Cats - Past and Present

We have almost always had cats around, much preferring them to dogs because of their greater independence: fur is also so much nicer to stroke than hair! I say "almost" because cat ownership wasn't really practical when we lived in a small flat in Needham Market, but a furry bundle came into our lives as soon as we moved to an agricultural labourer's cottage in Syleham while our present house was being renovated. Called Sabre - because of his fearsome claws! - he was an orange & white tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, living close to a dairy farm has its disadvantages - one of which is that the cows tended to invade our garden. We think it was during one of these incursions that Sabre startled a cow who kicked out, catching him square under the jaw and killing him instantly. A short life but an adventurous one.

Next in line was Sherpa, born in April 1979, a standard "many shades of brown" tortoiseshell male named for his habit of persistently carrying things around for no apparent reason. He actually came from Laxfield but spent his first couple of years with us at Gable Cottage, where he was soon joined by Splodge - "inherited" from one of Sandra's patients when she died. The name was indicative of his colouring - blobs of mainly tortoiseshell and black on a white background. His exact age was unknown but he was thought to have been about 14 when, in 1983, he was found dead at the base of the high garden wall at Bridge House (where we eventually moved to in 1981), having presumably succumbed to a heart-attack or other such seizure when sunning himself on top - a favourite place. Simba, an orange & white tortoiseshell not unlike Sabre, thus joined Sherpa from Weybread. He was a total softy, with a most friendly disposition and a deafening purr who got on with Sherpa very well.

Click here for pictures of "Cats Past" (and Jasper - see below!).

A period of relative calm on the cat front then descended until Sherpa died in 1994 and we gained Sable. We had heard of a recently-delivered litter just on the outskirts of nearby Stradbroke so went to have a look. On entering, a black kitten strode across the room towards us and that was that really - sable by colouring and thereafter Sable by name also. Our "rolling pair" of cats then rose to three for a while when we fostered Jasper while his owners were in the USA on a job contract. Unfortunately Simba, then the oldest cat, died during this period (Easter 1998) so we were back to two again: both black - most confusing! However, when Sandra went round to a local farm to get some eggs she came away with more than she bargained for - a beautiful grey kitten with an exquisite face but a matted coat and a badly injured tail due to it having been stepped on by a pig at the farm. We called her Shiraz, after the city in Iran (where we had just been on holiday): well, she looked exotic so there might have been some part of Persian breeding in her! The injury healed up very well with constant care but left her with a slightly shortened tail. Despite this, she grew up fast and soon established herself in the catty hierarchy while rushing about everywhere to secure her favourite sleeping spots. Being much lighter in build than Sable, our black male, didn't prevent her holding her own in scuffles: maybe it was just him being gallant, but we don't think so! Jasper returned to his owners after three years (we were going to have him for just the one year, you understand!), so we were then back to two cats again.

Unfortunately, early in 2008 we noticed that Shiraz wasn't quite her usual ebullient self and the pupils of her eyes were fully dilated all the time. She had been getting increasingly less adept at snaffling cat treats but now seemed unaware of much of what was going on around her. A few tests soon proved what we feared: she was totally blind in both eyes. Detailed examination showed that both retinas had detached, with bleeding into the back of the eyes. The vet said this was almost certainly down to high blood pressure caused by an enlarged heart. There wasn't much that could be done to restore her sight but tablets (3 times a day!) were prescribed in hopes of at least keeping the blood pressure under control. She coped with her disability admirably, and bravely (but somewhat gingerly!) climbed around the kitchen units and tackled the stairs almost as before. She continued to explore the meadow behind our house, which by this time we had purchased, but moved everywhere at a much reduced pace, bumping into things occasionally. Finding the cat-flap could be tricky, but an inquisitive paw generally located it eventually! However, just as things seemed to be going well she suddenly took a turn for the worse, miaowing pitifully and wandering about aimlessly. It was late at night so we had no option but to settle her down to await the morning: this was one crisis too many though and she died overnight, presumably from a heart attack or something similar. We buried her in the meadow.

