was to take place the next day). I was used to cat-death-by-highway-proximity at this point. He was laid out for me on a barrel under the light outside the garage door, which we leaved propped for the cats to go in and out. Here was this long gray cat with white feet and chest and a half-gray, half-white nose, cleanly frozen (”Yup, poor Tippy”) when all of a sudden comes a familiar meow and out from under the garage door comes Tippy to see what was up! We were playing undertaker to an impostor! Actually, for all we know, this kitty could well have been wandering near Dragonwood when Mao first became pregnant, and thus be the father of Tippy and likely progenitor of several cats here. Mandy knew of this ruse before taking me outside, but led me into it with only half the story told. We buried Tippy (The Elder) the next day, with due reverence, while the real Tippy watched.
== Update Late Autumn 2010 ==
Oh my. We have more kittens. This morning they were up on the fence where we took the portrait of the Roof Kittens (see above) so long ago. Let’s catch up. And let us know if you have need of a beautiful kitten or two. Anytime. Really.
So, in late summer we had some bad scenes. Caprica and Sassy each showed up within a couple weeks of each other with injuries, pretty bad ones. Caprica had bad facial wounds and a limp, and Sassy was limping badly. Both went to the local vet and Sassy has had a full recovery, while Caprica lost one eye. It wasn’t until quite a few weeks later that we noticed another feature… both of them were pregnant. In fact, we had three more kitten litters this fall. Sassy had six tiny premature kittens, none of whom made it very long despite heroic efforts. Caprica has three pretty kittens, who remain aloof 8 weeks later (she hid them from us very effectively for about 3-4 weeks). Gina also had five kittens, who are called the “Woodpile Kittens” because she moved them out of the garage and into the overhang between two woodpiles out near the West Flock of chickens. No names have stuck yet, except maybe “Turtle” for one of Caprica’s and “Charlotte” (or Char for short) who is an incredibly fluffy round black little sausage at the moment, a polydactyl that could very much be the reincarnation of our missing Coal from earlier this summer.
Chocolate Face has a new home as a house cat. Half-Nose finally got a new name: Demi, which is short for either D’meow or Demi-Nose, but in either case it fits her quiet gentle nature much better. And Caprica remains our top hunter, despite operating with only one eye. In the past four weeks she’s caught a rabbit and at least four red squirrels (we watched her chase one down at top speed in an open field, with the squirrel dodging and twisting). Amazing comeback, this.
That’s the Dragonwood cat story to this point in time. It’s been fun to write it down, and so fun to look at old photos that we just might make some more posts about the cats. Just you wait.