Sunday, January 24, 2016

A TALE OF TWO KITTIES - PART 3 - Marvelous Max the Miracle Cat Arrives

The story of our two cats


PART 3 - Marvelous Max the Miracle Cat


 We have two cats now - Spot, our first feral kitten, and Max, our feral cat who adopted us.  This is their stories told in a few parts.

This is mostly taken from memory.  It began with a case of mistaken identity and progressed from there.  We have no idea what befall this beautiful cat before he appeared in our yard about three years ago, but we think he must have been dropped off, as a kitten, on the road near our woods.  Sadly, this used to be very common, but in recent years we haven't seen many "drop-offs".  This is shameful behavior on anyone's part.

Whatever happened to Max before he chose us as his people will remain a mystery.  For us, the story begins about three years ago when we noticed a gorgeous, big, fuzzy pillow of a cat hanging around the periphery of our yard.  He was orange and white with long hair and golden eyes - a beauty of a cat but obviously male and an intact male at that.  His manner was furtive, and he was stalking our songbirds that I feed.  He also kept spraying to claim territory.

Spot wasn't even a twinkle in his daddy's eye at this time so we were only frustrated at his obvious desire to grab a bird or two.  First we tried shooing him whenever we saw him - a bit of waving of arms and semi-chasing caused him to back off to a safe distance in the woods where he'd sit on a rock and watch us.

I began to read up on how to discourage cats from coming around.  We figured he belonged to our neighbor who has lots of animals, including barn cats, so I decided to check and I asked her one day if she was missing a long-haired orange and white guy.  "No," she said, "Max may not always be right here where we can see him, but he's around regularly."

Our driveway is the boundary line between the two properties, so for Max to come over to our house was a very short walk through the woods.  Most cats have a large enough territory that Max could easily figure our yard was merely an extension of his yard.

So, since this was our neighbor's cat, we didn't want to do anything with him, but we also didn't want to make friends.  It became a matter of discovering something that would keep him away without harming him.  I tried spreading coffee grounds in the area where we feed the birds - he lay down and slept on them.

I tried cayenne pepper on the ground - he seemed to know just where to walk to avoid it.  By the way, even squirrels seem to ignore the cayenne pepper when I put it in with the bird seed.  That seems to be a non-starter for keeping anything away.

We were still doing the shooing and waving of arms which only made him back up until we disappeared into the house.  I decided to buy one of those motion sensor spray things to try to make him dislike our feeding area.  My husband took great care setting it up in the right place to cover the bird yard with a spray of water, and he also installed a double connection at the faucet so we could leave the water on all the time.  After the first couple times he got wet, Max learned to come in from behind and avoid the electric eye. He'd jump up on the picnic table used for feeding seed and bask in the sunshine, dashing off into the woods when we came in view.  He even ran if he saw us in the kitchen window.  That window looks directly out on the hydrangeas and the bird feeders.

This went on for more than a year.

Then Spot came along.

We planned on having Spot as an inside cat, so Max wasn't an issue.  Spot wouldn't cross paths with him so there was no concern about diseases, fighting over territory, and things like that.  Our neighbor's cat obviously was here to stay, so we gave up on the water sprayer, the coffee grounds, the cayenne pepper.  As long as he kept a respectful distance when we were watching, we had a truce.  I even began to watch for him laying out on a sunny rock enjoying the warmth; he was such a lovely cat.

There was a period of about three days when we didn't see him at all and I began to worry about him.  I emailed the neighbor and asked if she'd seen Max and she wrote back, "Yes.  He was here this morning in the barn".  I was relieved to hear he was okay.  That surprised me because I didn't think I had developed fond feelings for him until that moment.  The next day he was back on his rock in the woods.

I looked for him every time I was near the window, and I missed him when he wasn't nearby by.  We stopped shooing him away, and I began to notice he wasn't really fat and sassy; he was quite thin under all that fur.  He had big bones, too, which fooled you into thinking he was bigger than he actually was.  I worried about that but we have a hard and fast rule, "Thou shalt not feed thy neighbor's cat!".  Feeding a cat just about assures it will set up housekeeping in your yard.  We didn't want to lure the cat away from his family.