Click here for pictures of Shiraz.

After a suitable period of reflection we let it be known that we were looking for another companion for Sable and eventually came across a litter of three who had been born quite locally. One was just what were hoping for - white and fluffy with light-fawn markings. We had not had a white cat before but decided it might be easier to see and thus not trip over! We named him Saadi, after the 13th Century Persian philosopher-poet born in Shiraz and best known for his long, flowing, white robes - see the connections? Remarkably, we later found that the philosopher wrote his most famous work - 'The Gulistan' (or Rose-Garden) - in 1258 while our Saadi was born on 12th May 2008 - 12/5/8!! When he arrived here at 7 weeks old he immediately claimed his new domain with great confidence and was soon purring, dashing around and sleeping contentedly in about equal measure. Sable had seen it all before of course and soon got used to the little intruder so all was well - they were great friends and would often together "help" Sandra with the gardening.

I say "were" because, most unhappily, our elder statesman, Sable, died on 20th July 2012 at the age of 18 years and 2 months after succumbing to a whole host of health problems which suddenly overwhelmed him over a period of a couple of days. He had remained very active in his later years, although not quite as nimble as he used to be and somewhat deaf - until a tin was opened or the cat-treat packet rustled, that is! He was also addicted to "aerosol cream" - I'm sure he would have been quite happy to have it squirted down his throat! Probably not very healthy, but when you are over 120 (in "equivalent years") I think a little indulgence was justified. He is now buried in our meadow, under the tree where he used to doze near to us when we were having our afternoon tea by the pond.

Click here for pictures of Sable.

We had to let things sink in for a while after Sable died, but eventually we put the word out that we were on the lookout for a young apprentice for Saadi. Eventually, a contact via a local surgery led us to a litter of six light-tabby kittens in a household about to emigrate to Spain. We went round to see them and found them being bottle-fed, as it had all got a bit too much for their mother at about the 3-week mark. All six were positively thriving though, and each was appealing in its own way, but eventually we decided on a little boy with four white feet. We visited again at 6 weeks, and at 8 weeks we all agreed it was time to take him home. The problem of a name had thus to be tackled!

After much thought and research we decided on "Suhail", an unusual name of Arabic/Persian derivation meaning the symbol of all that is brilliant, glorious & beautiful, often applied to a handsome person. It is also the name given by Persian astronomers to the star Canopus (yes, I did say CanoPUS[S] !) which is known as the harbinger of autumn as it rises just before sunrise on the autumnal equinox, which was exactly when he was born. Furthermore, it is also applied to a multiple-star system close to Canopus which consists of six individual stars - the same number as the litter in which Suhail was born. All very appropriate!

He soon settled in after arriving home, taking to his litter tray immediately and finding Morrisons' kitten pouches and goats milk very much to his liking. All too soon it was time for trips to the vet's for his injections but for quite a while that's the nearest he got to exploring the great outside world! The relationship with Saadi was somewhat frosty at first but slowly improved so that Saadi eventually at least tolerated Suhail's juvenile antics. Anything that moves or hangs down soon became a kitten-toy, but at least it provided lots of exercise which eventually lead to blissful periods of quiet when he at last dozed off! He grew up very fast, so was beginning to be a young cat rather than a little kitten by the time the 4 month point was reached at Christmas 2012: decorations and a tree were definitely ruled out, therefore!

He became both more confident and more affectionate over the next couple of years, learning that our meadow was a wonderful place for exploring but also for snoozing, curled up in the long grass where no-one could see him! Despite a healthy appetite (he and Saadi definitely had to be fed in different rooms!) he has remained a slim, athletic cat while gaining his dense silky adult coat. He still appreciates a cuddle though and is very much a "lap-cat" when the mood takes him, either curled up or stretched out to show he's really not that small after all! He also likes to lay flat on your chest with his nose in your face, purring gently, as well as going "nose-to-nose" as you tickle him behind the ears when passing by.

Click here for pictures of Suhail.