Meantime, Spot was growing up and he showed himself to be an active, curious, intelligent cat desirous of a lot of activity.  We spent hours playing with him.  I spent a fortune on toys.  My husband installed shelves under a number of windows so he could sit and look outside, and he loved sitting in the bay window in the kitchen and watching the birds (and Max).  As the winter changed to spring and Spot approached his first birthday, we knew we needed to let him outside.  This was a cat that was not happy within the confines of the house.  Now it was time to worry about Max and how to manage this possible disaster when the two cats met.  Spot was neutered; Max was not.  Spot was vaccinated, clean of parasites, self-assured, bossy, and agile.  Max was a survivor, an "outside cat", an unfixed male who was king of his territory and that territory included our yard.  We called him Max Of The Hydrangeas since he liked hanging out under them.

There was no doubt going to be some sort of confrontation, but Spot was entitled to his own yard.  If I had to go to the neighbor and ask her to get her cat fixed, I would do that.  Funny, though, because they are responsible pet owners and, to the best of my knowledge, her cats were all either spayed or neutered.  Somehow Max must have slipped through the cracks.

The first day Spot went outside, he stayed close to us, stuck like glue, for about a second.  Before we could turn around he was in the apple tree, climbing ever higher and looking down on us like we were ants.  He came back down to where he was almost within reach, then kind of spread out on a branch batting us, then raced back up to the tippy top where the branches are thin and bendy.  That was a worry, of course, as a fall could hurt him.  We walked a little way away and down he came, dashed over to us, grabbed my leg and ran away to investigate whatever came into sight.  He prowled through the wildflower garden, climbed the boulders, examined the vehicles.  He ran, he jumped, he stalked grasshoppers.  He was a happy cat.

Max was absent during all this and we didn't see him anywhere.

For a couple days we continued to let Spot out under our watchful eye, always using the front door, not the kitchen door which opens out into the bird yard and the hydrangeas.  Max came around often and sat under the flowers to watch, but he didn't interact and he didn't seem at all assertive or aggressive toward Spot.  Quite the contrary, he seemed subservient.

We also noticed that Spot, curious as always, sat in the bay window watching Max.  He and Max exchanged glances, and then Max jumped on the panic table and rolled over onto his back while Spot watched from his window seat.

I can't even remember the exact moment they met in person, but it was when my husband and I weren't watching.  Next thing we saw was Max rubbing under Spot's chin and Spot acting like he was tolerating this behavior.  Max was besotted with Spot - followed him around, even rubbed his belly (see the photo at the top of the age).  Spot continued to behave like a monarch who was granting privileges to a minion.  Now and then Max to a bat on the head from Max, but Max only backed of for a minute or two or rolled over on his back, purring.

Every day Max was outside the kitchen door at dawn, waiting for his buddy to be let outside.  Spot would look out the window then go to the door, then go back to the window until we set him free to romp and play.  One day Spot ran up the apple tree and Max followed, crouching, waiting to pounce when Spot came by on his way down.  Spot, ever the adventurer, went too far out on a dead limb and down he came, limb and all.  Max was confused, couldn't figure out how Spot got on the ground somehow avoiding his ambush.  He was more surprised than Spot who dashed back up to the tree to Max.


The worry about Max fighting with Spot was off the table.  Much more to the point was Spot smacking Max, on occasion, which seemed to be his way of saying, "This is my kingdom and I'm letting you be here because I'm king!"

Every now and then I'd run into our neighbor and we'd talk about MAX.  I would tell her how he was getting more accepting of me but wouldn't come close enough to let me touch him.  She thought that strange because he LOVED being held and even hugged her neck and purred.  I said he was comfortable with me, but had a "personal space" he didn't want violated.  That was fine; I didn't want to entice him to think he was our cat - he had a loving home.

The two cats were so cute together (when Spot wasn't acting like he was the imperial ruler,    Ming The Merciless) and one day in August I took a few pictures and shared them with our neighbor.  Not five minutes later I got a reply, "OMG!  THAT ISN'T MAX!!!!"

I asked, "Are you sure?  He's been around for over two years!"

"Absolutely positively sure," she wrote back, "Our Max has only half a white face."

A couple days later she emailed and asked if Max was around - she'd like to come see this mystery cat.  He was here so she came up and re-confirmed that this was not her Max.  She brought a can of wet food for me to feed him, but by now I'd bought a ton of both wet and dry food so both cats could eat their fill.  As soon as she said this wasn't her Max, I began feeding him.