The next chapter in our cat story was, unfortunately, not a happy one. In late September 2014 Steve was 'phoned to say that a cat thought to be ours had been found motionless by the roadside some distance away, so he immediately went up the road and found Saadi curled up lifeless on the verge - clearly the victim of passing traffic. To have such a beautiful cat so cruelly taken from us well before his time was a crushing blow, made all the worse for being unexpected. It was therefore time for the mattock and spade to be pressed into service again, and we buried him in our meadow, in the hazel copse that he knew so well.

Click here for pictures of Saadi.

So we were down to one, who wondered where his friend had gone for a week or so but eventually got used to being "boss cat". We wanted the situation to settle for a while and so were not really on the look-out for another companion but fate then decided to take a hand, as it often does.

Sandra had been working at a local surgery, where they had got to know of our love for cats, and one day a staff member who lived on a farm said she had two young tortoiseshell & white kittens whose mother had almost certainly been shot and who were unlikely to survive the winter: would we look after them "for a while"? We could hardly refuse of course, so were soon being presented with two rather grubby balls of fluff, one of whom had a runny eye. A first look indicated that "a while" was likely to be rather a long time! Although not looking for a second cat, it seemed we now had three!

Steve had booked them into the local vets so they were given a full examination on the way home and judged to be both female, about 6 weeks old, and basically fit & healthy. Eye ointment, worm drops, flea spray & kitten biscuits were soon acquired and a home was found for them in the study, initially in a very tall box to stop them escaping! A litter-tray just fitted into this, covering most of the base, and whether this got them used to a tray or just because cats are naturally clean animals we don't know, but very soon they were using a large tray for its intended purpose without even having to be shown! Appetite was no problem, with anything put before them disappearing very rapidly - including water, which is slightly unusual for a cat.

We didn't introduce them to Suhail for a week or so, but brought them into the lounge for "lap-sitting exercises" during the evening to get them used to being handled. The runny eye soon cleared up and the lumps of mud gradually broke down, so they slowly became very pretty little kittens with definite personalities. At the 8-week stage they were allowed the run of the lounge as long as we were around - Suhail seemed to treat them with bemusement rather than aggression fortunately, although a gentle hiss and the odd paw could be wielded if they came too close! Christmas paper was great fun to play with, as were jingly balls, catnip mice and sticks made of rolled-up paper!

Finding them a name was deferred for some time, while we considered the options - in the meantime they were just known as "K1" and "K2"! The first initial had to be S of course, and we wanted something that both suited them and also had a connection (as they are litter twins). After consulting "baby name" websites, dictionaries and our own imagination we finally came up with Saffron and Sienna: both are colours and each is descriptive of their appearance. Saffron has on orange blaze on her face, while Sienna's face is more uniformly brown.

They continued to develop well during the year but remained decidedly "petite". The vet expressed no great concern when they were spayed however, and they continued to rapidly consume everything put in front of them, and so we assumed that their small size was just due to the fact that they were female and basically farm cats. We didn't allow them out for many months though and even now we call them back in during the evening and they spend their nights in the room where they were originally lodged. Getting them home is made much easier by the fact that they respond with great speed to the sound of their (pottery) feeding bowls being clinked together!

Our meadow is now a great playground for them, with Sienna roaming far and wide but Saffron remaining a little closer to home: despite being slightly larger she is also somewhat more timid. The great range of "wildlife" scurrying through the grass was very soon noted, unfortunately, with many "trophies" being brought back to show us - never very large ones though! Sienna likes to accompany you as you stroll along the meadow paths, while Saffron is much more keen on further lap-sitting practice when we drink our afternoon tea outside on sunny afternoons. They both get on pretty well with Suhail but being male and considerably more "chunky" than them he is definitely the Boss Cat (who brings them larger "gifts" from the meadow to emphasise his superiority!). He remains a very friendly cat at heart, still liking nothing more than a quick cuddle, a doze on the "cat chair", or a play with his blue felt fish filled with catnip. He's not keen on strangers though, so can disappear in a flash if he wants to! All in all, a happy family once more.

Click here for pictures of "the kittens" (as they continue to be known!)