If this coming winter was to be anywhere as fierce, cold, and snowy as l last winter, this poor kitty would need some fat on his bones!  He was delighted with the food and let me come closer with each passing day.  When I was bringing out the food bowl, he purred so loudly I could hear him many feet away.  Very gradually I held my hand closer and closer to him as he ate, being sure to keep my hand in his line of vision - no surprises to scare him.  The first time I touched him he ran about five feet away, sat down, and wouldn't come back until I backed away from the food.

 Spot was often around and he came up to eat a bite or two of Max's food.  This was to remind Max who was boss, I think, because a mouthful or two was enough, then Spot, tail up in the air, would wander off.

The next day I touched Max again and this time he jumped but returned to eat when I told him, "You're such a beautiful boy!  It's okay.".  I always talked to him, "You're a beautiful boy.  What a pretty kitty!", and I'd purr, or at least try, and he liked that a lot. In a few weeks he was standing up at the kitchen door, looking in, meowing and letting me know he wanted his food.  He let me pat him on the head and scratch his ears, but touching anywhere else unsettled him.  It was a slow and gentle process, but he was learning to trust me.

Our concerns about fighting between the "boys" turned to concerns about Max's health, and what that could mean for Spot as well as Max.  As Max was now proven to be a cat cat with no home and "wild", we worried about the usual cat diseases and parasites.  He was full of dog ticks and deer ticks but wasn't willing to let me pat him enough to get Frontline on him.  I felt the ticks whenever I rubbed his ears or chin and I could see them through all that fur.  They were numerous and nasty and he needed to be treated.  No doubt he also had ear mites and worms.  I didn't think we could ever get him to go into a trap because he was exceedingly wary, and I couldn't get him to let me put the tik stuff on the nape of his neck.

My husband and I talked about what we could do and what would be the best thing for Max.  It broke my heart, but I finally agreed that we had to somehow trap him and give him to a cat rescue organization that could place him in a loving home.  We knew he sprayed to mark his territory.  We had no idea if he would use a litter box if he were house-bound.  I had some idea that the cat organization would "socialize" him to be friendly to all and behave like a proper house cat.  He was so affectionate and ready for love.

I can't describe how hard it was to decide to let him go.  By this time he was standing up like a meerkat to reach my hand for petting, and when I went outside with his meals he nearly tripped me in his excitement.  I usually put the bowls on the big rock.  When weather was awful, like rain and wind, he'd follow me while I put the food under the table, walking right beside me and purring loudly.  He'd butt my hand to ask for ear rubs.

Trapping him meant I would take advantage of his trust, totally destroy it, and send him off with strange people.  I don't think he ever knew confinement and now he'd be trapped in a small cage.  It didn't make me feel good; it mad me feel sad!

Our end goal was for Max to have a great home with people who loved him, played with him, and fed him.  People who interacted with him 24/7.

He needed to be neutered, de-parasitized, vaccinated against any and all diseases so he had a chance at a healthy life.  I called around and went on line and finally found someone who would work with me, albeit reluctantly.  She told me there were so many cats "out there" just like Max that their organization's resources, both financial and human, were severely strained.  They are a "No Kill" organization so that means if he didn't get a home they would be caring for him for many years.  It was a long-term commitment on their part and they weren't at all sure Max qualified for a home.  He'd have to be evaluated.

Rescue organizations are doing their best but the incoming tide of homeless cats is more like a tsunami.  Let me add that this also applies to those hero-folks who rescue dogs and other animals.  We humans are not very honorable at times, and oftentimes we don't think it through when planning on getting a pet for the family.

I admit to doing as much arm-twisting as I could to get him into their system and on a path for a new home - a real home.  I told her I'd pay for everything he needed and all his care.  I also kind of called in a marker by telling her I once worked with a lady who was active in their organization and that I'd done a lot to support them through the years.  It worked; they agreed; and I knew they weren't happy about it.  Who could blame them with so many needy cats without homes and here I am saying this cat needs to go to them.   I told them I knew their organization and trusted them.  I told them how sweet Max was, how beautiful, and how much he loved petting.  I told them how he followed me, asked at the door for food and attention, and I told them he had to find a good home!  He deserved it!

They gave me a trap, showed me how to use it, and I came home so unhappy, so conflicted, that I almost didn't go through with the process.  It was one of the most emotionally painful things I've ever done, to trap him, but at the very least he needed neutering and the attention of a veterinarian.  If he was to have a chance at a longer, happy life, I had to do this.  I had to give him up.

What happened then will be in Part 4